Thursday, October 15, 2009

P r e f a c e





Dr. Asher Eder©

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or utilize in any form or by any means, electronic or me- chanical, including ph- otocopying, recording, or by information storage or retrieval system, without written permission from the publisher.


P r e f a c e

One of the most astonishing, indeed uniquely outstanding figures in human history is the Persian King Cyrus – mentioned by Prophet Isaiah as Shepherd and Messiah of the Lord.

The more so it is astounding that the confluence of mundane history and Scriptural teaching in that unique personality and its tremendous impact on history and culture go rather unnoticed in comparison to that of Caesar; Alexander; Napoleon; and others.

I have to admit that also my interest in King Cyrus was sparked off only in a conversation with a friend of mine, Ms Rahel Yarden ז"ל which took place more than 35 years ago. Unexpectedly she pointed at the ongoing 2500 years celebrations in Persia since King Cyrus. She said that we Jews ought to thank him not less than the Persians. For, besides releasing the Jewish captives from Babylon and providing for the rebuilding of the Temple, it is to his credit that the sages of then could dedicate themselves to the compilation of the Tanakh [=Hebrew Bible]; and that he was called, by Prophet Isaiah, Shepherd and Messiah of the Lord.

After I returned home from that conversation, I looked up the Book of Isaiah to see for myself what he had to say on the subject. To my surprise, the Hebrew text has indeed the Lord G-d of Israel speaking of Cyrus as “his shepherd”, and “his Messiah”. This fact had so far escaped me as I was used then to read the books of the prophets mainly in their English translations which render the Hebrew word Messiah as anointed.

Now my interest was aroused deeply. What are the criteria of a Messiah? What distinguishes a Messiah from a Prophet; from a redeemer; from a saviour? Or from a king? What was so special in Cyrus’ case that the Prophet, even Isaiah, spoke of him as Messiah, and for that matter spoke not his own mind but quoted the Lord God of Israel as speaking to “his Messiah, to Cyrus”?

A Gentile Messiah of the Lord G-d of Israel – neither a Christian, nor a Jew - how to understand that?

Now, as I am writing these lines, we commemorate the “3000 years of Jerusalem”, or, to be more accurate, King David’s transforming the Canaanite city of Salem into Yerushalayim [=Jerusalem] as the city of hope for peace among all mankind. Before this background, it seems quite appropriate to remember and honor also King Cyrus, Shepherd and Messiah of the Lord.

In our awkward world situation, there are many circles in Judaism, in Christianity, in Islam, as well as in other cultures, who expect the coming soon of a redeemer, or Messiah, or Mahdi, or Avatar, etc. Could an understanding of King Cyrus have some bearing on our respective expectations? I wanted to find out for myself. Now, after more than twenty years’ study of the subject, which I had to do besides my daily work, I think that the findings could well be of interest and of value to many readers.

Cyrus’ peerless personality, his skills as warrior and statesman, his benevolence and righteousness, were praised by friends and foes alike throughout the ages. Reflecting his true devotion, these features of his stood in glaring contrast to the widespread practice of unparalleled atrocities and open gloating therein which characterized the centuries before Cyrus’ rule.

While already this observation may justify adding another monograph to the long list of books written about him, it is the confluence of Biblical and mundane history in his person which calls for elucidation and for the attention so-far hardly anyone has paid

King Cyrus, well known in history as the founder of the Medo-Persian Empire but ignored as the Shepherd and Messiah of the Lord G-d of Heavens and Earth, could in that capacity of his well play the model role in elevating the present quandary and quarrel over Jerusalem into its universal acceptance as the “city of peace”, for the benefit of all.

After all, Cyrus gave history of mankind a new direction:

*Essential concepts, such as democracy and freedom of religion, trace back to Cyrus;

*Without Cyrus’ benevolent deportment and helping hand in restoring Jerusalem and in facilitating the building of the Second Temple destroyed by the Babylonian King Nebukadnezzar shortly before, we Jews would probably not be here; and our Book, spoken of as the Bible in English, would at best have remained a collection of poetically jot down hopes and wailings of another people vanquished in history; and Christianity and Islam would not have come into existence.

*Besides the Tanakh, the Koran praises him, to.

*Zecharaiah’s vision of the Menorah flanked by two olives, has one of its roots in King Cyrus’ stance. This vision carries a message for our time. The State of Israel, relating to that vision, has adopted the Menorah flanked by two olive branches, as the Symbol of State.

*The Sages said: “Prophecy that was needed for the generations to come was written down; that which was not needed for the generations to come was not written down” (Babylonian Talmud, Megillah, 14a). That is, incorporating Prophet Isaiah’s word about King Cyrus Shepherd and Messiah of the Lord; and Prophet Zechariah’s vision of the Menorah, were seen by the Sages as essential for the generations to come.

The book is an attempt to fuse the relatively sparse Biblical and historic records about Cyrus. It endeavors to shed light on the unparalleled personality of King Cyrus and on his times, as well as on those feats of his which made him truly a Messiah. In our reflections, necessarily so, it will be highly stimulating to look somewhat beyond the personality and the times of King Cyrus, and trace the influence of his stance on history and religions even unto our times.

The book is dedicated to all those who may in their own pondering about the quest of Jerusalem, find in Cyrus a thought provoking figure whose famous edict concerning Jews and Jerusalem has not lost anything of its actuality and validity.

The publication of the manuscript was delayed due to lack of interest in the subject. But now, in 2009, two facts encourage me yet to publish the manuscript:

a) the technical facility to bring it out as eBook;

b) in the last decades, numerous “Peace Nobel Prices” have been awarded to various politicians – Israeli; Arafat; Americans – put peace seems to be farther away than ever.

Hence, may this book show the common root of the three so-called “Abrahamic Religions” and the implication of that awareness as exemplified by King Cyrus.

CYRUS – List of Contents page

A) Messiahship and Messiahs in the Tanakh 6

B) The historic setting 12

C) The forming of the Persian Empire 13

1) Zarathustra’s impact 14

2) The Achaemenians 15

D) Cyrus’ personality and feats

1) Cyrus’ birth and miraculous survival 16

2) Zarathustra and the possibility of his influence 18

3) Cyrus’ name and Divine call 18

4) Cyrus’ kingship 18

5) The Medes’ turning against Babylon 19

E) Babylon’s fall

1) The New Babylonian Empire 21

2) Belshazzar’s banquet 22

3) Cyrus’ edict to the Babylonians 23

4) Cyrus vis-a-vis the Jewish captives in Babylon 25

F) Cyrus’ Edict

1) Its text 29

2) Its brilliant formulation 30

3) The Edict’s arrangement for restitutions 32

4) Cyrus’ attitude beyond tolerance 33

5) Confirmation of the Edict by successor kings 33

6) A message throughout the ages 34

7) Objections to Cyrus’ messiahship refuted 35

G) More reflections on Cyrus’ unique personality and politics 36

H) Opposing forces in the Persian Court 39

I) The Samaritans’ rivalry 40

K) Haman’s plot – the Story of Purim 44

L) The Persian Kings and the Temple 52

M) The period of the Second Temple 52

N) The Jewish Community vis-a-vis Persia 54

1) A Jewish king during the period of the Second Temple? 55

2) A challenge 57

3) Direction of prayer 58

4) Compilation of the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) 59

5) Translations of the Tanakh 59

6) Israel and the nations

O) The Fifth Century B.C.E. 62

P) Zechariah’s vision of the Menorah – reflected in symbol of the State of Israel 63

Q) Ezra’s celebration of Succoth and its far-reaching prophetic impact 68

R) Cyrus’ Tomb. Its inscription and bequest 69

S) Cyrus, Messiah of the Lord, and Alexander the Great 70

T) King Cyrus in the Koran 71

U) Some more reflections 72

V) Addendum 73

Notes 81

Back cover write up (suggestion):

Cyrus the Great

King Cyrus is known as an outstanding, unparalleled figure in mankind's history. Even more startling is Prophet Isaiah's word calling him "Shepherd and Messiah" of the Lord. Surprisingly enough, not much attention was paid so far to the real meaning of giving these extraordinary titles to a Gentile king.

The author who pondered the subject for many years, endeavours to fill this gap. In this book, he acquaints the reader with fresh and amazing insights into the intricacy of Biblical and mundane history, and sheds light on King Cyrus' Messiahship.

The book presents the subject in a way which allows effortless to draw comparisons to our times. It may well answer the quest of many who look for a Redeemer, Messiah, Mahdi, Avatar, or by what other term peoples of different cultural backgrounds are used to think in view of that subject. This adds an extra aspect to the book's valuable findings.

The author presents the subject in remarkable lucidity and pleasant readability. He has traveled extensively in the Orient to make himself acquainted with its cultures, and this turned out to be an asset for writing this book.

Other publications of the author:

*The Star of David - an ancient symbol of integration

published by Reuben Mass, Jerusalem, 1987.

Also on:

*Peace is possible between Ishmael and Israel according to the Koran (A study of sayings of the Koran about Israel and her vocation), published by Root & Branch Assoc, P.O.Box 8672, Jerusalem/Israel, at www//rb&

1) Messiahship and Messianic personalities in the Tanakh

The term Messiah, Anointed, is known to Jews, Christians, and Muslim. As each of them has his particular understanding of its meaning, it seems appropriate to elucidate its denotation in the Tanakh, the Hebrew Bible, whence it originated.

Christians know only of Jesus as The Messiah (=The Christ, The Anointed), and expect his second coming as the redemption from the world’s confusion and troubles.

Jews focus on King David who is called Messiah of the Lord in the Hebrew Bible, and hope for a “Son of David” as the Redeemer.

Muslim speak, on the one hand, of Rassul Mohammed as the last, and final, one of the prophets – the “Seal of the Prophets” – yet are aware of a passage in the Koran which speaks of Jesus as Messiah; and of another passage which predicts the coming of a Comforter (Ahmed).

In non-Biblical religions, we meet the Hindus who expect an Avatar who would terminate the present Kali Yuga (=Age of Darkness), and would usher mankind into the Satya Yuga (=Age of Truth). And we meet the Parsees (“Zarathustrians”) whose scriptures foretell a re-appearance (“Second Coming”) of Zarathustra who would deliver the peoples of truth from the abyss, and establish righteousness and truth on earth.

While Hindus and Parsees do not apply the term Messiah in connection with their respective hopes, it is yet obvious that there is much in common with the hopes nourished by the three religions which relate to Abraham.

All of us became aware in the recent years that we are one mankind, living in one “global village” – either living together, or perishing together by the means developed by human brains and hands.

What can we in this situation learn from King Cyrus, an extraordinary world leader as well as an unique Biblical figure?

Since he is little known, even ignored, in that latter aspect, let us have a deeper look into the subject.

The Persian King Cyrus, known as Cyrus the Great, is called both Shepherd and Messiah (Anointed) of the Lord in the Book of Prophet Isaiah. It is important to note that the Prophet does not speak here is own mind, rather, he brings the word of the Lord, as follows1:

“Thus says the Lord thy redeemer... that says of Cyrus, he is my Shepherd, and shall perform all my desire: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the Temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus says the Lord to his Messiah [למשיחו], to Cyrus, whose right hand I have beholden..."

We should note that most English translations of the Bible render here the Hebrew word משיח (meshiah, Messiah) as anointed2 , while this word as well as its Greek version Christos (Christ) got in the Western world solely applied to Jesus. At the same time, consequently so-to-speak, those figures who are mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures (Tanakh, so-called OT) as Messiahs, are simply called anointed in the translations.

In our endeavor to understand the intrinsic denotation of the word Messiah, we have first of all to acknowledge that it is a unique and peculiar Hebrew term, and subsequently we have to deduce its basic meaning from the Hebrew Scriptures3. We have to find answers from there to the questions:

>Who is termed Messiah in these Scriptures?

>What were their specific qualities?

>What were the peculiarities which distinguished them from other great personalities known in the Tanakh or in the mundane world?

>What message do these Scriptures want to convey to us in this respect?

Especially mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures as Messiahs are:

The Patriarchs (Abraham, Isaac, Jacob)4

The Kings Saul and David5

King Cyrus

Speaking of Cyrus as Messiah is outstanding and remarkable insofar as

a) the term Messiah as title appears in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) only in connection with the Patriarchs, the Kings Saul and David, and King Cyrus. High Priests, other kings, and prophets who were anointed6, are nowhere called Messiahs. Since a gentile who engages sincerely in Torah, is considered like a High Priest in Jewish thinking, he could well be seen as anointed by the spirit of the Lord speaking through the Torah - which, of course, would not make such a Gentile a Messiah.

b) no non-Jew besides Cyrus was ever called Messiah;

c) Judaism did not acknowledge other personalities as Messiahs although some were called so by their followers (e.g. Jesus in the Gospels, and in the Koran7; Bar-Cokhba by Rabbi Akiba; Shabtai Zvi; and others).

The common denominator for the Messiahs mentioned in a) seems to be their walking in the spirit of the Lord, their acting accordingly, and their success therein:

"The spirit of wisdom and understanding,

the spirit of counsel and might,

the spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord"8.

In general, it is apparently through the act of anointment that this spirit of the Lord comes upon the Anointed9. Explicitly mentioned in this regard are King Saul and King David:

"And the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you -Saul- (...'וצלחה עליך רוח-ה ) and you shall prophesy with them, and shall be turned into another man".

Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him [David] in the midst of his brethren: and the Spirit of the Lord came upon David (. אל-דוד.'(תצלח רוח-ה from the day forward."

Although there is no specific mentioning in the Tanakh, we may safely assume that the Patriarchs Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob who learned from Shem and 'Eber10, were also anointed by them.

Saul was anointed as Messiah by Prophet Samuel, but there is no mentioning in the Scriptures that the Prophet anointed him also as king11. Yet many scholars understand Samuel's word to Saul: "Is it not because the Lord has anointed thee captain over is inheritance"12, not as part of a question as the structure of the whole verse may suggest, but as a positive statement that Saul was indeed anointed ruler. If so, he was anointed directly by the Lord, without the intermission of a prophet or elder, as there is no mentioning whatsoever that Samuel actually performed the act of anointing him. Such a scriptural statement would have quite some bearing in our probing of Cyrus' anointment.

It seems that the sages acknowledged the possibility of such a direct anointment. When Rabbi Aqiba proclaimed Bar-Cokhba as Messiah, he did so although there was no prophet or Elder around who could perform an act of anointment.

In contrast, of David it is said that besides his spiritual anointment he was also anointed as king of Judah, and later on also as king of Israel by the Elders. Thus, David got anointed three times13.

While all these cases may lead to the conclusion that an act of anointing by the hand of a prophet or the Elders is the general rule for recognizing a person as Messiah, the case of Bar-Cokhba shows that this must not necessarily be so in Jewish thinking:

Apparently there is a difference in the respective positions of the Patriarchs, the High Priests, and the kings: the latter officiated also as rulers. The Tanakh hints at this differentiation. There the Patriarchs are called Anointed and the High Priests are spoken of as anointed, while the kings are in addition also mentioned as נגיד [nagid] which means ruler14.

The Kings of Judah after King David received only the anointment to be kings but were not called Messiah15.

Looking back at the chain of relevant events so far, we may say that the Patriarchs referred to as Messiahs in Ps. 105:15 re-introduced monotheism into mankind after Nimrod’s and Babel’s deviation16, and laid the spiritual and ethnical foundation for Israel17

King Saul, anointed by Prophet Samuel, discontinued Israel’s tribalism, and established the Kingship18;

King David, anointed by Prophet Samuel and the Elders of Judah and Israel, defeated the enemies around, secured peace for Israel, founded Zion, and proclaimed foremost in his Psalms the Kingship of the Lord over all mankind19.

These two Kings, Saul and David, introduced the period of the First Temple (which was then actually built by David’s son Solomon). The temple building itself may be seen as the visible and touchable focus of Zion, this term describing the linkage between the people, the land, and the Divine Teaching (Torah).

King Cyrus, then, made Jerusalem’s Divine status legal also in the realm of international politics, and introduced through his activities the period of the Second Temple19.

In fact, he set up a new era in man’s history altogether, as we will see in the following chapters.

From this we may infer that a crucial characteristic of a Messiah is the direct preparation for the Temple and what it stands for, even if these preparations involve wars. What is more, in their officiating as kings and in their preparations for the Temples, they introduced new epochs in the history of mankind. Each one of them brought a special aspect of the Divine into it, something which can be attributed also to the Patriarchs, whence also they were called Messiahs. These criteria certainly distinguish them from saviors or redeemers.

However, the First Temple was actually built by King Solomon who was not called Messiah. Likewise the construction of the Second Temple was actually begun by Sheshbazzar, Zerubabel, and Yehoshua20, neither of whom is called Messiah; nor were Cyrus' successors called Messiah although the actual building of the Temple took place under their reign21.

We may infer that the successful preparation for the building of the Temple and what it stands for, is in respect to the title Messiah more important than its actual building. As said, the Messiahs introduced by their God-related activities new periods in the culture of mankind. In the following chapters we will see what that means in view of Cyrus.

The Jewish Temples are Houses of Peace with other nations, and not houses of war against them. This was true for the First and for the Second Temple, and more so will it be with the Third Temple. That means to say that the Messiahs who introduced the periods of peace symbolized by the Temple, are not merely warriors (as so many other kings of history were). By fighting wars of righteousness against evil forces they prepare the ground for building the Temple spiritually and materially (politically), but apparently it is not their task to actually build it. We may say the Temples were outer expressions and manifestations of a state of mind represented and pursued by these Messiahs. Jewish Temples are the visible and touchable residence for God's Name on earth amidst men prepared by men of His Will.

True, there were kings in history who fought wars and then introduced long periods of peace, however without being called Messiah. An outstanding example is Emperor Ashoka of the 2nd Century BCE who made India a Buddhist country with a long period of peace. We may conclude that he was not given the title of a Messiah as he was neither anointed by a prophet, nor did he prepare for a Temple (in this case, the Second Temple) and the Divine teaching (Torah) it stands for.

This shows us that peace in the meaning of absence of war is not the ultimate goal. It is the guidance of mankind in God's spirit of truth and righteousness which will eventually achieve peace as an expression of God’s glory on earth.

This explains also why Judaism could not recognize Jesus, Bar Cokhba, Shabtai Zvi, etc, as Messiahs: They did not bring about the conditions for restoring the Temple and what it stands for.

For the sake of clarification, we should reflect here briefly on the wide spread expectations of the Coming of the Messiah (or Second coming, in Christian thought). The Rambam formulated he Jewish expectations masterly in the respective passage of his 13 Articles of Faith. It reads:

אני מאמין באמונה שלמה בביאת המשיח...

“I believe in complete faith in the coming [of the] Messiah…”

The term ביאת המשיח, coming [of the] Messiah, is grammatically a gerund by intention, that is, it speaks of a readiness or openness of the people(s) in view of his coming; and simultaneously of a permanent presence and readiness of the Messiah to appear and take up rule – inasmuch as the people(s) are truly ready for it. In fact, he is much more waiting for us than we are waiting for him22. Let it here be mentioned for the readers of the Gospels that the latter express the very same idea, at least in their original Greek version23.

In case the teaching of Jesus should ever induce the nations to ready spiritually, theologically and physically for the Third Temple and what it stands for, Judaism would probably have no qualms to recognize him as an anointed who helped preparing the coming of the Messiah, this in spite of all the spiritual and physical sufferings inflicted in his name on his people by Crusades, Inquisition, pogroms, Holocaust, etc. The reflections on Cyrus in the following chapters may help clarify the point in question.

Summing up our above findings, we may describe the bearing features of a Messiah-King as follows:

a) He is dyed in the Spirit of the Lord as outlined by Prophet Isaiah, and is subdued to it (in Hebrew, the word Messiah, , משיחderives from the word שחwhich means bent, bowed);

b) in that Spirit, he does not do away with the commandments, nor does he alter them; he rather helps to bring them to their fulfillment and fruition as symbolized by the Temple;

c) he saves the people of Israel from the lowest pits of degradation and lifts them up to their true status. King David saved Israel from the hands of the Philistines who had overpowered King Saul and his state; and King Cyrus saved Israel from its captivity in Babylon, even before the completion of the 70 years forewarned by Prophet Jeremiah24;

d) he prepares for the actual building of the Temple;

e) he introduces by his activity a new period in the history of mankind;

f) apparently two Messiah-Kings cannot function side by side at the same time25;

g) God in his absolute sovereignty can even from the Gentile nations call forth a Messiah;

h) while Cyrus had the full sovereignty of a king, he granted the Jews religious/cultural autonomy.

i) King Cyrus, in addition to the above, was called also "My Shepherd", besides Messiah, as mentioned. In the Holy Scriptures, we find this term nowhere applied to a human being except for Cyrus. A shepherd, by definition, provides for the flock and tries to protect it - that's just what Cyrus did in regard to the Jews, as well as to other peoples.

The above points provide also an answer to our question about the distinctive characteristics between a Messiah, a savior, or a prophet, notwithstanding the fact that there can be overlappings. King David, for instance, can well be seen as a savior, too; and he was definitely also a prophet26. Many of his Psalms contain prophecies, and the Prophets after him from Isaiah to Malachi base upon them. On the other hand, King Cyrus did not speak as a prophet, although his famous edict implies prophetic aspects (as we will see in the following).

Why were the Persian Empire, nor the Second Temple, then not graced by a permanent state of peace although Cyrus and most of his successors endeavored to stride for that Divine righteousness which would bring about lasting peace? In the following, we will have to deal with that question, too.

B) The historic setting

A brief look at the situation of the world of then may give us even a better understanding of Cyrus' Messiahship.

It is rather known that the empires of the area - Assyria, Babylonia, Egypt, Elam, Hittites, etc, - were constantly at war one with the other. These wars were fought with the utmost fierceness and brutality. All kind of cruelties and atrocities were committed for their own sakes as well as to strike terror into the hearts of men. Records of ancient historians (Herodot, Xenophon, etc) speak volumes thereabout. While one might be inclined to deem them as exaggerating, archeological findings are even more revealing. An inscription on a palace wall by an Assyrian king named Ashur Nezar Pal may illustrate this point. It reads:

"According to the commandments of Ashur and Asthar, the Great Gods, I attacked the city (of Ginyu) and conquered it in no time. Without hesitation I beheaded six hundred warriors of the enemy, three thousand prisoners were burnt alive and I did not leave alive a single one of them as hostage. I personally skinned alive the governor of the city, and from there I marched towards the city of Tila. The people of the city did not abjectly surrender to me. Consequently, I attacked their city and smashed the gates. I put three thousand persons to the sword; many others I roasted in fire; innumerable prisoners their tongues pulled out; their hands, fingers, ears and noses cut off and thousands of eyeballs were pulled out of their sockets. With the corpses of the dead I built barricades and their heads severed from their bodies, were hung on arches outside the city"1.

Assyria's most famous king, Tiglath-Pileser III, boasted likewise: "[Rezin, King of Damascus], in order to save his life [after his army was routed], fled alone, and entered the gate of his city like a lemur. His chief ministers I impaled alive and had his country behold them"2.

A clay prism, found in the ruins of Nebukadnezzar's palace, on which he describes his battle against Judea's King Hezekiah, shows him in the same vogue: "As for Hezekiah ... himself, like a caged bird I shut (him) up in Jerusalem his royal city ... Anyone coming out of the city gate, I turned into an abomination ...". Apparently those who trusted his offer to escape the siege and be brought into another land, as mentioned in 2.Kings 18:31,32, were "turned into an abomination".

Many more records of that type could be quoted, including passages from the Tanakh3.

Also peoples in farer away regions were absorbed in this frenzy. Herodot, describing the Massagetae, a people living in the area between Lake Aral and Afghanistan, tells us that families put their own children outdoors even in icy winters and gave them food enough only for half of them so that they would have to fight for it, and only the strongest would survive. Another "custom" of theirs was to kill an elder man once he was not able anymore to have his way with women, to butcher him and boil or roast the pieces, and the community including his family would savor them, together with other sacrificial offerings, in a festive meal. - More known is the practice of the Spartans who simply deposed weeklings, and amputated the right breasts of their womenfolk so that they could better draw the bow. Concomitant to these atrocities were, necessarily so, all kind of corruptions and treacheries. In short, mankind must have been in an unprecedented ethical, moral, and political low fanned and exploited by the rulers.

The Kingdoms of Israel and of Judah fell prey to them. The tribes of the former were deported in 722 B.C.E. by the Assyrians into the lands of the Medes4 and into other lands in the east. Shortly after, King Nebukadnezzar of Babel defeated the Southern Kingdom, destroyed the Temple (in 586 B.C.E.), and led the majority of the people into captivity, known as the Babylonian exile.

C) The forming of the Persian Empire

The lands of what became later on known as Persia were at that time ruled by several local kings. Most of them were vassals to bigger neighboring powers. The Medes were subjected to the Assyrians, Elam to Babylonia, etc. Naturally so, these vassals tried to shake off their yokes, and occasionally succeeded.

The Medes, fierce fighters, were the first to gain independence from dominating Assur and, being in alliance with Babylonia, could eventually conquer Niniveh (625 B.C.E.). Media, under its kings Cyaxares and Astyages, achieved supremacy over Minor Asia and Iran, including the provinces of Persia, Anshan, and Elam, where local kinglets became vassals. It became a danger to Babylonia, then the mightiest power1.

Cyrus, king of Persia, took advantage of the situation. He could count on Babylonia's King Nabunaid's suspicion of Media on the one hand, and on the mood of the Median nobility and army on the other hand. Astyages' extreme cruelty must have been too much even for them. Both army detachments which he sent against rebelling Cyrus, mutineered and went over to the latter, delivering even their king into his hands2. The Babylonians, although in alliance with Media, felt apparently relieved by seeing it crumbling, and looked on.

1) Zarathustra and his impact.

Before this background we should see also the appearance of Zarathustra. Persian tradition knows either three different persons by the name, or title, Zarathustra, or relates to three different periods in which he appeared. In any case, the most likely period of the one who is commonly known as Zarathustra, is the 7th or 6th Century BCE. In one of his Gathas (Divine Songs, or Praises), he prays: “Grant Thou, O Aramaiti (=the unflinching faith in the love of God), strength to Vishtaspa the King, and to me. And Thou, O Mazda, give sovereign power that we Thy devotees may spread about Thy Holy Word” (Yasna 28:7; also 46:14). This Vishtaspa the King (or governor) of Bhaktria and patron of Zarathustra’s teaching, is also mentioned in the Behistun inscription as a contemporary and relative (uncle) of King Cyrus the Great.

The place of Zarathustra’s birth and activity was the land of the Medes. Ancient Persian and Greek traditions mention him as the Spitama Zarathustra, indicating that Spitama was his family name (cf Yasna 46:15), and Zarathustra his epithet.

It is not too far fetched to assume that the fame of the Kings David and Solomon which had reached the Queen of Sheba in the south, had certainly reached peoples in the north, too, and thus perhaps also Zarathustra.

In this context, we should take into account the brief mentioning of an episode from the time of King Ahab, of the (Northern) Kingdom of Israel before its destruction by the Assyrians. After he had routed thoroughly an attacking army of the Arameans (“Syrians” in many English Bibles), some servants of their fleeing King Ben-Hadad advised him: “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful kings: let us … put sack cloth on our loins … and go out to the king of Israel [=Ahab]: peradventure he will save thy life…”2a. That is, the humaneness of the kings of Israel must have been a fact well known to the peoples of that time, notwithstanding the prevailing atmosphere of cruelties and atrocities mentioned above.

What is more, Zarathustra might have been influenced also by the culture of those tribes of the Northern Kingdom of Israel who were exiled “into the lands of the Medes” shortly before by the Assyrians, as mentioned. The exile of these tribes, centuries after Abraham had sent his seven sons from Kethura "with gifts" to the east, was like a dissemination of Israel's message unto the nations, not only as a side effect by chance but by Divine intention as we may conclude from Hosea's words: "And I will sow her [Israel] unto me in the earth"3. And Zarathustra may well have been a fruit thereof. - There are traditions that even the famous city of Isfahan was founded by exiled Jews3a.

Notwithstanding the possibility of such influences, Zarathustra must have been quite an autonomous personality, deeply moved by his longing for God on the one hand, and by the awful conditions in which mankind was entangled at his times. A quotation from one of his discourses, or Gathas (songs), in Yasht 29 may illustrate this point, and his character as well4:

"Unto Thee, O Lord, the Soul of Creation cried:

'For whom didst thou create me, and who so fashioned me?

Feuds and fury, violence and the insolence of might

have oppressed me.

None have I to protect me save Thyself,

Command for me, then, the blessings of a settled, peaceful life'. (29-1)

"Thereupon, the Lord Ahura said to Truth:

'Whom wilt thou have as a chief for the world,

to be its protector and its ruler,

who, with his zealous energy, may bring prosperity to it?

Whom wilt thou have as its lord, who may drive off

violence and smite back the forces of Evil?' (29-2)

And thus to the Lord, does Truth reply:

"I know no chief who can give the world shelter from woes;

I know none who knows what moves and works thy lofty plans.

Mazda knows best what works have been wrought

by the followers of evil and by mortal men;

and He knows what shall be wrought for them forever hereafter.

The Lord Ahura is the discerning Judge.

To us let it be as He shall will" (29-3,4)

And thus, we two, my soul and the Soul of Creation,

prayed with hands outstretched to the Lord Ahura,

and thus, we two urged Mazda with entreaties:

"Let not destruction overtake the right-living,

let not the diligent good suffer at the hands of evil" (29-5)

In an ensuing stanza, Zarathustra then prays in a way which sounds like a prayer for a Cyrus type redeemer:

"O Ahura Mazda! Do Thou grant patience and strength to the Soul of Creation;

With the help of Truth and Good Mind,

give mankind power to bring rest and happiness to the world,

of which Thou, my Lord,

art indeed the first Possessor". (32-10).