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Cyrus takes Babylon: Second Isaiah & Ezra

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Map of Babylon. Map design Jona Lendering.
In October 539 BCE, the Persian king Cyrus took Babylon, the ancient capital of an oriental empire covering modern Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, and Israel. In a broader sense, Babylon was the ancient world's capital of scholarship and science. The subject provinces soon recognized Cyrus as their legitimate ruler. Since he was already lord of peripheral regions in modern Turkey and Iran (and Afghanistan?), it is not exaggerated to say that the conquest of Babylonia meant the birth of a true world empire. The Achaemenid empire was to last for more than two centuries, until it was divided by the successors of the Macedonian king Alexander the Great. A remarkable aspect of the capture of Babylon is the fact that Cyrus allowed the Jews (who were exiled in Babylonia) to return home.
Chronicle of Nabonidus
Verse account of Nabonidus
Prayer of Nabonidus
Cyrus Cylinder
Second Isaiah

Second Isaiah

'Second Isaiah' or 'Deutero-Isaiah' is the name of the chapters 40-55 of the Biblical book of Isaiah, which were added to the 'real' text of Isaiah. The second prophet predicts the coming of king Cyrus, who will liberate the Jews from their Babylonian Captivity and will bring them to the Promised Land. It may be noted that Cyrus was considered by the Jews a monotheist, an opinion that was more or less correct, since many Persians venerated the 'wise lord' Ahuramazda who was the eternal enemy of an evil god named Angrya Manyu. Persian religion also stressed that people should be honest and righteous, and it is possible that these ideas about a wise Lord with an ethical message influenced the lines 45.7-8 quoted below.

This Jewish text confirms Cyrus' own propaganda that he was chosen by the supreme god to liberate Babylon. An interesting detail is that line 45.1 contains an old prediction of the coming of a special anointed one (i.e., the Messiah).

(44.23)  Sing, O heavens, for the Lord has done it! Shout, you lower parts of the earth; break forth into singing, you mountains, o forest, and every tree in it! For the Lord has redeemed Jacob, and glorified Himself in Israel. (44.24)  Thus says the Lord, your Redeemer, and He who formed you from the womb:

'I am the Lord, who makes all things, Who stretches out the heavens all alone, Who spreads abroad the earth by Myself; (44.25)  Who frustrates the signs of the babblers, and drives diviners mad, who turns wise men backward, and makes their knowledge foolishness, (44.26)  Who confirms the word of His servant, and performs the counsel of His messengers, Who says to Jerusalem, "You shall be inhabited," to the cities of Judah, "You shall be built," and will raise up her waste places, (44.27) Who says to the deep, "Be dry!" and will dry up your rivers, (44.28)  Who says of Cyrus, "He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, saying to Jerusalem, 'You shall be built,' and to the temple, 'Your foundation shall be laid.'"'
(45.1) Thus says the Lord to His anointed [i.e., Messiah], to Cyrus -whose right hand I have held- to subdue nations before him and loose the armor of kings, to open before him the double doors, so that the gates will not be shut:
(45.2) 'I will go before you and make the crooked places straight; I will break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of iron. (45.3)  I will give you the treasures of darkness and hidden riches of secret places, so that you may know that I, the Lord, Who call you by your name, am the God of Israel. (45.4)  For Jacob My servant's sake, and Israel My elect, I have even called you by your name; I have named you, though you have not known Me. (45.5) I am the Lord, and there is no other; there is no God besides Me. I will gird you, though you have not known Me, (45.6) that they may know from the rising of the sun to its setting that there is none besides Me. I am the Lord, and there is no other; (45.7)  I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the Lord, do all these things. (45.8) Rain down, you heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness; let the earth open, let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together. I, the Lord, have created it.'


The following lines in the book of Ezra refer to a decree by Cyrus. It is unclear whether this is the true wording of the decree, but it may be authentic. We may compare the decree to Cyrus' own statement that he gathered many people and returned  them to their former habitations (above). The prophesy of Jeremiah that is referred to, is Jeremiah 25.11-12, where it is stated that the Jews would return after seventy years. In fact, the Babylonian Exile lasted from 587 -when the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar had captured Jerusalem- until 539.

(1.1) 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 put it in writing:

(1.2) 'This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: The Lord, the God of Heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has appointed me to build a temple for him at Jerusalem in Judah. (1.3) Anyone of his people among you - may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem in Judah and build the temple of the Lord, the God of Israel, the God who is in Jerusalem. (1.4) And the people of any place where they may still be living are to provide them with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with freewill offerings for the temple of God in Jerusalem.'
(1.5) 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. (1.6) 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. (1.7) 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 [i.e., Marduk]. (1.8) Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithradates the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.

Part seven

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