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Cyrus the Great

Lawrence Bush
October 16, 2017

Cyrus (Kurash) the Great marched into Babylon on this date in 539 BCE. His name is invoked twenty-three times in the Bible, as he decreed, during his first year on the throne, the rebuilding of the Temple in Jerusalem, which had been destroyed by the Babylonian conqueror, Nebuchadnezzar II, in 586 BCE. Cyrus’s decree ended decades of Jewish exile in Babylon and launched a new Jewish historical epoch that would include the canonization of the Bible, the Maccabean uprising against the Syrian Greeks, the birth of Christianity, the development of the Oral Law, and the destruction of the Jewish nation and the dispersion of its people by the Romans in the second century CE. Many Jews, however, remained in Babylonia (contemporary Iraq), forming a vibrant diaspora community of commerce and scholarship that by 500 CE had created the Babylonian Talmud.

“The people of Babylon… the shameful yoke was removed from them…” —the Cyrus cylinder

​​​​Lawrence Bush edited Jewish Currents from 2003 until 2018. He is the author of Bessie: A Novel of Love and Revolution and Waiting for God: The Spiritual Explorations of a Reluctant Atheist, among other books. His new volume of illustrated Torah commentaries, American Torah Toons 2, is scheduled for publication this year.