Thursday, July 14

Who Was Cyrus the Great?

Throughout history, many men and women have accomplished great things, soared to new heights, conquered kingdoms, participated in world-changing events, and have played out their role in history as if on a stage in which we must all play a part. One such man is Cyrus the Great (Koresh in Hebrew; כורש‎), the founder of the Persian Empire under the Achaemenid dynasty. Born ca.599 B.C. in Anshan, Persis, Cyrus conquered much of Southwest Asia as well as most of Central Asia, along with parts of Caucasus and Europe. Reigning between 29-31 years, he had great respect for the cultures which he conquered, from the Median empire and Lydian empire to the Neo-Babylonian Empire. A giant in history (figuratively), Cyrus also has a significance expounded on in the Biblical record. (Photo credit: Iran Chamber Society - Cyrus the Great Portrait; (c) 2001, M. Benoist - Tomb of Cyrus; Marco Prins and Jona Lendering - Cyrus Cylinder)

Very little is known of Cyrus' early life, as few sources elaborate on this time, and those that are known to have either been lost or damaged extensively. According to works of antiquity, he was born to Cambyses and Mandane. Cyrus claimed that he was preceded as King of Persia (modern-day Iran) by his father, grandfather, and great-grandfather. It is highly possible that "Cyrus" was a dynastic rather than personal name, after his grandfather Cyrus I king of Anshan, contemporary of Ashurbanipal king of Assyria. Cyrus became King of Persia ca.559 BC. Around 550 BC, Cyrus conquered the Medes and united them into an alliance, which clashed with Croesus of Lydia and proceeded to capture Sardis. In October of 539 BC, Cyrus defeated the Babylonians at Opis.

His troops took control of the capital, Babylon, and upon entering the city, was greeted as a man of peace. Cyrus adequately demonstrated his tolerance of religious freedom when he decreed the return of the Jewish exiles to return home to rebuild, as well as supporting the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem. "The 'first year of Cyrus' (Ezra 1:1) is not the year of his elevation to power over the Medes, nor over the Persians, nor the year of the fall of Babylon, but the year succeeding the two years during which “Darius the Mede” was viceroy in Babylon after its fall. At this time only (B.C. 536) Cyrus became actual king over Palestine, which became a part of his Babylonian empire. The edict of Cyrus for the rebuilding of Jerusalem marked a great epoch in the history of the Jewish people (2 Chr. 36:22, 23; Ezra 1:1-4; 4:3; 5:13-17; 6:3-5). This decree was discovered “at Achmetha [Revised Version marginal note, ‘Ecbatana’], in the palace that is in the province of the Medes” (Ezra 6:2)."[1]

"A chronicle drawn up just after the conquest of Babylonia by Cyrus, gives the history of the reign of Nabonidus (Nabunahid), the last king of Babylon, and of the fall of the Babylonian empire. In B.C. 538 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 honorably; and when his wife died, Cambyses, 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."[2]

Cyrus' edict is recorded both in 2nd Chronicles 36 and Ezra 1. 2nd Chronicles 36:22-23 records, "In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also put it in writing: 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you - may the LORD their God be with them, and let them go up.'" The first chapter of Ezra provides more details as to this edict and the proceeding events:

"In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah, the LORD moved the heart of Cyrus king of Persia to make a proclamation throughout his realm and also put it in writing: 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: 'The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and he has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. Any of his people among you - may their God be with them, let them go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the LORD, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. And in any locality where survivors may now be living, the people are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem. Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites - everyone whose heart God had moved - prepared to go up and build the house of the LORD in Jerusalem. All their neighbors assisted them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with valuable gifts, in addition to all the freewill offerings."

The Tomb of Cyrus
Verses 7-8 conclude, "Moreover, King Cyrus brought out the articles belonging to the temple of the LORD, which Nebuchadnezzar had carried away from Jerusalem and had placed in the temple of his god. Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithredath the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah." To note, archaeological evidence gives credence to these events as well as affirming the historicity of King Cyrus the Great of Persia. Consider the Cyrus Cylinder, for example. The Cyrus Cylinder was a a clay cylinder in 1879 which was inscribed in Babylonian cuneiform that includes an account of Cyrus' conquest of Babylon in 539 BC. This confirms the historical event of the conquest. The Cyrus Cylinder also confirms the fall of Babylon to the Medes and Persians (Daniel 5:30-31).[3]

Another example is the tomb of Cyrus. "Cyrus was buried in a simple gabled stone tomb outside his capital of Pasargadae in modern Iran. According to the historian Strabo, this inscription once graced the structure, "Oh man, I am Cyrus, the son of Cambyses, who founded the empire of Persia, and was king of Asia. Grudge me not therefore this monument" (Geography xv.3.7)." [4] Cyrus is also depicted on a monument in Susa.[5] There are also several other archaeological finds which give credence to the historicity of Cyrus. Now, one of the most fascinating prophecies found in Scripture is found in Isaiah 44 and 45, and involves Cyrus. The problem arises between Christian scholars and Secular scholars because these predictive prophecies were, according to Christians, recorded nearly two centuries before the birth of Cyrus. Did Isaiah accurately predict the freeing of the Babylonian captives - and specify by name the one who freed them - nearly two centuries before his birth?

Though secular historians will strongly deny it, citing an unfounded theory called the "Deutero-Isaiah theory," which postulates that more than one person wrote Isaiah, with the passage referring to Cyrus being recorded after the events actually took place, the Bible has shown that predictive prophecy is fulfilled time after time, and that the Bible has accurately recorded down history even before it occurred. The reason for that is simply this: "I am God, and there is no other; I am God, and there is none like me. I make known the end from the beginning from ancient times, what is still to come" (Isaiah 46:9b-10a). It is completely reasonable and logical to believe that God, who declares the end from the beginning, can most certainly reveal the name of the one who would free His chosen people nearly two centuries before the event actually occurred.

The prophecies are as follows: Isaiah 44:28 conveys God's message,"who says of Cyrus, 'He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, 'Let it be rebuilt,' and of the temple, 'Let its foundations be laid.'" Isaiah 45:1 continues, "This is what the LORD says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of the armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut," along with Isaiah 45:13, "I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the LORD Almighty." (For an example of fulfilled predicate prophecy, see entry: "Fulfilled Prophecy: Tyre") Regardless of whether this was a prophecy recorded before or after the life of Cyrus, the fact remains that the Bible is the most reliable work of antiquity we have. (See entry: "Is The Bible Reliable? Has It Been Altered?")First century Jewish historian Flavius Josephus also mentions Cyrus the Great:

"I have given leave to as many of the Jews that dwell in my country as please to return to their own country, and to rebuild their city, and to build the temple of God at Jerusalem on the same place where it was before. I have also sent my treasurer Mithridates, and Zorobabel, the governor of the Jews, that they may lay the foundations of the temple, and may build it sixty cubits high, and of the same latitude, making three edifices of polished stones, and one of the wood of the country, and the same order extends to the altar whereon they offer sacrifices to God. I require also that the expenses for these things may be given out of my revenues. Moreover, I have also sent the vessels which king Nebuchadnezzar pillaged out of the temple, and have given them to Mithridates the treasurer, and to Zorobabel the governor of the Jews, that they may have them carried to Jerusalem, and may restore them to the temple of God."[6]

The Cyrus Cylinder
"Now their number is as follows: Fifty chargers of gold, and five hundred of silver; forty Thericlean cups of gold, and five hundred of silver; fifty basons of gold, and five hundred of silver; thirty vessels for pouring [the drink-offerings], and three hundred of silver; thirty vials of gold, and two thousand four hundred of silver; with a thousand other large vessels. (3) I permit them to have the same honor which they were used to have from their forefathers, as also for their small cattle, and for wine and oil, two hundred and five thousand and five hundred drachme; and for wheat flour, twenty thousand and five hundred artabae; and I give order that these expenses shall be given them out of the tributes due from Samaria. The priests shall also offer these sacrifices according to the laws of Moses in Jerusalem; and when they offer them, they shall pray to God for the preservation of the king and of his family, that the kingdom of Persia may continue. But my will is, that those who disobey these injunctions, and make them void, shall be hung upon a cross, and their substance brought into the king's treasury."[7] 

The details surrounding the death of Cyrus the Great vary - Herodotus, a Greek historian, records that Cyrus met his end at the hands of the Massagetae, a tribe from the deserts of modern-day Kazakhstan,[8] however, Greek physician and historian Ctesias, in his work Persica, documents the longest account of his death, conveying that Cyrus died in a battle against the Derbices infantry.[9] Xenophon, another Greek historian, soldier and mercenary reported that Cyrus died peacefully at his capital,[10] whereas Berossus, a a Hellenistic-era Babylonian writer, priest of Bel Marduk as well as  astronomer writing in Greek, who lived in the third century B.C., wrote that Cyrus met his death while fighting against the Dahae archers in Syr Darya. Both Berossus and Ctesias record the death of Cyrus transpiring at the headwaters of Syr Darya.[11] Though the details of his death are vary greatly, it has been established that Cyrus died ca.530 BC.

From these sources, we can conclude that, indeed, Cyrus the Great of Persia is a historical figure, and played a major role in Judaism in that he freed the captives and decreed that the should return home, and not only return home, but rebuild the Temple that was destroyed seventy years prior. This is another remarkable attestation to the historicity of the Biblical record, and demonstrates the validity of predictive prophecy. "Above all, you must understand that no prophecy of Scripture came about by the prophet's own interpretation of things. For prophecy never had its origin in the human will, but prophets, though human, spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit" (2nd Peter 1:20-22).

Thank you for taking the opportunity to read this entry of "The Truth." Feel free to email or, visit our facebook page, or visit our ministry website. As noted in previous entries, we recognize that not all readers will agree with our position concerning Isaiah's predictive prophecies of Cyrus, but it is the position of The Truth Ministries that the predictive prophecies found within the confines of the Bible are valid, verifiable, and accurate. In any case, one may examine the life of Cyrus the Great and find a truly remarkable account of one man's rise to power, and the way in which he went about utilizing it. Thank you, take care, and may God bless you. Troy Hillman

[1] "Cyrus." WebBible Encyclopedia. Christian Answers Network, n.d. Web. 13 Jul 2011. .
[2] Ibid.
[3] Wilson, Clifford, and Ken Ham. The New Answers Book 1. 12th ed. 2. Green Forest, Arkansas: Master Books, 2009. 315. Print.
[4] Lanser, Rick. "Have the burial sites of any people in the Bible been found?." Christian Answers Network. Christian Answers Network, 2002. Web. June 2011. .
[5] Metzger, Bruce M., and Michael D. Coogan. The Oxford Companion to the Bible. 1st ed. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993. 145-146. Print.
[6] Flavius Josephus. The Complete Works of Flavius Josephus.
[7] Ibid.
[8] Herodotus, The History, George Rawlinson, trans., (New York: Dutton & Co., 1862). Print.
[9] A history of Greece, Volume 2, By Connop Thirlwall, Longmans, 1836, p. 174. Print.
[10] Xenophon, Cyropaedia VII. 7; M.A. Dandamaev, "Cyrus II", in Encyclopaedia Iranica, p. 250. Print.
[11] A political history of the Achaemenid empire, By M. A. Dandamaev, BRILL, 1989, p. 67. Print.

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