Daily Archives: March 7, 2012

The Cyrus Cylinder may not be as tolerant as some suggest

Dr. Jacob L. Wright, Candler School of Theology, offers a warning about using the Cyrus Cylinder as a model of toleration. He says,

As most historians who specialize in early Persian history would readily point out, the chief objective of Cyrus and his successors was no different than that of other imperial powers: to maintain control of their vast empire and to exploit the wealth of its subjects. Palace reliefs at Persepolis and Susa express this “vision of peace” in dramatic visual form: Delegations from various peoples are shown solemnly bearing precious gifts up to the enthroned king.

This perspective is in response to the lecture by Neil MacGregor, director of the British Museum, that we called attention to here.

The photo below shows a brick from Ur, in Southern Mesopotamia. According to the display sign in the British Museum the inscription in Babylonian cuneiform reads:

Cyrus, king of the world, king of Anshan, son of Cambyses, king of Ansham. The great gods delivered all the lands into my hand, and I made this land to dwell in peace.

The Biblical account of Cyrus allowing the Jews to return to their land and rebuild their temple is recorded in 2 Chronicle 36: 22-23 and Ezra 1:1-4.

Brick bearing name of Cyrus. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Brick with Babylonian inscription bearing name of Cyrus. British Museum. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Wright concludes his article with these words,

The values of tolerance that the Cyrus Cylinder has come to represent today must be held high. Yet in doing so, we must also heed the voices of those who opposed Persia’s imperial reach. Otherwise, we lose sight of the danger posed by any power that would organize the world primarily for the purpose of greater control, exploitation and expansion.

The complete article is available in The Huffington Post Religion section here.

HT: Jack Sasson