ISSN: 2657-800X

Susanna and the old men (judges) according to Schulz

The story of Susanna and the two lustful old men (judges) described in the Bible, in Chapter 13 of the Book of Daniel, is very often referred to in the history of advocacy and justice, and by the fact that it has inspired artists for centuries has had a significant impact on modern culture. One of the many artists inspired by the story was Bruno Schulz (1892-1942), an outstanding novelist, graphic artist, illustrator and painter, who was shot eighty years ago, on November 19, 1942, in his hometown (Drohobycz) by a German officer.

Susanna was a beautiful woman married to Joakim. "Joakim was very rich and he had a garden near his house. The Jews had recourse to him often because he was the most respected of them all. That year, two elders of the people were appointed judges, of whom the Lord said, “Lawlessness has come out of Babylon, that is, from the elders who were to govern the people as judges.” (Dan. 13:4-6). Both of them looked at the strolling Susanna. Both also became enamored with her. One day they sneaked into the garden where Susanna was taking a bath. While she sent servants to fetch oils, the old judges approached Susanna and said: "Behold, the door of the garden is closed and no one sees us, but we desire you. Therefore agree to commune with us! Otherwise we will testify against you that there was a youth with you, and therefore you sent the girls away from you" (Dan. 13:20-21).

Susanna decided that she would rather innocently give her life than sin against God. The next day, the judges accused Susanna in her presence before the people of having intercourse with a young man who fled after he noticed them. The congregation gave credence to the judges. The punishment for adultery could then be only one - death by stoning. Then Susanna cried out with a loud voice to God: "Eternal God, who knows what is hidden and knows everything before it happens. You know that they have made a false accusation against me. Behold, I am dying, although I have done none of what they maliciously blame me for." God responded during the escorting of Susanna to execution with the mouth of the young man Daniel, who cried out "I am clean from her blood." The alarmed people, responding to the call uttered by Daniel, returned to the place of judgment, and there Daniel, in front of the people and the elders, carried out the proof that the two elder judges, who, according to the story, already had many unjust sentences to their credit, had falsely blamed Susanna. Namely, he summoned them individually before the assembly and asked them under what tree they had seen communing with each other.  The first answered that "under a lentisk," the second that "under an oak tree." They were proven to be lying.  The wrongful judges were sentenced to death according to the Law of Moses. This story, dating back to the time of the Babylonian captivity, has for centuries reinforced the belief that God is a just judge.

Bruno Schulz's drawing on the 4th page of the cover, inspired by the story of the beautiful Susanna, was created in the series X Book of the Idol between 1920 and 1921. It is a print prepared using the liché-verre technique on paper, measuring 23.5 x 17.5 cm. The entire series is a tribute of man - an inferior being - to woman - a superior and commanding being. In all the prints the central figure is a woman or women, including twice the biblical Susanna. The men are most often hunched over, deformed, at the feet of the woman(s), worshipping her and - as a rule - accepting this, ceremonial bowing before the deity, so to speak, as Jerzy Ficowski wrote. Many times one of these men is Schulz himself. We also see him in the illustration Susanna and the Old Men. The old men/judges are above Susanna, confident, brash, contrasting with the naked innocence of the woman, but at her feet are other men, worshipping her, worshiping her - including the author.