The British Museum, London

This 15-inch-tall stone stela comes from the Temple of Marduk in Babylon and depicts two local priests, a father and son. The ninth-century B.C.E. cuneiform inscription threatens anyone who tries to destroy the stela: “May Marduk, the great lord, in anger look upon him, and his name and his seed may he cause to disappear.”

Throughout the Near East, conquered peoples interpreted their defeat as a result of the gods’ displeasure with them; when order was restored and the temples cleansed, the people saw it as a sign that the conquering ruler was serving the local gods. According to Fried, a similar attitude may have inspired Second Isaiah to designate Cyrus as “YHWH’s messiah.”