Cyrus (Bible)

Cyrus (Bible)

Cyrus the Great figures in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as the patron and deliverer of the Jews. He is mentioned twenty-three times by name and alluded to several times more. [;, , ] The edict of Cyrus for the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem marked a great epoch in the history of the Jewish people. However, some of the non-Jewish peoples of Samaria hired counselors to frustrate the Jews from completing the rebuilding throughout the reign of Cyrus, Xerxes ('Ahasuerus'), and Artaxerxes, until the reign of Darius. The work recommenced under the exhortations of the prophets, and when the authorities asked the Jews what right they had to build a temple, they referred to the decree of Cyrus. Darius, who was then reigning, caused a search for this alleged decree to be made, and it was found in the archives at Ecbatana, ["Achmetha", ] whereupon Darius reaffirmed the decree and the work proceeded to its triumphant close.

A chronicle drawn up just after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, gives the history of the reign of Nabonidus ('Nabuna'id'), the last king of Babylon, and of the fall of the Babylonian empire. In 538 BC there was a revolt in Southern Babylonia, while the army of Cyrus entered the country from the north. In June the Babylonian army was completely defeated at Opis, and immediately afterwards Sippara opened its gates to the conqueror. Gobryas (Ugbaru), the governor of Kurdistan, was then sent to Babylon, which surrendered "without fighting," and the daily services in the temples continued without a break. In October, Cyrus himself arrived, and proclaimed a general amnesty, which was communicated by Gobryas to "all the province of Babylon," of which he had been made governor. Meanwhile, Nabonidus, who had concealed himself, was captured, but treated honourably; and when his wife died, Cambyses II, the son of Cyrus, conducted the funeral. Cyrus now assumed the title of "king of Babylon," claimed to be the descendant of the ancient kings, and made rich offerings to the temples. At the same time he allowed the foreign populations who had been deported to Babylonia to return to their old homes, carrying with them the images of their gods. Among these populations were the Jews, who, as they had no images, took with them the sacred vessels of the temple.

Speculation abounds to the reasoning for Cyrus' release of the Jews from Babylon. One argument being that Cyrus was a follower of Zoroaster, the monotheistic prophet: Zoroastrianism played a dominant religious role in Persia throughout its history until the Islamic conquest. As such, he would feel a kindred spirit with the monotheistic Jews. Another possibility is the magnanimous respect he is ascribed to have shown to the diverse beliefs and customs of the peoples within his extended kingdom. As one example, upon the conquest of Babylon itself, it's recorded that he paid homage at the temple of the Babylonian god Marduk - thereby gaining the support of the Babylonian people and minimizing further bloodshed. While Jewish tradition, as described previously in Ezra1:1-8, indicates "the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation", in the Cyrus Cylinder he pays homage to Marduk. This Babylonian document has been interpreted as referring to the return to their homelands of several displaced cultural groups, one of which could have been the Jews:

:"From [Babylon] to Aššur and (from) Susa, Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [i.e., in Babylon] , to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings. In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon." (lines 30-33) [ [ The Cyrus Cylinder] . Translation based on Cogan's, published in W.H. Hallo and K.L. Younger, The Context of Scripture. Vol. II: Monumental Inscriptions from the Biblical World (2003, Leiden and Boston).]

However, it has been argued that it must be referring to people associated to the image's cult instead of deportees. [A. Kuhrt, "The Cyrus Cylinder and Achaemenid Imperial Policy", p. 86-87, in Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 25 (1983).] Diana Edelman has pointed at the serious chronological difficulties that arise when we accept that the Jews returned during the reign of Cyrus. [Diana Edelman, "The Origins of the Second Temple: Persian Imperial Policy and the Rebuilding of Jerusalem" (2005)]

The terms used by the author of Isaiah are reminiscent of certain passages in the Cyrus Cylinder::"Who roused from the east him that victory hails at every step? Who presents him with nations, subdues kings to him? His sword makes dust of them and his bow scatters them like straw. He pursues them and advances unhindered, his feet scarcely touching the road. Who is the author of this deed if not he who calls the generations from the beginning? I, Yahweh, who am the first and shall be with the last". (Isaiah 41:2-4)

Then the alliance between Cyrus and Yahweh is made explicit::"Thus says Yahweh to his anointed, to Cyrus, whom he has taken by his right hand to subdue nations before him and strip the loins of kings, to force gateways before him that their gates be closed no more: I will go before you levelling the heights. I will shatter the bronze gateways, smash the iron bars. I will give you the hidden treasures, the secret hoards, that you may know that I am Yahweh." (Isaiah 45:1-3)


Initial text from Easton's "Bible Dictionary", 1897 and Schaff-Herzog "Encyclopaedia of Religion".

External links

* [ Seder Olam Rabbah (part 2) - Solomon's Temple, and Zerrubabel]
* [ Chronicle of Nabonidus and other documents in the British Museum.]

ee also

*Cyrus the Great in the Quran

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