Genesis as Dialogue: A Literary, Historical, & Theological Commentary

By Thomas L. Brodie | Go to book overview

6
The Historical and Social Background
The Greco-Persian World and Its Ancient Heritage

The Persian Empire

The era that saw the composition of the Primary History (Genesis-Kings) was that of the Persian empire.1 The main rulers of the imperial dynasty (the Achaemenids) were as follows (with dates of accession; the date for Cyrus is that of defeating the Medes):

Cyrus (550) and Cambyses (529)

Darius (522)

Xerxes (486) and Artaxerxes (465)

Darius II (423); Artaxerxes II and III (404; 358); and Darius III (336)

The Persians were exceptional. Founded by the magnanimous Cyrus the Great, and marked by his spirit, the Persian empire brought a significant change. Of all the kingdoms and empires that the world had ever known— from third-millennium Sumer, Akkad, and Egypt to first-millennium Assyria and Babylonia—the Persian empire was greatest in its combination of size, coordination, and humaneness.

Its size was vast—from the western part of ancient India to northern Greece, and down, beyond Phoenicia, Damascus, and Jerusalem, to Egypt and Libya (for details, see Cook, 1983, 183–207). Apart from the Tigris and Euphrates, its rivers included the Nile and the Indus. And the seas on its borders included much of Aegean Sea, the Black Sea, the Caspian Sea, the Aral Sea, the Arabian Sea, the Persian Gulf, and the various coasts of the eastern Mediterranean. Thus, it included and surpassed all the territories of all the preceding empires in that part of the world. It was the largest political formation the world had ever seen.

As well as being vast, the empire was well coordinated. Its administration used one official language—Aramaic (Greenfield, 1985). There was a standardization of weights, measures, and money; money standardization was linked to the acquiring of Indian gold (Irving, 1979, 40). However, far from being a frozen bureaucracy, the empire was decentralized—divided into twenty states (“satra-

____________________
1
On Persian history, 550–330 BCE, see esp. Olmstead, 1948; Cook, 1983; Frye, 1984; Gershevitch, ed. 1985; Achaemenid History, Proceedings of the Achaemenid History Workshop, 8 vols., eds. H. Sancisi-Weerdenburg et al., Leiden, 1987–1994; Brentjes, 1995; Sancisi-Weerdenburg, 1995. On Judaism and the Persian empire, see esp. Grabbe, 1994, 119–145; Berquist, 1995.

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