The Sippar Cylinder of Nabonidus (2 Chronicles 36)

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The conclusion to Chronicles describes the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of the Judahites under the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. The exiles served Nebuchadnezzar and his successors “until the kingdom of Persia came to power” (2 Chronicles 36:20), at which time Cyrus conquered Babylon and subsequently declared that Jewish exiles could return to their native land and rebuild their temple (36:22-23).

An inscription discovered in the Ebabbar temple in Sippar (a Babylonian city) briefly mentions the rise of the Persian empire and its king. It consists of several copies on clay cylinders, celebrating the rebuilding of three temples by Nabonidus (ruled 556-539 B.C.), the last king of the Neo-Babylonian empire. In the account Nabonidus receives a dream from the gods Sin and Marduk, requesting that he rebuild Sin’s temple in the city of Haran. When Nabonidus protest that Haran is still under control of the powerful Medes and therefore beyond his reach, the deities assure him that the Median empire will fall to a subordinate king named Cyrus. Cyrus procedes to defeat the great Median army and take captive the Median king. Thus Nobonidus is able to complete his rebuilding project through divine intervention, with his gods using Cyrus to remove the Median obstacle.

Although the Sippar Cylinder recounts nothing beyond the rebuilding of the three temples during the latter part of Nabonidus’ reign, other historical records complete the picture. The Babylonian Chronicles states that Cyrus’ army took control of Babylon itself in 539 B.C., thereby ending the reign of Nabonidus and the ascendancy of the Neo-Babylonian empire. Later Persian sources attribute the fall of Nabonidus to his neglect of the supreme Babylonian deity, Marduk, in favour of the foreign god Sin.


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