Cyrus the Great: King of Persia

Cyrus the Great, king of Persia, is mentioned twenty-two times in the Old Testament—an evidence of his prominence in the biblical scheme of things in those declining days of Judah’s history. When Cyrus overthrew the Babylonian regime in 539 B.C., he was disposed quite favorably toward the Jews. Ezra 1:1-2 reads as follows:

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, in order to fulfill the word of Jehovah by the mouth of Jeremiah, Jehovah stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he sent a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and he also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, Jehovah, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah.

Exactly how the Lord “stirred up the spirit” of the Persian ruler no one is able to say precisely. That God is able to operate in international affairs—to effect His sovereign will—is certain (Daniel 2:21; 4:17), but how He accomplishes these things, using seemingly natural means, remains a mystery. But there is an interesting possibility. Josephus, the famous Hebrew historian who had access to historical records long since lost, stated that Cyrus was exposed to the prophecies of Isaiah (44:26-45:7), who, more than 150 years earlier, had called the Persian monarch by name, and had announced his noble role in releasing the Hebrews from captivity and assisting in the rebuilding of the Jewish temple (XI.I.2). It is a fact that Daniel was still living in the early years of Cyrus’ reign (see Daniel 10:1), and he might well have been the very one who introduced the Persian commander to Isaiah’s testimony. Interestingly, there is archaeological information that lends support to the biblical record.

During excavations at Babylon (1879-82), archaeologist Hormuzd Rassam discovered a small (ten inches), clay, barrel-shaped cylinder that contained an inscription from Cyrus. Now housed in the British Museum, the cylinder reported the king’s policy regarding captives: “I [Cyrus] gathered all their [former] inhabitants and returned [to them] their habitations” (Pritchard, 1958, 1:208). As noted scholar Jack Finegan observed: “The spirit of Cyrus’s decree of release which is quoted in the Old Testament (II Chronicles 36:23; Ezra 1:2-4) is confirmed by the Cyrus cylinder…” (1946, p. 191).

The science of archaeology frequently has been a willing witness to the integrity of the sacred Scriptures.


Finegan, Jack (1946), Light from the Ancient Past (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).

Josephus, Flavius (1957), The Life and Works of Flavius Josephus, transl. William Whitson (Philadelphia, PA: John C. Winston).

Pritchard, James B. (1958), The Ancient Near East (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press).


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