Thursday, October 15, 2009

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.

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