6.‑What elements contributed to the success of the Persian Empire established by Cyrus the Great. What where some of the main features of this empire? Discuss the possible impact of Persian Religion (Zoroastrianism and Manichaeism) on Judaism and Christianity.
Although the Assyrians combined many diverse nations (from Mesopotamia to Egypt) and therefore could be referred to as an empire, it was the Persians under their enlightened leader, Cyrus the Great (~ 535 B.C.), who created a true empire, one that was the largest, longest lasting, and most powerful of its time. In many ways he was very different from all other previous leaders. He is known as an “enlightened leader” because he had a new vision that was very advanced for his time. Unlike all his predecessors in the region, he did a shocking thing by not massacring conquered people, destroying their temples, and taking their women and children into slavery. Even more shocking, when Cyrus took over Babylon, not only he did not destroy the Babylonians’ temples, he went inside and prayed alongside them, much to his religious advisors’ surprise. That degree of tolerance of other cultures opened the door for his easy conquest of many people, from India in the east to Greece in the west; people who were fed up with violence or fear of violence easily embraced his rule. That is the secret of his success: initiating 200 years of peace, prosperity, and security in the region, an era known as Pax Persia. He managed to have his name in the Old Testament as a prophet to the Jews by liberating the Jews from Babylonian captivity and even helping to rebuild the temple for them. Of course, after 50 years or so in a foreign land, many Jews decided to stay in Babylon. The Middle Eastern/ Iraqi Jews of today are probably the descendants of the original Jews from the Babylonian captivity—probably more so than the Jews with blue eyes and light hair who are from Eastern European ethnic backgrounds. Cyrus divided the huge Persian Empire into 10 satrapies (states or mini kingdoms) and called himself Shahanshah (the King of the kings). To rapidly and effectively connect this vast empire, he created the equivalent of the “pony express” used in early America. Thousands of stations with horses ready to go were spread throughout the empire to take messages around in a relatively short span of time. But probably one of the most important contributions of the Persians was their religions. Like others before them, early Persian religion involved nature worshiping and many gods. By the time of Cyrus, most probably, Zoroastrianism (a monotheistic religion established by prophet Zoroaster around 650 B.C. in eastern Persia) was also practiced, although there is no direct evidence OF WHAT?. One of the main features of this religion is that it marked the first time that the idea of God as the Lord and Wiseman in the sky was conceived. He was called Ahuramazda (the creator god representing goodness and truth) and his antagonist was known as Ahriman (representing evilness and lies). For the first time ever, as far as we know, the universe was considered to be a battleground for these two cosmic forces—a confrontational dualism characteristic of later religions of the region like Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. (This iss opposed to complimentary dualism as represented by the Daoist concept of yin and yang). Whatever our personal opinion about this understanding of the universe, it seems that is all it started from Persia. The main teaching of Zoroastrianism contains the three simple moral principles of good thought, good words, and good action. Zoroastrianist temples have an altar that must always include a fire, the symbol of light and purity (cleanness). The original fire is believed by the followers of this still living faith (in Iran and in India) to have been started by Zoroaster himself. Other notable influences from Persia on later religions are from Manichaeism and Mithraism. Manichaeism, which is the view of the Persian prophet Mani, contained ideas of a strong dualism, probably derived from Zoroastrianism but here pushed to the extreme. Mani believed that everything physical (including the human body) is evil and everything spiritual (including that of the human soul) is good. This extreme rejection of materialism led to the complete denial of physical pleasures, then known as dirty and evil. One of the important followers of Mani is the famous Christian of the 3rd century A.D., Saint Augustine. Before he converted to Christianity, he was Manichean and not surprisingly, he introduced the doctrine of “original sin” into Christianity. Mani and his followers had been massacred sometime in the 2nd century by the Persians, accused of a sort of communism and spreading the idea of distribution of wealth and women from the wealthy to the poor (though the last charge was probably made up to enflame the outrage of the people against them, thus making it easier to get rid of them).