Written By Damien Knight
When King Cyrus of Persia conquered Babylon around 538 BCE, he wrote a decree that is often described as the first decree of human rights. The document describes the release of captives of Babylon and returning of them to their homeland. The second part of the reading is a document written by the Jews on their perspective of gaining freedom and the benevolence of the Persian king.
King Cyrus decree states his authority comes from his ancestry to great past kings and his worship of Marduk who “moved the hearts of the people.” (WTWA, Pg. 81) The decree is addressed to the people of the regions of Ashur and cities beyond the Tigress. In it he states he gathers these people and return them and their gods to their cities of old. The purpose of this is according to the document to follow the command of Marduk.
In the Jewish document of Ezra which was likely written in the 4th century the decree is described. The Jewish perception of the decree states that Cyrus was made king by the God of Israel. In it he states that the Jews are to rebuild the temple of the Lord. He assigns a treasurer to look after the gold which is gathered from the people to rebuild the temple and the returned goods stolen by the Babylonians.
In Ezra the decision to free the Jews is a result of guidance from the god of Israel. The document of Ezra was written to record this blessing from god for future generations of Jews. The Cyrus document was not written for posterity but as a governmental document. In that document written by King Cyrus this decision was in accordance with the God Marduk. It is a strategy of allowing the ruled over peoples to keep their own faiths and historical territories while gaining their loyalty as citizens of Persia. Both documents recorded a change of powers and the freedom of those captured by the Babylonian empire.
Both documents show a changing way of dealing with captured peoples. Instead of enslaving and controlling those Cyrus captured he gives them governors and let them follow their beliefs. The documents both show Cyrus as a just ruler with a mission from a god. This displays the way even rulership of that time-period was seen as a divine right.