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Understanding the History of Ancient Israel$
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H. G. M. Williamson

Print publication date: 2007

Print ISBN-13: 9780197264010

Published to British Academy Scholarship Online: January 2012

DOI: 10.5871/bacad/9780197264010.001.0001

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Ancient Near Eastern History: the Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia

Ancient Near Eastern History: the Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia

(p.107) 8 Ancient Near Eastern History: the Case of Cyrus the Great of Persia
Understanding the History of Ancient Israel


British Academy

This chapter examines how an historian of the ancient Near East sets about reconstructing a picture of the past using material of great diversity in terms of type and historical value. It demonstrates this approach by considering the figure of the Achaemenid king, Cyrus II ‘the Great’ of Persia. The discussion begins by creating a conventional image of the king and consolidating it. It then analyses the evidence that has been used to strengthen the picture and presents some historical realities. The basis for the standard picture of Cyrus the Great is provided by material in classical writers and the Old Testament. Cyrus introduced a new policy of religious toleration together with active support for local cults, exemplified by the permission he granted to the Jewish exiles to return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple, with generous funding from central government. The chapter also considers the date for Cyrus' defeat of the Median king Astyages (550), as well as his conquest of Babylon itself.

Keywords:   Cyrus the Great, Persia, history, ancient Near East, cults, Jerusalem, Astyages, Babylon, conquest, religious toleration

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