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Ancient Investigation; Modern Technique

A surprisingly modern solution to a Biblical mystery . . .

Last week I shared a difficult case with you, and many of you have emailed to say that you were unable to think of a way that the accused woman might have been proven innocent.

I’ll have to confess I was stumped as well, although the solution when one learns it is a no-brainer.

Let’s consider what happens when people witness a crime. These days, there are standard procedures in place to ensure that the testimony provided is valid.

When there’s just one witness, law enforcement officials take the time to seek out other pieces of corroborating evidence. It may be footage from street cameras and other security cameras.

Evidence left at the scene of the crime or even on the dead body—if it’s a case of murder—can be used as well to see if what’s observed matches up with the statement the witness has provided.

But the case I shared with you last week took place in ancient Babylon, and there were no security cameras available. What we had were two witnesses. And both provided the same damning testimony.

Even today when two witnesses provide the same version of events, their statements make for a far stronger case against the accused. However, it’s still important to take precautions to ensure that those statements are valid.

After all, two witnesses could be as motivated as a single witness to lie and to frame a third person.

So law enforcement officials follow a particular procedure. (The very same one that was used to solve our case.)

They separate the two witnesses before interviewing them.

This is done so that the two witnesses can’t possibly influence each other. Even when both individuals are sincere, the person with the stronger personality can cause their fellow witness to erroneously rethink the report of their own senses or reconsider whether they’re remembering correctly.

And if the two witnesses are lying, separating them is the first step to figuring this out.

And this is the strategy that Daniel—the sleuth in the story I shared with you last week—used with the two witnesses against the accused woman, Susanna.

Having separated the two judges, Daniel proceeded to ask them one further question. No, he didn’t ask for the identity of the man that Susanna was allegedly having an affair with. The judges could have lied and said the man had fled before they could get a good look at him.

No, Daniel asked them which tree Susanna was under when she was embracing her lover. One judge said it was a mastic tree. The other said it was an evergreen tree.

And so Daniel proved that the two men were lying and had borne false witness against an innocent woman.

This story comes from Chapter 13 of the Biblical book of Daniel—a prophet who lived in the time of King Nebuchadnezzar, who enjoyed the king’s trust, having correctly divined and interpreted a troubling dream the king had been given, and who was in a prominent position in the empire.

If you’ve read chapter and verse of Daniel and don’t recall ever having come across this story, it’s because Protestant Bibles typically don’t include certain books nor do they have the two additional chapters of Daniel that both the Catholic and Orthodox Church Bibles include. These are part of what’s called the Deuterocanon or Apocrypha.  

As a mystery writer—in particular a writer of historical mysteries—I’m always delighted by ancient investigative techniques. They confirm my strong belief in human ingenuity and our ability to examine and test out matters. Even today, despite the wide availability of forensic technologies, I’ve learned from the courses I’ve taken and the true crime shows I’ve watched that it’s painstaking effort and ingenuity that solves a case.

The evidence provided by the various techniques can help to cement the case in court and to provide a conviction. And they’re mostly used to rule in or rule out a suspect. But one must have a suspect to begin with. And frequently old-fashioned detecting will provide just that.

When there’s a genuine desire to solve a crime and to search out the truth, a way can always be found. And of course both as a mystery writer and as a believer, it’s especially wonderful to see examples of mysteries and sound investigative techniques in the Bible: that more than one witness is needed; that witness interviews need to be conducted separately; and that every accusation needs to be searched out and thoroughly examined.