Bibliothèque Nationale de France, Paris

The Persian king Cyrus the Great, after his conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C.E., tells the assembled Hebrew exiles that they may return home and rebuild their destroyed Temple, in this illumination (c. 1770–1775) created by the painter Jean Fouquet for a French edition of Flavius Josephus’s Antiquities of the Jews.

Cyrus’s rule ended the Jews’ half-century-long Exile in Babylon. But the Book of Isaiah goes so far as to call Cyrus, a non-Jew, God’s “messiah” (in Greek, christos, or christ)—a title reserved for the legitimate king of Judah. (Only later did the title come to be used for a hoped-for apocalyptic savior.) Why does Isaiah call Cyrus “messiah”? Because, Lisbeth S. Fried suggests in the accompanying article, Cyrus acted just the way Isaiah thought a messiah should act: He returned order to the world.