Thursday, October 15, 2009

2) Its formulation

Concerning the edict's general concept and the formulation of its details, we may safely assume that it was worked out in consultation with sages and Prophets, most likely with Daniel amongst them. Also Prophet Ezekiel, an exile in Babylonia, could have witnessed her surrender in case he lived up to an age of 80, and if so, could well have taken part in the consultations.

We may infer this from the very wording of the edict. When we compare it with Cyrus' proclamation in which he addressed the people of Babylonia after the conquest of their city (quoted above), we sense a different undercurrent altogether. In the latter, as well as in their proclamations dealing with the release of displaced peoples, he mentions the names of the respective local gods as those on whose behalf he claimed to liberate them, while in the above edict he applies the typical Hebrew epithet "Lord God of Heaven" as the supreme Being who has given him all the lands. The more explicit version given in the Book of Ezra goes even one step further and speaks pointedly of "the Lord God of Israel - he is t h e God". (Note the definitive article: He is t h e God; not simply one among others).

Likewise, the term “God of Heaven” is a typical Hebrew epithet. When Father Abraham commanded his servant to find a bride for son Isaac, he made him swear by “the Lord God of Heaven and God of the earth” (Gen. 24:3,7); and Prophet Jonah confessed: “I am a Hebrew (=son of Abraham the Hebrew, cf. Gen. 14:13), and fear the God of Heaven” (Jonah 1:9).

How could a Gentile have spoken of the "Lord God of Heaven" and "Lord God of Israel - he is the God", if it had not been communicated to him by one of the Prophets or one of the Elders of Israel?

Apparently in confirmation of the deep meaning of this epithet used by King Cyrus, does the Book of Nehemiah repeat it over and again (cf Nehem. 1:4,5,9; 2:4,20; 9:6,23).

Likewise, the term "may he go up" ((יעל is a typical Hebrew-Biblical phrase1 which could not have come up in the mind of someone who is not familiar, or familiarized, with the thought it expresses. This the more so as the Persian plateau reaches an altitude much higher than Jerusalem, and so-to-speak looks down on it. The Persians who had Jerusalem now in their hands must have been aware thereof.

The term "house of the Lord" is typical Hebrew, too. But even more surprising is the phrase "Who is there among you of all his people whose God is with him, may he go up to Jerusalem". It is in fact a masterpiece of Divinely inspired formulation: It appeals to all those "of his people whose God is with" them, irrespective whether he is a Jew from the Southern Kingdom, an Israelite from the Northern Kingdom, or a Gentile from the nations. Whosoever feels called upon by the Lord God of Abraham, God of Isaac, and God of Jacob - that is, in the language of the edict, the "Lord God of Heaven" whom they confessed - may follow this inner call of his, and the Persian authorities would not object.

Based upon this declaration of Cyrus, King Artaxerxes I said then in his edict explicitly "that all of the people of Israel" may go up to Jerusalem1a and to the land of Judah. The edicts of these two kings provided both the legal basis for the return of the exiles and for their mingling there as one people. In other words, the dispersions of Israel and of Judah, and then the possibility of their ingathering in the land of Judah, led to the termination of the tribal structure of the "people of Israel" consisting of twelve tribes. The "tree of Joseph" representing the Northern Kingdom and its tribes, and the "tree of Judah" with its affiliated tribes, began now to become "one tree" - a picture applied by Prophet Ezekiel in his vision of the –then far distant- future1b. Although many individuals remembered for centuries to come, from which tribe they originated1c, they formed now one people; and the land became known as the Land of Israel1d.

The opening up of this development by Cyrus and Artaxerxes did of course not infringe on the authority of the Jews in Jerusalem to check the sincerity of any converting Gentile. The term "of his people" implies that it is not given to a foreigner to unilaterally style himself as being "of his people" - he rather has to be accepted by this people.

Yet, the term "whose God is with him" reflects the profound theological truth that the in-depth awareness of the one God and Creator of all may lead eventually all those in whom it comes profoundly alive, to Mount Moriah and what it stands for. If he is a foreigner, he will have to find out whether this inner call of his leads him either to become, as a proselyte, a newly accepted member of "his people"; or whether he, as a "Son of Noah", wants to bless Abraham's seed at least within the frame of the so-called "Seven Noahide Laws"2.

Truly, the edict, and specifically the term "whose God is with him", provide so-to-speak the legal frame also for those strangers who follow that inner call of which King Solomon had spoken in his prayer of inaugurating the First Temple:

"Moreover concerning a stranger, that is not of thy people Israel, but cometh out of a far country for thy name's sake - for they shall hear of thy great name, and of thy strong hand, and of thy outsretched arm - when he shall come and pray toward this house; hear thou in heaven..."3

On the other hand, a Jew who wants to stay on in Babel, or in Yemen, would not be compelled by the authorities to go up to Jerusalem. That remains a matter between him and "his God".

While the content of the Edict and its exact formulation must have been negotiated with the Persian authorities4, as said, it is most likely that it was issued, in accordance with the Persian practice, in the respective languages, that is in our case, Persian, Aramaic4a, and Hebrew; and perhaps Babylonian, too. The official translations had to be co-ordinate, and were done by the scribes of the Court.

The edict was issued by King Cyrus himself: "Thus says Cyrus King of Persia...". This indicates, besides his authority and responsibility in that matter, that he was willing to heed the counsel of the Jewish sages as revealed by that genuine formulation which differed remarkably from other edicts he issued. He was not at unease to listen to their advice, and to give it public expression.

Cyrus' readiness to submit to the Divine verdict that the "House of the God of Heavens" is to be built by the Jews in Jerusalem, indicates another hallmark of Messiahship. While Prophet Isaiah (11:2) speaks of the fear of the Lord as one of the six features which characterize an anointed, it is the Hebrew word ,משיח mashiah, which points to it through its root word שח, shah, meaning to bend, bow, submit to the one who anoints; and not to do his own things.

However, only the Hebrew version of the edict came down to us5. It could certainly not deviate from the original Persian or Aramaic text - as e.g. we could not fabricate a Hebrew translation of the Balfour Declaration deviating from its original English text.

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