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.
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. 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.
Ezra on Cyrus
[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.note
[1.8] Cyrus king of Persia had them brought by Mithradates the treasurer, who counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah.