Many atheists have asked me why I converted from strong atheism to Christianity rather than to some other belief system. The simple answer is that Christians had the answers to my questions. I had studied various Eastern religions years earlier and didn’t find truth in any of them. Atheism was the only belief system that made sense, until I met Christians who were well-educated, thoughtful and patient.
This series of articles, Convince Me There’s A God, is for the purpose of answering atheists who have asked me to be specific about what convinced me to become a Christian.
One of the strongest points of convincing came from Middle East archaeology. I looked at finds from ancient Moab, Assyria, Philistia and Anatolia, then turned to the history of the Medo-Persian Empire and one of its greatest rulers, King Cyrus. I was especially interested in The Cyrus Cylinder because of its connection to ancient Israel.
King Cyrus II (Cyrus the Great) was born in Anshan during the early part of the 6th century BC. He was the son of King Cambyses I and grandson of King Cyrus I. Anshan was part of the ancient Elamite Empire and located in what is now the western part of Iran. Cyrus II founded the Achaemenid Empire (also known as the First Persian Empire) by defeating the Kingdom of Media, the Kingdom of Lydia, and the Babylonian Empire. Cyrus the Great was also known as the King of Persia, King of Sumer and Akkad, The Great King, King of Babylon and King of the Four Corners of the World.
After conquering Babylon, Cyrus freed thousands of slaves and issued a human rights declaration. That declaration is listed on the Cyrus Cylinder, currently located in the British Museum in London. The small clay cylinder, discovered in 1879 AD during excavations of ancient Babylon, details Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon and how he organized the return of many captives from Babylon to their homelands and helped restore their temples. The date of the edict on the cylinder is approximately 538 BC.
Isaiah, a Hebrew prophet who prophesied in both the Kingdom of Judah and the Kingdom of Israel during the latter part of the 8th century and early part of the 7th century BC, predicted the Medes defeat of Babylon more than a century before Cyrus II conquered Babylon (Isaiah 13:1-22; 21:1-10). Isaiah also named Cyrus and said he would do the will of Jehovah – “Who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he shall perform all My pleasure, Saying to Jerusalem, ‘You shall be built, And to the temple, ‘Your foundation shall be laid.” (Isaiah 44:28)
In approximately 538 BC, King Cyrus released his command:
“I am Cyrus, king of the universe, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters of the world, son of Cambyses, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, grandson of Cyrus, the great king, ki[ng of the ci]ty of Anshan, descendant of Teispes, the great king, king of the city of Anshan, the perpetual seed of kingship, whose reign Bel (Marduk)and Nabu love, and with whose kingship, to their joy, they concern themselves. When I went as harbinger of peace i[nt]o Babylon I founded my sovereign residence within the palace amid celebration and rejoicing. Marduk, the great lord, bestowed on me as my destiny the great magnanimity of one who loves Babylon, and I every day sought him out in awe. My vast troops were marching peaceably in Babylon, and the whole of [Sumer] and Akkad had nothing to fear. I sought the safety of the city of Babylon and all its sanctuaries. As for the population of Babylon […, w]ho as if without div[ine intention] had endured a yoke not decreed for them, I soothed their weariness; I freed them from their bonds(?). Marduk, the great lord, rejoiced at [my good] deeds, and he pronounced a sweet blessing over me, Cyrus, the king who fears him, and over Cambyses, the son [my] issue, [and over] my all my troops, that we might live happily in his presence, in well-being. At his exalted command, all kings who sit on thrones, from every quarter, from the Upper Sea to the Lower Sea, those who inhabit [remote distric]ts (and) the kings of the land of Amurru who live in tents, all of them, brought their weighty tribute into Shuanna, and kissed my feet. From [Shuanna] I sent back to their places to the city of Ashur and Susa, Akkad, the land of Eshnunna, the city of Zamban, the city of Meturnu, Der, as far as the border of the land of Guti – the sanctuaries across the river Tigris – whose shrines had earlier become dilapidated, the gods who lived therein, and made permanent sanctuaries for them. I collected together all of their people and returned them to their settlements, and the gods of the land of Sumer and Akkad which Nabonidus – to the fury of the lord of the gods – had brought into Shuanna, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I returned them unharmed to their cells, in the sanctuaries that make them happy. May all the gods that I returned to their sanctuaries, every day before Bel and Nabu, ask for a long life for me, and mention my good deeds, and say to Marduk, my lord, this: ‘Cyrus, the king who fears you, and Cambyses his son, may they be the provisioners of our shrines until distant (?) days, and the population of Babylon call blessings on my kingship. I have enabled all the lands to live in peace.” (British Museum, Cyrus Cylinder Translation)
The Bible says that Jeremiah, the son of Hilkiah the priest, was called to be a prophet in the 13th year of the reign of King Josiah of Judah (toward the end of the 7th century BC). Jeremiah proclaimed God’s judgment on Judah and its capital city Jerusalem during the rule of several kings. Jeremiah told Judah they would be in captivity to Babylon for 70 years.
“Therefore thus says the Lord of hosts: ‘Because you have not heard My words, behold, I will send and take all the families of the north,’ says the Lord, ‘and Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and will bring them against this land, against its inhabitants, and against these nations all around, and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, a hissing, and perpetual desolations. Moreover I will take from them the voice of mirth and the voice of gladness, the voice of the bridegroom and the voice of the bride, the sound of the millstones and the light of the lamp. And this whole land shall be a desolation and an astonishment, and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. ‘Then it will come to pass, when seventy years are completed, that I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation, the land of the Chaldeans, for their iniquity,’ says the Lord; ‘and I will make it a perpetual desolation. So I will bring on that land all My words which I have pronounced against it, all that is written in this book, which Jeremiah has prophesied concerning all the nations. (For many nations and great kings shall be served by them also; and I will repay them according to their deeds and according to the works of their own hands.)” Jeremiah 25:8-14
Jeremiah was not taken into captivity by King Nebuchadnezzar, but he did write to the elders who were carried away into captivity to warn and encourage them.
“Build houses and dwell in them; plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and beget sons and daughters; and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, so that they may bear sons and daughters—that you may be increased there, and not diminished. And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the Lord for it; for in its peace you will have peace. For thus says the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel: Do not let your prophets and your diviners who are in your midst deceive you, nor listen to your dreams which you cause to be dreamed. For they prophesy falsely to you in My name; I have not sent them, says the Lord. For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you and perform My good word toward you, and cause you to return to this place. For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart. I will be found by you, says the Lord, and I will bring you back from your captivity; I will gather you from all the nations and from all the places where I have driven you, says the Lord, and I will bring you to the place from which I cause you to be carried away captive.” Jeremiah 29:5-14
The fulfillment of Jeremiah’s prophecy began in the first year of the reign of King Cyrus of Persia.
“Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be fulfilled, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth the Lord God of heaven has given me. And He has commanded me to build Him a house at Jerusalem which is in Judah. Who is among you of all His people? May his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord God of Israel (He is God), which is in Jerusalem. And whoever is left in any place where he dwells, let the men of his place help him with silver and gold, with goods and livestock, besides the freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:1-4
What followed was the return of thousands of Jews from captivity in Babylon to the land of Judah.
“Then the heads of the fathers’ houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, with all whose spirits God had moved, arose to go up and build the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem. And all those who were around them encouraged them with articles of silver and gold, with goods and livestock, and with precious things, besides all that was willingly offered. King Cyrus also brought out the articles of the house of the Lord, which Nebuchadnezzar had taken from Jerusalem and put in the temple of his gods; and Cyrus king of Persia brought them out by the hand of Mithredath the treasurer, and counted them out to Sheshbazzar the prince of Judah. This is the number of them: thirty gold platters, one thousand silver platters, twenty-nine knives, thirty gold basins, four hundred and ten silver basins of a similar kind, and one thousand other articles. All the articles of gold and silver were five thousand four hundred. All these Sheshbazzar took with the captives who were brought from Babylon to Jerusalem.” Ezra 1:5-11
The Cyrus Cylinder, an archaeological find of the 6th century BC, is supportive of both Isaiah’s prophecy from the 8th century BC and Jeremiah’s prophecy from the 7th century BC. Does that prove conclusively the God of Israel exists? Not yet, but the evidence is mounting.
“Scripture taken from the New King James Version®. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.”