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The Bible, Herodotus, and Persia

Taken from: https://www.christiancourier.com/articles/212-herodotus-and-the-bible


After the fall of Babylon, the Hebrews were under Persian control for two centuries. Cyrus, a benevolent Persian monarch, had issued a decree that allowed the Jews to return to their homeland to rebuild their temple. The construction project was initiated but it eventually fell into disarray. Finally, after more than fifteen years, the work was resumed. There was, however, at first, mild opposition.

Did the Jews have regal authority for the project? A search was made for Cyrus’ original decree of authorization. When the document was located, oddly, it was not found in Babylon or Susa, as might be expected, since this was where the Persian kings usually resided, but in Achmetha (Ecbatana) in the province of the Medes (Ezra 6:2).

There is a passage in Herodotus, however, which appears to indicate that, contrary to the usual custom, Cyrus held his court in Ecbatana, hence, kept his archives there (i.153). As Professor George Rawlinson of Oxford University observed, “this is one of those little points of agreement between the sacred and the profane which are important because their very minuteness is an indication that they are purely casual and unintentional” (1873, 196).

When the original document of Cyrus was located, Darius, the then-reigning monarch, issued a decree authorizing the resumption of work on the temple, even providing expense money from “tribute” collected in the provinces “beyond the [Euphrates] river” (Ezra 6:8). According to Herodotus, Darius was the first Persian king to extract such tribute money (iii.89). Moreover, the king warned that if any should alter his decree, “let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened thereon” (Ezra 6:11). This was no idle threat, for, as Herodotus records, at the second conquest of Babylon, Darius crucified about three thousand citizens of the city (iii.159).

In the book of Esther one learns that the maidens of the royal harem could only go unto the king when their “turn” came (Esther 1:12), and any violation of this procedure could incur the death penalty (4:11). Herodotus says: “In Persia a man’s wives sleep with him in their turns” (iii.69), and invasion of the king’s privacy was punishable by death (iii.72, 77).

Mordecai, Esther’s cousin, had foiled a plot against the life of king Ahasuerus (Esther 2:21-22), and an account of that act of patriotism had been written in “the book of records” (6:1). Herodotus records that in Persia a list of “the king’s benefactors” was maintained with a view of returning such kindnesses (viii.85).

Examples like those of the foregoing paragraphs could be multiplied many times over. Truly, Herodotus provides unwitting testimony to the accuracy of the Old Testament. The precision of the ancient Scriptures is utterly amazing. The Bible passes every test of credibility. Let us honor it as the Word of the living God.



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