The origins of these writings are obscure. Whether the accounts were originally composed in Hebrew (or Aramaic) or in Greek is uncertain, although many modern scholars conclude on the basis of textual evidence that there was probably an original Semitic edition. The date of composition of these documents is also uncertain, although many scholars favor a date either in the second or first century B.C.

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Susanna or Shoshana, also called Susanna and the Elders, is included in the Book of Daniel (as chapter 13) by the Roman Catholic and Orthodox churches. It is one of the additions to Daniel, considered apocryphal by Protestants. It is not included in the Jewish Tanakh and is not mentioned in early Jewish literature, although the text is part of the original Septuagint (2nd century BC) and was revised by Theodotion, Hellenistic Jewish redactor of the Septuagint text (c. 150 AD).

As the story goes, a fair Hebrew wife named Susanna was falsely accused by lecherous voyeurs. As she bathes in her garden, having sent her attendants away, two lustful elders secretly observe the lovely Susanna. When she makes her way back to her house, they accost her, threatening to claim that she was meeting a young man in the garden unless she agrees to have sex with them.

She refuses to be blackmailed and is arrested and about to be put to death for promiscuity when a young man named Daniel interrupts the proceedings, shouting that the elders should be questioned to prevent the death of an innocent. After being separated, the two men are cross-examined about details of what they saw but disagree about the tree under which Susanna supposedly met her lover.

In the Greek text, the names of the trees cited by the elders form puns with the sentence given by Daniel. The first says they were under a mastic tree (ὑπὸ σχίνον, hypo schinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to cut (σχίσει, schisei) him in two. The second says they were under an evergreen oak tree (ὑπὸ πρίνον, hypo prinon), and Daniel says that an angel stands ready to saw (πρίσαι, prisai) him in two. The great difference in size between a mastic and an oak makes the elders’ lie plain to all the observers. The false accusers are put to death, and virtue triumphs.

The Greek text survives in two versions. The received version is due to Theodotion; this has superseded the original Septuagint version, which now survives only in Syriac translation, in Papyrus 967 (3rd century), and exceptionally in a single medieval manuscript, known as Codex Chisianus 88.

Sextus Julius Africanus did not regard the story as canonical. Jerome (347–420), while translating the Vulgate, treated this section as a non-canonical fable. In his introduction, he indicated that Susanna was an apocryphal addition because it was not present in the Hebrew text of Daniel.

Origen received the story as part of the ‘divine books’ and censured ‘wicked presbyters’ who did not recognize its authenticity (Hom Lev 1.3.,) and remarks that the story was commonly read in the early Church (Letter to Africanus) but also noted the story’s absence in the Hebrew text, observing (in Epistola ad Africanum) that it was “hidden” by the Jews in some fashion. Origen’s claim is reminiscent of Justin Martyr’s charge that Jewish scribes ‘removed’ certain verses from their Scriptures (Dialogue with Trypho: C.71-3). There are no known early Jewish references to the Susanna story.

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Bel and the Dragon