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.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at ASOR

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

How European Fecklessness Encourages the Islamic Republic’s Assassination Campaign

In September, Cypriot police narrowly foiled a plot by an Iranian agent to murder five Jewish businessman. This was but one of roughly a dozen similar operations that Tehran has conducted in Europe since 2015—on both Israeli or Jewish and American targets—which have left three dead. Matthew Karnitschnig traces the use of assassination as a strategic tool to the very beginning of the Islamic Republic, and explains its appeal:

In the West, assassination remains a last resort (think Osama bin Laden); in authoritarian states, it’s the first (who can forget the 2017 assassination by nerve agent of Kim Jong-nam, the playboy half-brother of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un, upon his arrival in Kuala Lumpur?). For rogue states, even if the murder plots are thwarted, the regimes still win by instilling fear in their enemies’ hearts and minds. That helps explain the recent frequency. Over the course of a few months last year, Iran undertook a flurry of attacks from Latin America to Africa.

Whether such operations succeed or not, the countries behind them can be sure of one thing: they won’t be made to pay for trying. Over the years, the Russian and Iranian regimes have eliminated countless dissidents, traitors, and assorted other enemies (real and perceived) on the streets of Paris, Berlin, and even Washington, often in broad daylight. Others have been quietly abducted and sent home, where they faced sham trials and were then hanged for treason.

While there’s no shortage of criticism in the West in the wake of these crimes, there are rarely real consequences. That’s especially true in Europe, where leaders have looked the other way in the face of a variety of abuses in the hopes of reviving a deal to rein in Tehran’s nuclear-weapons program and renewing business ties.

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Subscribe to Mosaic

Welcome to Mosaic

Subscribe now to get unlimited access to the best of Jewish thought and culture

Subscribe

Read more at Politico

More about: Europe, Iran, Israeli Security, Terrorism