The Cyrus Cylinder (Ezra 6)


When work on the temple resumed in 520 B.C., the Persian governor Tatternai requested a search for the decree of Cyrus had issued in 538 B.C. authorizing the Jews to rebuild their temple (Ezra 5:6-6:1). A memorandum related to the decree was discovered in the royal archive at Ecbatana, one of the three imperial capitals. This memo, the treasury record of a grant made by Cyrus for rebuilding the temple, is quoted in 6:3-5 in Aramaic, the official language of the Persian empire. Cyrus’ decree, recorded in full in 1:2-4, along with an abridged version in 2 Chronicles 36:23, both in Hebrew, was a proclamation to the Jewish people, allowing them to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. Such generosity on the part of Cyrus stands in sharp contrast to usual practise in antiquity. Even so, it is clear from archaeological discoveries that this was indeed the official policy of Cyrus.

The Cyrus Cylinder, an inscription on a clay barrel discovered in Babylon in 1879 (pictured above), documents Cyrus’ policy of religious tolerance and liberation. Like most inscriptions from ancient kings, the Cyrus Cylinder is boastful (Cyrus declared himself to be the great king of Babylon, Sumer, Akkad and of the four corners of the earth) and pagan (he proclaimed himself to be beloved of the gods Bel, Nebo and Marduk). On the other hand, Cyrus was determined to be a benevolent , rather than a heavy-handed, ruler: He pointed out that after his conquest of Babylon he did not allow his troops to terrorize the city. Cyrus’ record fully substantiates this generous and tolerant stance. He returned stolen images to their sanctuaries and, in his own words, “gathered all their inhabitabts and returned (to them) their dwellings.”


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