From the LA Weekly article by Orly Minazadarticle:
As the first king to create a multiethnic and multi-faith society, the Persian King Cyrus the Great made coexisting cool before those “coexist” bumper stickers were plastered on every Prius in Los Angeles.
In an event the Getty Museum’s new Director Timothy Potts deems as “a once in a lifetime opportunity,” the Cyrus Cylinder is now making the final stop of its U.S. tour at the Getty Villa in Malibu, through Dec. 2. “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning,” the exhibition it’s a part of, is chock-full of pre-Islamic artifacts that reveal the triumph and achievement of the Persian Empire.
From the article by A.J. Cave, published by Peyvand:
Sunday, 22 September, the autumn equinox ending the summer, was the last day of The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia exhibit in San Francisco. There was a long line of visitors all day long waiting patiently to see the exhibit and at some point according to the museum staff, the line snaked around the block. Inside, the line stretched from the bottom of the steps to the second floor all the way to the doors leading to the exhibit. It must have been like any day the subjects of Cyrus the Great stood in line for an audience with the Great King.
The Cyrus Cylinder, named after the founder of the First Persian Empire, goes on view at the Asian Art Museum on Friday in the exhibition “Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia: A New Beginning.”
Along with the younger Rosetta Stone and Magna Carta, the cylinder, on display in the U.S. for the first time, is a treasured historical object and considered the first declaration of what has become known in modern times as human rights.
After the 1917 Balfour Declaration, which announced the British government’s support for the Zionist cause, Jewish households across Europe displayed images of Cyrus the Great alongside pictures of King George V. Cyrus the Great is credited with freeing Babylon’s Jewish prisoners, previously captured by Nebuchadnezzar, who then returned to their homeland to reestablish their religious practices and rebuild the temple in Jerusalem.
A unique aspect of the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum will be its display within the galleries of Ancient Near Eastern Art, where objects from the permanent collection—including the famous lions from Babylon—will provide a stunning backdrop. Also on display will be works of art from the Metropolitan’s Department of Drawings and Prints and Department of European Sculpture and Decorative Arts that celebrate Cyrus and his legacy as a liberal and enlightened ruler.
By Wm. Scott Harrop, published in the Spring 2013 Newsletter, Department of Middle Eastern and South Asian Languages and Cultures, University of Virginia:
“What appealed to the founding fathers about Cyrus,” according to MacGregor, was “a model of a state that was equidistant from all religions, rather than either adopting a state religion, or else being anticlerical.” Put differently, “the relic asks the question: can a state be equidistant from all religion?”
Article written by Angelina Perri Birney and Lawrence Birney:
Now, in a historic tour sponsored by IHF America, the original Cyrus Cylinder is on loan to the United States from the British Museum. Beginning at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC, the Cylinder will be on display in Houston, New York, and San Francisco, concluding its visit in Los Angeles in early December 2013. This historic effort is the culmination of almost twenty years of work by the Iran Heritage Foundation.
In addition to the influence of the Cyropaedia on the US founding fathers, its core principles resonate with those of the United Nations. The high-minded concepts fathered by Cyrus in Persia thousands of years ago have found expression in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Brought to life by John Peters Humphrey and the UN Commission on Human Rights chaired by Eleanor Roosevelt, the Declaration was adopted by the United Nations on December 10, 1948.
By Lance Esplund, U.S. art critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News:
We are familiar with the inflammatory, controversial nature of works of art — from Manet’s “Olympia” to Andres Serrano’s “Piss Christ” — but we rarely encounter a political artifact as diplomatic as this one.
The key to Cyrus’s broad appeal, and the wider significance of the cylinder, lies in the text inscribed on its surface. Following a thousand-year-old tradition in Mesopotamia, Cyrus began his reign with a declaration that was issued and distributed on clay tablets, cones and cylinders. He took the unusual and unprecedented step of decreeing that people who had been captured and enslaved by his predecessors could go back to their homes and that the statues of their various gods should be returned to their original shrines to be freely worshipped. As the Bible recounts, this meant the exiled Jews could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple. Accordingly, the cylinder can be considered as both the earliest declaration of human rights and the oldest articulation of a multifaith, multicultural state—and not in some historical backwater or obscure city-state, but in an empire that was, at the time, the largest the world had ever seen.
Article by Christopher A. Rollston, Visiting Professor of Northwest Semitic Languages and Literatures, George Washington University:
Cyrus was certainly famous in antiquity (and in the modern period) for his benevolence, even among the Greeks, due in part to Xenophon’s lengthy work entitled “Cyropaidia” (literally, the ‘Education of Cyrus’). But during excavations in Babylon in 1879, the now famous “Cyrus Cylinder” was found, galvanizing further the reputation of Cyrus. Certain salient facts about this cuneiform text are worth mentioning at the outset: (a) In terms of size, it is quite small, about ten inches by four inches, and cylindrical in shape. (b) In terms of language, although Cyrus was a Persian, the Cyrus Cylinder is written in the Akkadian language (i.e., not in Persian, the native language of Cyrus). Of course, this makes sense, as the target audience for this inscription was Babylonian, not Persian. (c) In terms of the amount of textual content, the Cylinder is relatively short, just a few hundred words long, preserved in some forty to fifty lines of cuneiform text. (d) In terms of date, it arguably hails from the very first years of the reign of Cyrus. (e) In terms of archaeological context, it was found as a “foundation deposit” in an ancient Babylonian building.
By Christiane Amanpour, Mary-Rose Abraham and Mark Monroy. The video includes portions of Amanpours interview with the Director of the British Museum, Neil MacGregor, during IHF America’s launch event of the Cyrus Cylinder tour at the Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery:
Britain’s Magna Carta and the U.S. Constitution may spring to mind as great foundations of modern government, but the much older Cyrus Cylinder has been described as the very “first declaration of human rights.”
What it says about a key moment in history provides important lessons in tolerance and justice even today, many millennia later.
“It’s an astonishing statement of how you run a multicultural, multi-faith community,” said Neil MacGregor, the director of the British Museum, where the Cyrus Cylinder is part of the permanent collection.
Iranian-American Massumeh Farhad, the chief curator at the Smithsonian’s Freer and Sackler Galleries, where the cylinder is on display, said that she thinks “the Cyrus Cylinder, and Cyrus, himself, in many ways, has represented this ideal [of overcoming differences].”
“Governments come and go, but I think it’s really important to have these ideals to know [that] ‘this is what we should aspire to.’ One of the reasons the Cyrus Cylinder is so important is because, I think, it’s a reminder that yes, we can do more,” Farhad said.
Under Cyrus the Persian empire became the largest kingdom the world had ever seen, unifying many tribes, languages and cultures, and stretching across vast distances. The cylinder, which had been placed at the base of a building in ancient Babylon (now modern Iraq) proclaimed Cyrus’s ambitions for his rapidly expanding domain: that those people who had been captured and enslaved by his predecessors should be allowed to go back to their homes and the statues of their different gods returned to their original shrines to be freely worshipped. The exiled Jews, who wept by the waters of Babylon when they remembered Zion, the Bible says, could return to Jerusalem and rebuild their temple.
No ruler before Cyrus had done anything like this, and many since have claimed a connection with him. After the 1917 Balfour declaration in favour of a Jewish homeland, Jews displayed photographs of King George V alongside images of Cyrus…
By Tony Cartledge, professor of Old Testament at Campbell University Divinity School:
The Cyrus Cylinder stands as an emblem of an innovative king who built a relatively unified empire of disparate peoples by allowing some measure of national and religious freedom beneath the banner of a single ruler.
Cyrus’ governing principles and allowance of religious freedom enabled the Persian Empire to last for 200 years, and was so enduring that Thomas Jefferson was a great admirer.
Can contemporary societies learn something from Cyrus?
Can we as a world, as a nation – or even as Baptists – learn to find greater unity through greater appreciation for each other despite our differences?
Can we forgo the desire to make others over in our image and live together beneath a banner of peace?
Some things change, some don’t. Thus, long before the Iran-Iraq war of the 1980s, Persia and Babylonia were fighting over the same real estate in the 6th century B.C.E. when Cyrus (559-530 B.C.E.) conquered Babylon. And while the Jewish holiday of Passover is fast approaching, with Egypt’s Pharaoh as the primary villain, another Jewish holiday which occurs earlier in springtime, Purim, recorded in the Book of Esther, deals with yet another leader who had genocidal ideas towards Jews–ancient Persia’s Haman.
Unfortunately, Jews have had to deal with many of such Hamans over the course of their long history–including those who now rule the same place where Haman lived.
Unlike the mindset and ruthless machinations of Iran’s intolerant leaders today, please check out, in these following excerpts from the Kurash Prism, how a mighty–but humane and benevolent–Persian ruler dealt with the diverse peoples he encountered some twenty-five centuries ago…
By Lea Terhune, US Department of State’s IIP Digital:
Unlike ancient Chinese and Egyptians, who wrote much about what they did and how well they did it, British Museum Director Neil MacGregor said, “The Persians just did it. They don’t write about how they did it. They left no memoirs” about their great lives and times. We know what happened from Greek and Jewish sources.
The Cyrus Cylinder has special significance to Jews, because it alludes to their return to Jerusalem, which is supported by biblical references. In the Book of Isaiah (44:28), God says of Cyrus, “He is my shepherd and will accomplish all that I please; he will say of Jerusalem, Let it be rebuilt, and of the temple, Let its foundations be laid,” and goes on to call Cyrus “anointed” by God. Other references may be found in 2 Chronicles and the Book of Ezra.
Cyrus held sway over the largest known early empire. It eventually encompassed the entire eastern Mediterranean, extending from Libya in the west to Afghanistan in the east. Cyrus had to devise a system to rule this unprecedented diverse, multilingual, multicultural and multireligious empire. Tolerance was the hallmark of this efficient system, which lasted 200 years, until Alexander the Great conquered the region.
Professir Farhang Jahanpour, Oxford University, writes for Payvand:
At a time when political relations between Iranians and Israelis are tense and hostile, the Cyrus Cylinder shows that the relations between the two peoples have been long and intimate. A significant number of Jews have lived in Iran since the time of Cyrus right up to the present time. Even now, Iran is home to the largest number of Jews in the Middle East outside Israel. It would be appropriate for both the Iranians and the Jews to look back and reflect upon their long history of friendship and coexistence. They should learn from the message of the Cylinder, which is as valid today as it was 2,500 years ago. It advocates religious tolerance, respect for other faiths and acceptance of diversity. As such, the principles that it embodies should be central to the debates about the relations between various faiths and nations in the Middle East and indeed throughout the world.
People like Thomas Jefferson, who drafted the Declaration of Independence and became the third president of the United States, had to rely on Xenophon’s Cyropaedia as a reference for the life and leadership of the Persian king.
Scripture was the other source for information on Cyrus, as it chronicled the invasion of Babylon and the freedom of Jews.
Mr Raby [Director of the Freer and Sackler Galleries] said “what’s extraordinary about Cyrus, is that he appears as a paragon of princely statesmanship in the two pillars of Western cultures, that is the Greco-Roman tradition and the Bible”.
He added that the copy of Cyropaedia displayed at the Freer and Sackler Galleries is testament to Jefferson’s thorough examination of the book.
The cylinder’s text shows why he [Cyrus] was regarded so highly. Found in fragments in the ruins of a city in 1879, it proclaims that Cyrus “is going to allow the people deported by the previous kings of Babylon to go home … They will take their gods that were confiscated, the temples that were confiscated, back to their towns and sanctuaries, and they are to rebuild the sanctuaries, and they are to pray to their gods, and, in their temples, to pray for the king (Cyrus).”
This validates what was in Hebrew Scriptures. In Ezra (1:1-4,) and the Chronicles, it’s said that the Jews deported from Jerusalem were “to go home, to take the temples’ vessels, and to rebuild the temples.” The discovery of the cylinder proved that the scriptures were historically correct.
They also said that other copies had been made but there was no proof until, in 2009, the British Museum discovered they had parts of another copy.
Rabbi Marc Gopin, director of the Center for World Religions, Diplomacy and Conflict Resolution at George Mason University, suggests a country should be defined by the values of its culture and history rather than the policies of its government.
“Disputes should attack issues, not civilizations,” Gopin said.
An expert on Arab-Israeli diplomacy, Gopin said such an approach creates more “nuanced” relations.
By Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s Director, Middle East Department, and the editor of Sotheby’s Cultural Crossroads Blog:
There are lectures and then there are lectures. British Museum Director Neil Macgregor has perfected the art of lecturing and nowhere is this more apparent than in his speeches about the Cyrus Cylinder—one of the museum objects that defines our concept of democratic governance. On 6 March, His Excellency Sir Peter and Lady Westmacott hosted a select audience at the British Embassy in Washington DC to hear Neil speak about the relationship of this 2,500-yr old clay object to modern cultural and political issues.
… As with all great legacies, Cyrus’s decree has had an almost Biblical propensity for re-interpretation. The Founding Fathers in the US urged the Cyrus philosophy of religious plurality and tolerance; the Jews heralded its message of freedom for their people, and even President Ahmadinejad pointed to its advocacy of helping the oppressed, namely the Palestinians. The cylinder is on display at the Smithsonian’s Sackler Gallery until 28 April.
For me, the key point of this seminal lecture was the fact that Cyrus’s archenemy Alexander saw fit to weep at the grave of perhaps one of the greatest rulers in history. Whoever has seized upon the extraordinary legacy of this “political prophet”, knows one thing above all: that his message was not just universal but timeless.
Thomas Jefferson kept a copy of Cyrus’ ancient Greek biography…
Alexander the Great wept at his tomb. Machiavelli and Caesar saw him as the ideal ruler. He’s celebrated in the Bible.
And the stories are all confirmed in an ancient cylinder unearthed in 1879.
“It really underscores the power of the object, how it speaks across time and space to so many different people,” says Freer|Sackler Chief Curator Massumeh Farhad.
Renee Montagne of NPR’s Morning Edition talks to professor Ahmad Karimi-Hakkak of the University of Maryland about the history of this ancient cultural icon:
MONTAGNE: Now some have called this arrival of the Cyrus Cylinder to the U.S. a kind of soft diplomacy – a way to improve relations, if not to relations, then certain images. What do you think? Do you think it’ll have an effect?
KARIMI: Yes. In the history of cultural policy, it will be mentioned somehow. When two states fail to talk to one another and the desire is within the population of both countries to start some dialogue going, objects like this serve a central purpose. That is, they get people together, they make possible conversations – if not at the state level – at least people to people conversations.
Cyrus’s tolerant approach has had a lasting impact. According to MacGregor [Director of the British Museum], “For Europeans and Americans in the 18th century, there is only one political problem: How do you avoid the wars of religion that had devastated Europe in the 16th and 17th centuries? How do you create a state where people don’t kill each other for their faith? Everybody goes back to Cyrus.”
The exhibition entitled, “The Cyrus Cylinder and Ancient Persia,” features quotes and historical artifacts that trace the generations of political thinkers inspired by Cyrus’s philosophy. Thomas Jefferson studied the life of Cyrus; he owned two copies of a biography of the king.
Thomas Jefferson, the [British] museum director noted, read the biography of Cyrus before drafting the Constitution while King George V referred to Cyrus in approving the Balfour Declaration of 1917 in which the British government said it viewed with “favor the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people.” Former US President Harry Truman is said to have exclaimed “I am Cyrus” when he went against the Washington establishment consensus and recognized the state of Israel. Jews were among those freed by Cyrus, who encouraged them to return and rebuild their temple at Jerusalem.
In a room adjacent to the cylinder at the Sackler gallery — where the exhibition will remain through April 28 before traveling to Houston, New York, San Francisco and Los Angeles — the walls are covered with quotations about Cyrus from Aeschylus to Isaiah to Israeli Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion. Shirin Ebadi, a modern Iranian human rights defender, wrote that “the charter of Cyrus the Great is one of the most important documents that should be studied in the history of human rights.”
Julian Raby, director of the Freer and Sackler museums, argues that it is the susceptibility of the object to interpretation that makes it fascinating.
“For me, it is that element of contention that can provoke us to think,” he says. Raby acknowledges that the cylinder isn’t coming to the Sackler for new scholarly examination and study. Rather, it comes as a purely symbolic object, displayed in a two-room exhibition that focuses attention on the historical afterlife of Cyrus within Western culture.
By Roxane Zand, Sotheby’s Director, Middle East Department, and the editor of Sotheby’s Cultural Crossroads Blog:
Nearly 350 guests from several continents gathered at the cocktail hour to view the gem of an exhibition curated by Dr John Curtis, with the involvement of Sackler’s Dr Massoumeh Farhad and Dr Julian Raby, the Gallery Director. The event also heralded the flagship project of IHF America—a diaspora cultural charity that began some 20 years ago in the UK.
… A glamorous gathering of high-profile guests was especially appreciative of both the message and timing of this cultural diplomacy. In his speech Neil Macgregor [Director of the British Museum] recognized the desire of the diaspora Iranian community to move beyond the confines of today’s political axis, and CNN legend Christiane Amanpour affirmed the same dynamic in her after-dinner dialogue with the BM Director.
Cyrus’ declarations of tolerance, justice and religious freedom inspired philosophers and policymakers for centuries. Scholars say it shows that Cyrus allowed displaced Jews to return to Jerusalem from exile in Babylon and to rebuild the Temple.
In the fourth century B.C., the Greek historian and soldier Xenophon wrote “Cyropedia,” a text that portrays Cyrus as the ideal ruler and that greatly influenced Alexander the Great. Xenophon’s portrayal also carried weight with Renaissance and Enlightenment thinkers. Thomas Jefferson owned two copies of the cylinder and it influenced his writing of the U.S. Declaration of Independence.
“Only the Americans get to the Cyrus model of a state that’s equidistant from every faith so that you acknowledge the value of faith, but you don’t endorse any one variety,” MacGregor [Director of the British Museum] said. “Of course, we’re all trying now to live in cities and countries that have an unprecedented diversity in faith, language, ethnicity … and this is the first model of someone who got it to work for several hundred years.”
Roll Call writes about the debut of the Cyrus Cylinder in Washington, DC:
The show, opening Saturday, marks the first U.S. appearance of one of the most celebrated objects from antiquity: the Cyrus Cylinder, a football-shaped relic inscribed with orders issued by King Cyrus the Great after his conquest of Babylon in 539 B.C., credited by Hebrew scripture for repatriating exiled Jews and allowing them to return to Jerusalem.
“The ideas of the Persian tradition permeate the Western tradition, and it’s there at a profound level. The idea that we are separate, individual…that these ideologies cannot coexist, is an illusion,” said Karen Armstrong [well-known religious scholar] “And sometimes it’s easier to focus on a particular object like that, to look at its history, to see its effects…the way cultures have always interacted and melded with one another creatively.”
The hope, says the IHF, is that the exhibition — the cylinder and other objects — will appeal to the substantial community of expatriate Iranians living in the US (many of them refugees from the 1979 revolution) as well as to American Jews accustomed to the mutual hostility between the Islamic Republic and Israel, including outlandish Holocaust-denying statements by President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad.
Roger Cohen’s column in New York Times about the Cyrus Cylinder and its upcoming tour of the US includes what is probably the most beautiful and concise description of the significance of the Cyrus Cylinder, and the underlying multi-dimensional complexity that provides such rich context for this iconic object:
“What is it? A Babylonian artifact written by a Babylonian scribe about a Persian conqueror; prized by Iranians as an emblem of their civilization; valued by many Jews whose Bible gives credit for Cyrus’s acts not to a Babylonian God but to Jehovah; found in modern Iraq by British-sponsored archaeologists who acquired it from the Ottomans; exploited by the shah to underwrite his megalomania; a pre-Islamic text adopted by the Islamic Republic during the Iran-Iraq War as a symbol of past victories; a declaration compared to the U.S. Constitution because of what it says about peoples worshiping freely in a single state; and now an object that within the space of a few years has traveled to Tehran (where more than one million Iranians saw it) and to Washington.”
For many the cylinder is an Iranian national symbol: more than a million visitors viewed the artifact when it was on display in Tehran in 2010-2011. In 1971, The Shah of Iran’s pre-1979 government put it on display in Tehran to commemorate 2,500 years of the Iranian monarchy.