Reading the Book of Nehemiah in Light of Persian Imperial Propaganda

Nov. 10 2016

According to the Hebrew Bible, Nehemiah—a Jew serving in the Persian court—was made governor of Judea at the behest of the emperor Artaxerxes in the 5th century BCE. In this role he restored Jerusalem’s walls and revived adherence to the Torah. Lucas Schulte compares depictions of the Persian regime in the book of Nehemiah with those in contemporary Babylonian and Egyptian texts, and notes some common threads of the empire’s public-relations strategy. (Free registration required.)

The Cyrus Cylinder [discovered in Mesopotamia] describes a Babylonian god, Marduk, choosing [the Persian emperor] Cyrus to rule kindly over the Babylonians as “king of Babylon.” This inscription demonstrates an important Persian propaganda innovation: using the language (in this case, Babylonian cuneiform), inscription style (cylinders deposited in the foundations of buildings), local gods (Marduk and Nabu), and the local royal title (“king of Babylon”) of subject peoples. No previous kings in the ancient Near East had used this combination of methods. . . .

This pattern continues with Cyrus’s successors. The Nabonidus Chronicles indicate that Cyrus’ son and heir, Cambyses, participated in the Babylonian Akitu festival in the traditional role of the king of Babylon. When Cambyses brought Egypt under Persian control, the Egyptian statue of Udjahorresnet indicates that this Persian policy spread to Egypt. The inscription [on the statue] depicts both Cambyses and his successor Darius as taking the traditional titles, roles, and throne names of Egyptian pharaohs.. . .

A comparison of Persian royal propaganda as found in Babylonian and Egyptian sources with depictions of Artaxerxes in the book of Nehemiah reveals fascinating correspondences. Both Nehemiah 2 and 13:4-14 closely resemble [these texts]. . . . Since the prayer and request for remembrance in Nehemiah 1:5-11 bears some resemblance to Persian period sources, Nehemiah may have reworked an existing prayer for his own purposes. Some of Nehemiah’s self-depictions in Nehemiah 5:14 resemble similar self-depictions of the Udjahorresnet statue inscription.

Read more at ASOR

More about: Ancient Near East, Ancient Persia, Hebrew Bible, History & Ideas, Nehemiah


Israel Is Courting Saudi Arabia by Confronting Iran

Most likely, it was the Israeli Air Force that attacked eastern Syria Monday night, apparently destroying a convoy carrying Iranian weapons. Yoav Limor comments:

Israel reportedly carried out 32 attacks in Syria in 2022, and since early 2023 it has already struck 25 times in the country—at the very least. . . . The Iranian-Israeli clash stands out in the wake of the dramatic events in the region, chiefly among them is the effort to strike a normalization deal between Israel and Saudi Arabia, and later on with various other Muslim-Sunni states. Iran is trying to torpedo this process and has even publicly warned Saudi Arabia not to “gamble on a losing horse” because Israel’s demise is near. Riyadh is unlikely to heed that demand, for its own reasons.

Despite the thaw in relations between the kingdom and the Islamic Republic—including the exchange of ambassadors—the Saudis remain very suspicious of the Iranians. A strategic manifestation of that is that Riyadh is trying to forge a defense pact with the U.S.; a tactical manifestation took place this week when Saudi soccer players refused to play a match in Iran because of a bust of the former Revolutionary Guard commander Qassem Suleimani, [a master terrorist whose militias have wreaked havoc throughout the Middle East, including within Saudi borders].

Of course, Israel is trying to bring Saudi Arabia into its orbit and to create a strong common front against Iran. The attack in Syria is ostensibly unrelated to the normalization process and is meant to prevent the terrorists on Israel’s northern border from laying their hands on sophisticated arms, but it nevertheless serves as a clear reminder for Riyadh that it must not scale back its fight against the constant danger posed by Iran.

Read more at Israel Hayom

More about: Iran, Israeli Security, Saudi Arabia, Syria