Thursday, October 15, 2009

L) The Persian Kings and the Temple

When considering all the friendly attitude of the Persian kings --from the edict of Cyrus; the financial support of the building of the Temple by the treasury; their call upon the people to give also their free will shares; down to Darius'II decision-- it is astounding the more that there is no record or even hint that anyone of them ever visited the Temple; or at least sent an official delegation (as was apparently done by the Ethiopians during the period of the First Temple, as we may gather from Acts 8:27). Cyrus himself could not have done so since there was no Temple yet in his days. But what about the kings after him, especially those who employed Jews in high ranking positions, and who, like Artaxerxes I and Darius II, supported the building of the "House of God which is in Jerusalem" by word and deed? Had the spirit waned which guided Cyrus, leaving his edict and the sequacious laws ("dat") merely a matter of jurisdiction? Or did they suspect that official visits of the Temple might trigger more Smerdis- and Haman-like intrigues from even bigger parts of the people who could not yet adapt to a conduct of life as required by monotheism? We saw already that Zarathustra's monotheism was soon replaced by an outspoken dualism, and that cults of nature worship crept up again. The Persian Court was anyway plagued by endless intrigues fueled by all kinds of diverging interests. While there are no records of a Persian king ever visiting the Temple, Ezra 6:9,10 tells us definitely that the treasury was ordered by King Darius to provide for the daily sacrifices "so that they (the priests) could offer the sacrifices to the God of the Heavens, and pray for the wellbeing of the king and his sons".

This introduced an entirely new practice into Jewish tradition, namely, to pray for the welfare of specific rulers, and for that matter, even of worldly rulers. During the time of the First Temple, there were only the prayer and the symbolic sacrifices for the seventy (anonymous) nations symbolized e.g. by the seventy bullocks to be sacrificed during Succoth, the Feast of Tabernacles1.

The custom that the respective rulers gave provisions to the Temple (and exempted its priests from taxes), and that the priests sacrificed and prayed for them, was kept also during the ensuing Greek and Roman period, except for Antiochus Epiphanes IV. Then, its abolishment in 66 C.E. signaled officially the rebellion against Rome. Later on it became –again- a practice in synagogues to pray for the rulers of the respective host countries.

We may infer from the before mentioned edict of King Darius, concerning the royal provisions for the Temple and the prayers for the royal family, that it recognized the Jewish-Mosaic Law as royal Persian Law, and made the rulers worthy to be supplicated for.

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