We use the adjective ‘apocryphal’ to mean ‘ of doubtful authenticity’, but how many of us have read or even glimpsed a copy of the Apocrypha? The word comes from Greek of course, and means ‘hidden’. The Apocrypha is a collection of 14 books that have been appended to some versions of the Old Testament but are not generally recognised as authoritative scripture.
I found a copy of the Apocrypha among my grandfather’s papers. He signed the flyleaf and dated it 26/6/02, when he was 20 years old. A label on the inside cover informs the reader thus:
Extract from the Sixth Article of Religion (Of the Sufficiency of the Holy Scriptures for Salvation):
“And the other Books (as Hierome saith) the Church doth read for example of life and instruction of manners; but yet doth it not apply them to establish any doctrine…”
It goes on to list the 14 books, some of which are very short. One of the short ones is the Story (or History) or Susanna. I found that I knew the story without knowing its provenance. It’s the one about the woman, while bathing in her secluded garden, is raped by two elders who then falsely accuse her of adultery with a young man who supposedly fled the scene. God alerts a man called Daniel to the truth of the matter and instead of executing Susanna the pious crowd turns on the elders.
The story has inspired artists including Jacob Jordaens, who painted this version (Susanna and the Elders) in 1653.
Regrettably the custom of punishing rape victims has not died out everywhere. Perhaps we should all read the Apocrypha “for example of life and instruction of manners.”