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The Persian Empire - Room 52

Cyrus Cylinder (WA 90920) - (1 of 4)

The famous Cyrus Cylinder was found in Babylon in 1879 and an additional fragment was found in 1970 and added to it. It is a barrel shaped clay cylinder written in Babylonian cuneiform, as a document to commemorate the restoration of the fortifications of Babylon by Cyrus. It is an account by Cyrus of Persia (549-530) of the conquest of Babylon in 539 BC and the capture of Nabonidus, the last king of Babylon, with the aid of Marduk, the god of Babylon, who had turned away from Nabonidus because of his impieties and injustices, and had appointed Cyrus to replace him.

"Upon the Babylonian's complaints, the lord of the gods became terribly angry and departed from their region, the other gods living among them also left their mansions. But Marduk who, because the sanctuaries of all their settlements were in ruins and the inhabitants of Sumer and Akkad had become like living dead, turned back his anger and had mercy on them. He scanned and looked through all the countries, searching for a righteous ruler willing to lead him (Marduk) in annual procession. He pronounced the name Cyrus, king of Anshan, declared him to be ruler of all the world. Without any battle, Marduk made him enter Babylon, sparing the city any calamity. He (Marduk) delivered Nabonidus, who did not worship Marduk, into Cyrus's hands. All inhabitants of Babylon, Sumer and Akkad, princes and governors, bowed to Cyrus and kissed his feet, jubilant that he had received the kingship and with shining faces. Happily they greeted him as master through whose help they had come to life from death and that all had been spared damage and disaster, and they worshipped his name."

"When I, well disposed, entered Babylon, I set up the seat of dominion in the royal palace amidst jubilation and rejoicing. Marduk the great god caused the big-hearted inhabitants of Babylon to .. me. I sought daily to worship him. My numerous troops moved about undisturbed in the midst of Babylon. I did not allow any to terrorise the land of (Sumer) and Akkad. I kept in view the needs of Babylon and all its sanctuaries to promote their wellbeing."

This has great similarity with the prophecy of Isaiah, who gave the credit to God rather than Marduk for the rise of Cyrus, "who says of Cyrus,
'He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose';
and who says of Jerusalem, 'It shall be rebuilt,'
and of the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid'
Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus,
'whose right hand I have grasped
to subdue nations before him
and strip kings of their robes'"
(Is 44:28 - 45:1)

The cylinder describes the relief brought to the inhabitants of Babylon and how Cyrus returned sacred images, originally collected by Nabonidus, to their proper temples in Babylonia, Assyria and Western Iran. He arranged for the restoration of temples and organised the return to their homelands of a number of peoples held in Babylon. This policy was conducted by Cyrus throughout the Persian empire. The end section of the cylinder describes the new policy of religious toleration, reversing the Babylonian policy, "I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries which have been in ruins for a long time, the images which used to live in them, and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations."

This is the account by Ezra of Cyrus allowing the exiles to return home, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all the kingdom and also put it in writing: Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven had given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel - he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." (Ezra 1:1-4)

The decree of Cyrus is also described later in the Book of Ezra, "In the first year of Cyrus the king, Cyrus the king issued a decree: Concerning the house of God at Jerusalem, let the house be rebuilt, the place where sacrifices are offered and burnt offerings are brought; its height shall be sixty cubits and its breadth sixty cubits, with three courses of great stones and one course of timber; let the cost be paid from the royal treasury. And also let the gold and silver vessels of the house of God, which Nebuchadnezzar took out of the temple that is in Jerusalem and brought to Babylon, be restored and brought back to the temple which is in Jerusalem, each to its place; you shall put them in the house of God." (Ezra 6:3-5)