Thursday, October 15, 2009

3) Cyrus’edict to the Babylonians

After his arrival, Cyrus addressed the people of Babel. It seems appropriate to bring here some quotations from this edict of his which deals with the conquest of Babylonia and his attitude towards her inhabitants.

However, before looking at the text and message of his edict, we should for the sake of comparison remember here the inscription on the palace wall by Ashur Nezar Pal quoted above.

In striking contrast, Cyrus' proclamation to the inhabitants of Babel illustrates well his compassion and humaneness. It reads:

"I am Cyrus, the King of Kings..., the King of Babylon, the King of Sumer and Akkad …, from the eternal dynasty the progeny of which is the object of Divine love and whose government is loved by the people. When I entered Babel without any battle, people welcomed my arrival with rejoicings ... In the palace of the kings of Babylon I sat upon the royal throne. Marduk [=the chief god of the Babylonians] inclined the hearts of the noble people of Babylon favorably towards me because I looked upon him with love and respect. My large army entered Babylon comfortably. I did not allow any calamity or harm to befall the people of this city and this country. The internal conditions of Babel and its sacred places touched my heart. I ordered that all the people were free to worship their god - and irreligious persons should not harm them. I ordered that none of the houses of the people should be ruined. I ordered that none of the people should be put to death. The great God was pleased with me and bestowed upon me, Cyrus, and upon my son Cambujiyeh [Cambysos] and upon all my soldiers the gifts of his blessings. I ordered that all the temples of Babel, Susa, Akkad, and in the territory beyond the Euphrates which were built in ancient times and were closed should be reopened...I bestowed upon all the people peace and happiness"5.

Besides this edict, in which Cyrus speaks about himself and his attitude towards the citizens of Babylonia, archaeological digs brought a clay tablet to surface which due to its cylindrical shape became known as "Cyrus cylinder". Inscribed apparently by a local priest of Marduk, it tells us about Cyrus:

"Marduk, the great lord, a protector of his people, beheld with pleasure his (i.e. Cyrus') good deeds and his upright mind ... Without any battle he made him enter his town Babylon, sparing Babylon any calamity ... (Cyrus) king of the world, great king, legitimate king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters (of the earth)".

The author of this declaration takes up in a positive way the words of King Cyrus in which he had styled himself as “King of Kings, King of Babylon, King of Sumer and Akkad…”

Many are inclined to see in these words of his a kind of self aggrandizement, but why should the priest of Marduk (or whoever wrote that clay cylinder) have adopted them? No one forced him to pay such a lip service. Especially intriguing is the term “King of Sumer and Akkad”. Sumer and Akkad had ceased to exist hundreds of years ago, a fact which was certainly known to Cyrus. Calling them into remembrance in his declaration to the Babylonians, can have only one plausible reason: to give the defeated Babylonians a renewed feeling of self confidence and of continuous historical value; or, in other words, keep them happy even under Persian rule. As King Cyrus stressed, it was his top priority to “bestow upon all people peace and happiness”, and he, the Zarathustrian monotheist not by creed or dogma but in existenciality, was assured that the local gods saw “with pleasure his good deeds and his upright mind”. He acted truly as Achaemenian, Friend of Men.

The above descriptions of entering Babel without fight corroborate Is. 45:1-4 which reads:

"Thus saith the Lord to his anointed (Messiah), to Cyrus, whose right have I holden, to subdue nations before him; and I will loose the loins of kings, to open before him the two leaved gates, and the gates shall not be shut. I will go before thee, though thou hast not known me, that they may know me from the rising sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me, I am the Lord..."

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