There can be no doubt that the Persians treated the Jews extremely well, especially in comparison the their treatment under the Babylonians. Isaiah chapter 42 speaks of the Jews, during their captivity by the Babylonians, as a people robbed and spoiled, snared in holes and hidden in prison houses.

The Persians freed the Jews and all the other captive nations, and told the Jews that they could return to their homeland if they wished to do so. They sent the eunuch, Nehemiah, to teach the Jews their own religion, or perhaps that version of it that the Persians wished them to learn. Much of modern Judaism arose in this period, with parallels to the Zoroastrian religion of the Persians.

Second Isaiah was full of praise for Cyrus, king of the Persians. At Isaiah 44:28: “That saith of Cyrus. He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built; and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid.” Verse 45:1: “Thus saith the Lord to his appointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I have holden …” Verse 45:4: “For Jacob my servant’s sake, and Israel my elect, I have even called thee by thy name: I have surnamed thee even though thou has not known me.”

The high regard the Jews felt for the Persians is demonstrated by their willing adoption of Aramaic as their new language, after the Persians pronounced it the lingua franca of empire, and their refusal to adopt the Greek language of the Hellenistic empire that overthrew the Persians.

Some of the Jews chose to stay behind in Babylon rather than return. The Book of Esther is a story about Jews in Babylon during the reign of King Xerxes, and portrays the king as a man of integrity, but that the court was filled with intrigue and that many Persians wishing to slaughter the Jews. The book lionises the Jews, while portraying them as cruel and ruthless, but there is strong evidence that it is entirely fictional. This story does not represent the treatment of the Jews in Persian times.

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