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An empire that at its height stretched from Greece in the west to India in the east. The Persian Empire came into being with the victories of Cyrus the Great over his Medan overlord (ca. 550 BCE) and lasted until the conquests of Alexander the Great (ca. 330 BCE). In the Bible, Cyrus is hailed as the chosen deliverer of the Jews from Babylon (Isa 44:28, “my shepherd”; Isa 45:1, “his anointed”), and he is recognized for his role in the rebuilding of the Temple (2Chr 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-2; Ezra 3:7; Ezra 4:3). The reign of Darius I (522–486) provides the dating framework for the books of Haggai and Zechariah. Artaxerxes (465–424) is mentioned in Ezra 6:14; Ezra 7:1; and Ezra 9:9 and in Neh 2:1; Neh 5:14; and Neh 13:6). The story of Esther is set in the reign of Ahasuerus (also called Xerxes, 486–465). A later Darius (II or III) is named in Neh 12:22). Both Esther and Daniel refer to Medes and Persians together (Esth 1:3; Esth 1:18-19, Dan 5:8; Dan 6:28), particularly to stress the unalterability of their laws. (Dan 5:31 and Dan 6:28 distinguish a Medan from a Persian empire (cf. Dan 10:1), but (Dan 8:20) treats the two as one. (Dan 10:13, Dan 10:20-21), dealing with the conflicts of the empires, speaks of a “prince of Persia” against whom the angel Michael represents divine power on behalf of the Jews (cf. also Dan 11:2). In a list of officials in (Ezra 4:9-10), Persians and other peoples appear among those who were settled in Samaria and elsewhere by Osnappar (probably Ashurbanipal).

  • Powell, Mark Allan, ed. HarperCollins Bible Dictionary. Abridged Edition. Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009.