While Susanna, the fair Hebrew wife of Joakim, was taking a bath in her garden, two lustful elders secretly observed the young beauty and were overwhelmed with passion for her. When she was on her way back, the lecherous voyeurs stopped her, demanded sex and threatened that, if she does not agree to their proposal, they would testify against her for having illegal sex with a young man in the garden. Susanna refused to be blackmailed and as a result, she was arrested and was about to be put to death for promiscuity. Finding no way out, helpless young Susanna started to pray for divine help.
At that stage, a young man named Daniel interrupted the proceedings, and demanded that the elders should be questioned before taking any final decision about the fate of the accused. Accordingly, the two elders were separated for cross-examination. While describing the scene, one of the elders said that they were under Mastic, while the second said they were under an evergreen Oak tree. The inconsistency in the narration proved that the accusation was false, hence the false accusers were put to death, and virtue triumphed.
The story of Susanna or Shoshana and the elders is included as one of the supplementary parts of the Book of Daniel. The brief, self-contained story appears in Greek but not in Hebrew manuscripts of the Book of Daniel. Most modern editions of the Bible include it among the unauthentic additions as Daniel 13.
The Bible was the eternal source of inspiration for the old masters and the episode of Susanna and the Elders is not an exception to it. The story of Susanna was frequently painted from about 1470.
It was the subject of painting of many reputed artists, which included, among others, Tintoretto (Italy),Guido Reni (Italy), Peter Paul Rubens (Flemish), Artemisia Gentileschi (Italy), Rembrandt (Holland), Giuseppe Bartolomeo Chiari (Italy) and Sebastiano Ricci (Italy). Some of them emphasized the drama in the story, while others concentrated on the nudity.
Unlike the statue-like images of classical art, American artist Thomas Hart Benton (1889-1975) painted a modern edition of Susanna in 1938, in which he consciously included pubic hair.