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Book 5. Persian Propaganda

The Prophets: The Persian Propagandists


Elijah and Elisha


Biblicists always have trouble in seeing through the internal chronology of the bible. They know full well that the Jews were particularly fond of writing pseudepigraphs, works that pretend to be by an authoritative writer. There is a whole faculty of biblicism devoted to studying pseudepigraphs, but too many biblical experts refuse to accept that the bible itself is full of them. They will accept the odd book, such as Daniel as being a pseudepigraph because it is so obvious it cannot be denied, but they will persist that other books of the prophets are all historical works, contemporary with the events they describe! The prophets are known entirely from the bible. They are not historical figures. Christian commentators will give convincing sounding lives and times of the prophets but they are paraphrases of the bible tied in with contemporary history also from the bible or from the supposed time of the events.

In a world that was happily polytheistic, biblicists believe it is credible that strange men should stand up and decry all the deities that people knew and loved, and mainly escape with their lives. Not only that, but their obviously unpalatable message that there was only one god—the prophets carried on with their ranting for several hundred years (c 800-c 600 BC) with no apparent effect—nevertheless, and inconsistently, was recorded in a time and place where writing was expensive and unusual so that it is now still readable in God’s Holy word. A miracle!

The core of the prophetic messages was in three parts—a rebuke, a call for repentance, and a threat. It was the threats that were supposedly prophetic, being the threat of conquest or exile—threats that were, remarkably enough, realised! They were realised, obviously enough, because the prophetic books were written after the events threatened had already occurred. They were written after the colonisation of Judah by the Persian colonists.

The Hebrew word for prophets is “nebiim”, singular, “nabi”, as plain as the nose on your face, a word derived from the name “Nabu” (Nebo, in the bible) of a Babylonian god—the one considered, like Mercury, to have been the messenger of the gods. A “nabi” in the Jewish scriptures is a man who brings a message from God. The message from God in the scriptures was the rebuke against idolatry—supposedly at a time when all religion consisted of worshipping idols or symbols—or apostasy, and the promised threat of retribution if the backsliding did not cease. To anyone rational, the nature of the rebuke and the realisation of prophesied threat ought to be proof enough that the books were not accounts of contemporary history, but were written when the rebuke meant something and the prophecy had already happened—after the “return” from Babylon.

The Persian religion was itself a singular religion in that it was the first to forbid representation of its transcendental God, Ahuramazda. The message of the prophets was the message of the Persian religion that could have meant nothing to the people of the Palestinian hills until Persians arrived to settle there after about 500 BC. The messages of the prophets also had a political function—the people of these tiny countries were warned not to support their powerful neighbours, Egypt and Babylonia, at a time when they were bound to be in the sphere of influence of one or the other. This additional message suited the Persian conquerors of these countries.

The significance of the prophets is immense in explaining the origins of Judaism. They were professional propagandists used by the Persians to predispose people towards their way of thinking, and it is known that Cyrus used such propagandists in preparing to attack a country. Propaganda was doubtless always their function. They were messengers all right but were messengers usually for the king or various parties acting in the country. They were the radio stations or news stands, or the equivalent of the medieval town cryer, but sponsored by different factions.

Prophets were the soap box orators of their time. They stood on market places or at cross roads haranguing the passing crowds with their assessment of the state of the nation. At certain times, some will have been favouring foreign intervention. Prophets claimed to be speaking on behalf of God and they proclaimed it, defended it and fought for it like latter day politicians. In fact, they did not do this out of the love of God or from his instructions but, just as politicians do at election times—to influence the people.

Christians, even clever ones, think that prophets could read the future. Many Christian scholars and commentators accept that they foresaw the fall of Jerusalem or Babylon or Tyre. Thus, they can tell us without a blush that Isaiah lived in the seventh century and Daniel in the sixth century, even though they prophesied later events. It ought to be evident that Isaiah and Daniel either lived after their supposed prophecies occurred, or their prophecies and probably they too were projected into the past by later writers who knew what had happened.

The prophetic books are misplaced in our bibles, appearing at the back of the Old Testament, but they had been written when most other books including the Pentateuch were being written as is plain from prophetic references and allusions. Even within the books of prophets, they are not in their correct order. Except for the short works, the books of the prophets were obviously not written by a single author, despite absurd recent attempts by purblind Christian “scholars” to maintain the opposite, contrary to the obvious clues within the books themselves. They are collections of visions and utterances compiled and placed into an historical situation as a pseudepigraph.

Some prophets do not have their own books but appear in the “historical” section of the bible. Elijah and Elisha are the best known. Really Elijah and Elisha two are the two sides of the same coin. They appear in the Deuteronomic History as the prophets who oppose and defeat the worshippers of the Baals. Elijah, which means “My God is Yehouah”, stands for the struggle against the Canaanite gods, in which the prophet, as his name implies, is the determined assertion of the new god, Yehouah defying the native religions. Elisha, which means “My God is Salvation”, is the prophet symbolising Yehouah’s victory over the Baals—Yehouah is asserted and the people saved by their allegiance to him. The Canaanite gods are in disarray, the objects only of apostasy. Again, the pair symbolize the El to Yehouah transition that occurred in the fifth century.


Nothing in the book of Isaiah after chapter 39 is the work of the eighth century prophet, and perhaps even very little before.
B S J Isserlin, The Israelites


Isaiah is supposed to be an eighth century prophet living in Jerusalem, and the first 39 chapters maintain that pretence. Chapter 40-55 are more honest, being supposedly written in the “exile”, while the last chapters 56-66 seem to be written some time after the “return.”

If the prophets were Persian propagandists, they were fifth and fourth century figures partly written back into the imaginary history of the Jews to give a mixed group of colonists a basis for self identity, unity and patriotism. Even then, within the major sections, there are obvious inserts of different authorship and date. Commentators make out that each prophet founded a prophetic school and the biblical “prophet” is a compilation of the work of members over the years. A simpler hypothesis is that the words of official propagandists had been collected thematically for the use of the temple priesthood in warning the people to be obedient. The theme is reflected in the name of the prophet, so the book of a prophet of a certain name began as a collection of oracles or warnings by Persian infiltrators or sympathisers with a particular message.

William Neil, in his popular one volume commentary on the bible, can say:

It was in Babylon that the Jews most noticeably acquired their sense of being different, of being a peculiar and indeed superior race.


The truth is that this sense was not acquired, it was deliberately given to them by the Persians so that they would set up the temple state of Yehud. The prophets were the people who conditioned them into their beliefs. They were taught by prophets before they had any law, and possibly in some cases like Ezekiel before they were transported to Yehud.

Commentators will tell us that in “exile”, the Jews, devoid of a temple for expression of their piety, expressed it in ways that made them unusual and exclusive in the foreign society. They emphasized the sabbath, their food taboos and their cleanliness and purity laws. These practices “marked them out as being different.” It is nonsense. The sabbath was observed by the Babylonians who considered it an unlucky day and did not work on it. The Persians observed meticulous food and purity laws because in their Zoroastrian religion, some things were of the evil creation and polluted Ahuramazda’s good creation. Thus, they had to be avoided. What reason had the Jews for avoiding them? When the Babylonians and their conquerors observed with better reason, the supposed practices of the alien Jews, how were they making themselves different? They were doing the opposite. They were assimilating to the local customs and practices not expressing their own exclusiveness derived from a supposed unique religious conviction.

The “returners” were not an exiled ethnic group of people but people of mixed race, probably mainly Aramaeans and Assyrians from the small kingdoms in the north of the Levant and Syria, possibly with some Greeks. They will have had some initial coaching in a simplified form of Zoroastrianism, giving rise to the idea that some of the prophets worked in exile, but then were sent on their imposed mission to set up a “kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ex 19:6)—the temple state and tresury of Abarnahara.

First Isaiah

Christian commentators ask us to consider the time and the place of the prophecies to put them in context, but every point of detail we have about their time and place is supplied by the same book of myths. Some historical events, known by the Persian compilers from Assyrian records, served as an historical framework. First Isaiah pretends to be in Jerusalem before its fall to the Babylonians, in the period of Assyrian domination. It uses the conquests of these two aggressive nations to warn the colonists and the native people they are to rule that the same fate can be expected if they do not obey God.

First Isaiah has been considerable edited and expanded at a later date, probably finally in the time of the Maccabees by the Hasids or Essenes whose apocalyptic interests it reflects, but the original collection would have inspired the additions. It is plainly indebted to the editors of the Deuteronomic History because the last chapters of First Isaiah are copied from Kings, and much of its style and interests are like those of the Deuteronomic Historian—the perpetual theme of apostasy and punishment, obedience to the True God and reward.

The colonists were led to believe that their dedication would be an act in the victory over evil. It looks forward to a period of peace under a just ruler, a barely veiled allusion to the Persian King, though presented as an eschatological saviour. He would bring about a renewal of the world, a new creation free of evil and corruption. The burden of preparing for this task was placed upon Israel who therefore were given an onerous duty but with the promise of the honour and reward that its success would bring. Christians might be right that the Emmanuel “prophecy” was of an eschatological saviour whom God would send to bring about the renewal, but this was the Persian viceroy for God on earth.

Second Isaiah

Second Isaiah is the heart of the redactional process (Rendtorff, Williamson)—the original Isaiah, to which the other two have been added. The eighth century prophet does not appear in the book after Isaiah 39, a problem that Christians resolve by the eighth century prophet’s ability as a clairvoyant. King David is a mythological character invented by the authors of the Deuteronomic History. He appears ten times in Isaiah, nine of them in First Isaiah, indicating that it is written by some author with the same interests and precedents. Second Isaiah makes one mention of David in its final chapter, but it was probably inserted, because it and the one sentence following it appear out of the blue. An editor added it thinking it was appropriate in a list of the benefits of the New Covenant. Both Second Isaiah and Third Isaiah were written before David was invented when Cyrus was considered the saviour king of Judah.

The whole of Isaiah, in traditional commentaries, is prejudiced by the acceptance of the propaganda that the colonists from Persia were returning Jews. Plainly they were presented in that way but the later interpreters have gone much further than even the originals. Second Isaiah seems to be propaganda contemporaneous with the “returners”—the colonists being sent to form the temple state. It instructs the colonists on how to present propaganda to the native Canaanites.

From Deutero-Isaiah, G Garbini sees Isaiah as having a religious vision of Yehouah as Ahuramazda, and wanting to spread the idea, but “once again, it remained unheard”. He sees the Iranian consequences as marginal, and more of a “literary legacy than a real ideological adherence”. A professor only of philology might conclude this, but it is a serious blind spot for someone like Garbini. If he had seriously compared Judaism with Zoroastrianism, and wondered why it should be that the latter explains practices in the former that it does not explain, then the relationship of the two would be undeniable.

The two diverged when Judaism became Hellenized then Rabbinized, and Alexander tried to destroy the Persian religion by torching its holy texts. Zoroastrianism survived by eastern regimes subsequently picking up the pieces but much had been lost forever. Even so, too much is alike in the pieces of each that remain of Judaism and Zoroastrianism, and the fact that the latter has the answers shows it to be primary.

Great civilisations can culturally conquer their conquerors—Babylon was doing it to the Persians when its empire ended—but not insignificant and unpopulated backwaters. Garbini thinks the Jews, a subject people, could act independently of the Persian ministries, saying, “With Xerxes, the Jews detached themselves from the Persian monarchy”, because he was a tyrant who upset them. It seems the Jews joined the Egyptians in rebellions when Xerxes died in 465 BC. The Egyptian princes Inaros and Amyrtaeus were eventually defeated and Inaros was executed in 454 BC, ending the rebellion. Greeks had fought for the Egyptians and the Satrap of Abarnahara, Megabyxos, had promised them safety if they surrendered, which they did, but was then obliged on higher authority to despatch the Greek captives. On a point of honour he refused and fought two victories against his friend Artaxerxes before they agreed a truce.

The Jews would have been involved in either or both of these rebellions, and the despatch of Nehemiah looks to have been the outcome. The intransigence of the Jews in mid-century had forced the hand of Artaxerxes. The king had tried and failed to punish Megabyxos, and seemed to decide a better policy was that an anti-Egyptian buffer had to be set up as soon as feasible in Yehud. Such colonization as had already happened had been ineffective, as the rebellion showed, and Nehemiah was sent to sort the Jewish buffer state out. The city and temple, if they had been restored at all hitherto, were again razed in these wars, but the policy was now to rebuild as quickly as possible. In Isaiah 44:28, Jerusalem and the temple are spoken of as newly founded and built by Cyrus. Plainly, Jerusalem had been devastated so thoroughly, that it had to be founded and built anew by the Persian settlers. Pussy-footing ceased and a mass of deportees were obliged to impose the restored worship of Yehouah. Ezra launched the new system about 417 BC in the reign of Darius II. This was when the colonists were sent to take control of the unruly state, and the proper worship of Yehouah was finally instituted by Ezra.

The titles of Yehouah denote him as Ahuramazda. Even Garbini wonders how a subject people can make claims contrary to the ruling people about their god. Both gods could not have been the “god of heaven” without conflict, in this view. The answer is obvious. They could, if they were the same god but simply with a different name. Garbini freely accepts:

If there is one God, He is God of all men. They may call Him by different names but He always remains the same.
Giovanni Garbini


The Persians understood that a universal God did not have to have the same name in every language. They also understood better than worshippers of the Hebrew god for the next 2,500 years that religion was a poltical policy from the outset.

The Persians “restored” the old religions particularly of people who did not resist them or rebel against them. Those who rebelled had their temples destroyed! The restored religions however were not restored as they had been but how they ought to be, in the Persian view. The Persians did not aim to replace Marduk with Ahuramazda, but they transformed Marduk into Ahuramazda. It seems obvious that this was not an instantaneous policy. It was one which continued throughout the reigns of the kings, although it was always referred to its initiator, Cyrus. Ezra did not impose a Persian law on to the Jews until 100 years after Cyrus, and the imposition was probably because the Jews had assisted either the Egyptians or Megabyzos in rebellion, but Cyrus was nevertheless cited as the initiator of the restoration.

Ezra 1:1 mentions the edict of the first year of Cyrus, but it is absurd to imagine that the instant that Cyrus issued an edict of restoration that thousands of Jews returned. It seems that the colonisation of such a poor land was not taken up by many expatriot Jews or anyone else, and eventually, the rebellious Jews were punished by having colonists deported into the land to rule them. Garbini wonders how Isaiah could attack Marduk and Nabu in his book when the Cyrus cylinder praises them. He ackowledges that these are propaganda works but seems not to understand propaganda. Propaganda has a specific audience. Cyrus knew this but not Garbini. If each god being favoured was to be shown as the universal God who favoured the Shah, then all other gods were to be disparaged by the propaganda for that God. So Bel and Nebo would bow before Yehouah in his propaganda, but Yehouah would bow down before Bel in his propaganda.

Isaiah speaks (Isa 43:3; 45:14) of the conquest of Egypt, Cush and Saba. This must have been written after the reign of Cambyses when Cyrus was already dead, though Isaiah sounds as if he were alive. Garbini thinks that Isaiah 40-48 “reflects precisely the political ideology of Darius”. He therefore dates it to 500 BC, but, as C Herrenschmidt, in Studia Iranica (1977), has shown, it was Darius the Great and subsequent monarchs of Persia who devised the notion of the Shahanshah as the earthly mirror of the God who created the world. The parallels of Isaiah 42:5-7 with Yasna 44 of the Avesta, and the juxtaposition of Cyrus and God in parallel passages (40:12-32, God; 41:1-5, Cyrus; 41:25-42:7, God; 44:27-45:8, Cyrus) could certainly not have been written until the reign of Darius the Great, but probably not until later in the fifth century. By this time, Cyrus was invariably specified as the originator of the policy whichever Persian king was actually implementing it.

The rebellion of Babylon, put down by Darius, along with other rebellions, appears (Isa 47), but Darius did not convert from being a devotee of Marduk back to worshipping Ahuramazda, as the case would have to have been if Cyrus in his cylinders had really taken up Marduk worship. The policy was to restore the gods of nations that co-operated but rebellions were not considered as co-operation. Rebellious people had their temples and gods destroyed. This was no change of policy. Nor was this the Darius under whom the Jewish religion was restored in Yehud, though the biblical authors obviously did not realise there were two kings Darius, and so thought the restoration had happened in the reign of the famous one.

Second-Isaiah is really itself two Isaiahs, or is in two acts, one from 40-48 and the other from 49-55. The first is concerned with the time of the return itself and the second with the immediate period of the return. The first mentions Cyrus and Babylon, the second does not. The first appeals to prophecy through history, not the later verses. In the earlier verses, the redeemed community is Jacob-Israel and Israel is explicitly the “servant.” In the later verses, the references are to Jerusalem.

Isaiah 40-48 announces Cyrus the Persian as the messiah. Cyrus is Yehouah’s choice of earthly regent just as he was Marduk’s choice in Babylon. Cyrus’s tactic was to set up propagandists in neighbouring countries to persuade them of his future success. He aimed to undermine any spirit of resistance and make people feel they were backing a winner. With the morale of opponents weakened and the will of supporters strengthened, he could chose the appropriate time to act—when the response would be most favourable. The Babylonians offered no resistance to Cyrus when his soldiers got to its gates. Most of the people welcomed the Persian conquerors. His “prophets” had laid the ground and the result was a bloodless victory.

In Isaiah, the appeal to the Jews is shown as being contemporary, but it is more likely to be a later king making use of Cyrus’s historic pronouncements with the usual intention of giving a historical authority to current decisions. The return is depicted as the gracious act of a merciful God, the same propaganda as that used by the Persians in Babylon. By tying it to the edicts of Cyrus, God is shown as acting in history through the Persian kings as saviours.

In Second Isaiah 49-55, the colonists are actually sent to Jerusalem, the year being around 420 BC, and the “return” is shown as a victory for the whole world (Isa 45:22-23)—which was in practice Abarnahara. Jerusalem is the centre of true revelation, the centre of worship and the witness to God’s salvation.

A key concept introduce in Second Isaiah is that of the suffering servant. This will have been a persobification of the colonists themselves returning as a servant suffering for God (Isa 42:1-4;49:1-6; 50:4-9; 52:13-53:12) that the final victory be won. However, the odd distribution of these references looks as if they have been inserted later, and they could be specific references to the Essene Righteous Teacher inserted as late as the second century BC.

Comfort Ye My People

Second Isaiah is mainly in verse, and the structure of Attic plays suggests Isaiah 40-55 is drama with stage instructions. The Greek war against Persia lasted from 492 to 479 BC. Aeschylus’s drama, The Persians, was already performed in 472—only eight years after the Persians had been defeated at the battle of Salamis. Aeschylus grapples with Persian rule, but there, even from a Greek viewpoint, Cyrus is an ideal ruler as in Isaiah.

It has a prologue and epilogue, and is divided into separate acts and scenes. The songs of a chorus separate the major units of the epeisodioi from one another, an epeisodion being that part of the tragedy in its full extent which is played out between the choral interludes, as Aristotle has it. The choral interludes had the practical purpose, because there was no curtain in the ancient theatres, of allowing time for changes of roles and costumes, and allow for time to pass between the different parts of the action. They also explained the action so that the audience did not miss its nuances. There were no stage directions. The place and time of the action, what was happening, and who was speaking, had to be deduced from the text, which therefore contained suitable clues.

Deutero-Isaiah seems older even than Attic drama. Compared with Egyptian texts, Deutero-Isaiah departs more radically from ritual and its explanation—say, of the cultic vessels or sacrificial ceremonies. A speaker is continually announcing the action. Procession, dance and music fill up the time. The number of the chief performers is small, especially the number of those with speaking parts. Two to three actors suffice. Jacob/Israel (from Isaiah 41 onward) and Zion/Jerusalem (from Isaiah 48 onward) do not appear simultaneously. The sole exception is 51:12-16. But there neither Zion/Jerusalem nor Jacob/Israel is called by name. They are a nameless pair who do not themselves speak. So they could have been played by non-speaking stand-ins or trinees. Cyrus and Babylon do not meet either.

It begins with the narrator saying God commanded some unspecified group, the imperative being plural, of devotees to comfort “His people.”

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God.


The people being thus commanded, according to Christian commentators are the “exiles” in Babylon, but who then are “my people?” Piety demands that the exiles should comfort themselves, but the problem is solved if the people being instructed are the Yehouist colonists being sent to Jerusalem to set up the temple state. “My people” are the people who would thus be comforted, the people of the Persian satrapy of Abarnahara. The colonists are being transported to Jerusalem and are told:

Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplished, that her iniquity is pardoned: for she hath received of Yehouah’s hand double for all her sins.


The exile has been twice what is was meant to be. The first instruction to the colonists is to tell the locals that they have been forgiven for their previous sins! This was at first and remained the prime propaganda to the people of the temple state—they had been sinners and had been punished by Yehouah for it. The implied threat is that they would be punished again, if they reverted to their bad practices, but would be treated comfortably if they were obedient to God.

The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness, Prepare ye the way of Yehouah, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of Yehouah shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of Yehouah hath spoken it.


The beginning is the passage quoted wrongly, in the Christian New Testament, applied to John the Baptist, a typical Essenic variant reading applied by Christians. The grandiose promises here mean that the setting up of the temple state is an eschatological act that will help to reveal God and bring about the restoration of the world. The levelling of hills and filling of dales all pertain to the eschaton, proved by the promise of a theophany, which is instantaneous because it is seen simultaneously by all living creatures. These colonists were being given a role in salvation.


The voice said, Cry. And he said, What shall I cry? All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field: The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: because the spirit of Yehouah bloweth upon it: surely the people is grass. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth: but the word of our God shall stand for ever.


This seems also to be part of the eschatological explanation, but its presentation suggests a call and response liturgy. Here the colonists are speaking in answer to the prophet/priest earlier. The acknowledgement is that human beings are like grass and so any one might not see the revelation at the end. The “word” mentioned here seems to bracket with the earlier “wilderness” which has the same root. In the wilderness the vegetation withers and fades but the metaphorical word of Yehouah does not. Wilderness therefore seems to stand for the material corrupt world which will end in God’s Judgement.


O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God!


The message they are meant to convey is that they should see and accept the “good tidings” of their God as Yehouah, a new god to the natives of the Canaanite hills of Palestine.


Behold, the Lord God (really, “Behold your God, Behold my Lord Yehouah”) will come with strong hand, and his arm shall rule for him: behold, his reward is with him, and his work before him.


The proper doublet distinguishes the imposed god from the Lord of the imposers. Naturally, it was the same god, but the relationship would be different. The colonists were an elite class while the natives were to be converts to the new religion. The work was before Him and His agents temporally, and the “reward” is the reward the ruling colonists would recieve when they had completed God’s work. Riches were therefore regarded as a reward of God in Judaism.


He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.


The poem concludes with a homely metaphor assuring the colonists that they would be carefully looked after like a shepherd watching over his flock. This too was to be a lasting metaphor in Judaism and Christianity.

Arguably, some of the verses have been misplaced, but the overall sense remains. The colonists had a job to do and would be cared for and rewarded for doing it.

Can other biblical writings be understood as “dramas” or a basis for a dramatization? It has to be seriously considered, for worship in Greek culture was dramatized often. The same might be true also of Mesopotamia, where dramatized programmes might have accompanied liturgies and processions. It has been long suggested that the Passion of Christ is a religious drama misunderstood by gentile observers who ran off and, taking it seriously, started Christianity.

Third Isaiah

In Third Isaiah, Jerusalem is in ruins (60:10) but the temple is built (56:7), and the Jews are interested in proselytizing (56:3-5). It must be meant to be after the time when Ezra returned, and the temple state was set up for all the nations of Abarnahara.

The one theme that unites the Isaiah books above all is that of the covenant. Second and Third Isaiah are dealing with a covenant that the people had to accept to be saved, and it appears thus four times in Second Isaiah and five times in Third Isaiah. First Isaiah is based on the premise that the covenant has been broken, and in two of the four places it mentions the word “covenant”, it is a “covenant of death” that the people have entered, while, in the other two passages, it is a “broken covenant.” It is plain then that First Isaiah is really Last Isaiah, being a later and more refined composition by the Deuteronomic Historian and later editors, highlighting the fact that the people had quickly neglected their duty to obey the covenant, while the utterances of the historic Isaiahs of the time of the Persian colonization were left relatively untouched.

The covenant is, of course, the vassalage treaty that Persia imposed on the state of Yehud by Ezra. These prophets will have preceded Ezra but knew that any vassal state would have to obey such a treaty and that it would be presented as God’s not the king’s—but the king acted for God! In the Jewish scriptures, God is synonymous with the Persian Shahanshah. The people were meant to understand Persian law as God’s law.


Isaiah is fond of using the word, “harab”, using it twelve times of the 37 times it occurs in the scriptures. The verb “harab” originally meant “to be dry.” From this, it also came to mean “to be waste.” Especially in the writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, the word “harab” denotes desolation and ruin. Horba is the noun meaning waste or desolate places (in Isaiah 48:21, “horba” means “deserts”) or ruins: Yehouah who will raise up the ruins of Jerusalem (44:26); their desolate places will one day be too limited for the increased population (49:19); Yehouah will comfort Zion’s waste places and transform them into an Eden (51:3); Jerusalem’s ruins will break forth into singing (52:9), as they will be rebuilt (58:12; 61:4).

Nehemiah (c 445 BC) learns that Jerusalem is still in ruins (Neh 2:3, 17), and Ezra thanks God for permitting the Jews to repair the temple’s ruins (Ezra 9:9). When the Jews’ dedication to rebuilding the temple flagged, the Haggai rebuked them with a play on words, proclaiming that because Yehouah’s house had remained “desolate” (“hareb”, Hag 1:4,9) Yehouah would bring a “drought” (“horeb”, Hag 1:11) upon the land. Jeremiah 33:10 promises that in the desolate place “without man or inhabitant or beast” voices of gladness would be heard once more.

Now curiously, Horeb, meaning dryness, drought, heat, desolation, because it was desolate, is an alternative name for Mount Sinai, the mountain of God, appearing 17 times in the bible, no less than nine of them are in Deuteronomy. In the hypothesis on these pages, Horeb was the original word used of the dry hilltop used as a High Place for worshipping Yehouah before the colonization. Horeb is Zion, which means the same. Zion means a dry and solitary but prominent place. These were the conditions described of the place where the temple was built. More happens at Horeb than we now know about (Deut 4:10; 9:8; 18:16). Moses struck the rock in Horeb (Ex 17:6), but not on Mount Sinai which the Israelites did not reach until later (Ex 19:1). The Israelites made a calf at Horeb (Ps 106:19). When Solomon installed the ark, it contained only the two tables of stone which Moses placed in it at Horeb (1 Kg 8:9; 2 Chr 5:10).

Horeb is Zion, and the priests changed Zion to Sinai when they invented the myth of the desert wanderings. Zion is never used by any biblical author in a book that uses Sinai. Sinai appears in Deuteronomy, but only once in the song of Moses which is plainly an addition by the priestly school that invented the myth of the Exodus. Horeb appears three times in Exodus (Ex 3:1; 17:6; 33:6), but otherwise Sinai is used (13 times), and Sinai is used exclusively in the priestly book, Leviticus.

In the myth of David, the king bought a threshing floor from the Jebusite Araunah (Ornan), at the highest elevation of the plateau. Threshing floors were often places of worship in the ancient near east, and were preferably dry places. Araunah’s threshing floor was plainly a High Place, an open air sanctuary. This is the place where David chose to put the Ark of the Covenant and his son, Solomon, built the temple, in the legend. The place was called Mount Zion, the home of Yehouah and therefore the mountain of God. L M Luker in Lutterworth’s Dictionary of the Bible, comments:

In a sense then, Yehouah moved his mountain abode from Sinai to Zion.


Sinai was never, in fact, anything other than a mythicized Mount Zion. It was a Canaanite High Place, then, early in the Persian period, a Persian style open air sanctuary, and finally Darius II built a treasury there in the form of a traditional enclosed temple in a fortified city. The priests writing the myth of Moses, under the sponorship of the Egyptian Ptolemies, transposed Zion a millennium back in history to become Sinai where God appeared to Moses and gave him the law.


Jeremiah is a confused book but has a consistent theme, that of decrying the people for being apostates and warning them to change their ways from worshipping Canaanite Gods. The book is set towards the end of the kingdom of Judah. Good king Hezekiah (714-686 BC) had been succeeded by bad king Manasseh (686-641 BC) who is supposed to have brought back the Canaanite deities outlawed getting on for a millennium before by Moses. Despite Manasseh’s apostasy, good king Josiah (639-609 BC) had followed on, but apparently God was not appeased by the good deeds of the good kings and destroyed Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians anyway (586 BC).

The name Josiah is a variant of Joshua and he is supposed to have found a hidden book of the law, assumed to have been Deuteronomy, and put it into effect. Josiah is offered as a king who is a saviour, whence Josiah, but he was not a saviour because Jerusalem was ruined. He has the name because he was presented as the one who discovered the law and first put it into effect. The Persians under Ezra really introduced the law (Deuteronomy) based on Zoroastrian law and imperial needs, but to give it credibility, the Persians used their ruse of telling the people that the law was their own law and had been implemented by Josiah 200 years before. Who could dispute it? Under this law, all native and foreign cults were suppressed in favour of that of Yehouah, and every shrine other than the temple closed. No such law could have been Canaanitish. It was a Persian law and so could not have been a law of Josiah 200 years before. That is propaganda to persuade the people to accept as their own an unpopular law.

Jeremiah was writing after the tribes of the Medes had been united as a nation, and knows that the king of the Medes plotted against Babylon:

Make bright the arrows. Gather the shields. Yehouah hath raised up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, for his device is against Babylon, to destroy it, because it is the vengeance of Yehouah, the vengeance of his temple.
Jeremiah 51:11


The message of Jeremiah is that the people have not properly taken the religious and social changes to heart. They have adopted them superficially and insincerely. Yehud had therefore already been colonized but the changes were not being fully accepted. Jeremiah is shown as being unpopular himself for delivering this message and as deciding to write rather than preach, but king Jehoiakim derides his written work too. It is easy to see that Jeremiah was unpopular—he criticized everyone in society, kings, nobles, priests and the apostate people.

Effectively, Jeremiah is justification for the colonists, supposed to be Jewish “exiles”, taking over the country. The “returners” would set up a regenerated country over which a Davidic king would reign—an interpolation alluding to the eschatological role of the temple state. The ungrateful people reject him and he dies in Egypt.

His real significance is in formulating the idea of a “New Covenant” (31:31-34). According to the later biblical myth, the original covenant was that of Moses in about 1300 BC, but Moses was really Ezra in about 400 BC, the law he presented being misunderstood as the law of Moses, from the failure of the Canaanite people to understand properly the word, Ahuramazda, taking it to be “Torah Moshe.” Jeremiah is a little later, in fact, because the people have not accepted the reforms and he urges them to put the covenant in their hearts. He urges a personal commitment rather than formal sacerdotalism, putting him close to the later Hasidim or Essenes than to the temple priesthood. Whether this is the result of editing, it impossible to say.


Ezekiel is presented as a priest sent into exile before the destruction of Jerusalem. Ezekiel’s book seems to be a single work of a single author, but a closer look betrays some seams. Certainly Ezekiel has been meticulously edited to give it a complete and polished look, uncharacteristic of some of the other scriptural works.

Ezekiel is offered as the Jewish equivalent of Zoroaster, both having a startling vision of God to set them on the road to prophecy. The first half of the book contains warnings to Jerusalem then follows warnings to other nations and finally from chapters 33 to 48 are set out how the temple city of Jerusalem was intended to be, including detailed specifications for the architecture of the proposed temple.

Ezekiel 14:14 mentions Job and king David, so it must be later than these late constructs. Such a highly polished book is likely to be late and C C Torrey, judging from language and historical allusions, thought it was written about 230 BC. This is the time of the Egyptian Greek rulers, the Ptolemies, who began by being favourable to the Jerusalem cult. It is likely that in this period the priests developed the detail of the sacerdotal practice of the temple, and introduced more and more resons for offering sacrifices to keep themselves in their comforatble work. Most of the Pentateuch will have been written at this time for the Ptolemies to keep in their new library at Alexandria.

The concerns of Ezekiel could have placed it at the time of the Persian colonists, but much of the detail shows the interests of later priests, those that devised the Priestly Codes. It might be that there is a prophet of the fifth century at the centre of Ezekiel, but he seems to be overlaid thickly with later material and plenty of polish! Thus the design of the temple in Ezekiel might have been overelaborated by the third century priests who saw it as an ideal or heavenly temple, but they might have had an original specification sent with the returners. The hold ups and delays, that Ezra, Nehemiah, Haggai and Zechariah speak of, perhaps necessitated a more utilitarian design and the specification came to be seen as an ideal, then got even more idealized in the copying.

Ezekiel is written mainly in prose unlike the other major prophets. Perhaps for that reason, he does not use the word “Zion” for Jerusalem. Most of the poetic prophets and the Psalms use it considerably, though it hardly appears otherwise in the scriptures. Ezekiel, however, is also unusual compared with his supposed contemporary, Jeremiah, for example in not being interested in Jerusalem and Judah compared with Israel. Since the Persians were intent on setting up the temple state of Yehud, Ezekiel must have shown that in his work, but he uses “Israel” almost exclusively.


Continue: The Psalms  as Propaganda



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