Ezra 1 – “King Cyrus Allows the Jews to Rebuild the Temple”

Caravan_298_188Hebrew-English Text
I. Summary
King Cyrus grants the Judeans the right to rebuild their Temple in Jerusalem. He also returns the Temple vessels that the Babylonian kings had stolen from them. The Jewish community makes preparations, and many embark on the journey to Jerusalem.

II. Photo
The Babylonian exiles set off for Jerusalem: “So the chiefs of the clans of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and Levites, all whose spirit had been roused by God, got ready to go up to build the House of the LORD that is in Jerusalem.” (v. 5)

III. Important Verses
vv. 1-4: In the first year of King Cyrus of Persia, when the word of the LORD spoken by Jeremiah was fulfilled, the LORD roused the spirit of King Cyrus of Persia to issue a proclamation throughout his realm by word of mouth and in writing as follows: “Thus said King Cyrus of Persia: The LORD God of Heaven has given me all the kingdoms of the earth and has charged me with building Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Anyone of you of all His people — may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem that is in Judah and build the House of the LORD God of Israel, the God that is in Jerusalem; and all who stay behind, wherever he may be living, let the people of his place assist him with silver, gold, goods, and livestock, besides the freewill offering to the House of God that is in Jerusalem.”
v. 7: King Cyrus of Persia released the vessels of the LORD’s house which Nebuchadnezzar had taken away from Jerusalem and had put in the house of his god.

IV. Outline
1-4. Cyrus’ Proclamation
5-6. Preparations
7-11. Cyrus returns the Temple vessels

V. Comment
Chapter 1 begins the account of the exiles’ return from Babylon, and the description will last until chapter 6. While the book of Ezra is placed before Chronicles in the Hebrew Bible, scholars believe this location to be deceptive. Collins writes, “In modern times, the books of Ezra and Nehemiah have often been regarded as part of the Chronicler’s History. The concluding verses of 2 Chronicles (2 Chron 36:22-23) are virtually identical with the opening verses of Ezra (Ezra 1:1-3a). Moreover, there are numerous points of affinity between the language and idiom of Chronicles and that of Ezra-Nehemiah; both show great interest in the temple cult and matters related to it, such as liturgical music and the temple vessels. Some scholars argue that these similarities only relfect the common interests of Second Temple Judaism, and note that there are also differences in terminology. For example, the high priest is called hakkohen haggadol (the great priest) in Ezra-Nehemiah, but hakkohen haros (the head priest) in Chronicles…. [But,] the evidence is not decisive either way. It seems safer to regard Ezra-Nehemiah as an independent composition that has much in common with Chronicles, but deals with a distinct period of Jewish history and has its own distinctive concerns.” (428)

When it comes to comparing the Hebrew Bible with ancient Near Eastern material, Ezra 1 is a popular topic of discussion. This is because the Cyrus Cylinder, an artifact from the 6th century B.C.E. that was discovered in Babylon in 1879, describes Cyrus’ benevolence to all of his nation’s temples. Collins writes: “The decree of Cyrus, with which the book of Ezra begins, accords well with what we know of Persian policy toward the conquered peoples. An inscription on a clay barrel, known as the Cyrus Cylinder (ANET, 315-16), reflects the way the Persian king presented himself to the people of Babylon. Marduk, god of Babylon, he claimed, had grown angry with the Babylonian king Nabonidus for neglecting his cult, and had summoned Cyrus to set things right. According to the decree in Ezra 1, he told the Judeans that it was ‘[the Lord] the God of heaven’ who had given him the kingdoms of the earth and had charged him to build the temple in Jerusalem…” (429)

The following is a relevant portion from the Cyrus Cylinder:
By his exalted [word], all the kings who sit upon thrones throughout the world, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, who live in the dis[tricts far-off], the kings of the West, who dwell in tents, all of them brought their heavy tribute before me and in Babylon they kissed my feet. From [ Ninev]eh (?), Ashur and Susa, Agade, Eshnunna, Zamban, Meturnu, Der, as far as the region of Gutium, I returned the (images of) the gods to the sacred centers [on the other side of] the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (to them) their dwellings. In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon. May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers ask daily of Bel and Nabu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare. May they say to Marduk, my lord: “As for Cyrus, the king who reveres you, and Cambyses, his son, [      ] a reign.” I settled all the lands in peaceful abodes. (Context Of Scripture, 2.124)

VI. Works Used
(see “Commentaries” page)
Cogan, Mordechai. “Cyrus Cylinder” in Context of Scripture 2.124 edited by William W. Hallo (New York: Brill, 1997).
Collins, John J. Introduction to the Hebrew Bible (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2004).
Photo taken from http://www.wgbh.org/images/picture/Caravan_298_188.jpg