Facets of Faith: Tiny Cyrus cylinder packs large importance

AP photo from The Smithsonian Institution by JOHN TSANTESThe Cyrus Cylinder is seen on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Sackler Gallery in Washington. The 2,500-year-old Babylonian artifact, sometimes described as the world's first human rights charter, will be  on dispaly in Houston. It carries an account of how Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and restored people held captive to their homelands.
AP photo from The Smithsonian Institution by JOHN TSANTESThe Cyrus Cylinder is seen on display at the Smithsonian Institution's Freer Sackler Gallery in Washington. The 2,500-year-old Babylonian artifact, sometimes described as the world's first human rights charter, will be on dispaly in Houston. It carries an account of how Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. and restored people held captive to their homelands.

By LEILA PITCHFORD-ENGLISH

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Visitors to the British Museum move through rooms filled with historical objects. With so many objects, many are passed with no one realizing their importance.

When I visited the museum, the Cyrus Cylinder was one such object.

Even though it’s housed in the center of a room, people passed by it without a glance. It’s small, about 9 inches long, and has a large piece missing. But it looked familiar to me.

That’s because as a child at church, I had seen photos of it and had been taught that it told a story about Persian King Cyrus: the same Cyrus found in the Bible.

References to him can be found in Isaiah 44:28 and 45:1; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23; Ezra; and Daniel. This was a king whose court Daniel served in.

American tour

This year, Americans don’t need to travel to England to see this object. It is part of an exhibit traveling the United States and will be on display May 3 through June 14 at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston.

It is on display through April 28 in Smithsonian’s Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, Washington, D.C. After the Houston stop, it will travel to Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, N.Y. (June 20-Aug. 4); Asian Art Museum, San Francisco, Calif. (Aug. 9 through Sept. 22); and J. Paul Getty Museum at the Getty Villa, Los Angeles, Calif. (Oct. 2 through Dec. 2).

Its importance

The clay object is covered in Babylonian cuneiform, an early form of writing. It tells how Cyrus conquered the last Babylonian king.

Cyrus had conquered the area, but then began to help the people who had been conquered by the overturned king. The document tells how he returned many items to the temples of Babylon and allowed many people to return to their homelands.

These people would have included Jews who had been taken from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzer.

A replica of the cylinder is kept at the United Nations Headquarters.

Sources: http://cyruscylinder2013.com/; http://www.mfah.org/, Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary

Send ideas and comments to Leila Pitchford-English, at lenglish@theadvocate.com.