In an unusual gesture of amity between the western world and Iran, the British Museum has loaned to an Iranian museum the famous “Cyrus Cylinder” on which is a declaration by Cyrus of his new policies after conquering and defeating the last king of the Babylonian Empire (which was afterwards absorbed into the expanding Persian Empire). Given the current political hostility between western nations and Iran, this is a remarkable gesture all by itself.
The first link describes the joy of the remaining community of “Persian Jews”—those Jews still living in Iran—at the opportunity to see this historic artifact. This artifact is especially important to Jews as King Cyrus of Persia was the king who issued the decree that a contingent of Jews could return to the old Promised Land and reestablish a Jewish settlement centered on Jerusalem. The decree of Cyrus is described in Ezra 1:1-5, and the story of the Jews who returned to Jerusalem is found in the biblical books of Ezra and Nehemiah. It was this returning band of Jews under Ezra and Nehemiah who furnished the population base of Jews which grew into the expanded number of Jews who were living in Judea at the time of Jesus Christ’s life.
While some have tried to find a connection between the content on the Cyrus Cylinder and the decree of Cyrus in Ezra 1, there is not a direct connection. One could find a precursor of Cyrus’s disposition to make such a decree in his declarations of friendship and religious tolerance that are found in the cylinder’s wording. There is no question that Cyrus the Great was a real historical figure and that he did issue a decree which allowed a contingent of Jews to return to settle in Jerusalem and rebuild its walls.
Approximately 150 years prior to King Cyrus coming to power and issuing his declaration to rebuild Jerusalem, this action had been foretold by the Prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 44:28-45:1. That God foretold this very decree long before it occurred confirms the power of the God of the Bible, as Creator, to implement his will over generations, centuries and millennia of time. Isaiah 41:21-26 cites God as challenging everyone to see his ability to fulfill prophecies as evidence of his Divine reality and sovereignty. Proverbs 21:1 also makes a statement that God can (and does) turn the hearts of kings (or world rulers) to go in whatever direction he wants them to go to fulfill his will or his prophecies. God’s influencing Cyrus’s heart to make the decree concerning the Jews’ return is evidence of God’s doing this in ancient times. God’s power to shape the direction of human events is just as evident today in the way that the Bible’s “latter day” prophecies are being shaped and fulfilled in our modern times.
Unfortunately, Cyrus the Great’s life ended ingloriously. He died, along with his army, when he invaded the Sacae Scythians who lived east of the Caspian Sea. The “Sacae” Scythians bore the name of “Isaac” upon them, as Genesis 21:12 prophesied would be the case re: the descendants of Abraham and the Israelites. The Sacae Scythians were the descendants of the ten tribes of Israel who had grown very numerous and powerful after their exile from the old Promised Land (just as Hosea 1:10 prophesied would happen). Even by that ancient time, the ten tribes had become too numerous and powerful for even the Persian Empire to defeat them. World history texts ignore the victorious (and stronger) Israelite Empire of Scythia and focus on the history of the defeated (and weaker) Persian Empire. The full story of the Sacae Scythian Empire, their Israelite origins, its massive reach and their wars against Assyria and Persia, is found in my book, Israel’s Lost Empires, which can be obtained via the book links at this website.
One final thought. I hope the Iranians return the gesture of amity and actually give the Cyrus Cylinder back to the British Museum.