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The Cyrus Cylinder

How this famous cylinder and ancient historians verify the rebuilding of Jerusalem

The fall of the Neo-Babylonian Empire was finalized by the takeover of her capital city: Babylon. This takeover occurred in 539 BC by the Persian Empire and its unifying king, Cyrus the Great. The event is recorded in the Biblical Book of Daniel and by ancient historians: Herodotus (5th Century BC), Xenophon (4th Century BC), and Josephus (1st Century AD). According to these sources Babylon the city was holding a festival, and Daniel adds that King Belshazzar, who history explains was co-reagent with his father Nabonidus, was feasting with the precious metal cups and dishes plundered from the Jerusalem Temple (Daniel 5:1-3). The people were either extremely disgruntled with Belshazzar and Nabonidus or properly terrified of Cyrus’ army because the city was taken peacefully.

“Cyrus was the “King of the World”, the best servant of the gods – human rights likely had nothing to do with his decision to rebuild temples.

The military marched right in, took the palace and began reforms, rebuilding and reorganizing in the name of Cyrus. What happened next was of massive Biblical significance. Cyrus the Great commissioned captive peoples to return to their homelands, with their idols and cult utensils to rebuild the sanctuaries of their gods. This is recorded in the Bible several times: Isaiah the prophet foretold it (Isaiah 44-45), and Ezra and Chronicles record it (Ezra 1:1, 6:3; 2 Chronicles 36:23). This edict allowed Ezra to return and rebuild the Jerusalem Temple with the previously plundered temple treasures.

The work of modern history has verified the takeover of Babylon by Cyrus, his policy of releasing captives with their religious artifacts, and that he created an official edict that presumably would have been empire wide. This has been verified through the study of the Cyrus Cylinder. The Cylinder was discovered by archaeologist Hormuzd Rassum in Babylon in1879, where it is still on permanent display. The cylinder was a foundation inscription placed in the wall of the city that Cyrus had ordered repaired, its text is incomplete due to erosion, but records Cyrus’ policies (and after being analyzed it appears to have been mass produced; its rough interior was overlaid with several layers of clay, the last layer being inscribed with cuneiform script and then fired for longevity.[1]

In today’s world, the Cyrus Cylinder’s message has been somewhat retooled to fit with the modern agenda of human rights.[2] While valuing human life certainly is a Biblical value, the Cylinder does not reveal a humanitarian King Cyrus. His motives appear to have been religious, political and propagandistic. Cyrus was the “King of the World”, the best servant of the gods, the most righteous according to his cylinder – human rights likely had nothing to do with his decision to rebuild temples.

Nevertheless, the cylinder has a captivating history. A missing fragment was reunited to it in 1972, and in 2010 two fragments from copies of the cylinder were discovered in the archives of the British Museum, demonstrating that Cyrus’ edict was likely copied and spread throughout the whole Empire. Bizarrely, a copy of the Cylinder’s decree has even been deciphered in cuneiform on a pair of ancient Chinese horse bones as well.[3][4]

 

Corie Bobechko | March 31, 2021 – 3:00 PM EST


[1] Antoine Simonin, “The Cyrus Cylinder.” World History Encyclopaedia. Published on 18 January, 2012.
https://www.ancient.eu/article/166/the-cyrus-cylinder/
[2] Antoine Simonin, “The Cyrus Cylinder.” World History Encyclopaedia. Published on 18 January, 2012.
https://www.ancient.eu/article/166/the-cyrus-cylinder/
[3] “Cyrus Cylinder”, World Archaeology, Issue 43. Published on 6 September, 2010. https://www.world-archaeology.com/world/asia/china/cyrus-cylinder/
[4] “The On-going Saga of the Cyrus Cylinder” Associates for Biblical Research.
https://biblearchaeology.org/research/topics-by-subject/amazing-discoveries-in-biblical-archaeology/2877-the-ongoing-saga-of-the-cyrus-cylinder-the-internationallyfamous-grande-dame-of-ancient-texts?highlight=WyJjeXJ1cyIsImN5cnVzJ3MiLCJjeXJ1cyciXQ==