Tag Archives: cyrus

Even More Pro-Cyrus Propaganda in Deutero-Isaiah

[Translation is from the JPS Tanakh.]

Thus said the LORD to Cyrus, His anointed one–
Whose right hand He has grasped,
Treading down nations before him
And letting no gate stay shut:
I will march before you
And level the hills that loom up;
I will shatter doors of bronze
And cut down iron bars.
I will give you treasures concealed in the dark
And secret hoards–
So that you may know that it is I the LORF,
The God of Israel, who call you by name.
For the sake of My servant Jacob,
Israel MY chosen one,
I call you by name,
I hail you by title, though you have not known Me.
I am the LORD and there is none else;
Beside Me, there is no god.
I engird you, though you have not known Me,
So that they may know, from east to west,
That there is none but Me.
I am the LORD and there is none else,
I form light and create darkness,
I make weal and create woe–
I the LORD do all these things.
Pour down, O skies, from above!
Let the heavens rain down victory!
Let the earth open up and triumph sprout,
Yes, let vindication spring up:
I the LORD have created it.

Shame on him who argues with his Maker,
Though naught but a potsherd of earth!
Shall the clay say to the potter, “What are you doing?
Your work has no handles”?
Shame on him who asks his father, “What are you begetting?”
OR a woman, “What are you bearing?”

Thus said the LORD,
Israel’s Holy One and Maker:
Will you question Me on the destiny of My children,
Will you instruct Me about the work of My hands?
It was I who made the earth
And created man upon it;
My own hands stretched out the heavens,
And I marshaled all their host.
It is I who roused him for victory
And who level all roads for him.
He shall rebuild My city
And let My exiled people god
Without price and without payment
–said the LORD of Hosts.

(Isaiah 45:1-13)

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More Pro-Cyrus Propaganda in Deutero-Isaiah

[Translations are from the JPS Tanakh.]

Do you not know?
Have you not heard?
Have you not been told
From the very first?
Have you not discerned
How the earth was founded?
It is He who is enthroned above the vault of the earth,
So that its inhabitants seem as grasshoppers;
Who spreads out the skies like gauze,
Stretched them out like a tent to dwell in.
He brings potentates to naught,
Makes rulers of the earth as nothing.
Hardly are they planted,
Hardly are they sown,
Hardly has their stem
Taken root in the earth,
When he blows upon them and they dry up,
And the storm bears them off like straw.

(Isaiah 40:21-24)

Stand silent before Me, coastlands,
And let nations renew their strength.
Let them approach to state their case;
Let us come forward together for argument.
Who has roused a victor from the East,
Summoned him to His service?
Has delivered up nations to him,
And trodden sovereigns down?
Has rendered their swords like dust,
Their bows like wind-blown straw?
He pursues them, he goes on unscathed;
No shackle is placed on his feet.

Who has wrought and achieved this?
He who announced the generations from the start–
I, the LORD, who was first
And will be with the last as well.
(Isaiah 41:1-4)

I have roused him from the north, and he has come,
From the sunrise, one who invokes my name;
And he has trampled rulers like mud,
Like a potter treading clay.

Who foretold this from the start, that we may note it;
From aforetime, that we might say, “He is right”?
Not one foretold, not one announced;
No one has heard your utterance!
The things once predicted to Zion–
Behold, here they are!
And again I send a herald to Jerusalem,
But I look and there is not a man;
Not one of them can predict
Or can respond when I question him.
See, they are all nothingness,
Their works are nullity,
Their statues are naught and nil.
(Isaiah 41:25-29)

Thus said the LORD,
Your Redeemer, the Holy One of Israel:
For your sake I send to Babylon;
I will bring down all [her] bars,
And the Chaldeans shall raise their voice in lamentation.

I am your Holy One, the LORD,
Your King, the Creator of Israel.
(Isaiah 43:14-15)

Thus said the LORD, your Redeemer,
Who formed you in the womb:
It is I, the LORD, who made everything,
Who alone stretched out the heavens
And unaided spread out the earth;
Who annul the omens of diviners,
And make fools of the augurs;
Who turn sages back
And make nonsense of their knowledge;
But confirm the word of My servant
And fulfill the predictions of My messengers.
It is I who say of Jerusalem, “It shall be inhabited,”
And of the towns of Judah, “They shall be rebuilt;
And I will restore their ruined places.”
[I,] who say to the deep, “Be dry;
I will dry up your floods,”
Am the same who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd;
HE shall fulfill all My purposes!
He shall say of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be rebuilt,’
And to the Temple: ‘You shall be founded again.'”
(Isaiah 44:24-28)

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Isaiah 40:1-11: A Dialogue?

I’ve been working more on Isaiah 40:1-11 (surprise, surprise!). I’ve been doing a poetic and semantic analysis of the text, which I hope turns out well enough to turn into a paper. And if it doesn’t, I suppose I’ve got some good blog fodder.

Anyhow, I’ve been thinking about who exactly is speaking in this poem, the first eleven verses of 2 Isaiah. Frank Moore Cross wrote an article back in 1953 claiming that Isaiah 40:1-8 is a divine council scene, and his view has been scholarly consensus more or less since then. The speakers in this passage, then, are YHWH and three other members of YHWH’s council.

I’ve started to think, though, — pace Dr. Cross et al. — that Isaiah 40:1-11 isn’t a divine council scene so much as a dialogue between YHWH and a prophet, with echoes back to the call narrative of Isaiah 6. However, the poet isn’t the one receiving the call — he can’t be, since everything in the poem is in the third person; instead, the poet is narrating the divine call of some other prophet and the ensuing dialogue between YHWH and the third party.

Here’s the kicker: I think this third-party prophet is none other than Cyrus himself. Isaiah 40:12 ff. is clearly dependent on the Gathas, and Isaiah 44-45 are clearly in support of Cyrus as ruler. Moreover, Cyrus was manipulative. He had no problem casting himself as a worshipper of Marduk to win over the Babylonians (Cyrus, as a Persian, would most likely have been a Zoroastrian), so it is no stretch to say that he’d cast himself as a worshipper of YHWH, come to free the Judean captives, in order to win over the exiles.

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Morton Smith, “II Isaiah and the Persians”

I recently read Morton Smith’s article “II Isaiah and the Persians,” which is quite enlightening for the study of Deutero-Isaiah. Smith argues that Deutero-Isaiah (specifically, Isaiah 40-48) is strongly influenced by Persian thought and, especially, Cyrus’ propaganda against Babylon.

Go check it out. You can find it in Journal of the American Oriental Society 83 (1963), 415-421, and Shaye J. D. Cohen, ed., The Cult of Yahweh, vol. 1 (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 73-83.

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Cyrus vs. Babylon in Herodotus, Isaiah, and Jeremiah

Cyrus’ sack of Babylon in 539 BCE was a truly impressive feat. Here’s how Wikipedia describes it:

In 539 BC, the Neo-Babylonian Empire fell to Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, with an unprecedented military engagement known as the Battle of Opis. The famed walls of Babylon were indeed impenetrable, with the only way into the city through one of its many gates or through the Euphrates, which ebbed beneath its thick walls. Metal gates at the river’s in-flow and out-flow prevented underwater intruders, if one could hold one’s breath to reach them. Cyrus (or his generals) devised a plan to use the Euphrates as the mode of entry to the city, ordering large camps of troops at each point and instructed them to wait for the signal. Awaiting an evening of a national feast among Babylonians (generally thought to refer to the feast of Belshazzar mentioned in Daniel V), Cyrus’ troops diverted the Euphrates river upstream, causing the Euphrates to drop to about ‘mid thigh level on a man’ or to dry up altogether. The soldiers marched under the walls through the lowered water. The Persian Army conquered the outlying areas of the city’s interior while a majority of Babylonians at the city center were oblivious to the breach. The account was elaborated upon by Herodotus [1.191], and is also mentioned by passages in the Hebrew Bible [Isa 44:9-45:4; Jer 50-51].

For your reading pleasure, here are links to the three ancient works the Wikipedia article cites, with excerpts to whet your appetite.

Herodotus:

. . . and when he came to the lake, Cyrus dealt with it and with the river just as had the Babylonian queen: drawing off the river by a canal into the lake, which was a marsh, he made the stream sink until its former channel could be forded. . . . because of the great size of the city (those who dwell there say) those in the outer parts of it were overcome, but the inhabitants of the middle part knew nothing of it; all this time they were dancing and celebrating a holiday which happened to fall then, until they learned the truth only too well.

Isaiah:

I am the Lord, who made all things, who alone stretched out the heavens, who by myself spread out the earth; who frustrates the omens of liars, and makes fools of diviners; . . . who says to the deep, “Be dry— I will dry up your rivers”; who says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd, and he shall carry out all my purpose.”

Jeremiah:

Declare among the nations and proclaim,
set up a banner and proclaim,
do not conceal it, say:
Babylon is taken,
Bel is put to shame,
Merodach is dismayed.
Her images are put to shame,
her idols are dismayed.

For out of the north a nation has come up against her; it shall make her land a desolation, and no one shall live in it; both human beings and animals shall flee away.

I especially enjoy the reference in Isaiah, because it comes at the end of a very funny satire on idolatry, when compared with Yahweh worship. I also think it’s very cool that an event recorded in a Greek historian was of such significance for Israel that it made its way into two of the prophets.

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