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Myths of Babylonia and Assyria

Page: 258

Cyrus heard with compassion the cry of the captives.

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying, Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia, The Lord God of heaven hath given me all kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Who is there among you of all his people? his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (he is the God) which is in Jerusalem.[565]

In 538 B.C. the first party of Jews who were set free saw through tears the hills of home, and hastened their steps to reach Mount Zion. Fifty years later Ezra led back another party of the faithful. The work of restoring Jerusalem was undertaken by Nehemiah in 445 B.C.

The trade of Babylon flourished under the Persians, and the influence of its culture spread far and wide. Persian religion was infused with new doctrines, and their deities were given stellar attributes. Ahura-Mazda became identified with Bel Merodach, as, perhaps, he had previously been with Ashur, and the goddess Anahita absorbed the attributes of Nina, Ishtar, Zerpanitum, and other Babylonian "mother deities".

Another "Semiramis" came into prominence. This was the wife and sister of Cambyses. After Cambyses died she married Darius I, who, like Cyrus, claimed to be an Achaemenian. He had to overthrow a pretender, but submitted to the demands of the orthodox Persian party to purify the Ahura-Mazda religion of its Babylonian innovations. Frequent revolts in Babylon had afterwards to be suppressed. The Merodach priesthood apparently suffered loss of prestige at Court. According to Herodotus, Darius plotted to carry away from E-sagila a great statue of Bel "twelve cubits high and entirely of solid gold". He, however, was afraid "to lay his hands upon it". Xerxes, son of Darius (485-465 B.C.), punished Babylon for revolting, when intelligence reached them of his disasters in Greece, by pillaging and partly destroying the temple. "He killed the priest who forbade him to move the statue, and took it away."[566] The city lost its vassal king, and was put under the control of a governor. It, however, regained some of its ancient glory after the burning of Susa palace, for the later Persian monarchs resided in it. Darius II died at Babylon, and Artaxerxes II promoted in the city the worship of Anaitis.

When Darius III, the last Persian emperor, was overthrown by Alexander the Great in 331 B.C., Babylon welcomed the Macedonian conqueror as it had welcomed Cyrus. Alexander was impressed by the wisdom and accomplishments of the astrologers and priests, who had become known as "Chaldaeans", and added Bel Merodach to his extraordinary pantheon, which already included Amon of Egypt, Melkarth, and Jehovah. Impressed by the antiquity and magnificence of Babylon, he resolved to make it the capital of his world-wide empire, and there he received ambassadors from countries as far east as India and as far west as Gaul.


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