Thursday, November 8, 2012

Which Tree?


Nebuchadnezzar of old liked to reach across the aisle. He sent alien young folks to his Chaldean graduate schools, I mean aliens like Daniel, Shadrach, and Abednego. He also allowed kingdoms he had captured and brought to Babylon, to set up little satrapies within the larger province and rule in collaboration with his regal representatives and regulations. From what I can learn about it, a satrap was like an almost sovereign county. Nebuchadnezzar was a famous warrior but also a very bright administrator and he knew a thing or two about diversity, having conquered a great range and mixture of peoples. You might say he provided a measure of freedom in there in the midst of captivity.

One of these satraps, these smaller units in Babylon, was ruled by the assimilated Jews from Jerusalem. An exceptionally beautiful married woman named Suzanna enjoyed what we might call the good life with her husband and children in that designated Hebrew satrapy. Suzanna’s home must have been very nice in that it had a lush garden attached to it with spring-fed pools where she took her afternoon baths in the privacy of lush vegetation. Unfortunately, some lustful old senior citizens from the same satrapy violated her privacy there and plotted against her.

They seized her one afternoon and told her they would testify that they discovered her with a man in the garden if she did not submit to them. She did not consider falling into their hands for a moment, but screamed, knowing all the while that all of Babylon would believe the old fellows and she would be hanged for the heinous crime of adultery.

She was, indeed put on trial and convicted. While she was awaiting the gallows, young Daniel, perhaps a teenager at the time, came upon the scene, crying out, “I am free of the blood of this woman.” When questioned by the court, Daniel stated his belief that Suzanna was innocent of the charge and that the two old men were themselves the culprits.

The officials wanted to know how Daniel intended to test his very bold theory. He said they should separate to two elders and let him question each outside the other’s hearing. They did so. To the first he asked, “Which tree were they together under?” The old man answered, “The elm.” Then they sent the other out, confining the one who had just answered. “Which tree were they together under?” and the second old scoundrel replied, “It was the oak.”

So, in front of the whole court, Daniel proved the plot against Suzanna and the two old guys were hung on the very gallows intended for her.

This is the apocryphal story of Suzanna and the Elders. An apocryphal story is of doubtful authenticity. This one does not have the ring of reality, but at least it makes a very bright hero out of young Daniel, who certainly becomes an important figure in Babylon when he grows older. As you recall, Nebuchadnezzar promoted him to very high position.

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