Thursday, September 26, 2013

A Jewish holiday for Cyrus?

COUNTERFACTUAL HISTORY: What if Cyrus had not freed the Jews? (Roger Price, Jewish Journal).
Yet if it is true that but for Cyrus there would be no Judaism and no Jews today, why is not more attention paid to him? The man was extolled in the Hebrew Bible by the well regarded prophet Deutero-Isaiah and the esteemed priest Ezra, and more recently by Israeli founder and Prime Minister David Ben-Gurion on the 2500 anniversary of the Cyrus Cylinder, but Cyrus is hardly remembered, much less honored , today in the Jewish community.

Part of the answer may be that the ancient sages did not want to attribute such momentous consequences to a mere mortal, preferring to see the return from exile and the rebuilding of the Temple as evidence of God’s intervention and grace. But then, how do you justify the inclusion of the Purim story in the canon and the celebration of that holiday? Jews of all stripes seem to love the fictional story set in Shushan in modern day Iran and the holiday that celebrates it, even though God is never mentioned. And who can resist? You get to wear costumes, eat some triangular cookies, drink a lot of wine and cheer as the pretty Jewish girl and her uncle save the Jews who were threatened with extinction. But, again, why is a true story of Jewish emancipation, set in a similar geographic locale, given no recognition? Sure, Cyrus was an emperor, not a paragon of modern democratic values, but the failure to designate a time to honor Cyrus is a serious omission in the Jewish calendar.
Lots more on Cyrus the Great and the Cyrus Cylinder here and links. Also, more on counterfactual history here and links.