The Cyrus Cylinder…A Testimony To What A Human Leader Could Be
by Gerald A. Honigman
According to whose numbers are used, Iran’s non-Persian population makes up between 40-50% of the nation’s 80 million people…Azeris, Kurds, Arabs, and other ethnic groups. Recent reports have shown ever-increasing torture and executions of Iranian Arabs, Kurds, and others–including freedom-loving Iranians themselves–by the regime of the mad mullahs.
In light of the current news regarding Iran’s subjugation of many if not most of its own people while also enabling and fomenting violence elsewhere (including in both Israel and Syria), I am thrilled to report on an amazing journey which has recently gotten underway…
Before I proceed any further, however, I must thank an amazing young lady, Ms. Velma Ann Ruth, of the Middle East Democracy Federation, for notifying me of this development.
As I have championed the attainment of relative justice for all of the diverse peoples of the region since the ’60s, Ms. Ruth is also deeply involved with the cause of those persecuted for desiring their own share of the justice pie–no matter how small that may be.
One of my own intellectual heroes over the decades has been Professor Albert Memmi, author of Jews and Arabs. He is from an ancient Tunisian Jewish family and fought with his pen for North African independence against the French in the 1950s. The beginning of his book tells it all…
To my Jewish brothers
To my Arab brothers
so that we can all
be free men at last…
In this same spirit, please share Ms. Ruth’s and my own pleasure in alerting you, dear readers, to the tour now underway in America of a truly marvelous archaeological find, the Cyrus Cylinder, aka, the Kurash Prism. It is on loan from the British Museum and has begun the American leg of its journey at the Sackler Gallery of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, D.C. (http://www.asia.si.edu/exhibitions/current/cyrus-cylinder.asp ). One of its other temporary homes will be the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City from June 20th through August 4th of this year.
Discovered in pieces in the late 19th century in the ruins of Babylon, the Kurash Prism was reassembled and translated by the pioneer British Assyriologist, Theophilus Pinches, and the soldier, diplomat, and “Father of Assyriology,” Sir Henry Rawlinson, at the British Museum.
Among other things, this priceless, 9-inch long, clay cylindrical treasure provides, in cuneiform writing, historical corroboration of the account in the Hebrew Bible’s Book of Ezra of Cyrus the Great’s emancipation of the Jews from Babylonian captivity and his facilitation of their return to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem–the one folks like Ahmadinejad and his Arab buddies claim never existed. Iran’s current Twelver Shi’a Muslim rulers and their political frontmen have not only pledged to eradicate Israel in their anticipated nuclear future, but have been actively providing massive quantities of arms, training, and so forth to their assorted surrogates–like Hamas and Hizbullah–for many years now.
Some things change, some don’t. Thus, long before the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Persia and Babylonia were fighting over the same real estate in the 6th century B.C.E. when Cyrus (559-530 B.C.E.) conquered Babylon. And while the Jewish holiday of Passover is fast approaching, with Egypt’s Pharaoh as the primary villain, another Jewish holiday which occurs earlier in springtime, Purim, recorded in the Book of Esther, deals with yet another leader who had genocidal ideas towards Jews–ancient Persia’s Haman.
Unfortunately, Jews have had to deal with many of such Hamans over the course of their long history–including those who now rule the same place where Haman lived.
Unlike the mindset and ruthless machinations of Iran’s intolerant leaders today, please check out, in these following excerpts from the Kurash Prism, how a mighty–but humane and benevolent–Persian ruler dealt with the diverse peoples he encountered some twenty-five centuries ago…
I am Kurash, King of the World, Great King,…King of Babilani, King of Kiengir and Akkade, King of the four rims of the earth, Son of Kanbujiya…to the region from as far as Assura and Susa, Akkade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.
Here are these same events in the Jews’ own writings in the Hebrew Bible, Ezra 1:1-8 :
In the first year of Cyrus, king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of the Lord spoken by Jeremiah, the Lord inspired King Cyrus of Persia to issue this proclamation throughout his kingdom…”Thus says Cyrus, king of Persia: ‘All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord, the God of heaven, has given to me, and he has also charged me to build him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever belongs to any part of his people, let him go up, and may his God be with him!’ Then the family heads of Judah and Benjamin and the priests and Levites—everyone, that is, whom God had inspired to do so—prepared to go up to build the house of the Lord in Jerusalem. All their neighbors gave them help in every way, with silver, gold, goods, and cattle, and with many precious gifts besides all their free-will offerings. King Cyrus, too, had the utensils of the house of the Lord brought forth which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from Jerusalem and placed in the house of his god.
Jews were grateful to their powerful Iranian liberators and served in their armies throughout their empire. At the fortress in Elephantine, Egypt, for example ancient documents related to this were discovered, along with a synagogue built there for Jewish soldiers serving under the Iranian ruler.
Centuries later, when Judea fought for its freedom and independence against the Roman Empire in the first and second centuries C.E. (see a Judaea Capta coin issued by Rome here http://q4j-middle-east.com ), it was Iran, again, which came to the Jews’ aid.
And centuries later still, on the eve of the explosive Arab invasions out of the Arabian Peninsula in the seventh century, which resulted in the conquest and forced Arabization, to one degree or another, of both the land of the Jews and that of the Persians (and many others’ as well), ancient, non-Jewish documents recorded an army of tens of thousands of Jews from Galilee and the northern hill country aligning itself with Iran against the hated Byzantines.
So, what happened to get to where we are today–with folks like Ahmadinejad vowing to obliterate the Jewish State–Iran’s former vassal, later ally, and the very nation Cyrus returned many of the Jews to?
Well, for starters, there was that not-so-little thing briefly mentioned above– the Arab jihadi conquests.
While the fate of Jews under both Sunni and Shi’a Islam was fragile, to say the least, in some ways it was even worse at the hands of the latter.
Thus, as the centuries progressed in a henceforth Muslim Iran–and a Shia one at that–Jews would soon find themselves in an extremely tenuous position. Their very lives and livelihoods came to depend upon a powerful, more secular political ruler, the Shah (like Cyrus over a thousand years earlier), who could act more on their collective behalf against the powerful force of the hostile religious establishment, the religious ulema and the mullahs.
While there were some pre-Islamic problems, as already noted, the fate of Iranian Jews had far more ups and downs clear up to the present time due to the situation brought on by the Arab Muslim conquest of the land. And since Jews were largely dependent on the political power of the Shahs, if the latter were unjust, then the masses, stirred up by the mullahs, frequently took it out on the Jews.
With the overthrow of Iran’s last Shah in 1979, a secular, autocratic, harsh despotism (which still managed to achieve much good for the nation) was replaced by one even worse and far less tolerant led by the Twelver Shi’a religious establishment.
And this is the real reason for folks like Ahmadinejad and the mullahs’ professed hatred of the Jews and desire to destroy Israel. Undemocratic, oppressive dictators always make sure that they have at least one great, external bogeyman against whom to channel internal frustration, unrest, and violence.
Iran’s duplicitous rulers thus cry about such things as “Palestine” and the Jewish “occupation” of Jerusalem (indeed–Jews have occupied it for over 3,000 years) so no one questions what they do, in just one of many horrendous examples, to their own province of Khuzestan’s millions of Ahwazi Arabs. There are so many of the latter that this province has been known as Arabistan for centuries–the main reason why the Arabs’ Saddam made a land grab for this oil-rich area some three decades ago.
Who better to deflect Iran’s far worse sins than the world’s most popular scapegoat and whipping post par excellence– the Jew?
Hopefully, more and more Iranians will start to see through this sad ploy as they reconsider the millennia-old relationship between their own nation and that of the Jews.
Think about what could be given cooperation instead of confrontation between these two ancient peoples–also opening the door to others in the process?
The Cyrus Cylinder/Kurash Prism, bearing a message from perhaps one of the world’s greatest leaders of all time, points the way to a much better future–not only for Jews and Persians, but for all other peoples as well. Freedom, tolerance, acceptance of human differences, and mutual respect are just some aspects of the vision that it offers. With the exception of the much reviled nation of the Jews, when is the last time you heard something like that coming out of other leaders in the Middle East?
If you would like to go to see this testimony to what a truly great human leader could be like, the schedule for its American tour can be found here http://cyruscylinder2013.com/2012/11/cyrus-cylinder-tour-dates-and-venues/.