God is Judge

Chapter 8

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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The Cyrus Problem

Since Publication this chapter has been supplemented with additional information; See the Addendum.


None of the court tales 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)[1] refer to him as ‘Darius the Mede’[2] 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 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.[3] 


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    Continued  ˃


[1] For Daniel’s familiarity with Isaiah see chapter 24: Intertextuality in Daniel and Isaiah

[2] The identity of Darius the Mede is examined in the next chapter (The Darius Problem).

[3] See chapter 19: The Great Delay

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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 by the redactor to emphasise 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 harmonise 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” (Antiq.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.” (Antiq.11.1.2). Cyrus’s restoration did not apparently amount to anything more than a decree that got “lost” [4] 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?


The crux interpretum is of course the prophecy in Isaiah 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;


[4] Erich 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”. Erich Gruen, Persia through the Jewish Looking-Glass, 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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“Thus says the LORD to His anointed, To Cyrus, whose right hand I have held -- To subdue nations before him And loose the armor of kings, To open before him the double doors, So that the gates will not be shut.” (Isa.45:1)


Cyrus becomes the builder of Jerusalem, the “shepherd” (cf. David) of the people and the one who lays the foundation of the temple:


Who says of Cyrus, “He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, “You shall be built,” And to the temple, “Your foundation shall be laid.” (Isa.44:28)


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. [5] For the prophecy to be historically accurate Isaiah 45:1 and 44:28 should name Darius as the “anointed”.[6]  Commenting on Cyrus’ proclamation in Ezra 1:1-5 Erich 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    Continued  ˃


[5] See the Appendix 1 Chapter 8: Laying the Foundation Stone

[6] Goldingay and Payne find the substitution of Cyrus with Darius in Isaiah 45:1 (suggested by Kratz) as “…..inherently implausible… Kratz believes that the specific references to Cyrus belong to a late layer of the material and constitute a coded reference to Darius. It is easier to believe that a prophet who said Cyrus would mean Cyrus and that a prophet who meant Darius would say Darius.” John Goldingay, David Payne, Isaiah 40-55 Volume I: A Critical and Exegetical Commentary, (T&T Clark International London: New York, 2006), 7 commenting on R. G. Kratz, Kyros im Deuterojesaja Buch, FAT I, Tübingen 1991. Of course it is a Reductio ad absurdum to suggest that Darius is really meant………but that is what accurate fulfilment of the prophecy would require in the unlikely event that a Persian ruler is intended.

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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”[7]. Torrey goes so far as to argue that all references to Cyrus in Isaiah should be removed as they are later additions.[8] Although other scholars accept the name of Cyrus as original to Isaiah, the title “anointed” is interpreted as a simple commissioning to perform the office of a king and does not confer messianic status.[9] 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.[10] Even for exegetes that accept the    Continued  ˃


[7] Ibid, Gruen,60-61

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

[9] Christopher R. North, The Second Isaiah (Oxford: Clarendon, 1964) 150; Roger N. Whybray, Isaiah 40–66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1975) 104; Karl Elliger, Jesaja 40,1–45,7 (BKAT XI/1; Neukirchen-Vluyn: Neukirchener Verlag, 1978) 492; John D. W. Watts, Isaiah 34–66 (WBC 25; Waco, Tex.: Word Books, 1987) 156; Antti Laato, The Servant of YHWH and Cyrus: A Reinterpretation of the Exilic Messianic Programme in Isaiah 40–55 (Stockholm: Almqvist & Wiksell, 1992); idem, A Star is Rising: The Historical Development of the Old Testament Royal Theology and the Rise of the Jewish Messianic Expectations (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1997) 173–85; Hugh G. M. Williamson, “The Messianic Texts in Isaiah 1-39,” in King and Messiah in Israel and the Ancient Near East (ed. J. Day; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1998) 238–70; Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 2000) 353–54.

[10] Claus Westermann, Isaiah 40–66 (OTL; Philadelphia: Westminster, 1969) 10, 159; Gerhard von Rad, Old Testament Theology (trans. D. M. G. Stalker; 2 vols.; United Kingdom: Oliver and Boyd, 1965) 2:238–62; John L. McKenzie, Second Isaiah (AB; Garden City: Doubleday, 1968) lxvi; Antoon Schoors, I Am God Your Saviour: A Form-Critical Study of the Main Genres in Is. XL–LV (VTSup 24; Leiden: Brill, 1973) 270; Rheinhard G. Kratz, Kyros im Deuterojesaja-Buch (Tübingen: Mohr, 1991) 15–17; Peter D. Miscall, Isaiah (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1993) 110; Rainer Albertz, A History of Israelite Religion in the Old Testament Period (trans. J. Bowden; 2 vols.; OTL; Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1994) 2:414; John N. Oswalt, The Book of Isaiah 40–66 (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1998) 197.

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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”.[11] Thus the name of Cyrus creates a hermeneutical 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.[12]


It is of course true that the term “servant” is employed to describe foreign rulers such as Nebuchadnezzar (Jer. 25:9; 27:6), but in those texts “servant” is employed in the context of an agent of divine wrath (cf. Isa.10:15) never in a redemptive capacity as Yahweh’s “anointed”. For Lisbeth Fried the “Servant songs” are paralleled by the “Cyrus    Continued  ˃


[11] Westermann, Deutero-Isaiah, 160–61; Joseph Blenkinsopp, Isaiah 40–55 (AB; New York: Doubleday, 2002) 248–49.

[12] See for example-Westermann, Deutero-Isaiah, 160–61; Watts, Isaiah 34–66, 156. For Klaus Baltzer in his “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, however Lisbeth 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. Lisbeth S. Fried, Cyrus the Messiah? The Historical Background to Isaiah 45:1”, (HTR, Cambridge University Press, 2002) 95:4:373-393

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songs”[13] the “Suffering Servant” (presumably Israel or the Davidide?) is rejected and replaced by a foreign king as the victorious servant?  If this is the case we have a definitive break with the Davidic covenant which for Christians translates into a break with the Davidide typifying the Messiah. It is doubtful that the Apostle Paul (or any first century Christian) would have understood these passages as denoting the transfer of Messianic hope from the Davidide (if only in type or as a temporary arrangement) to a pagan foreign ruler.


The Persian rulers are depicted in Daniel and the Apocrypha at best as buffoons that are easily manipulated and at worst as intransigent (although not necessarily despotic) hardly a flattering portrait. As Gruen notes; “…why should the Jewish composers of Deutero-Isaiah and of Ezra-Nehemiah have presented a picture that underscored Jewish debt to a Gentile ruler and dependence upon a foreign power? Grateful Jews huddling under the protection of the powerful prince do not convey the most uplifting image”.[14] 


Daniel depicts the foreign powers as beasts. The Medo-Persian Empire is one of four beasts and Cyrus the “anointed” is not even accorded the same distinction as Alexander, who is styled as a “notable horn”.  Cyrus the “anointed” is nothing more than another foreign ruler in the progression of oppressive beast kingdoms.  Daniel’s vision focuses on the “one like a son of man” not on Cyrus.  When Daniel prays for restoration he refers to the Book of Jeremiah and not to the Isaiah prophecy. Would it not be more natural for Daniel to ask that God bless the endeavour of his “anointed” Cyrus (who had recently captured Babylon) in restoring the fortunes of Jerusalem? If Daniel survived into the reign of Cyrus as the text indicates then why was it necessary for Daniel to pray for the restoration of the temple two decades later in the first year of Darius?  If Darius and Cyrus are     Continued  ˃


[13] Fried  lists Isaiah 41:1-4;41:25,26;44:24-28;45:1-8,9-13;46:8-11;48:14-16a. Lisbeth S. Fried, The priest and the great king: temple-palace relations in the Persian Empire, (Biblical and Judaic Studies.Vol.10, Eisenbrauns: Winona Lake, Indiana, 2004), 179-180

[14] Ibid, Gruen,54

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actually the same person (as some suggest) then Daniel’s prayer went unanswered as Cyrus did not build Jerusalem or the temple. Why would Daniel employ two different names for the same person and refer to one as a Mede and the other as a Persian?


Critical Studies in the Psalms and Isaiah  


If Isaiah is read intertextually in combination with many of the Psalms a coherent picture emerges. The “anointed” and the “Suffering Servant” are the same person[15] and this precludes Cyrus. The dating and unity of Isaiah (let alone the Psalter) requires a book in its own right and can only receive superficial treatment here – it is not the intention to examine the subject in any depth, merely to set out a position that allows for an alternative explanation to accepting Cyrus as the anointed. In order to achieve this it is necessary to question certain source-critical methodologies that prevent correct historic contextualization. In his critical essay on Isaiah, J. Clinton McCann, (Jr.) sums up the situation as follows: “Perhaps as much as or more than any other Old Testament book, the book of Isaiah and its recent history of interpretation demonstrate the profound shift that has occurred in academic biblical studies. Thirty years ago, it was highly unusual (although not impossible) to find a scholarly voice that was ready to defend the unity of the book of Isaiah. Rather, it was an “assured result” of biblical criticism that there were three “Isaiahs,” each of which derived from a different prophetic figure, as well as from a different historical, geographical, and socio-political situation--eighth-century First Isaiah of Jerusalem (chapters 1-39), sixth-century Isaiah of Babylon (chapters 40-55), and sixth- or fifth-century Isaiah of the Restoration (chapters 56-66). Furthermore, it was frequently concluded that each of these sections of the book of Isaiah constituted, in essence, its own separate “book,” which could and even should be    Continued  ˃


[15] The “Suffering Servant” is described here as an individual even though Isaiah alternates between collective and individual terminology. The “Suffering Servant” of Isaiah 53 is the individual representative of the corporate “servant” (my servant Jacob cf. Isa.41:8; 44:1, 2, 21), as such the experiences of the Davadide exemplifies the sufferings of the nation.

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interpreted without reference to the others. Definitive evidence in this regard is the appearance in 2001 of Brevard Childs’s critical commentary on the entire book of Isaiah, reversing the long-standing practice of commenting separately on the alleged three “Isaiahs” (see also Watts 1985 and 1987). Other recent commentaries continue to reflect past practice, but their authors recognize and comment upon the problematic nature of their task (see Tucker; Seitz 1993 and 2001)”.[16]


In his article on the unity of Isaiah Professor George L. Robinson commences with a quote from A.B. Davidson:“For about twenty-five centuries no one dreamt of doubting that Isaiah the son of Amoz was the author of every part of the book that goes under his name; and those who still maintain the unity of authorship are accustomed to point, with satisfaction, to the unanimity of the Christian Church on the matter, till a few German scholars arose, about a century ago, and called in question the unity of this book.” [17] Robinson laments the current state of critical studies and notes that even Deutero-Isaiah has undergone further dissection; he remarks that “the present state of the Isaiah question is, to say the least, complex, if not chaotic.”


J. W. Thirtle is enumerated by Robinson amongst those who argue for the textual integrity of Isaiah [18] and although Robinson himself also    Continued  ˃


[16] J. Clinton McCann, Jr. “The book of Isaiah-Theses and Hypotheses-Critical Essay” (Biblical Theology Bulletin, 2003,1-12), pg.1: Access here  [cited April 2009]


[17] Robinson George L. One Isaiah, in The Fundamentals: A Testimony to the Truth [12 Vols.], (eds. R. A. Torrey, A. C. Dixon 1910-1915): quoting, Dr. A. A.B. Davidson, Old Testament Prophecy, (ed., J.A. Patterson, Edinburgh: & T Clark, 1905), 244; online [cited July 2007] @ Access here

[18] Ibid, Robinson: “On the other hand, there are those who still defend the unity of Isaiah’s book, e. g., Strachey (1874), Naegelsbach (1877), Bredenkamp (1887), Douglas (1895), W. H. Cobb (1883-1908), W. H. Green (1892), Vos (1898-99), Thirtle (1907) and Margoliouth (1910)”

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argues for the unity of Isaiah and identifies the Cyrus prophecies as the crux of the problem he discounts the solution offered by Thirtle: “Dr. W. H. Cobb, in the “Journal of Biblical Literature and Exegesis”, 1901 (p. 79), pleads for a “shrinkage of Cyrus”, because Cyrus figures only in chapters 40-48, and is then dismissed. Dr. Thirtle in his volume entitled, “Old Testament Problems” (pp. 244-264), argues that the name “Cyrus” is a mere appellative, being originally not Koresh (Cyrus), but Horesh (workman, artificer, image-breaker), and that chapter 44:27, 28 is therefore a gloss. But in opposition to these views the present writer [i.e. W. H. Cobb] prefers to write Cyrus large, and to allow frankly that he is the subject of prediction; for, the very point of the author’s argument is, that he is predicting events which Jehovah alone is capable of foretelling or bringing to pass; in other words, that prescience is the proof of Jehovah’s deity.”  In contrast with Cobb’s assessment this commentary contends that the contribution by Thirtle has been grossly undervalued; particularly as Thirtle’s critical analysis presents a working hypothesis that resolves many other Old Testament problems. His solution has wide ranging implications, not only for Isaiah, but for much of the Old Testament including the Psalms.[19]


The Psalter

Recent advances in inner-biblical exegesis have developed a canonical understanding of the Psalter, viewing the Psalm cycles as cohesive    Continued  ˃


[19] In the Preface J. W. Thirtle states; “If my views, as here unfolded, are well grounded, then one conclusion arrived at is that none of the psalms can be really late; and from that point there follows another –namely, the question of the formation of Old Testament Canon. ..Again, as to the Book of Isaiah, if the positions here contended for are allowed, then not only is the substantial unity of that book demonstrated, but a supremely important section of Old Testament prophecy comes under the influence of relations that have so far been disregarded.” James William Thirtle, Old Testament Problems, Critical Studies in the Psalms and Isaiah, (Morgan & Scott LD., 1907).

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units, whatever redactional process they may have undergone. R. Cole, for example, provides evidence for the canonical organization of the psalms and finds cohesive links that create a consistent and coherent dialogue throughout. Book III of the Psalms (Psalms 73-89) is characterised by continual laments by a righteous individual on behalf of and in concert with the nation, according to Cole they spring from the non-fulfilment of hopes raised in Psalm 72 at the end of Book II. Divine answers give reasons for the continuing desolation but assure the eventual establishment of a kingdom without specifying its time. Book III ends as it began, asking how long God’s wrath will smoulder, and in response Book IV opens with Psalm 90 contrasting human and divine perspectives on time.[20] Others, including B.S. Childs have proposed a canonical reading of the Psalter; taken together with the concatenation theories of C. Barth and P. Auffet, and the literary analysis of C. Westerman, this suggests that the final form of the Psalter underwent a specifically theological redaction. D. Mitchell takes a further step when he hypothesises that the concerns of the redactors were not historical but eschatological. Mitchell proposes a consistent and thoroughgoing “eschatological programme” in which each collection is a self-contained cycle, which can be read in sequence, “narratively, which he links with an eschatological programme that he has discovered in Zechariah 9-14.[21] Some of Mitchell’s connections are    Continued  ˃


[20] Cole observes; “To these final questions of Book III asking ‘how long’ and ‘to whom?’ the promises to David are to be kept, the opening Psalm 90 of Book IV responds. Centuries and even millennia may appear to mortals as interminable lengths of time, but not in God’s perspective. For the eternal God (v.2) a thousand years are like a human yesterday or even a few hours of a night watch, and so the promise to David has not been forgotten”. Robert L. Cole ,Shape and Message of Book III: (Psalms 73-89), (JSOTSupS,  Sheffield Academic Press, 2000), 234

[21] D. Mitchell discusses the Jewish interpretive tradition behind Psalm 89 in connection with Isaiah 53, Zechariah 9, and Psalm 88. David Mitchell, The Message of the Psalter: An Eschatological Programme in the Book of Psalms (JSOTSupS 252; Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1997), 253-8.

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tenuous, but no more so than theories that endeavour to reconstruct “enthronement festivals.”


These fresh perspectives on the Psalter will help invigorate further insights. Our working hypothesis is that Hezekiah is a key historical figure in many of the Psalms and also that he (i.e., his scribes) is the pre-exilic “redactor-of-first-order”, who arranged the collection (including earlier Davidic material).  Mitchell’s argument that the concerns of the redactors were not historical but eschatological is a largely artificial distinction as one does not preclude the other; history can be read eschatologically and historical events often typify “end time” events.  The book of Sirach (48:17-25) specifically mentions Hezekiah as “doing that which was pleasing to the Lord” (v.22) and immediately adds that Isaiah, “…saw the last things……and revealed what was to occur to the end of time, and the hidden things before they come to pass” (vv.24-25). This demonstrates that the author of Sirach believed that the historical events surrounding the reign of Hezekiah were also eschatologically significant and that Isaiah saw them.


Sanders work[22] on the Qumran Psalter supports the view put forward in this chapter that at the very least Psalm 1-89 was of early provenance as it was understood as canonical by the Qumran community (we argue for pre-exilic origins, even if the arrangement of Psalm 90 and onwards were still fluid). The fact that Book 3 (Psalm 73-89) in the Qumran Psalter has exactly the same arrangement in the Masoretic Text is encouraging.


[22] James A. Sanders, The Psalms Scroll of Qumrân Cave 11 (11QPsa): Discoveries in the Judean Desert 4, (Oxford, 1965). See also; James A. Sanders, The Dead Sea Psalms Scroll, (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 1967). [This is a popular English translation of 11QPsa.] Subsequent discussion surrounding the Psalms scrolls concerns four central theses that were articulated by Sanders, and which constitute what Peter Flint terms the “Qumran Psalms Hypothesis.” See, Peter W. Flint, The Dead Sea Psalms Scrolls and the Book of Psalms : Studies on the Texts of the Desert of Judah, 17, (Leiden, 1997), 135–241

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According to J.W. Thirtle it was Hezekiah, the great reforming Judean king who functioned as a proto-type for the suffering servant of Isaiah 53. His illness and recovery coincided with Passover deliverance from the Assyrian invasion. Hezekiah does not receive sufficient recognition for his contribution to the Old Testament cannon, a deficiency that Thirtle corrects: “He received letters from Sennacherib (2 Kings 19.14; “Chron.32.17; Isa.37.14). Did he write nothing? Assuredly he was a mighty patron of letters. At his right hand was Isaiah, whom we must regard as a great author, and he had court officers that were equal to all demands of a strenuous time (2 Kings 18.18; 19.2). Moreover, in a book wherein we should hardly expect to trace his influence, we read that certain Proverbs of Solomon were ‘copied out’ by ‘the men of Hezekiah’ (Prov.25.1). Even though there is no reason to believe that Jewish tradition hands on much that is reliable from so remote a period, yet we may recall for what it is worth that the Talmudists attribute to Hezekiah the redaction of Isaiah, Proverbs, the Song of Solomon, and Ecclesiastes. Certainly it is but reasonable to suppose that the king who ‘commanded the Levites to praise Jehovah in the words of David, and of ‘Asaph the seer’ (2 Chron.29.30) would have literary resources commensurate with such an undertaking –involving selection and ‘copying out’ as well as original composition..” [23]


Moreover, Thirtle points out that it was Hezekiah’s intention to celebrate his deliverance with a selection of his own psalms: “The Lord was ready to save me: therefore we will sing my songs to the stringed instruments all the days of our life in the house of the Lord” (Isa. 38:20). “As the promise through Isaiah [life extended by 15 years] satisfied him on every point –“On the third day thou shalt go up unto the house of the Lord” –was it not fitting that the life-purpose of the king should have relation to the Temple?”[24] Thirtle understands the 15    Continued  ˃


[23] Thirtle, OT Problems, 25-26 (Thirtle quotes Bava Batra, 15a as his Talmudic source). See the Babylonian Talmud, Bava Batra 14b-15a, trans. Maurice Simon (London: Soncino Press, 1961). On this and authorship in general see now Jed Wyrick, The Ascension of Authorship: Attribution and Canon Formation in Jewish, Hellenistic and Christian Traditions, (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004)

[24] Thirtle, OT Problems, 22-23

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Songs of Degrees (Ps.120-134) as relating to the 15-year life extension granted to Hezekiah –when the sundial regressed 10 degrees. Significantly 10 of this group of 15 psalms are anonymous and were probably composed by Hezekiah himself. There are of course other proposals as to the origins of this group of psalms but none do justice to the internal evidence or explain the content of the Songs of Degrees as satisfyingly as Thirtle’s hypothesis does.  More recently the work has been progressed by H. A. Whittaker and G. Booker, who argue that the Korah Psalms are understood to reflect the same background found in Isaiah. [25]


Resolving the Cyrus Problem in Isaiah


To suggest that Thirtle simply posits that the name “Cyrus” should be treated as an appellative does not do justice to his proposal. He presents a methodically researched position that demonstrates intertextual correspondence between Isaiah 44-45 with earlier ‘Hezekiah’ prophecies; moreover, he provides the political motivation behind the change and offers a plausible philology for the transformation. Firstly Thirtle observes the unusual format of the prophecy - Cyrus is spoken to in the present tense: “The passage is not in the form of a prediction: it presents the king as being addressed, as one then living and present to the prophet, just as plainly as ‘Jacob my servant’ is  employed with reference to the chosen people… [26]  To understand this as prophetic prolepsis will simply not do – God (Isaiah) is speaking to ‘His anointed’, not to someone who is still 150-200 years in the future. Thirtle also points out the parallelism between 44 and 45:


[25] See, G. Booker in Psalms, (Vol., 1&2) and H.A. Whittaker in Hezekiah the Great, (Maycock Whitehead Ltd., 1985) and Whittaker in his seminal work on Isaiah (Biblia, 1988). The Sitz im Leben of the 15 Songs of Degrees and the other Psalms can be found online [cited April 2009] @ Access here

[26] Thirtle, OT Problems, 245

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Isaiah 44 Isaiah 45:1
11. The workmen חרשׁ (ch-r-sh)
…shall be ashamed together
Thus saith the Lord to his anointed,
to Cyrus כרשׁ (k-r-sh)…[27]
20. Is there not a lie in my right hand? Whose right hand I have held חזק


Thirtle remarks that, “There is cohesion and cogency in the prophecy as a whole, as compromising the two chapters. There is, however, not allusion, but contrast as well. The ‘workman’ who makes idols has ‘a lie in his right hand’ (44.20); the one whom the Lord addressed through the prophet is subject to another influence – the Lord ‘holds his right hand’ (45.1). [28]  The contrast is between the workmen [29] who are ashamed because their right hand trusts in a lie (idol) and the Lord’s anointed whose right hand is strengthened by Yahweh.  The Hebrew for held or strengthened in Isa. 45:1 is a paronomasia on Hezekiah.[30] Thirtle remarks on the absurdity of such language being applied to a heathen king, particularly after Isaiah’s diatribe against idolaters: Cyrus    Continued  ˃


[27] The change from חרשׁ to כרשׁ is a simple re-vocalisation. With the addition of vowels and pointing the later Masorites rendered Cyrus as - כּוֹרֶשׁ (kôrêsh)

[28] Thirtle, OT Problems, 253

[29] Thirtle (OT Problems, 254 fn.) notes the other places in this part of Isaiah in which חרשׁ occurs in connection with the making of idols – ch. 40.19,20 (‘workman’); 41.7 (‘carpenter’). See also 44.11 (‘workmen’). He remarks that: “This same word has also been impressed into significant service by translators of the New Testament into Hebrew (including Franz Delitzsch and Isaac Salkinson), by being made to stand for τέκτων in Mark 6.3- ‘Is not this the Carpenter?’ (See also Matt.13.55).

[30] Strengthened or held: חזק is the root for Hezekiah: חזקיה, “Strengthened of Yah”. The literary device of paromoeosis and paronomasia is typical of the Hebrew writings.

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claimed to be a successor of the Babylonian kings, and acknowledged the supremacy of Marduk, the Babylonian god, whose hand Cyrus held at the New Year ceremony. The correspondences noted by Thirtle that demonstrate continuity with earlier Hezekiah material are best illustrated in tabular form:


Isaiah 45:1 Hezekiah
His anointed Hezekiah the anointed king
Whose right hand I have held (חזק) Hezekiah (חזקיה)

…that thou mayest know that I, the LORD, which call thee by thy name, am the God of Israel. For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel mine elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee, though thou hast not known me. (vv.3b,4)

Hezekiah – a prototype of the Messiah –named Immanuel before he was even born (though thou hast not known me) He was the Prince of peace and the Wonderful Counsellor (Isa.9:6,7) the branch out of the root of Jesse (Isa.11:1-5)

…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. (v.14)

Immanuel (God with us)


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 First Isaiah (1-39) and with Deutro-Isaiah (40-55) because the Sitz im Leben is the reign of Hezekiah: [31]


[31] For inter-textual links between Psalm 107/Isaiah and Psalm 107/Job, see G. Booker, Psalm Studies (Austin, Texas: Booker Publications, 1988) available online @ [cited August 2010] Access here A. Perry presents a parabolic reading of Job which he regards as a dramatization of Hezekiah’s situation. A. Perry, Job, (Willow Publications, 2009).

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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!



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    Continued  ˃

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from his death bed and is called into the presence of the high priest “call my servant to Eliakim the son of Hilkiah”[32] 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”[33] 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 favour with the Assyrians. 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 Kings 2:10; 2 Chr.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[34] I will build My    Continued  ˃


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

[33] This is royal language not priestly terminology, moreover the phrases in Isaiah 22:21-23 are inter-textually linked with the Messianic Emmanuelle (God with us) prophecy in 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.

[34] 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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church, and the gates of Hades shall not prevail against it” (Matt.16:18).


Political expediency


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 (Josephu.AJ11.1-7). A strikingly similar idea may be found in the famous fiction of Alexander the Great at the gates of Jerusalem”.[35] 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.[36] Similarly, Onias IV, the high-priest (ca.150 B.C.) acquired permission from King Ptolemy and his Queen Cleopatra to build a temple at Leontopolis in Egypt by referring to Isa.19:19.  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….” [37] We can therefore concur    Continued  ˃


[35] Ibid, Gruen,55

[36] Ant.11.8.4,5 –Ibid, Thirtle, OT Problems 256

[37] Sir Charles Webster, ‘The Art and Practice of Diplomacy’, The Listener, 28 February 1952

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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.”[38] This probably explains the striking parallelism between Isa. 44:28 and the Cyrus cylinder where Cyrus is described as a shepherd:


Cyrus Cylinder [39] 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.


[38] Thirtle, OT Problems, 255-6

[39] Excerpts are from the translation of the text on the Cyrus Cylinder by Irving 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.[40] The founding legends about Cyrus’ shepherd status are political propaganda and are historically worthless apart from what they tell us about Medo-Persian power relationships.[41] 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 Deutro-Isaiah was a contemporary of Cyrus – 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    Continued  ˃


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

[41] The founding legends relate the adoption of the new born Persian Cyrus by a shepherd in order to avoid being murdered by his Median grandfather king Astyages; another relates how Cyrus was abandoned and suckled by a she wolf (cf. Romulus and Remus), yet another relates how the young Cyrus who came from humble circumstances and was “given” to the royal cupbearer, managed to reverse his family fortunes.  Pierre Briant remarks; “All these tales are intended primarily to exalt the memory of a charismatic founder, marked from his birth by signs of uncommon destiny. For this reason, it was piously passed on to young Persians from generation to generation. Each of these various versions places the origins of Cyrus in the context of relations between the powerful Medes and their Persian vassals” Pierre Briant, From Cyrus to Alexander: A History of the Persian Empire,(Histoire de l’Empire perse (1996) trans. Eisenbrauns:USA,2002),16

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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 people (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. [42]


Exilic (or post-exilic) passages?


Major critical objections to Thirtle’s approach are found in passages such as Isaiah 44:26-28 and 45:13-14 that can be construed as exilic/post-exilic references to the Babylonian captivity: “That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, Ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: 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”. (44: 26-28) Thirtle comments: “The statement of v. 26: ‘That saith of Jerusalem, She shall be inhabited; and of the cities of Judah, They shall be built and I will raise up the waste places thereof’, unquestionably sustained the faithful in the time of Hezekiah, when, with the Assyrian in the land, Jerusalem was a prison-house rather than a place of habitation; and, as a result of Sennacherib’s campaign, many cities of Judah were in ruins and were places of desolation (cp. ch. 65.9). The two following verses, however, came in as a gloss at the time of the Return: ‘That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: that saith of Cyrus, he is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying of Jerusalem, She shall be built; and to the Temple, Thy fountain shall be laid.’  In the time of Isaiah, these verses could have no meaning; but the work undertaken by Cyrus, a century and a half later, suggested them most naturally. The    Continued  ˃


[42] Thirtle, OT Problems, 247-8

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interpolation is, indeed, transparent. We have already read that Jerusalem shall be ‘inhabited’, that the cities of Judah shall be ‘built.’  Now however, and obviously with reference to Cyrus, whose name is anticipated from the following chapter, we read something different –namely, that Jerusalem ‘shall be built’; while to the Temple it shall be said, ‘Thy foundation shall be laid.’ The statements of the last verse do not agree with those of v.26. But the Persian having been introduced in ch. 45.1, we might well look for some such a leading recital of facts pertinent to his day – the time of the Return.”[43]  Thirtle’s analysis may well be correct, however, it is possible that interpretive glosses entered the text at a later stage of transmission.[44] For example, the Assyrian invasion is described as a “flood” in the book of Isaiah, and Hezekiah is described as a “sure foundation” – the rock that will not be moved by the inundation:


Cyrus?-Isa. 44 Hezekiah-Isa. 28
That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers (v.27) Behold, the Lord hath a mighty and strong one, [= the Assyrians]
which as a tempest of hail and a destroying storm, as a flood
of mighty waters overflowing,
shall cast down to the earth with the hand. (v.2)
Thy foundation shall be laid. (v.28) Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD, Behold, I lay in Zion
for a foundation a stone, a tried stone, a precious corner [stone],
a sure foundation:[Hezekiah]
he that believeth shall not make haste. (v.16) [45]


[43] Thirtle, OT Problems, 257-8

[44] In Synagogues when the Hebrew Bible was read, if the passage was hard to understand or the “congregation” did not know sufficient Hebrew, a member of the Synagogue would give a free translation or paraphrase into the common language, Aramaic. Over time a number of these were written down, and became a form of commentary (Targum) on the Hebrew Bible.

[45] Young’s Literal Translation renders the verse as follows (Isa.28: 16): Therefore, thus said the Lord Jehovah: `Lo, I am laying a foundation in Zion, A stone -- a tried stone, a corner stone precious, a settled foundation, He who is believing doth not make haste. The phrase ‘He who is believing doth not make haste’ (lo  ya.khish) is rather unusual but is probably intended as a word play on Lachish (la.khish) as the transliterated verse demonstrates (note the paronomasia with la.khen):  la.khen ko a.mar (therefore thus saith the) a.do.nai (Lord) ye.he.vi hin.ni yi.sad (Behold I lay) be.tsi.yon (in Zion) a.ven e.ven (stone, stone) bo.khan (a tried) pi.nat (corner) yik.rat (a precious) mu.sad (sure) mu.sad (foundation) ha.ma.a.min (he that believeth) lo (not) ya.khish (haste). While Sennacherib personally supervised the siege of Lachish, Jerusalem only merited the attention of his lieutenants (2 Cron.32: 9) – a sign of contempt. Lachish fell (cf. Micah 1:13 note the emphasis on haste and compare Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz -- quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil-- in Isa.8: 1,3) but Jerusalem did not fall in the siege. Jerusalem survived because it had, ‘a [pi.nat] tried leader or captain (not corner), a precious and sure foundation.’   The ‘tried leader’ was the ‘suffering servant’ king Hezekiah, who became ‘a precious and sure foundation’ to them that believed. In contrast, those who did not believe in the sign of Messiah would perish; “If ye will not believe, surely ye shall not be established.” (Isa.7: 9) Ahaz did not believe, instead he replaced the temple altar with an Assyrian altar. However, Ahaz could not remove the base –the threshing floor (“a rock of offence” in Isa. 8: 14) – faithful Hezekiah, who did believe, typified the foundation and consequently his dynasty was established.

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The metaphor used in Isaiah ch. 28 is very similar to that of ch.44 the depiction of the Assyrian invasion as a ‘flood’ and Hezekiah as a ‘foundation’ is very similar to 59:19: “So shall they fear the name of the LORD from the west, and his glory from the rising of the sun. When the enemy shall come in like a flood, the Spirit of the LORD shall lift up a standard against him.” (Isa.59: 19) The ‘standard’ was of course Hezekiah (who prefigured the ‘lifted up’ Messiah). Psalm 74, also a Hezekiah psalm, says: “Thou didst cleave the fountain and the flood: thou driedst up mighty rivers.” (Ps.74: 15)


In the Davidic covenant Yahweh had promised to build a house for David (“The LORD declares to you that the LORD himself will    Continued  ˃

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establish a house for you” —2 Sam.7: 11); but Hezekiah was about to die childless, leaving the throne without a Davidide, thereby nullifying the covenant. However, Hezekiah’s faithfulness and reliance on Yahweh was rewarded by a miraculous deliverance on a personal and national level. Hezekiah typified the faithful remnant both corporately and corporally – his illness and suffering mirrored the national death throes. Hezekiah recovered (on the third day) and was therefore able to produce progeny; “Yet it was the LORD's will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the LORD makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the LORD will prosper in his hand.” (Isa.53: 10, NIV). Hezekiah’s choice of the Solomonic psalm 127 for his Songs of Degrees collection is explained by Hezekiah’s wonderful recovery which coincided with national deliverance: “Unless the LORD builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the LORD watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain” (Ps.127: 1). If we apply these insights to the text in question (Isa.44: 26-28) and omit the glosses, an original reconstruction might look something like this:


“That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to the earth,[46] thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: that saith to the deep, be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: That saith of my workman, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure: even saying, thy house shalt be built; thy foundation shall be laid”. (Isa.44: 26-28)


[46] In this reconstruction “earth” substitutes Jerusalem. The “earth” is often used as a metaphor for the land of Israel. Note the natural parallelism that now exists between the earth and the deep. The waters of the flood have now dried up and made the land habitable once again: an illusion to Noah’s flood and the Genesis creation narrative. Isaiah uses virtually the same metaphor in Isaiah 45:18: “For thus saith the LORD that created the heavens; God himself that formed the earth and made it; he hath established it, he created it not in vain, he formed it to be inhabited: I am the LORD; and there is none else.”

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A comparison demonstrates that the transformation is minimal: “That confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messengers; that saith to Jerusalem, thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, ye shall be built, and I will raise up the decayed places thereof: that saith to the deep, be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers: 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”. (Isa. 44: 26-28) If the verses are a post-exilic gloss (as suggested by Thirtle) then it is relatively easy to see how the text was adapted to suit the needs of the exiles – these glosses were added as explanatory notes and slowly became incorporated in the text. Herodotus has a dramatic account of how Cyrus captured the city of Babylon. Herodotus states that at first it was unsuccessfully besieged, but Cyrus then managed to force an entrance by diverting the course of the Euphrates. Consequently the water-level dropped so low that his men were able to wade along the river-bed and so into the city. This would naturally suggest to the exilic reader, who was examining the prophecy of Isaiah – and who was looking for a fulfilment of the return prophesied by Jeremiah – that the ‘workman’ (ch-r-sh) was actually Cyrus (k-r-sh) and that he would restore the exile to Jerusalem – thus an interpretive gloss became embedded in the text. A similar problem is encountered in Isaiah 45:13, 14 – do these “exilic” or “post-exilic” references favour a Cyrus scenario?


“I have raised him up in righteousness, and I will direct all his ways: he shall build my city, and he shall let go my captives, not for price nor reward, saith the LORD of hosts”.


“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…” (Isa. 45:13, 14)


The phrase ‘he shall build my city’ is surely a reference to Cyrus? If that is the case then the prophecy was not fulfilled by Cyrus, for the city was still in ruins in the second year of Darius (Hag.1:1, 9); in fact Nehemiah found the city still in ruins in the twentieth year of    Continued  ˃

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Artaxerxes. We know that Hezekiah performed defensive work on the water supply of the city (Isa. 22:9-11; 2 Chron.32: 2-7) celebrated in Isaiah 12 as ‘the wells of salvation.’  The reference to the release of captives is also applicable to the Assyrian invasion in the time of Hezekiah. Sennacherib took away from Judea no less than 200,000 captives, and settled some of them (probably most of them) in Babylon (Taylor Prism; cp. Mic. 4:10), which he had recently captured and in fact depopulated, a process begun by his predecessors (2 Kings 17:24). The return of the captivity was anticipated by Isaiah (7:3) who gave his son the long, multi-syllable name She’ar yashuv (which means “a remnant will return”). The prisoners of war (who were in the process of deportation) were sent home by the Assyrians and escaped when their army was destroyed overnight. These captives included people from the surrounding nations who were amongst those to pay tribute to Hezekiah. He was exalted in the eyes of the nations: “Many gifts unto the Lord to Jerusalem, and presents to Hezekiah king of Judah: so that he (Yahweh?) was magnified in the sight of all nations from thenceforth” (2 Chron.32:23).[47] The verses in question have an obvious Messianic application – Yahweh....raised up (awakened-out of death?) him in victory (JPS), all his ways are right (LXX Can this be said of Cyrus?): he shall build my city (cf. the New Jerusalem in Revelation), and he shall let go my captives (Isa.45:13)....“those who for their iniquities have sold themselves” (Isa. 50:1). This is redemption “not for price or reward” (Isa.45:13), as judged by human captors and slave-traders; “Ye have sold yourselves for nought, and ye shall be redeemed without money” (Isa.52:3). The price was paid by the “suffering servant” and that servant was not pre-figured by Cyrus.


There is often no need to resort to the solution of exilic or post-exilic authorship in order to explain difficult Isaiah passages as they complement the Sitz im Leben found during Hezekiah’s reign.  However, some references almost demand an exilic or post-exilic application: “Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a    Continued  ˃


[47] Many of Isaiah’s prophecies have this common theme: The nations bring tribute to Israel (18:7; 23:18; 60:5ff; 61:6) because Yahweh has exalted Israel (49:7; 60:10; 61:9); and this demonstrates that he is the true God (40:5; 44:3-5; 48:20; 49:7; 52:10; 59:17; 61:9).

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wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation. Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned up with fire: and all our pleasant things are laid waste.”(Isa.64:10, 11)


Thirtle believes this to be a blatant example of interpolation: “The cities of Judah having been destroyed, and the Assyrian being at the walls of Jerusalem, Isaiah might well use the language of v.10: ‘Thy holy cities are become a wilderness, Zion is become a wilderness, Jerusalem a desolation.’ Also he might conclude his prayer with v.12: ‘Wilt thou refrain thyself for these things, O Lord? Wilt thou hold thy peace, and afflict us very sore?’ Not so as to v. 11: ‘Our holy and our beautiful house, where our fathers praised thee, is burned with fire; and all our pleasant things are laid waste.’ This obviously belongs to a later age. And we can easily understand as the time for the Return approached, that such a chapter as this would be used as a prayer by mourning exiles; and then the terms of v.11 would be quite seasonable. The verse cannot, however, be by Isaiah. It bears evidence of some such ‘adaptation’ as we have found in the Psalter, but not so easily to be justified.”[48] Bullinger believes Isa.64:10-11 to be an example of prophetic prolepsis [49] but perhaps the explanation is even simpler – the passage expresses the intention of the enemy, but was never fulfilled. The passage finds a parallel in psalm 74 (attributed by Thirtle to the Hezekiah period): They said in their heart, Let us destroy them together: They have burned up all the synagogues of God in the land. (Ps.74:8) The word ‘synagogues’ (mô’ ēd) is misleading – the LXX has “let us abolish the feasts of the Lord” –the cultic use always associates the word mô’ ēd with religious festivals. The same word is translated congregations in v.4 of the psalm; “Thine enemies roar in the midst of thy congregations (mô’ ēd)” Again, the LXX has “And they that hate thee have boasted in the midst of thy feasts” Several allusions in Isaiah show that the siege of Jerusalem took place at Passover (26:20, 21; 30:29; 31:5; 33:19, 20). Moreover, the roaring [lion] and the axe that function metaphorically for the enemy in this psalm (74: 4, 5) are also used by Isaiah as symbols of Assyria (5:29; 10:15). It seems from vv.6, 7 that some sort of destruction was wrought in the    Continued  ˃


[48] Thirtle, OT Problems, 258

[49] Marginal notes for Isa.64:10-11 in the Companion Bible.

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Sanctuary –or is this merely the language of malevolent intent?  It has been suggested that the Assyrians had a garrison in Jerusalem (tolerated by the pro-Assyrian Ahaz) and that they caused damage when they were expelled by Hezekiah. We are left then with the choice (for passages such as Isa.64:10, 11) of a gloss (Thirtle) a prophetic prolepsis (Bullinger) or either an expression of intent or a partial fulfilment (HAW/Booker).


Argumentum ex silento?


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 vouchedsafe Cyrus all the kingdoms of the world can hardly be imagined”.[50] 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,’    Continued  ˃


[50] Gruen, Ibid,56

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yet again, baldly, ‘Cyrus the Persian’ or ‘the king.’  [51] Ezra does not apply any of the magnificent epithets found in Isa.44-45 to Cyrus (‘the Lord’s anointed’, ‘His shepherd’, the one ‘strengthened’, ‘called by name’ etc). But 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 Isaiah 45:1 was originally an alternative reading that was adopted for political reasons and that it slowly hardened into a textual variant that was uniformly accepted and incorporated. It is obvious that although a reading of Isaiah 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). John 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    Continued  ˃


[51] Thirtle, OT Problems, 247 footnote reference to Cyrus: 2 Chron.36.22,23;Ezra1.1-8;3.7;4.3-5;5.13-17;6.3-14;Dan 1.21;6.28;10.1.

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rule to observe local customs wherever he went, to preserve local institutions if possible and in general to avoid creating disruption.” [52]


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” (2 Chron.33:11-13). He did not, however, add that they would be released by ‘the Lord’s anointed Cyrus.’ Even Jeremiah (Jer.26:18), when reminding the people of the destruction of Zion prophesied by Micah the Morashite (a contemporary of Isaiah) does not mention Cyrus.


The “Suffering Servant”


Perhaps the strongest 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.” (Philip.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: 44:1) and who also acted as God’s agent (Immanuel –God with us –named by God 45:4 cf. 7:14) to the faithful remnant. Thus Hezekiah represented both parties –Yahweh to the people and the people    Continued  ˃


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

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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.” [53] Who then functioned in an archetypical messianic role – Hezekiah or Cyrus?




The “anointed” in Isaiah 45:1 is the same person as the “Suffering Servant” and that person is Hezekiah who functions as a proto-type for the Messiah. Jesus Christ is the temple builder par excellence. Cyrus is not Yahweh’s anointed. Cyrus did not rebuild the temple. The temple was rebuilt by Zerubbabel and Joshua, who were both anointed with the Spirit.  The temple was completed during the reign of Darius.  As a temple builder Cyrus holds no relevance for Daniel and therefore Daniel skips directly from the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus’ to Darius, who also conquered Babylon and “did all that Cyrus intended to do”(Josephus).


Appendix 1 Chapter 8:Laying the Foundation Stone


There are different accounts of the laying of the foundation stone:


Consider now from this day forward, from the twenty-fourth day of the ninth month, from the day that the foundation of the LORD’s temple was laid -- consider it..... Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah.... ‘In that day’, says the LORD of hosts, ‘I will take you, Zerubbabel My servant...’ (Hag. 2:18-23)


[53] Thirtle, OT Problems, 249

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The hands of Zerubbabel have laid the foundation of this house (Zech.4:9)


And when the builders laid the foundation of the temple of Yahweh...(Ezra 3:10)


And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised Yahweh, because the foundation of the house of Yahweh was laid. (Ezra 3:11)


Then the same Sheshbazzar came and laid the foundation of the house of God which is in Jerusalem; but from that time even until now it has been under construction, and it is not finished.(Ezra 5:16)


The relationship between Sheshbazzar and Zerubbabel is unclear. Ezra does not relate any information about Sheshbazzar apart from calling him “the prince of Judah” (Ezra 1:8) and “governor” (Ezra 5:14) although he led back the first return with the temple vessels (Ezra 1:11) no ancestry is recorded, moreover, he is not recorded alongside Zerubbabel in the list of returnees in chapter 2. It is probable that Zerubbabel and Joshua led a second group of returned exiles some time later and Zerubbabel replaced Sheshbazzar (who had died?) as the governor.


Peterson[54] points out that the root ysd is used to describe the foundation in Hag.2:18, Ezra 3:6, 10, 11 and Zech 4:9 and is differentiated from Ezra 5:16 which derives from a Sumerian loanword and concludes that, “There is little reason to think, on the basis of Ezra 5:16, that Shezbazzar was actually involved in the actual laying of the foundation stone or the attendant ceremonies”. Apparently the foundation ceremony is a dedication ceremony similar to the Babylonian kalû ritual used to rededicate destroyed sanctuaries and this could occur at a later stage: “All these texts focus on one important ceremonial event, the foundation stone ceremony. In this regard it is    Continued  ˃


[54] David L. Petersen, Haggai and Zechariah 1-8: A Commentary,(Westminster  Press, Philadelphia: Pennsylvania, 1984),89

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important to differentiate between labor on the foundation of the footings of the temple and the ceremonial desposition of the temple’s foundation stone. There is, of course, evidence that Sheshbazzar had undertaken some preliminary work on the clearing of rubble and early work on the foundations of the temple”.[55]


Although the history in Ezra is confusing the prophecies of Haggai and Zechariah are unambiguous in denoting Zerubbabel as the layer of the foundation stone. Together with the high priest Joshua they re-established Temple worship during the reign of Darius.

[55] Ibid, Peterson,88