Here and throughout the article, the translation is based on the New Jewish Publication Society version.


Traditional exegetes have taken this passage to refer to Abraham and his encounter with the several kings described in Genesis 14. References to Cyrus by name in the second half of the book of Isaiah have led modern scholars to conclude that this is a description of Cyrus’s activities against the Medes, the Lydians and finally the Babylonians—the great powers of the day. In the passage here, Cyrus is not mentioned by name, but the description of him is the same as in Isaiah 45:1–13, where his name is explicitly stated.



YHWH is the Hebrew name of the God of Israel, the God of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, transcribed into English letters. (The Hebrew letters are yud [Y], heh [H], wow [W], and heh [H].) They spell God’s personal name. Since the Hebrew text uses consonants only—no vowels—scholars are not certain how the name is to be pronounced. The first translation of the Hebrew Bible (which was from Hebrew into Greek) did not employ God’s name, but substituted instead kyrios, “Lord,” everywhere that the name occurs. This custom was followed by nearly every other translation of the Bible, so that in most English versions we have “The Lord” instead of his name. In German we have Der Herr. When translating the biblical texts, I prefer to use God’s name as the biblical writers did.


Diodorus Siculus 9.22; The Nabonidus Chronicle 2.1–4; the Babylonian Chronicle 3.14–15; Herodotus I:123–130.


For a recent history, see Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire, trans. Peter Daniels (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2002), pp. 13–44.


The authenticity of this decree is disputed. For my view regarding its historicity, see Lisbeth S. Fried, “The Land Lay Desolate: Conquest and Restoration in the Ancient Near East,” in Oded Lipschits and Joseph Blenkinsopp, Judah and Judeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns, 2003); and Lisbeth S. Fried, The Priest and the Great King: Temple-Palace Relations in the Persian Empire (Winona Lake, IN: Eisenbrauns [forthcoming]). For its date in the fall of 538, see Fried and David Noel Freedman, “Was There a Jubilee Year in Pre-Exilic Judah?” excursus in Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 23–27, Anchor Bible series (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pp. 2257–2270.


I discuss the date of this Second Isaiah in Fried, “Cyrus the Messiah? The Historical Background to Isaiah 45:1, ” Harvard Theological Review 95:4 (2002), pp. 373–393.


Repointing nesukoti, from suk, to anoint, with Mitchell Dahood, Psalms I (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1966), p. 10.


His king … his holy mountain. For a discussion of -y as the third pronominal suffix, see Dahood, Psalms I, p. 10.


Reading dyrwm, with 2 Samuel 22:48.


Miriam Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, The Late Period (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1980), pp. 36–41, esp. n.9, p. 40.


Georges Posener, La première domination perse en Êgypte (Le Caire: Institut français d’archéologie orientale, 1936), p. 31.


Posener, La première domination, nos. 3 and 4, pp. 30–36, pl. II.


Posener, La première domination, nos. 8–10, pp. 48–87, pl. IV-XV. Diodorus claimed Darius did not finish the canal (I.33.9); however, a second stela found 3 kilometers south of Kabret states “ships filled with … arrived in Persia” indicating the canal was completed (line 16; Posener, p. 76). The location of a fourth stela is unknown. See Posener, p. 48, n.3; and C. Tuplin, “Darius’ Suez Canal and Persian Imperialism,” Achaemenid History VI (1991), pp. 237–283.


Pace A. Kuhrt and S. Sherwin-White (“Xerxes’ Destruction of Babylonian Temples,” Achaemenid History II: The Greek Sources [Leiden, 1987], pp. 79–80) who argue there is no evidence that any Persian king ever participated in the Akitu festival. See my Harvard Theological Review article for a discussion.


Stefan Zawadzki, “Cyrus-Cambyses Co-regency,” Revue d’Assyriologie et d’archéologie orientale 90 (1996), pp. 171–183.


Alan B. Lloyd, “The Inscription of Udjahorresnet: A Collaborator’s Testament,” Journal of Egyptian Archaeology 68 (1968), pp. 170–174; the inscription in translation may be found in Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, pp. 36–41.


Hanspeter Schaudig, “Die Inschriften Nabonids von Babylon und Kyros des Grossen samt den in ihrem Umfeld entstandenen Tendenzschriften: Textausgabe und Grammatik,” Alter Orient und Altes Testament 256 (Münster: Ugarit-Verlag, 2001), pp. 550–556; “Cyrus Cylinder,” in The Ancient Near Eastern Texts Related to the Old Testament, ed. James B. Pritchard (Princeton: Princeton Univ. Press, 1969), p. 316.


Schaudig, “Die Inschriften Nabonids,” pp. 550–556; “Cyrus Cylinder,” p. 316.


Lines 24–27. Lichtheim, Ancient Egyptian Literature, vol. 3, p. 38 (emphasis mine).


Lloyd, “Inscription of Udjahorresnet,” p. 174.


Vocalized with the Greek to the niphal, “He is called by my name.” However, if the prophet is describing Cyrus as calling upon YHWH by name, it would not be a problem. The Egyptians described Cambyses and Darius as calling upon the Egyptian gods and the priests of Marduk described Cyrus as calling upon the Babylonian god. These poems do not present Cyrus as he really was, but as at least one Judahite wanted him to be.


The argument presented here does not depend on the accuracy of the Isaianic writer, only that he believed that Cyrus would restore the status quo ante. But see Fried, “‘The Land Lay Desolate’: Conquest and Restoration in the Ancient Near East,” in which I argue that the Temple was indeed rebuilt, the vessels restored, and the people returned under Cyrus. For a full discussion of all the issues, see Ephraim Stern, Archaeology of the Land of the Bible, vol. 2, The Assyrian, Babylonian, and Persian Periods (732–332), Anchor Bible Reference Library (New York: Doubleday, 2001), pp. 312–326; Stern, “The Babylonian Gap,” BAR 26:06; Charles E. Carter, The Emergence of Yehud in the Persian Period: A Social and Demographic Study, Journal for the Study of the Old Testament Supp. Series 294 (Sheffield, UK: Sheffield Academic Press, 1999), p. 225; David Stephen Vanderhooft, The Neo-Babylonian Empire (Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1999); and most recently Lipschits and Blenkinsopp, Judah and Judaeans in the Neo-Babylonian Period.