Isaiah on Cyrus

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.

"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).


Isaiah on Cyrus

[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,note 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.