NEW YORK — For the first time ever, the oldest declaration of religious freedom on record is visiting the United States. The Cyrus Cylinder, a clay cylinder covered in cuneiform script from 539 B.C., is at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York until Aug. 4, on loan from the British Museum.
Cyrus was the Persian ruler who conquered Babylon in 539 B.C. In his cylinder he announces what was an odd policy at the time: All the peoples the Babylonians had captured and deported were free to return to their homelands, rebuild, and worship their own gods. This included the Israelites, who were exiles in Babylon. Cyrus returned the confiscated treasures of the temple in Jerusalem to the Jews and helped them return to rebuild. Before Cyrus, Babylonian policy was to displace the conquered peoples from their homelands, and fill the conquered lands with the conquered from other lands.
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