God is Judge

Addendum (additional material Feb 2018)

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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Cyrus in the book of Isaiah

 

The eighth century interpretation of Isaiah 40-66 is more or less unique.[1] In the commentary God is Judge, it is suggested that “Cyrus” was a re-vocalisation of the Hebrew for “craftsman” or “workman” (חרשׁ), as an allusion to the craftsman (Bezaleel, Exod 31:2), who was endowed with the spirit of wisdom in order to construct the Tabernacle. This follows the suggestion made by J. W. Thirtle, who proposes that “Cyrus” is a corruption of the text from chârâsh to kôrêsh as follows:

 

The process of reasoning would be something like this: First, the passage would be applied to Cyrus, who, in presence of the people, realized parts which in some measure corresponded with those set forth in the passage about the Lord’s anointed. Second, Cyrus was hopefully regarded as the workman, or artificer חרשׁ whom Jehovah had empowered to do great things in the interests of the Jews. Third, seeing that the word חרשׁ thus implied, or stood for Cyrus, it would seem right or desirable to conform the letters to a more correct representation in Hebrew of the Persian word – hence, כרשׁ afterwards  כורשׁ, and then by pointing  כוּרֶשׁ. By these measures and mutations the word came to speak of King Cyrus and of him only. There was no intention to introduce disorder into the text –only a purpose to reduce the spelling to a form which was believed to be right. In the judgment of some leader, or leaders, of the people, חרשׁ was intended to indicate כרשׁ, and effect was given to this belief by the alteration of the initial letter. Thus a common appellation was made into a proper name, and a seed of misunderstanding was sown in the Isaiah prophecies.[2]

 

The “craftsman” of Isa.45:1 was called on to “build my city” (v. 13); this “craftsman” is contrasted with the “craftsman” who builds idols (Isa.44:11), who holds a lie (idol) in his right hand (Isa.44:20), in contrast with the “craftsman” whose right hand Yahweh holds (Isa.45:1). The idea that a pagan king who worshiped idols would be addressed in Davidic terms as Yahweh’s anointed runs contrary to the thrust of the text.

 

[1] The only recent commentary is G. V. Smith, Isaiah 40-66 (New American Commentary Series; Nashville: B&H Publishing, 2009), which entertains far more eighth century readings of the oracles.

[2] J. W. Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, (London: Henry Frowde, 1907), 254-5.

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Keeping Cyrus as a reading

 

Arguments for keeping Cyrus in Isaiah can be briefly summarized as follows:

 

  • The undeniable correspondence between Isaiah 45 and forms of expression found in the Cyrus Cylinder – this suggests some sort of relationship between them.
  • The case for “Cyrus” being a scribal/editorial change is examined and proposals such as “the inheritor”, “the crushed one” or the “craftsman” are often proposed.
  • The case for “Cyrus” being an interpolation[3] which is suspected because of possible changes in the poetic metre is examined and the possibility of later editorial editions by Jeremiah is investigated.

 

Commentators who reject editorial work or later interpolation as explanations and accept that “Cyrus” is integral to the text offer the following arguments:

 

  • Despite Jerusalem resisting the Assyrian blockade, there is evidence that damage was done to the outer defensive works of the city and damage to the Temple (thus necessitating rebuilding).
  • Sennacherib himself boasts that he took captives during this campaign.
  • Cyrus is identified with Kūrush (Cyrus I?) a possible contemporary of Isaiah and not the king who was still 150 years in the future (Cyrus II of Daniel)
  • The Babylonians sent an envoy to Hezekiah to establish diplomatic and military allegiances and to offer building materials (Perry) for repairing the Assyrian war
  • Cyrus did not know Yahweh indicating that he was a foreign prince.

 

Thus, Isaiah 45 could function as a rhetorical irony against Babylon and Hezekiah. The counsel and help of Merodach-Baladan are rejected and, at the same time, Hezekiah is being castigated. Therefore, the oracle is directed towards one of the accompanying princes in the Babylonian delegation, presumably the eighth century Kūrush[4] (Cyrus I?) and at the same time against Merodach-Baladan and Hezekiah.

 

[3] A marginal note or footnote incorporated into the body of the text.

[4] Possibly identified on the Nassouhi Prism.

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If this scenario is correct then an Elamite (?) prince is chosen and ironically lauded in Davidic terms in order to teach Merodach-Baladan and Hezekiah a lesson. Moreover, this Cyrus would act as a template for the future restoration of Jerusalem from Babylonian exile by Cyrus II, who conquered Babylon some 150 years later. The setting of this oracle is therefore around 700 BCE (aftermath of the Assyrian crisis) and the incident of the Babylonian envoys (2 Kgs 20:12-19; 2 Chron.32:31), after which Hezekiah acknowledged his sin, humbled himself, and was given a reprieve.

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Discussion

 

Although the background of the oracle is realistic (the Babylonian envoys) the ironic reading suggested is not. Even if the case for identifying Kūrush (Cyrus I?) with “Cyrus” in Isa.45:1 can be established and even if this Cyrus was an Elamite prince with the Babylonian delegation, no reason is given as to why he should receive the privilege of being distinguished from the other delegates.

 

Why Yahweh should choose one pagan idol worshiper above another is not explained. Presumably Merodach-Baladan presented a unified policy position which represented all the princes in his coalition, why then single out a particular prince for unique treatment? It is not apparent from this oracle that “Cyrus” would somehow betray Babylon and pursue a different policy towards Jerusalem.

 

All the envoys had a friendly (but ulterior) motive, namely, they all wanted to increase Babylonian influence in the region. They had identified Hezekiah as a useful ally against Assyria and wanted his support. Any pacts or treaties made would be quid pro quo; you help me and I will help you. Yahweh’s objection was in turning to the counsel of any foreigners (and their gods). Yahweh had saved Jerusalem without any help and did not need either the Babylonians or the Elamites or any other princes from any other nation—nor did he need the assistance of their “gods”.

 

In fact, Yahweh (through the prophet Isaiah) is reminding the Babylonians (and Hezekiah) that he has already raised up (metaphorically from the dead) his own master-craftsman to do the work.

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The message to the Babylonians is ‘we don’t need your help’. The message to Hezekiah is that his pride and Babylonian flattery had seduced him and made him forget that his accomplishments were not his own. Yahweh had chosen him, and Hezekiah’s work as a “suffering servant/craftsman” was but a pale reflection of the work of the promised Davidic Messiah, not the work of some unknown Elamite prince or even of Cyrus II who failed miserably to restore the postexilic Temple.

 

In essence, Hezekiah had turned away from the voice of wisdom, crying in the wilderness (Prov 8:1; Isa.40:3) and become one of the “simple ones” who listened to the smooth words of the strange woman.

 

It was Yahweh who had counsel and sound wisdom (Prov 8:14) and it was by his forbearance that “princes rule, and nobles, even all the judges of the earth” (Prov 8:16). Hezekiah’s foray into diplomacy was foolish: “he that sinneth against me wrongeth his own soul: all they that hate me love death (Prov 8:36)”. Yahweh knows the “beginning from the end” and these “Babylonian friends” would one day in the not too distant future destroy Jerusalem and exile Judah. And Hezekiah was so foolish that he had allowed them to catalogue all his wealth and note how he organised his kingdom – he had freely offered the intelligence and strategies necessary for the Babylonians to overthrow Judah! Hezekiah (Yah is my strength: חזקיה) had forgotten the meaning of his own name! Yahweh reminded him of this in Isa.45:1, “whose right hand I have holden” (חזק; whom-I-hold-fast/strengthen). Yahweh was behind Hezekiah’s success and there was no need to appeal to foreigners and their “dead gods” (cf. Isa 26:14).

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The Problem of the Destruction of the Temple

 

Perhaps the biggest problem encountered when dating the oracles of Isaiah 40-66 is the mention of the destruction/damage of the Sanctuary which tends to automatically suggest a post 586 BCE date, as the only recorded destruction of the Sanctuary is by Nebuchadnezzar[5] This would be a major argument against my position by critical commentators who believe Isaiah 40-66 is exilic and post-exilic in origin.

 

A. Whittaker[6] suggests that Ahaz allowed the Assyrian king to garrison troops in the temple precinct and that these troops vandalised the Sanctuary when they were expelled by Hezekiah. They point to 2 Chron 28:21 where the chronicler records, “Ahaz took away a portion out of the house of the Lord......and gave it unto the king of Assyria”, but this means nothing more than that he “gathered riches” (‘valuable items’, NLT/ ‘took part of the treasures’, NKJV) in order to curry favour with the Assyrian king.

 

However, a valid point is made by G. Booker on Ps 74:5-7 where the “thick trees” are associated with “the house of the forest of Lebanon” (1 Kgs 7:1-5; 10:17, 21; Isa 22:8) which was built with imported cedar from Lebanon.3

 

A man was famous according as he had lifted up axes upon the thick trees. But now they break down the carved work thereof at once with axes and hammers. They have cast fire into thy sanctuary, they have defiled by casting down the dwelling place of thy name to the ground. (Ps 74:5-7)

 

[5] Temple desecration occurred under Antiochus Epiphanes, which is why it became fashionable in the nineteenth century to assign some of these Psalms to the Maccabean period.

[6] H. A. Whittaker & G. Booker, Hezekiah the Great/Songs of Degrees (Birmingham: CMPA, 1985), 7.

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The Psalm is obviously describing an act of vandalism against the royal armoury (house of the forest of Lebanon; cf. Isa 37:24) and against the Sanctuary. Although the history in Kings/Chronicles does not describe such an act, a plausible scenario can be reconstructed when the Assyrian records are taken into consideration.

 

Consider A. O. Oppenheim’s translation of Sennacherib’s record of the Assyrian siege,

 

Hezekiah himself, whom the terror-inspiring splendor of my lordship had overwhelmed and whose irregular and elite troops which he had brought to Jerusalem, his royal residence, in order to strengthen (it), had deserted him, did send me later, to Nineveh, my lordly city, together with 30 talents of gold..... (ANET, 288)

 

The inscription is extensively discussed by William R. Gallagher who offers an alternative translation that suggests that the mercenaries (Arab troops?) did not desert, but were sent (along with booty) by Hezekiah as tribute after Sennacherib withdrew.[7]   The Assyrian account is highly suspicious and sounds like propaganda, trying to turn a defeat into a victory. Gallagher comments, “The claim that Hezekiah sent tribute after Sennacherib is unique in Assyrian inscriptions. Sennacherib had been at Lachish. Why did Hezekiah not come out, present his tribute, kneel down and kiss Sennacherib’s feet like the other kings had done at Ushu? Why did Hezekiah stay in Jerusalem and merely send a messenger to Nineveh to pay Sennacherib homage?”[8]

 

[7] W. R. Gallagher, Sennacherib’s Campaign to Judah: New Studies (Brill: Netherlands, 1999), 132-139.

[8] Ibid, p. 132.

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The account in Kings (2 Kgs 18:16) describes how Hezekiah himself plundered the temple in order to pay tribute to Sennacherib but this is counter intuitive to the portrayal of Hezekiah’s character. Moreover, despite this payment, Sennacherib continued to lay siege to Jerusalem. The accounts in 2 Kings 18-19 seem contradictory and scholars have detected different sources behind the accounts.[9]

 

Whatever the merits of a source critical reconstruction might be, it is clear that something unusual is being reconstructed by these texts. The divergences in the accounts can be explained by positing that elements within the royal circle took advantage of Hezekiah’s illness and acted on his behalf. These elements could well have instructed the Arab mercenaries to strip the temple and deliver the booty to Sennacherib. The Assyrians were masters at psychological warfare and intelligence gathering[10] and would soon be aware that Hezekiah himself was facing death (‘my splendour overwhelmed him’) and that the offer of tribute was a desperate delaying tactic. Rabshakeh was therefore sent to instigate further instability – to drive a wedge between those who faithfully resisted and those who wished to capitulate.

 

The “royal steward” (prime minister), Shebna was apparently a Phoenician who somehow worked his way into this very influential position.[11] He is called a “steward” (NASB) which is a Phoenician loan word for “governor”.

 

[9] Divergences can possibly be attributed to royal annalists and temple annalists. The texts suggests friction between a "pro-Assyrian" party (i.e., Shebna, Ahaz? et al) and a "Yawhist" party (the Priests and Hezekiah). For source critical reconstruction see, P. S. Evans, The Invasion of Sennacherib in the Book of Kings: A Source-Critical and Rhetorical Study of 2 Kings 18-19 (Supplements to Vetus Testamentum 125; Leiden and Boston: E. J. Brill, 2009), 59.

[10] See; P. Dubovský, Hezekiah and the Assyrian Spies: Reconstruction of the Neo-Assyrian Intelligence Services and Its Significance for 2 Kings 18-19 (Gregorian Biblical Book Shop, 2006).

[11] N. Avigad, “Epitaph of a Royal Steward from a Siloam Village” IEJ 3 (1953): 137- 152 (151-152).

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In Isaiah’s rebuke, he repeated the word “here” three times, indicating that he is a foreigner and did not belong in the courts of Judah (Isa 22:16). There is no mention of his father which, if he was a Judean, would be the case (cf. 2 Kings 18:18).

 

As a foreigner, probably he would not be interested in the spiritual matters of the kingdom or seeking the Lord’s direction in times of trouble. Thus, he did not have a positive influence on the decision-making in the courts of Hezekiah (Isa 22:15-19). As scribe, he still had influence in the court of Judah.

 

There he tried to persuade the people of Jerusalem to surrender to the Assyrians. Isaiah admonished Hezekiah to trust the Lord for the deliverance of the city from the hands of the Assyrians. Shebna’s influence, at least with the people, seemed to prevail, and he convinced the people to surrender. As he was leading the Jerusalemites out the city gate, the angel Gabriel (so goes the tradition; Sanhedrin 26a) shut the city gate behind him. Alone and embarrassed by this turn of events, he told the Assyrians that the rest of the people had deserted him. Not to be taken for fools, they put holes in his feet and dragged him over thorns and thistles, apparently to a far country and his death, thus fulfilling the words of Isaiah the prophet (Isa 22:17-18).

 

It is certainly feasible that the vandalism of the sanctuary in Ps 74:5-7 is recounting an event that occurred during the Assyrian crisis rather than the complete destruction meted out by the Babylonians in BC 586, especially in light of v. 8, “They said in their hearts, ‘Let us destroy them altogether’. They have burned up all the meeting places of God in the land”.  

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Their intention was complete destruction of the Jerusalem cult, but in reality they could only obliterate outlying meeting places (sometimes translated ‘synagogues’).[12]

 

Even though the city did not fall, it is quite probable that the temple suffered damage and most certainly the outside defensive walls of Jerusalem. It is also undeniable that other cities in Judah were extensively damaged (Micah 1).

[12] J. Day comments, “The old view that Ps. 74.8’s mōwʿădê-ʾēl, ‘meeting places of God’, must refer to synagogues, and so presuppose a later date, has been rightly rejected by Gelston (1984)” in “How Many Pre-Exilic Psalms Are There?”, In Search of Pre-Exilic Israel: Oxford Old Testament Seminar, (ed., John Day, London: Continuum, 2004), 225-250 (240).

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Yahweh and the Foreign Gods

 

Another argument that critical commentators pose against my approach is based on the similarities that exist between the Cyrus oracles and the Cyrus Cylinder. Their argument is that Isaiah is dependent on the cylinder. There is a striking parallelism between Isa 44:28 and the Cyrus Cylinder where Cyrus II is described as a shepherd:

 

Cyrus Cylinder [13] Isaiah

12 He [Marduk] took the hand of Cyrus, king of the city of Anshan, and called him by his name, proclaiming him aloud for the kingship over all of everything.

45:1 Thus says Yahweh to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right  hand I have held -- To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings…

18…governors,  bowed  down  before

him and kissed his feet…..

45:23…That to Me every knee shall bow, Every tongue shall take an oath.

13…he [Cyrus] shepherded in justice and righteousness

44:28 Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My

shepherd….’

31…the sanctuaries across the river Tigris - whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated, 32...the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements….

44:28…saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

15…like a friend and companion, he

walked at his side.

41:8…The descendants of Abraham My friend.

 

[13] Excerpts are from the translation of the text on the Cyrus Cylinder by I. Finkel (Assistant  Keeper,  Department  of  the  Middle  East,  the  British  Museum)  cited August 2010 online@  Access here

 

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The similarity in language between the Cyrus Cylinder and Isaiah can be partially explained by a shared milieu and shared oriental motifs. For example, many oriental rulers are depicted as shepherds. The royal staff or, sceptre is a common accessory for kings in the Ancient Near East and was itself a form of shepherd’s rod. It became a symbol of protection, power and authority. Even in Egypt, a divine symbol of kingship was the shepherd’s crook.[14]

 

Nevertheless, if shared vocabulary and generic motifs are discounted, the resemblance between the Cyrus Cylinder and Isaiah is striking. Critical scholars will draw the conclusion that this is proof that a Deutero-Isaiah was a contemporary of Cyrus II – but what prevents Cyrus’ record being influenced by Isaiah? Isaiah is a thematically complex literary development, making the direction of influence from Isaiah to the cylinder more likely. One can imagine the Jews showing Cyrus the prophecy written 150-200 years previously and suggesting that he is the “workman” chosen by their God as liberator. The similarity between ch-r-sh and K-r-sh eventually hardened into a direct naming of Cyrus and this in turn influenced the monumental inscribers. It is likely that the Isaiah prophecy was known in Babylonian scribal circles shortly after it was written because soon after his recovery Hezekiah entertained  a  diplomatic  envoy  from  Babylon  and  he  was  so  flattered  that  he showed them everything (Isaiah 39), which probably included the prophecies concerning himself. Cyrus demonstrated tolerance to many of his conquered peoples (as indicated by the Cyrus Cylinder). Hence, the restoration of the Jewish exiles in whatever limited form under Cyrus was not due to any particular sympathy with monotheism, but was rather the polity of the monarch towards all his conquered subjects.[15]

 

[14] J. J. Davis, The Perfect Shepherd; Studies in the 23 Psalm,(Baker House; Grand Rapids, Michigan, 1979),51

[15] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 247-248.

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Shared ANE motifs probably account for the similarities between Isaiah and the Cyrus Cylinder but dependency of the cylinder on Isaiah cannot be excluded. Isaiah 45 does show awareness of Egyptian gods;

 

Thus saith the Lord, The labour of Egypt, and merchandise of Ethiopia and of the Sabeans, men of stature, shall come over unto thee, and they shall be thine: they shall come after thee; in chains they shall come over, and they shall fall down unto thee, they shall make supplication unto thee, saying, Surely God is in thee; and there is none else, there is no God. Verily thou art a  God that hidest thyself, O God of Israel, the Saviour. (Isa 45:14-15).

 

This passage about Egypt refers to a God that hidest thyself, which is polemic against the Egyptian god Amun who was the “hidden one”. The name “Amun” (imnw) suggests imperceptibility in and of itself and derives from the verb imn, meaning both “to conceal” and “be hidden”. Its vocalization is said to belong to the same noun-class as the name “Atum”.[16] In the New Kingdom, the epithet “he whose name is hidden” (imn-rn.f or imn-rn) was commonly used as an etymology of “Amun”. Several of these New Kingdom “etymologies”, as well as Hymns to Amun from Papyrus Leiden (I 350), speak of Amun as “concealing Himself”. Amun also functioned as a “personal god” and saviour;

 

You are Amun, Lord of the Silent, who answers the cry of the humble. I cry unto you because I am afflicted, and already you come and save me. You who gives breath to he who lacks it! Save me, I, who am in distress. You are Amun-Re, Lord of Thebes, who even saves the one who is in the netherworld.[17]

 

[16] J. Osing, Die Nominalbildung Des Agyptischen, (2 vols; Mainz: Philipp von Zabern Verlag, 1976).

[17] Prayer of Nebre, Stela 23.077 of the Berlin Museum, XIXth Dynasty; the Pharaohs of the 19th dynasty ruled for approximately one hundred and ten years: from BC 1292 to 1187.

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The relevance of this text to the life of Hezekiah is apparent. Hezekiah cried to Yahweh and was rescued from death (the netherworld). This is polemic against the “gods” of Egypt – for although Yahweh is hidden and transcendent (like Amun-Re) he chooses to make himself visible and manifests himself to (and through) his “suffering servant”- even the Egyptians would come to “know” Yahweh when he revealed himself in his salvific acts (Isa 19:21-25), he was not hidden to those who faithfully sought him; “I have not spoken in secret, in a dark place of the earth: I said not unto the seed of Jacob, Seek ye me in vain: I the Lord speak righteousness, I declare things that are right” (Isa 45:19).

 

Moreover, the Hebrew for ‘verily’ ('aken) is probably a parody on Aken, who in ancient Egyptian mythology was the patron and custodian of the boat named “Meseket” that carried the souls of the dead into the underworld. Apparently, he remained in a deep sleep when he was not needed, and had to be woken by the Ferryman, Mahaf, when the dead required his services. He was generally depicted as a sailor standing in the stern of a papyrus boat. He was not the focus of worship, and had no cult centre but is referred to a number of times in the Book of the Dead. The twin themes of concealment and death are appropriate to the larger narrative of Isaiah 45 and the mortal illness of Hezekiah.

 

It is also possible that Isa 45:7 addresses the dualism found in Zoroastrianism; “I form the light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil: I the Lord do all these things”. There are therefore no deities of good and evil, no dualities, only the one God in control of everything. This (possible) allusion to Zoroastrianism, the ancient religion of Persia has some scholars argue for a postexilic date of Deutero- Isaiah (during the reign of Cyrus II), however the majority of scholars seem to favour dates around 1000 BC for Zoroaster, which would place him as a contemporary, at least, of the later Vedic poets.[18]

 

[18] M. Boyce and F. Grenet, A History of Zoroastrianism (3 vols; Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1975- 82), 1:190-191; for further reading and bibliography see the Encyclopædia Iranica at  Access here [cited June 2014].

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It is therefore not unreasonable to assume that dualistic religion from Media (not Persia) had already penetrated the ANE long before the exile. If that is the case, then Isaiah 45 presents polemic against Babylon, Egypt and Media. It is not necessary to present polemic against Assyria because the Assyrian “gods” have already been defeated!

 

There were therefore, “no gods” beside Yahweh (Isa 45:5, 6, 21); only “wisdom resided” with Yahweh (Prov 8:30) and Yahweh is able to pour the spirit of wisdom upon his servants who then remain hidden (protected) by him (Bezaleel=hidden with God). Therefore, this chapter and the previous one speak strongly of the incomparability of Yahweh – the counsel, wisdom and help of foreign princes (and their gods) is rejected. Their “gods” are vanity, nothing, lumps of wood and molten metal fashioned by pagan craftsmen.

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Knowing Yahweh

 

Our argument in favour of treating ‘Cyrus’ as a corruption of the original text is based on the inappropriateness of the so-called ‘Cyrus’ oracles as oracles of Cyrus the Great. Our first example of this argument is based on a consideration of what it is to know God.

 

“....though thou hast not known me” (Isa.45:4) “....though thou hast not known me” (Isa.45:5)

 

The question of “knowing” or “not knowing” Yahweh has nothing to do with awareness of Yahweh as the God of Israel. There were many Israelites who did not “know” Yahweh and Hezekiah should have “known” Yahweh but his behavior with the Babylonian envoys demonstrated that he had forgotten the important lessons that he had learned. The question of “knowing Yahweh” is directly linked with Exod 6:3,

 

And I appeared unto Abraham, unto Isaac, and unto Jacob, by the name of God Almighty, (El Shadday) but by my name Yahweh was I not known to them.

 

The context is the covenant with the patriarchs and the promise to Moses to deliver Israel from Egyptian bondage. The sad fact is that throughout Israel’s long prophetic history the name of Yahweh was unknown (cf. Isa 52:6; Jer 16:21; Ezek 39:7) in the sense that the Jews were ignorant to the inherent purpose and character revealed in the Yahweh name. [19]

 

[19] See P. Wyns, The Unknown God, CeJBI, (Vol., 5 No.2, 2011) and P. Wyns, “El Shadday”, CeJBI, (Vol., 4 No. 2, 2010).

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Therefore my people shall know my name: therefore they shall know in that day that I am he that doth speak: behold, it is I. How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him that bringeth good tidings, that publisheth peace;that bringeth good tidings of good, that publisheth salvation; that saith unto Zion, Thy God reigneth! (Isa 52:6-7)

 

The “name” is linked with God manifestation and salvation. Therefore knowing Yahweh is concerned with intimately experiencing the self-revelatory salvific acts of Yahweh. Hezekiah had experienced the self-revelatory manifestation of Yahweh in the role of the “suffering servant” pointing forward to the time when Yahweh would reveal himself in the Messiah. And yet, despite this encounter, despite “knowing Yahweh” Hezekiah still acted as one of the ignorant “simple ones” in the incident of the Babylonian envoys. The language employed in Isa.45:8 is the language of resurrection and this is applicable only to Hezekiah and the Davidic Messiah who he prefigured:

 

Drop down, ye heavens, from above, and let the skies pour down righteousness: let the earth open, and let them bring forth salvation, and let righteousness spring up together; I the Lord have created it. (Isa 45:8).

 

This is linked with the sign that Ahaz refused, a sign concerning the establishment of the Davidic dynasty:

 

Ask thee a sign of the Lord thy God; ask it either in the  depth, or in the height above. (Isa.7:14)

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This “messianic sign” was referred to by Jesus during his discourse about being “born again” (born from above): “If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things?” (John 3:12). The Jews (like Ahaz) refused to believe the sign concerning Jesus’ origins and his destiny (resurrection from the depths = new birth). It is impossible that this language would be applied (even as ironic rhetoric, contra Perry) to a pagan idol worshiper. This language could only be applied to a Davidide –only a descendant of David could typify the Messiah – especially one who had taken on the role of the suffering servant and who nearly died and was raised on the third day (2 Kgs 20:5).

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Psalm 107 and Isaiah

 

Our second example of the inappropriateness of the Cyrus oracles to Cyrus the Great is based on a comparison with Psalm 107, with v.16 quoted in Isa 45:2 and this is related to the release of captives.[20] Yahweh will “open the double doors” for the anointed, “so that the gates will not be shut”....and will “break in pieces the gates of bronze and cut the bars of  iron” (Isa 45:1b, 2b). The phrase occurs only in Psalm 107, a Psalm that is intertextually linked with Isaiah because its background is the reign of Hezekiah:[21]

 

Isaiah 38 Psalm 107

10. In the prime of my life I shall go to the gates of Sheol

18. Their soul abhorred all manner of food, and they drew near to the gates of death.

2.  Hezekiah prayed unto the Lord

3.  And Hezekiah wept bitterly

13. Then they cried out to the Lord in their trouble.....

4-5. And the word of the Lord came to Isaiah, saying, Go and tell Hezekiah, ‘Thus says the Lord, the God of David your father: I have heard your prayer, I have seen your tears; surely I will add to your days fifteen years’.

20. He sent His word and healed them, And delivered them from their destructions.

17. ...You have lovingly delivered my soul from the pit of corruption, For You have cast all my sins behind Your back.

16. For He has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two.

20. The Lord was ready to save me; Therefore we will sing my songs with stringed instruments All the days of our life, in the house of the Lord.

15. Oh, that men would give thanks to the Lord for His goodness, And for His wonderful works to the children of men!

 

[20] A. Perry, Isaiah 40-48(First Edition; East Boldon: Willow Publications, 2010), 280.

[21] For inter-textual links between Psalm 107/Isaiah and Psalm 107/Job, see Booker, Psalm Studies. Perry presents a parabolic reading of Job which he regards as a theatre dramatization of Hezekiah’s situation in A. Perry, Job (Sunderland: Willow Publications, 2009).

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The individual suffering of Hezekiah has a collective dimension (They cried out....Ps 107:10); as the king (the Suffering Servant) lay on his deathbed, the faithful remnant in the city fasted (Their soul abhorred all manner of food and they drew near to the  gates of death. Ps 107:18); God heard the nation’s distress caused by the Assyrian siege which coincidentally (sic) coincided with the mortal illness of their king.

 

The “breaking in pieces of the gates of bronze and the cutting of the bars of iron” is a metaphor for the bonds of death. Hezekiah is resurrected from his death bed and is called into the presence of the high priest “call my servant to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah”[22] were he is clothed with priestly garments and receives a prophetic pronouncement about his descendant, the Messiah, who will possess the “key of the house of David”[23] and is able to open the doors of death and “none shall shut” (Isa 22:22 cf. Rev 3:7).

 

Peripeteia is the motif of the chapter - a sudden reversal of fortunes. Shebna had been planning to replace the Davidic dynasty and had used the illness of Hezekiah and his childlessness as an opportunity to curry favor with the Assyrians.

 

[22] H. A. Whittaker, Isaiah, (Cannock: Biblia, 1988), 249, notes the similarity between the Hebrew phrasing in Isa 22:20; wĕqārāʾtî lĕʿabdî lĕʾelyāqîm ben-ḥilqiyyāhû (call my servant Eliakim the son of Hilkiah) and 1 Kgs 1:32 (qirʾû-lî lĕṣādōwq), where the prepositional prefix l’ is also repeated; “call to me Zadok the priest.” Whittaker proposes that Isa 22:20 should be understood in the same manner: “call my servant to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah.”

[23] This is royal language not priestly terminology, moreover the phrases in Isa 22:21- 23 are inter-textually linked with the Messianic Immanuel (God with us) prophecy in Isa 7:14 and 9:6-7 “government”/ “father” etc. regarding the throne of David. Hezekiah acts as a proto-type of the Messiah and in Isaiah 22 he is clad in priestly garments and functions as a priest-king (Melchizedek) like his ancestor David.

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Shebna had established himself as a “nail in a sure place” but his nail would be removed in that day (Isa 22:25) and replaced with Hezekiah’s nail. Shebna built himself an ornate tomb amongst the kings of Judah (1 Kgs 2:10; 2 Chron 32:33) betraying his dynastic aspirations. Instead, Shebna would suffer an ignominious death and Hezekiah who was at death’s door (with him died the Davidic dynasty) would be raised. In that day, one “nail” would be hammered home and another “nail” would be removed – a complete reversal of fortunes.

 

These prophecies have nothing to do with Cyrus and the “gates” that Yahweh will break open have nothing to do with the gates of Babylon; “....on this rock[24] I will build my church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt 16:18).

[24] The rock is a reference to Peter’s Messianic statement (You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.) and not to Peter himself (a small stone or pebble) and is therefore not a pronouncement on Apostolic succession. Shebna built a “habitation for himself in a rock” (Isa 22:16) but unlike Peter, Shebna refused to accept Yahweh’s anointed as his rock.

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Treasures of Darkness

 

Our third example of the inappropriateness of the ‘Cyrus’ oracles to Cyrus the Great is based on the motif ‘treasures of darkness’.

 

The treasures of darkness (Isa 45:3) are related by Perry to Hezekiah’s “treasures” which he displayed to the Babylonian envoys. They are “dark” because they are Assyrian plunder and therefore contaminated with false thinking etc. and the fate of this treasure was the darkness of Babylonian captivity. Accordingly, the use of “dark treasure” is ironic. However, these treasures are not necessarily plunder they are more likely tribute,[25] but even this can be discounted as these treasures are not accumulated by Hezekiah or even given to Yahweh (by the nations; they are treasures given by Yahweh to Hezekiah to demonstrate that Yahweh is the God of Israel. Therefore the “treasures” are linked with revelation. A literal reading of this verse (3a) is:

 

verse

 

The main idea behind the verse is concealment – something hidden, buried covered etc. by darkness – something secret is about to be revealed.[26]

 

[25]  “And many brought gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth” (2 Chron 32:23).

[26] “The things hidden are to Jehovah our God, and the things revealed are to us and to our sons -- to the age, to do all the words of this law” (Deut.29:29, YLT).

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The word ‘darkness’ (ḥōšek) first occurs in the creation narrative in Genesis 1. It then reappears in the Exodus account of the plagues when the nation is saved where it is a “darkness which may be felt” (Exod 10:21). It also appears in the account of the theophanic revelation at Sinai as “thick darkness” (Deut 4:11). In these texts supernatural darkness is associated with salvation and the creation of a nation.

 

‘Darkness’ is used 26x in Job, almost exclusively in association with death; 4x darkness is used in combination with the phrase “the shadow of death” (Job 3:5; 10:21; 12:22; 34:22). Perry noted that Isa 45:1b, 2b cites Ps 107:16; “For He has broken the gates of bronze, and cut the bars of iron in two”, but v. 10 of the Psalm adds, “Such as sit in darkness (ḥōšek) and in the shadow of death, being bound in affliction and iron”.

 

Metaphorically, northern Israel was the “land of the shadow of death” under the shadow of the Assyrian winged sphinx, until Hezekiah appeared on the scene as a light (Isa 9:2). However, “He that dwelleth in the secret place of the most High shall abide under the shadow of the Almighty” (Ps 91:1). This is similar to dwelling under the “wings” of the cherubim, the “hidden ones” (Ps 83:1), and alludes to Bezaleel (‘in the shadow of God’).

 

Ultimately, Isa 45:3a is about being concealed (hidden) in the darkness of death – like buried treasure. The argument is that God is not only associated with light, but also with darkness – Yahweh controls darkness as well as light (Isa 45:7), but he does not speak in dark hidden places when he deals with Israel (Isa 45:19). Unlike Amun, Yahweh was not hidden (even though Israel thought he was); Yahweh revealed himself in salvific acts – opening the earth (Isa 45:8) and resurrecting his “buried treasure”. In the first instance this text is concerned with Hezekiah,

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Thy dead men shall live, together with my dead body shall they arise. Awake and sing, ye that dwell in dust: for thy dew is as the dew of herbs, and the earth shall cast out the dead” (Isa 26:19)

 

The “resurrection” of Hezekiah heralded the resurrection of the nation from the yoke of Assyrian tyranny and the prison house of captivity. However, Isa 45:3 promised more than this because its ultimate focus is messianic - Yahweh would give the Messiah authority over death; the Davidic Messiah would have authority over his dead saints (buried treasure).

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Psalm 2 and Isaiah 45

 

Our fourth example shows how appropriate Isaiah 45 is to a Davidide in its use of Psalm 2; the argument is that it is not appropriate to a pagan emperor.

 

Psalm 2 is, in the first instance, a Davidic Psalm - the key to it is 2 Samuel 8, for as soon as David was established in Jerusalem, the kings of all the surrounding nations rose up against him as one man: Philistines, Moab, Zobah, Syria, Ammon, Amalek, Edom. But David defeated all of these, and found himself with an empire acquired virtually overnight.

 

This Psalm serves as a co-text for Isaiah 45, and was probably edited by Hezekiah’s men when the Psalms were collected. Thirtle ascribes the Psalm to Hezekiah, and says,

 

Some verses (1, 2) of the second part have been attributed to David-Acts 4.25, 26. To question this relation would be to ignore the great extent to which Hezekiah’s men availed themselves of Davidic material in the making of their own psalms. Yet it is possible that the name ‘David’ in the passage in question means no more than ‘the Psalmist’, as the well-known quotation in Heb.4.7, introduced by the words ‘saying in David’ –that is, in the Psalter. However, if not by actual writing, at least by adaptation, this psalm delineates incidents which arose in the time of Hezekiah.[27]

 

[27] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 140.

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Thirtle summarises Psalm 1 and 2 as follows:

 

Pss.1, 2. Prefixed to the oldest Davidic collection in the reign of Hezekiah. The division known as Ps.1 was addressed to the people of Jerusalem while the Assyrians were at the city walls, and Rabshakeh the scorner was tempting the unwary to make peace with him (2 Kings 18. 31, 32). The first part of Ps.2 (vv. 1-6) applies to the invaders; the second part (vv. 7-9) is the king’s rehearsal of the Divine decree in raising him from mortal sickness to a life of prosperity and victory; the third (vv. 10-12) is an appeal to the rulers of the city and the land to leave their evil ways (Isa. 28.14, 15; and see treatment of both psalms, pp.140-5 ante).[28]

 

Modern scholarship associates Psalm 2 with enthronement festivals held at the New Year and it is quite possible that it was employed in such a liturgical setting or perhaps as a parody of the Babylonian festivals, where the “hand of the god” (idol) was held. The use of Psalm 2 as a co-text in Isaiah 45 suggests such a possibility (ironic polemical usage). Further, the NT citation of Psalm 2 is against a background of human resistance (the trial and crucifixion of the Messiah=anointed) and the subsequent resurrection of the Messiah (“this day I have begotten thee”), which approximate the Hezekiah situation. In the final instance, it does not matter whether it was authored by David, or written by Hezekiah, or authored by David and then adapted by Hezekiah. It is a Messianic psalm about a Davidide and the fact that it was chosen by Isaiah and forms the woof and weave of Isaiah 45 demonstrates its relevance (if not authorship) to the Hezekiah period.

 

It seems highly unlikely that a Messianic Psalm about a Davidide, one that functions as a co-text for Isaiah 45, would in any way be related to a pagan king; especially when the psalm is cited by the Apostles and applied to Christ.

 

[28] Ibid, Thirtle, 311 (Appendix).

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Isaiah 45 Psalm 2

.....all that are incensed against him (45:24)

Why do the heathen rage (2:1)

Thus saith the Lord to his anointed (45:1)

.....against the Lord, and against his anointed (2:2)

....to subdue nations before him (45:1)

Thou shalt break them with a rod of iron (2:9)

Tell ye, and bring them near; yea, let them take counsel together..... (45:21)

........the rulers take counsel together (2:2)

I will loose the loins of kings (45:1)

...O ye kings: be instructed.... Serve the Lord with fear, and rejoice with trembling (2:10-11).

Ask me of things to come concerning my sons....45:11)

Thou art my Son.... (v.7)

What begettest thou? (45:10)

.... this day have I begotten thee.(2:7)

Let the potsherd strive with the potsherds of the earth. (45:9)

.....dash them in pieces like a potter’s vessel (2:9)

....be ye saved, all the ends of the earth.... (45:22)

.... the heathen....and the uttermost parts of the earth (2:8)

That unto me every knee shall bow, every tongue shall swear.(45:23)

Kiss the Son, lest he be angry, and ye perish from the way (2:12)

In the Lord shall all the seed of Israel be justified (45:25)

Blessed are all they that put their trust in him.(2:12)

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The Abrahamic Covenant

 

Our fifth example shows the appropriateness of Isaiah 45 to Hezekiah, and in this debate, its inappropriateness to Cyrus.

 

Woe unto him that saith unto his father, ‘What begettest thou?’ or to the woman, ‘What hast thou brought forth?’ (Isa 45:10)

 

The father and the woman (mother/wife, depending on the translation) are Abraham and Sarah: “Look unto Abraham your father, and unto Sarah that bare you: for I called him alone, and blessed him, and increased him” (Isa 51:5). Isaac was the first to be born into the Abrahamic covenant and his “unblocking” of Abraham’s wells parallel the “wells of salvation” (Isaiah 12) of Hezekiah’s era. It reflects the re-establishment of covenantal relationships with northern Israel (and the literal building of the water tunnel). The reaction to Hezekiah’s reformation is mirrored by the reaction of Ishmael to Isaac, namely, questioning his legitimacy as the true heir of the Abrahamic covenants. Some of the northern tribes responded with mocking and scorn (like Ishmael, 2 Chron 30:10; cf. Gen 21:9) at Hezekiah’s attempt at reformation. Moreover, Hezekiah was not “desired” (Isa 53:2) he was “despised and rejected” (Isa 53:3) – who was this “great king”? He was brought low with a mortal illness and his city was besieged. So much for his reformation and acting as Yahweh’s legitimate spokesman; what had Abraham and Sarah brought forth....what had they given birth to?

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Cyrus in Isaiah 44:28

 

The other mention of ‘Cyrus’ is in Isaiah 44:28 and here our second argument for eliminating the name is that this verse is evidently about an eighth century situation.

 

That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.

 

A straightforward reading seems to undeniably point forward to Cyrus II as temple builder and shepherd of Israel. However, this rendering of the Hebrew is tendentious and a slightly different emphasis points to Hezekiah rather than Cyrus. Moreover, the inconvenient fact (often ignored) is that Cyrus did not lay the foundation of the temple (more on this anon). On these grounds alone the naming of Cyrus should be rejected. The verse reads literally as follows:

 

The one saying

to Cyrus

one being shepherd of me

and all of

desire of me

he shall perform

and to say of

to Jerusalem

She will be built

and temple

she will be established

 

 

(1)  Firstly, there are two word-plays in the verse which make sense in an eighth century context. There is a word-play between ‘Jerusalem’ and the verb ‘to perform’(ירושׁלַם/שׁלם); and there is word-play between the word for ‘pleasure’ and the name of the wife of Hezekiah (חפצי־בה/חפץ) which was also the “nick-name”given to Jerusalem: “Thou shalt no more be termed Forsaken; neither shall thy land any more be termed Desolate: but thou shalt be called Hephzibah, and thy land Beulah: for the Lord delighteth in thee, and thy land shall be married” (Isa 62:4).

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(2)  Secondly, the word for ‘foundation’ is not a noun but a verb ‘to found’, it does not necessarily mean the laying of a foundation it can simply mean “established” or “founded” as in the YLT translation: “Thou art founded”. This is a statement: “So as to say of Jerusalem, Thou art built, and of the temple, Thou art founded” (YLT).

 

Oosting observes,

 

The exegetical literature on Isa 44:24-28 shows that the syntactic structure of v. 28 requires particular attention. In current studies, notice is frequently taken of two syntactic difficulties that are found in this verse. The first problem concerns the relation between the imperfect תוסד and the noun (היכל) at the end of the verse. The form of the verb (ni.) יסד (‘to be founded’) is either a second person singular masculine or a third person singular feminine, whereas the gender of the noun is masculine (cf. BDB 228). The second syntactic difficulty concerns the question of how to link the expression ולאמר (‘and to say’) in v. 28d to one of the previous clauses. The connection of the infinitive to the preceding clauses is not only interesting at the level of syntax; it also touches on the question at discourse level of who is speaking in the second part of Isa 44:28.[29]

 

After analysis of various alternative proposals and after noting that the Hebrew employs either the Pual or Hophal stem when speaking of the foundation of the temple (p. 84) Oosting concludes with his own emendation,

 

The syntactic structure of the last clause of Isa 51:12 provides a foundation for arguing that the noun (היכל) in Isa 44:28 does not function as subject but as adjunct. The subject of the last clause should be the proper noun Jerusalem taken from the previous clause. The gender of the proper noun Jerusalem agrees with the third person feminine verbal form in the last clause. As a result, the latter part of Isa 44:28 reads:

 

[29] R. Oosting, The Role of Zion/Jerusalem in Isaiah 40-55: A Corpus-Linguistic Approach(Leiden: E. J. Brill, 2012), 82-83.

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…and to say of Jerusalem “She will be rebuilt and she will be founded as a temple.[30]

 

This is the preferred rendering in the context of Hezekiah and the aftermath of the Assyrian invasion. Yahweh would “delight” in Jerusalem like Hezekiah is his new bride (Hephzibah) – the whole city would be holy- established as a temple – and Yahweh is speaking these words to his “shepherd” (the Davidide) his “master-craftsman” - חרשׁ (ch-r-sh) instead of כרשׁ (k-r-sh).

[30] Ibid, 84.

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Cyrus not the temple builder

 

Reinforcing this second argument, our third argument is that what we can gather from the records in Daniel and Ezra about Cyrus do not show a ‘fulfilment’ of the Isaiah Cyrus oracles.

 

None of the court tales in the book of Daniel is set during the reign of Cyrus, and although he is mentioned three times in Daniel (Dan 1:21; 6:28; 10:1), his name only functions as a chronological marker. Darius the Mede is often proposed as the missing Cyrus, but why would Daniel (who was obviously familiar with Cyrus and with the Cyrus prophecy of Isa.45:1 and 44:28) refer to him as ‘Darius the Mede’ instead of ‘Cyrus king of Persia’ (cf. Dan.10:1)? Darius the Mede is depicted as the ‘King’ able to approve and enact the ‘law of the Medes and Persians’ (Dan. 6:8, 12,15) which then becomes statutorily binding for everyone in the realm (including the king himself). A subordinate (governor) might well propose a new law but only a monarch with absolute power could approve such a draconian decree. Any proposal that regards ‘Darius the Mede’ as an agent, or substitute for Cyrus fails to meet the criteria that the story requires (regardless of whether the story is historical or not), namely, that the monarch who has absolute power is powerless to alter his own words!

 

In Dan 10:1, the name of Cyrus functions as an introduction to a 21 day delay (Dan 10:13). It is proposed that this equates to the 21 year delay in the release of the captives – the difference between the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus and the conquest of Babylon and commencement of temple building under Darius Hystaspis, which occurred 21 years later.

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Daniel’s retirement in the first year of Cyrus (Dan 1:21) proved to be premature because the temple was not built under Cyrus. Instead, Daniel receives a vision in the third year of Cyrus about a twenty one year delay (Dan 10:1) that serves to introduce an even longer period of desolation (Daniel 11). Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian (Dan 6:28), but it is only in the reign of Darius that Daniel is metaphorically “resurrected” from the Lion’s den. The fate of Daniel in the Lion’s den mirrors the fate of the exiles (also facing envy and opposition) who find their hope of restoration frustrated under Cyrus but revived under Darius. The name of Cyrus is therefore strategically positioned to emphasize frustrated hope.

 

The discrepancy between what Cyrus was supposed to do and what he actually accomplished is noted by the Jewish historian Flavius Josephus who attempts to harmonize the accounts.  According to Josephus it was Darius  Hystaspis  who returned the temple vessels and did “all that Cyrus intended to do before him, relating to the restoration of the temple” (Ant. 11.3.8; Josephus probably used 1 Esdras 4: 4.42-57 as his source) thus contradicting his earlier statement that “Cyrus also sent back to them the vessels of God which king Nebuchadnezzar had pillaged out of the temple, and carried to Babylon.” (Ant. 11.1.2).

 

Cyrus’ restoration did not apparently amount to anything more than a decree that got “lost”[31] in the Persian archives (Ezra 5:17; Ezra 6:1-3) and a return of some of the vessels with nowhere to house them. Surely the temple would be constructed before the vessels were returned?

 

[31] E. Gruen states, “The very fact that the decree (albeit in much altered form) had to be read out once more, thirty years after its issue, only reminded the audience how valueless it had been”. E. Gruen, “Persia through the Jewish Looking-Glass” in Jewish Perspectives on Hellenistic Rulers (eds. T. Rajak, S. Pearce, J. Aitken and J. Dines; University of California Press, 2007), 53-75 (61).

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The crux interpretum is, of course, the prophecy in Isa 45:1 and 44:28 which depicts Cyrus as Yahweh’s “anointed”, a term reserved for the Davidide and employed in typological fashion for the messiah. Cyrus becomes the builder of Jerusalem, the “shepherd” (cf. David) of the people and the one who lays the foundation of the temple.

 

If the prophecy in Isaiah is taken at face value then all that can be said is that Cyrus failed and the prophecy failed. Cyrus did not rebuild Jerusalem and the foundation stone was not laid until the reign of Darius. For the prophecy to be historically accurate Isa 45:1 and 44:28 should name Darius as the “anointed”.[32]

 

Commenting on Cyrus’ proclamation in Ezra 1:1-5, E. Gruen sums up the anomaly as follows:

 

To begin, the discrepancy between Cyrus’ pronouncements on the one hand and his failure to implement them on the other stands out starkly. The king’s pious pronouncements about building the Temple, exhorting subjects to supply the means for construction, and restoring the sacred objects once pilfered by Nebuchadnezzar proved to be quite empty. When Darius came to the throne nearly two decades later, no Temple existed.[33]

 

C. Torrey goes so far as to argue that all references to Cyrus and Babylon in Isaiah should be removed as they are later additions.[34]

 

[32] J. Goldingay and D. Payne find the substitution of Cyrus with Darius in Isa 45:1 as “inherently implausible…It is easier to believe that a prophet who said Cyrus would mean Cyrus and that a prophet who meant Darius would say Darius.” J. Goldingay,Payne, Isaiah 40-55 Volume I: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary (London: T&T Clark, 2006), 7.

[33] Gruen, “Persia through the Jewish Looking-Glass”, 60-61.

[34] C. C. Torrey, The Second Isaiah, (New York: Scribner's, 1928), 3–52; idem, “Isaiah 41” HTR 44 (1951): 121–36; see also J. D. Smart, History and Theology in Second Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 35, 40–66 (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1964), 115–34; and Jürgen van Oorschot, Von Babel zum Zion (New York: de Gruyter, 1993), 88.

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Most scholars accept the name of Cyrus as original to Isaiah and interpret the title “anointed” as a simple commissioning to perform the office of a king which is not thereby conferring messianic status.[35] Exegetical conclusions are influenced by the assignment of Isaiah 40-55 to Deutero-Isaiah, a prophet who supposedly wrote during the Babylonian captivity. For this reason many exegetes assert that references to Cyrus are central to the theory of history presented in the Book of Isaiah.[36]

 

Even for exegetes that accept the centrality of Cyrus to Deutero-Isaiah as the promised “redeemer”, it is thought necessary to qualify the “anointing” as a temporary office, because it is unacceptable that an unconverted pagan king is understood as the “Messiah”.[37] Thus, the name of Cyrus creates a vicious circle – the prophecies are late because they name Cyrus as the “anointed”, and because Cyrus is the “anointed”, Deutero-Isaiah is differentiated from earlier material. Others regard the anointing of Cyrus as the end of the Davidic monarchy – Cyrus acts as a kind of proxy for the Davidides.[38]

 

[35] For example, C. R. North, The Second Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964), 150; R. N. Whybray, Isaiah 40–66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975), 104; J. D. W. Watts, Isaiah 34–66 (WBC 25; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987), 156; and B. S. Childs, Isaiah (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000), 353–54.

[36] For example, C. Westermann, Isaiah 40–66,(OTL;  Philadelphia:  Westminster, 1969), 10, 159; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (trans. D. M. G. Stalker; 2 vols.; London: Oliver and Boyd, 1965), 2:238–62; J. L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1968), lxvi; and J. N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 40–66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998), 197.

[37] Westermann, Isaiah 40–66, 160–61; J. Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40–55 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2002), 248–49.

[38] For example, K. Baltzer in Deutero-Isaiah: A Commentary on Isaiah 40–55 (trans. Margaret Kohl; ed. Peter Machinist; Minneapolis: Fortress, 2001), Cyrus becomes the new David albeit in a limited capacity; and L. S. Fried suggests that the Deutero- Isaianic writer wrote as a contemporary of Cyrus, and that he wrote to legitimize him as the Davidic monarch, heir to the Davidic throne in “Cyrus the Messiah? The Historical Background to Isaiah 45:1” HTR 95/4 (2002): 373-393.

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It might be objected that Cyrus is referred to in sympathetic terms by Ezra:

 

Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of the prophet 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 the kingdoms of the earth; and he hath charged me to build him an house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. (Ezra 1:1-2)

 

Gruen comments,

 

It is not easy to accept this text as the genuine article. The composition in Hebrew immediately makes it suspect. The language of the Persian Empire was Aramaic. And an open proclamation to the entire realm that the Jewish god had vouched safe Cyrus all the kingdoms of the world can hardly be imagined.[39]

 

It is, however, not necessary to regard the proclamation as inauthentic, but simply as a paraphrase of the sort of policy that is already found on the Cyrus Cylinder. This was Cyrus’ general policy and he did allow some of the Jews to return – the problem is that neither the temple nor the city was rebuilt!

 

Thirtle says very little about this passage but remarks:

 

Meantime, it is necessary to observe that no such language as is found in Isa.44.28, 45.1-4 is used in any other of the Hebrew writings in regard to Cyrus. We meet the name in 2 Chronicles, Ezra, and Daniel, and the style is sometimes ‘the king of Persia’, at another time ‘the king of Babylon,’ yet again, baldly, ‘Cyrus the Persian’ or ‘the king.’ [40]

 

Ezra does not apply any of the magnificent epithets found in Isaiah 44-45 to Cyrus(‘the Lord’s anointed’, ‘His shepherd’, the one ‘strengthened’, ‘called by name’ etc.).

 

[39] Gruen, “Persia through the Jewish Looking-Glass”, 56.

[40] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 247.

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More importantly, the prophecy of Jeremiah is referred to and not the prophecy of Isaiah. If Isaiah speaks so powerfully (in messianic terms) of the divine purpose embodied in Cyrus, then why does Ezra (or anyone else) neglect to mention it? It is conspicuous by its absence. “The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus” is hardly the equivalent of “I have called thee by thy name”. Although this is an argument by omission (argumentum ex silento), it provides circumstantial evidence that Cyrus was not in the original text of Isaiah.  This supports Thirtle’s suggestion that the word ‘Cyrus’ in Isa 45:1 was originally adopted for political reasons and that it slowly hardened into a textual variant that was then uniformly accepted and incorporated. It is obvious that although a reading of Isa 45:1 may have been presented to Cyrus as corroborative evidence that he was the king chosen to release the Jews after seventy years exile (as spoken by Jeremiah the prophet), even at the later period of Ezra it had not yet solidified into the textual form that we now have.

 

Cyrus was known for his religious tolerance towards all his conquered peoples and his treatment of the Jews was not exceptional. Cyrus claimed to be the agent of Marduk, the god who had been shamefully wronged by Nabonidus, when he conquered Babylon (this was an attempt to ingratiate himself with the local population for Nabonidus had been absent in Arabia for much of his reign and had neglected his religious duties, including the New Year Festival in Babylon). J. Curtis comments,

 

In matters of religion Cyrus does seem to have been remarkably tolerant. About his own beliefs we can say little: he may have been an early follower of the prophet Zoroaster, or he may have supported the ‘daivas’, the old Iranian gods of war and strife rejected by Zoroaster. The evidence is inconclusive. In any event, he does not seem to have forced his own views on any of his subject peoples, but of course this religious tolerance may well have been dictated by political expediency. For it seems to have been the hallmark of Cyrus’s rule to observe local customs wherever he went, to preserve local institutions if possible and in general to avoid creating disruption.[41]

 

[41]  J. Curtis, Cyrus the Great, 100 Great Lives of Antiquity, (ed., John Canning, Guild Publishing London, 1985), 97-98.

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Moreover,  the  prediction  of  the  return  of  the  exiles  under  Cyrus  is  again conspicuous by its absence in Isaiah’s reprimand to Hezekiah: “Of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they (the Babylonians) take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon” (Isa 39:7; cf. 2 Chron 33:11-13).

 

He did not, however, add that they would be released by ‘the Lord’s anointed Cyrus.’ Even Jeremiah, when reminding the people of the destruction of Zion prophesied by Micah the Morashite (a contemporary of Isaiah), does not mention Cyrus (Jer 26:18).

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Cyrus and the Suffering Servant

 

Perhaps the strongest and fourth argument against reading ‘Cyrus’ in Isaiah 45 is the “Suffering Servant” prophecy of Isaiah 53 that finds its original fulfilment in the life of Hezekiah. It is the New Testament hymn in Philippians that connects the motif of the “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53 with the Cyrus prophecy of Isaiah 45, by citing Isaiah 45:23: “That at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil 2:10, 11). We might well ask who it was that functioned as a messianic prototype.   Was it Cyrus the pagan king and idol worshipper, or, Hezekiah the faithful descendant of David – the man who embodied the covenant promises and rose from his sickbed on the third day – the man who carried the burden of the nation that he attempted to reform – the man who was delivered at Passover (together with the nation) – the man whose birth was prophesied by Isaiah – the man whose name was Immanuel? Hezekiah was the mediator; the “Suffering Servant” who acted on behalf of the faithful  remnant  (Jacob  who  was  also  Yahweh’s  servant;  “Israel  whom  I  have chosen”; Isa 44:1); and who also acted as God’s agent (Immanuel – God with us – named by God; Isa 45:4; cf. 7:14) to the faithful remnant. Thus, Hezekiah represented both parties – Yahweh to the people and the people to Yahweh. Thirtle comments:

 

The New Testament application of these great words is by no means called in question by the immediate (or initial) interpretation. Holy Scripture continually shows its distinctive vitality and inspiration in the fact that its statements are capable of applications that are far-reaching beyond anything suggested by their primary purpose. All the same, it is important to observe the immediate reference, even in forms which are of the deepest significance when viewed in their relation to the larger unfolding of the Divine plan[42]

 

Who then functioned in an archetypical messianic role – Hezekiah or Cyrus?

 

[42] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 249.

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A Final Note: Why did ‘Cyrus’ get into the text?

 

Gruen asks and answers the question,

 

How did Cyrus hit upon the idea of liberating the Israelites and ordering the reconstruction of the Temple?....He got it from reading the book of Isaiah…[43]

 

Thirtle also relates historical examples where prophetic writings were used to influence Gentile authorities. The high-priest Jaddua won favour for the Jewish people by meeting Alexander the Great as he approached Jerusalem and showing him the Daniel prophecies. Similarly, Onias IV, the high-priest (ca. 150 BCE) acquired permission from King Ptolemy and his Queen Cleopatra to build a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt by referring to Isa 19:19.[44]

 

In more recent times we might think of political-Zionism whose justification for the possession of the land and return of the Jews is often supported (by both Jews and Christians) by prophetic passages. The British Diplomat Sir Charles Webster who knew Chaim Weizman (the second great leader of the Zionist movement) described his diplomacy in promoting the Zionist programme as follows:

 

With unerring skill he adapted his arguments to the special circumstances of each statesman. To the British and Americans he could use biblical language and awake a deep emotional undertone; to other nationalities he more often talked in terms of interest. Mr Lloyd George was told that Palestine was a little mountainous country not unlike Wales….” [45]

We can therefore concur with Thirtle’s statement: “That the Jews should have sought a political favour by calling the attention of Gentile authorities to the things written by the prophets of their nation, need not surprise us.[46]

 

[43] Gruen, “Persia through the Jewish Looking-Glass”, 55.

[44] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems 256-257.

[45] Sir  Charles  Webster,  “The  Art  and  Practice  of  Diplomacy”  The  Listener,  28 February 1952.

[46] Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, 255-256.

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Conclusion

 

The anointed of Isaiah 44-45 is none other than Hezekiah the “suffering servant”. Cyrus should be excised from this account. Only a Davidide could represent the Messiah and ironic rhetoric (contra Perry) does not offer an explanation of this phenomenon. The modern translations of Isa 44:28 and 45:1 are tendentious and have been influenced by reading “Cyrus” into the text in the same way that the ancient versions read “Cyrus” into the text for reasons of political expediency. There was only one “craftsman” and like Bezaleel he was “hidden by God” and given the spirit to build a holy habitation – in this he typified the carpenter from Nazareth.