The Cyrus Administration
Cyrus believed it was far less of a drain on the treasury to have people willingly accept your rule, than to send vast armies. The Cyrus Cylinder was part of his propaganda effort after an unusually bloodless conquest of Babylon. Nabonidas, the king of Babylon, had been put in that position by his mother Adad-Guppi, the quintessential Disney Evil Queen - who brags on her steele how many of Nebuchadnezzar's descendents she had to assassinate to achieve that.
An incompetent person [i.e., Nabonidus] was installed to exercise lordship over his country.
Nabonidas was an archaeologist, and much to his ambitious mother's consternation, had no interest in kinging. He was absent for 7 years at a time, effectively putting an end to much of the religious ritual in Babylon - which required the king's presence.
he put an end to the regular offerings (and) he in[terfered in the cultic centers; x x x he] established in the sacred centers. By his own plan, he did away with the worship of Marduk, the king of the gods,
Even worse, Nabonidas brought many of his finds back to a museum in Babylon.
Upon hearing their cries, the lord of the gods became furiously angry and [x x x] their borders; the gods who lived among them forsook their dwellings, angry that he [sc. Nabonidus] had brought them to Babylon. Marduk, the ex[alted, the lord of the gods], turned towards all the habitations that were abandoned and all the people of Sumer and Akkad, who had become corpses. He was reconciled and had mercy upon them. He examined and checked all the entirety of the lands, all of them,he searched everywhere and then he took a righteous king, his favorite, by the hand, he called out his name: Cyrus, king of Anšan; he pronounced his name to be king all over the world.
There was one major battle at Opis, as Nabonidas made a token resistance before going back his latest archaeological dig1. Cyrus was greeted in Babylon itself by crowds waving palm branches. It is not clear whether this was genuine relief at getting rid of the highly corrupt Belshazzar, whom Nabonidas had left in charge of Babylon while he was away - or if it was a collective case of "I for one welcome our new overlords!" His general Darius, killed all the politicians - who were conveniently gathered together in a large banqueting hall as recorded in Daniel 5.
Agade, Ešnunna, Zamban, Me-Turnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time,
I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there [i.e., in Babylon], to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings.
In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon.
May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bel and Nebu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. May they say to Marduk, my lord: "As for Cyrus, the king who reveres you, and Cambyses, his son, ... (text unreadable)
The people of Babylon blessed my kingship, and I settled all the lands in peaceful abodes.
The Decree concerning Judah: Ezra 1:1-8
Ezra records the specific decree concerning the Jews:
Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel, (he is the God,) which is in Jerusalem. And whosoever remaineth in any place where he sojourneth, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill offering for the house of God that is in Jerusalem.
Note that the parenthesis (and capitalization) are added by the editors. Cyrus didn't think that the God of Jerusalem was any different than the god of Zamban. 2 The passage actually reads, "he is the god which is in Jerusalem." The decree recorded in Ezra is not found in any surviving Akkadian documents, but then nothing concerning Judah is found in any surviving Akkadian documents. Judah was apparently considered somewhat unimportant.
Question for the class: Was there any reality to the gods of the other cities?
The student consensus was that no, the other gods were imaginary. I had them read Daniel 10:12-13 and Ephesians 6:12
The First Worship Service (after Babylonian Exile): Ezra 3:1-13
The lesson skips over lists of gold and silver utensils, and the members of the reconstruction party.
When the rebuilding party arrives in Jerusalem, they set the altar on its base and reconsecrate the temple service utensils returned from Babylon. When everything is ready, they hold a very emotional worship service.
Question for the class: Why does God want us to praise Him?
"We delight to praise what we enjoy because the praise not merely expresses but completes the enjoyment; it is its appointed consummation."
Does God have a self image problem? Following the line of thought from C.S. Lewis' Reflections on the Psalms, we talked about why we praise other things: football plays and sunsets. The sun does not need our praise, but our praise is how we enjoy the game or the sunset. Or God Himself. According to the Westminister Catechism:
What is the chief end of man? To love God, and to enjoy Him forever.
Question for the class: Do objects deserve praise or criticism?
Following the line of thought from the opening chapter of C.S. Lewis' Abolition of Man, we talked about the story of Coleridge at a waterfall. Is "This is sublime!" a statement about the waterfall, or statement about the speaker's feelings? There really was not enough time to go through the steps to understanding this deep question. The best shortcut I could come up with was this modern result of the "separation of fact and value":
It's wrong to impose your morality on others!
After wrapping up what he was working on, Nabonidas came to Babylon to surrender to the new king. Cyrus granted him a research budget and sent him back the field to carry on his archaeology full time. ↩
At least at the time. The additions to Daniel in the Apochrypha record a later conversion of Cyrus. Note that Daniel 6 is about his general Darius who was serving as regeant of Babylon in place of Belshazzar. ↩