For those who need to ask: What is the Cyrus Cylinder and why is it important? It’s important because it is an ancient secular document that supports a Biblical event that was prophesied decades if not centuries before! Yes it is coming March 9 through April 28 to the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery of Art!
The Cyrus Cylinder tells of the decree of Persian king Cyrus the Great (the British Museum says 539 BC, this date is critical) that allowed different groups to go back to their ancestral homeland and worship their own gods in peace. Here’s a pertinent translation of the part most interesting to me (from the British Museum website):
20. I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world,
21. son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, ki[ng of the ci]ty of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, the great king, king of the city of Anshan,
* * *
25. I sought the safety of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon […, w]ho as if without div[ine intention] had endured a yoke not decreed for them,
26. I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds(?). Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at [my good] deeds,
27. and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops,
28. that we might live happily in his presence, in well-being. At his exalted command, all kings who sit on thrones,
29. from every quarter, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, those who inhabit [remote distric]ts (and) the kings of the land of Amurru who live in tents, all of them,
30. brought their weighty tribute into Shuanna, and kissed my feet. From [Shuanna] I sent back to their places to the city of Ashur and Susa,
31. Akkad, the land of Eshnunna, the city of Zamban, the city of Meturnu, Der, as far as the border of the land of Guti – the sanctuaries across the river Tigris – whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated,
32 the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements,
33. and the gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad which Nabonidus – to the fury of the lord of the gods – had brought into Shuanna, at the command of Marduk, the great lord,
34. I returned them unharmed to their cells, in the sanctuaries that make them happy. May all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries,
35. every day before Bel and Nabu, ask for a long life for me, and mention my good deeds, and say to Marduk, my lord, this: “Cyrus, the king who fears you, and Cambyses his son,…
What does this have to do with the Bible or the children of Israel? Let’s start with the end of Chronicles and the beginning of Ezra. The children of Israel had been exiled for repeated sin to Babylon. Babylon was overrun by Persia and at II Chronicles 36, we have a few words:
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord spoken by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, All the kingdoms of the earth hath the Lord God of heaven given me: and he hath charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah…” (II Chronicles 36:22-23 [KJV] [also see Ezra 1:1-2 with similar words])
The Cyrus cylinder says something very similar when it says that Cyrus, led by his god Marduk, did send all the peoples back to their nations to pray for Cyrus and his son. It is significant when Cyrus in this cylinder says: “May all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries…”
This was a prophecy of Jeremiah when he said the Lord required seventy years of exile and then Jews would be allowed to go back to Jerusalem. (See Jeremiah 29:10: “For thus saith the Lord, that after seventy years be accomplished at Babylon I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place.”)
Now, someone could say: Sanders, you are making the Bible fit the history, not the other way around – or the writers of the Bible did it already!
So, I ask: (First I would say, I cannot prove Biblical truth and don’t want to! But hear me out and be led by the Spirit!) How did Jeremiah know that the children of Israel would be returned to their homeland? That is not what normally happens. Groups exiled are either assimilated or massacred or otherwise adapt to their new nation. Look at the Assyrian exile of the so-called lost tribes of Israel (They weren’t lost – they were eventually became the Samaritans of the New Testament!)
But here’s the kicker: Isaiah the prophet, who served in the days of “…Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah…” (Isaiah 1:1[KJV]) said this at 44:28-45:1:
“That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid. Thus saith the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus whose right hand I have holden…” (emphasis added)
So, when did Uzziah, etc to Hezekiah reign over Judah? In the Eighth Century before Christ! Here’s a tablet with Uzziah’s name on it and an Assyrian tablet that mentions Hezekiah by name as a contemporary of king Sennacherib, who reigned in about the year 700BC! Don’t like my sources? Try the British Museum’s rendition of the Taylor prism! It indeed mentions Hezekiah! (Wikipedia says there are THREE prisms like this!) Try this from admittedly Catholic Fordham University!
The prism is a foundation record, intended to preserve King Sennacherib’s achievements for posterity and the gods. The record of his account of his third campaign (701 BC) is particularly interesting to scholars. It involved the destruction of forty-six cities of the state of Judah and the deportation of 200,150 people. Hezekiah, king of Judah, is said to have sent tribute to Sennacherib.
Now, I could have fun with this – there could be a great tour of just the Biblically confirming items in the British Museum but let’s not lose focus! So, Isaiah lived about 700 BC or so. How did he know about an event (and NAME the king that will do it?) that occurred nearly two centuries later? Some scholars try to say the chapters 40-66 of Isaiah were written at a later time but the Dead Sea Scrolls do not treat Isaiah as two books but as one!
To sum up – this is admittedly a hard read but I would say this: The Cyrus cylinder sheds light on a Biblical prophecy that is either an elaborate fraud or a genuine prediction of a future event. Which one? I can say this: “O taste and see that the Lord is good:” (Psalms 34:8 [KJV]) If you want to know more about how to have eternal life in Jesus Christ the Messiah, go here!