The Cyrus Cylinder, a small, cylinder-shaped baked clay tablet inscribed with Akkadian cuneiform from the 6th century BCE, is arguably one of the most important texts and objects from the Ancient Near Eastern world. Sometimes called “the first declaration of human rights,” the Cyrus Cylinder, housed at the British Museum, is currently touring museums in the United States, and will be on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York CIty beginning June 20. In connection with this traveling exhibition, Dr. Robert Owens, Professor of Old Testament at General Seminary, will offer a free webcast about the Cyrus Cylinder and the significance of Cyrus in the biblical tradition on Tuesday, June 18, 2013, from 7:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m. Eastern time. To register, please click here.
In the middle of the sixth century BCE, Cyrus “the Great” created the largest empire the world had yet known, stretching from the Mediterranean Sea to the Indus River. His approach to governing this huge complex was distinctive in the extent to which he granted official recognition and tolerance to the local religions and cultures of his many subject peoples. This policy had a profound impact on the history of Judaism. Thousands of Jews deported to Mesopotamia during the Babylonian conquest were not only allowed to return to their homeland, but also to rebuild the Jerusalem Temple. Cyrus was such an important figure in the story of Judaism that he is mentioned by name in several books of the Old Testament, including the Books of Ezra and Isaiah:
I have aroused Cyrus in righteousness, and I will make all his paths straight; he shall build my city and set my exiles free, not for price or reward. Thus says the Lord of hosts. Isaiah 45:13
Cyrus had an official record of his policy inscribed on the now-iconic tablet known as the Cyrus Cylinder. Today, many view the Cyrus Cylinder as a powerful symbol of tolerance, peace and multiculturalism. A replica is on display at the United Nations in New York City.
After a stay at the Smithsonian in Washington D.C., the Cyrus Cylinder is currently on exhibit at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. In August, the Cyrus Cylinder will move from the Metropolitan Museum of Art to the Asian Art Museum in San Francisco, and then on to the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles. To learn more about the Cyrus Cylinder and the U.S. tour, click here.
To register for the free webcast about Cyrus and his impact upon Judaism, click here.