The Cyrus Cylinder and a Dream for the Middle East

It’s not everyday that you see a newspaper article written by a biblical scholar. The Huffington Post has printed a good article by Jacob Wright (Emory University) on whether or not the Cyrus Cylinder can give us a vision for a peaceful Middle East. The Cyrus Cylinder, dating to c. 538 BC, contains the text of Cyrus’ decree allowing the return of gods to their temples throughout the (newly established) Persian Empire. This text is sometimes touted as the first ‘human rights charter’, which is why you can find a replica in the UN Building in New York City. It has also been suggested that it could serve as a blueprint for nations and peoples living peacefully alongside each other in what is one of the world’s most tense regions, politically and religiously. However, as Jacob points out, our understanding of Cyrus’ decree needs a little more nuancing. It’s a good read. Here’s the link:

The Cyrus Cylinder and a Dream for the Middle East

The Cyrus Cylinder

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One thought on “The Cyrus Cylinder and a Dream for the Middle East

  1. Glad to have been prompted to read Cy. The question wouldn’t seem to be whether Cy or his successors lived up to their proclaimed ideals but whether they proclaimed any ideals which were interesting or new. Scarcely. There is a sense that it would be nice if all communities were gathered happily around their historic shrines – would Nebuchadnezzar have disagreed? – but no sense even of the possibility, let alone the rightfulness, of individual dissent. Deportations which distress the gods are wrong, of course, but that is not to say that deportations are contrary to human right or never to happen even to bad guys.
    Cyrus clearly did gain a reputation for being reasonable, approachable and deeply religious and this idea seems so widespread that it probably has some justification. His empire must have had many points of similarity with other empires, though I think we could say that he moved from rule through ‘client kings’ towards rule by satraps and thus sought local political support through priests and temples rather than through dynasts. This is a move in the direction of the union of church and state, so perhaps ambivalent in its impact on the history of human rights.
    Wright seems to me to be just as indulgent towards the civilisation that he favours, the Israelites, as MacGregor is towards the Iranians. Were there really norms that prevented imperial expansion? What texts does he have in mind? Had John Hyrcanus heard of them? Maybe that is a rather captious question, but we should recall that Genesis identifies a vast territory as somehow Israelite.

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