Profiles of Gospel Women: Susanna
Updated: Oct 26
Possible Gospel References
“Soon afterward he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the kingdom of God. And the Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been healed of evil spirits and infirmities: Mary, called Magdalene, from whom seven demons had gone out, and Joanna, the wife of Chuza, Herod’s steward, and Susanna, and many others, who provided for them out of their means.” (Luke 8:1-3).
Possible Gospel References: “Now it was Mary Magdalene and Joanna and Mary the mother of James, and the other women [emphasis added] with them who told this to the apostles” (Luke 24:10). Perhaps Susanna was one of the “other women,” at the scene of Jesus’ crucifixion, especially if Luke mentions her previously in Chapter 8 with Mary Magdalene and Joanna.
“The women who had come with him from Galilee followed [emphasis added], and saw the tomb, and how his body was laid. Then they returned, and
prepared spices and ointments. On the sabbath they rested according to the commandment. But on the first day of the week, at early dawn, they went to the tomb, taking the spices which they had prepared” (Luke 23:55-56; 24:1). Susanna is one of the women mentioned as providing for Jesus’ Galilean ministry in Luke 8. It is possible that Susanna then came with Jesus and the Twelve to Jerusalem for Passover, and participated with other women in burying Jesus, preparing spices, resting on the sabbath, and returning to the tomb with the spices at the resurrection scene.
“Remember how he told you [emphasis added], while he was still i
n Galilee” (Luke 24:6). Two men appear to the women at the empty tomb. The fact that they address the women as “you,” and Jesus’ teaching in Galilee, suggests that these women were with Jesus in Galilee, following Him. Therefore, the women who supported Jesus’ ministry in Galilee, such as Susanna, were present at the empty tomb. This also supports the belief that others would accompany Jesus in His travels beside the Twelve.
Who was Susanna?
Now, the Susanna we read about in the Gospel is not to be confused with the story of “Susanna and the Elders.” Susanna is the name of a figure from the book of Daniel. This Susanna from Daniel is a beautiful and chaste Jewish heroine. The Susanna of the New Testament is only briefly mentioned. Susanna from Daniel and Susanna from the New Testament are the only two “Susannas” mentioned in Sacred Scripture.
Where Did She Live?
It is likely Susanna lived in a Galilean town, as she is referenced during Jesus’ Galilean travels. If she was indeed a wealthy woman who could provide for Jesus, then perhaps she lived in a wealthier town or city. Some possibilities include Magdala, Tiberius, and Sepphoris.
Who Was Her Family? When Susanna’s name is listed in the Gospel of Luke, there is no reference to a husband, father, or son. In Sacred Scripture, it is common for women to be identified (if they are identified at all) by their male relatives. The fact that Susanna is mentioned independently allows speculation that she was an unmarried woman, a divorced woman, or a widow.
What Was Her Social Status and Wealth?
Devout Jewish men were not supposed to have any association with women in public. Jesus challenges this idea and custom by mentioning women such as Susanna, who provide for Him and His ministry out of their resources. Luke 8:1 says that “the twelve were with him [Jesus],” but adds in verse 2, “as well as some women…” It seems that the women were traveling with Jesus and the Twelve. The fact that it was scandalous for women to travel with men during this time period, leads some scholars to suggest that women did not travel with Jesus. If they did, there would be more textual evidence and prominence in history and tradition. Therefore, without clear emphasis in the biblical texts, it is possible that women like Susanna did not literally travel with Jesus. Despite this belief, it is evident that Jesus had a mix of men and women followers (though they may not have literally “followed” him), which was a very radical occurrence for the time of Jesus.
Then, if Susanna was a woman who provided for “them” out of her resources, she must have been a wealthy woman. Though there is very little detail about Susanna, save this one mention of her name, some questions to consider are:
• If Susanna did travel with Jesus and the Twelve, was Susanna scorned by her neighbors and the Jewish people? Was she considered a sinner because of her public association with men? Would the association risk her social reputation as a rich woman? • Did Susanna’s public assistance to Jesus and His ministry make a statement for the Jewish people? If Susanna was a woman of honor and high standing, then would others imitate Susanna in her association with Jesus? Did Susanna influence the poor and rich to follow Jesus?
What Was Her Relationship with Jesus? As Susanna is mentioned with the other women who were “cured of evil spirits and infirmities,” Susanna must have been cured of some ailment (Luke 8:3). One assumption is that Susanna’s infirmity was not crippling enough to the extreme of say, leprosy. If she was a leper, that would contradict her image as a wealthy woman as lepers were cast out of the city, marked as unclean. Perhaps Susanna was ill with fever like Peter’s mother-in-law, or maybe she was troubled by “demons,” like Mary Magdalene (Matthew 8:14; Mark 1:30; Luke 4:38; Luke 8:2).
Interestingly, Jesus claims that if one wishes to be a part of the kingdom of God, one must give to the poor and share their wealth (Luke 14:33). In one sense, wealthy women such as Susanna were doing just that. Still, it could also mean stereotypical housewife work. On the other hand, wealthy women do not seem to get rid of all that they have, so the extent of their “discipleship” is questionable. Furthermore, the word “disciple,” is not specifically used for these women. According to Schaberg and Ringe, Luke uses the word, diakoneo, to describe how they provided for Jesus out of their resources, which translates to “serve,” or “wait on.” That may mean that the women actually served as disciples and evangelizers on mission, proclaiming the kingdom of God.
Through Esther’s Eyes
If you want to learn more about my take on Susanna, read my newly published novel, Through Esther’s Eyes.
deSilvia, David A. “The Apocrypha and the Earliest Christian Movement.” Interpretation: A Journal of Bible & Theology, 72, no. 4, (2018): 396-497. doi:10.1177/0020964318784243.
Ignatius Catholic Study Bible New Testament: Second Catholic Edition RSV. San Francisco: Ignatius Press, 2010.
Schaberg, Jane D. and Ringe, Sharon H. “Gospel of Luke.” Women’s Bible Commentary. Westminster: John Knox Press, 2012.
1] The New Oxford Annotated Bible: New Revised Standard Version, 4th ed, (New York: Oxford University Press, 2010), 1876.