Hebrew In Israel | The Declaration of Cyrus – Learn Torah

Hebrew In Israel | The Declaration of Cyrus – Learn Torah

Yoel Halevi No Comments


Ezra chapter one presents to the reader a text in which Cyrus, king of Persia, gave the Jews of his kingdom the right to return to Jerusalem, and revive the worship of the God of Israel and the city:
“Thus said, Cyrus king of Persia – for all the kingdoms of the earth, has given me the YHWH God of heaven; and He commanded me to to build for Him a house in Jerusalem which is in Judea”.
This statement raised with scholars a number of questions:

  • Why is the statement in Hebrew when we know that the Persians used Akkadian and Aramaic in official documents?
  • What is the connection between Cyrus and the God of Israel?
  • What is the meaning of statement that the God of Israel is Jerusalem?  We know there was a Jewish temple in Jerusalem so why point this out in the declaration?

For years, the common belief was that the Cyrus declaration was a propaganda invention of the residents of Judea, and some even suggested that declaration was fabricated to justify the Jewish presence in Judea (Davies).

Historically speaking, Cyrus was a real king who came to power in 559 BCE, united Persia, conquered Babylon in 539 BCE from the Babylonian King Nabonidus and freed many people from the grip of Babylon.  Cyrus’ declaration was confirmed when a cylindrical inscription was discovered containing ideas similar to those in Ezra:
  • A statement recognizing that he was given great power by a great god
  • The release of peoples from servitude
  • Renovation of temples which were destroyed and the resuming of worship in them.
When we consider the above information it seems clear that writer of the book of Ezra took a real historical situation, and used only his ethnocentric standpoint in regards to his own people.  The Hebrew version of the declaration can be explained as being directed to the Jewish people, and that it was acceptable to publish public declarations to the various peoples in their own language.


The statement in the Bible and the inscription discovered have more parallels:

Cyrus recognized many gods and wanted to please all of them, making the statement in Ezra that the God of Israel gave him power no different from the general idea of ​​the declaration in the Cyrus cylinder.
The author of the book also hints to the polytheistic nature of Cyrus, “He is the God who is in Jerusalem”, meaning that The God of Israel is in Jerusalem as many gods in the ancient world were located in specific cities.  Hence it is not strange that the writer would relate Cyrus directly to the God of Israel, and his place of dwelling.  Cyrus did so with other nations, and even stated the names of cities and nations, making it very likely that Cyrus also knew many religions in the kingdom including the faith of Israel.
The idea of renovating the temple and worship in Jerusalem coincides with the statement in the cylinder which reads

“which their temples were ruined before, I returned the images of their gods to dwell in them (the temples), and I established them as internal temples”.

Benefactors of the temple such as priests are mentioned at and in the first chapter and the cylinder, which means there are important connections between Ezra and Cyrus Declaration.

A different problem which was raised about the declaration of Cyrus is a duplicate of the statements in Chapter 6:5-3.  This document has a list consisting of a budget and master plan for the temple in Aramaic.  Did Cyrus give two statements, or did the writer invent one of them?  The explanation given is that the first declaration given in the first chapter was intended for the general public, and therefore was in Hebrew.  As for the second document, it was aimed at managers and officials and was part of the regular official documents and should be different and in Aramaic.  Therefore the two documents have two different audiences and can be considered original and seen as historical documents.

As has been demonstrated here, the Bible has many documents to offer, and many of the questions presented by scholars can be explained.  It is too common that scholars dismiss the Bible as being non historical.  As historians, we keep on finding many articles of information that validate the Bible and many other things in the ancient world.  It is the the obligation of historians and Bible scholars such as myself not to rush into conclusions, and to realize that no matter what people nowadays think about the Bible, it has a lot more to it than modern science thinks it has.

Originally Published:  21 December 2015
Photo Attribution: By Prioryman (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0) or GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons

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