Cyrus the Great and the Ishtar Gate

If I had to pick one grand architectural image to go with the Cyrus Cylinder, I think it would be the Ishtar Gate (though built by Nebuchadnezzar II, not Cyrus). Oddly enough, the best place to see the ruins from Babylon of a gate complex named for the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war is in Berlin, Germany. The Pergamon Museum has reconstructed (with some reproduction) a display of the impressive gate. Here’s a great, informative video: Ishtar Gate on YouTube

Ancient Cyrus Cylinder Stirs Modern Passions and Debate

What should we do with knowledge that undermines a force for good? I attended the Cyrus Cylinder symposium at DC’s Freer Sackler Gallery, the artifact’s first stop on its U.S. tour. It was a sunny Saturday morning, yet the hall was packed, and no one was snoozing. Rightly so, as the presenters are among the world’s “A team” scholars of ancient Persia.

But from the start, things did not go as many had hoped. For the scholarship presented complicates our widely accepted and most popular images of Cyrus the Great as a uniquely benevolent ruler who instituted policies of peace and tolerance such as the world had never seen before.

Dear President Obama, abt the Cyrus Cylinder

The Cyrus Cylinder has great potential for Iran-U.S. relations. So I was thinking: wouldn’t it be great if President Obama were to hike on down to the Freer Sackler Gallery, just a few blocks from the White House to take a look? Here’s my letter inviting him to do so. If you like it, feel free to copy and paste into the handy online note-dropping feature at the White House website.

Dear President Obama,

In the Game of Cultural Background: Iran vs. Israel

Referring to the Cyrus Cylinder, Ahmadinejad is reported as saying that it represents the kind of foundation on which people can build a highly developed civilization. So far, so good, as it goes. But he reputedly went on to note the relative lack of such a foundation for the “Zionist regime” — meaning Israel?, Judaism? Let’s see… the Bible?! Not that I believe that we should look to the Bible for a modern nation of Israel, but gosh, in the game of cultural background, I’m afraid he’s going to need a new strategy.

Cyrus Cylinder back in Iran

A small clay object with scratches decipherable by only a few people in the world can nevertheless still move nations. Sometimes called “the first charter of human rights,” this text inscribed on a cylinder of clay comes from Cyrus II, founder of the Persian Empire and called “messiah” by the biblical prophet Isaiah. It dates back to the sixth century BCE. Cyrus’ extraordinary power and leadership (characteristis that are not always found together) earned him the moniker “the Great.” And now, his most famous declaration has made its way back to Iran for a four month visit. The journey has not been without controversy, since the turmoil of Iran’s recent elections made the British Museum reluctant to release it. The parties resolved matters, and John Curtis, of the British Museum’s curator of the Middle East collection personally escorted the cylinder to Tehran where it will be proudly displayed, a statement recognizing the integrity and freedom of all kinds of people within a greater national community. Ahmadinejad welcomed it as illustration of the importance Iran has given to fighting oppression and recognizing the dignity and rights of all people. My thanks to Dr. Jamsheed Choksy for bringing this news to my attention!