Cyrus the Great (Ezra 1)

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Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great, 559-530 B.C.) was a renowned conqueror and statesman who founded the Persian empire. Our knowledge of him comes from Herodotus’ History, as well as from other Greek historians, Persian texts and Babylonian records. Cyrus inherited the rule of a small territory called Pars in southern Iran, north of the Persian Gulf. Between 553 and 540 B.C. he subdued Media in central Iran, the kingdom of Lydia in western Anatolia (modern Turkey) and territories to the east, until he reigned  from the Aegean Sea to the Indus River. Isaiah prophesied of Cyrus’ deliverance of the Jews from captivity, calling him the Lord’s “anointed” (Isaiah 45:1).

Isaiah’s predictions, as well as those of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 25:12, 29:10), were fulfilled i 539 B.C. when Cyrus captured Babylon. According to the Babylonian Chronicle, Cyrus’ army entered Babylon without a battle on October 12, 539 B.C. Cyrus himself entered the city 17 days later, on October 29. With the addition of the Neo-Babylonian empire, he now controlled the entirety of Mesopotamia, Anatolia and the Levant (Syria-Palestine).

Cyrus was a beneficent king who allowed captive peoples to return to their homelands and restore their places of worship; this applied as well to the Jews residing in Babylon. Cyrus was not devoted to the God of Israel – in the Cyrus Cylinder he showed great reverence for Marduk of Babylon – but his policy of toleration for the religions of local populations worked to the Jews’ advantage.


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