I spent the day yesterday with Hitler and Cyrus, murderer and deliverer of the people of Israel.
On Wednesday I drove to central Maryland to speak for the InterVarsity group at McDaniel College addressing the question, “Is God Sexist or Affirming?” (chapter 3 of God Behaving Badly). On Thursday morning, I drove down to DC where I would speak in the evening for the IV group at George Washington University addressing the question, “Is God Angry or Loving?” (chapter 2 of GBB). It wasn’t worth it for me to drive home, so I thought I’d visit museums in DC (they’re free).
I started with the Holocaust Museum which is celebrating its 20th year and I happened to arrive there while at the Capital festivities for the National Day of Remembrance were taking place. This visit was timely, since I just finished reading about Dietrich Bonhoeffer, the German theologian killed by the Nazi’s for participating in an assassination attempt of Hitler (see recent blog here).
At the end, I saw a survivor story video. She was a young mother, arriving at a concentration camp with her family (her infant son, her sister and her elderly mother). Her mother, the grandmother, discovered that mothers with young children are instantly killed, along with all the children and the elderly.
So the grandmother goes up to her daughter (the storyteller) and makes up a story, that if she is holding the grandson the guards will be easier on her. So the young mom hands her young son to her mother. Shortly after this the young mother and sister are spared, but the grandmother and grandson are set aside to be exterminated. It’s like Sophie’s Choice. Brutal.
Throughout the Museum, you read the refrain everywhere, “Never Again” and yet post-WWII genocides have taken place in Cambodia, Bosnia and Rwanda. And there’s a potential genocide going on right now in Syria. We are evil and need God’s help. God deliver us.
So, after reflecting on Hitler, the murderer of millions, I visited Cyrus, the deliverer of millions.
As I was getting out of the DC Metro to visit the Holocaust Museum I saw a advertizement that was shocking. Cyrus had come to town. Well, his cylinder at least.
The Cyrus Cylinder normally lives at the British Museum (where I’d seen it previously). It has never visited the US before, but until April 28, 2013 it is residing at the Sackler Gallery (Smithsonian). It continues on its 5-city US tour going on to Houston, New York, San Francisco, Los Angeles (check out those dates as it may be coming close to you).
Why should you bother to see the Cyrus Cylinder? If you need convincing, watch this TED talk from Neil MacGregor (director of the British Museum-or as they say, the BM). But if you don’t have time for the video, the Cyrus Cylinder is like an even more ancient version of the Magna Charta and the Declaration of Independence. It’s one of the most important artifacts of the ancient world. On second thought, just watch the TED talk. Or, here’s the Cliff Notes’ Version.
If that doesn’t do it for you, God calls Cyrus his anointed shepherd (sounds a bit like Jesus to me) in Isaiah 44:28-45:1. Yes, God liked him. No foreign rulers receives this much praise from God in the Bible. God would have wanted to see the Cylinder.
And if that doesn’t do it for you, recall that Cyrus was the Persian ruler who God spoke to and who therefore declared that all Israelite exiles could return to Israel, where God wanted them to rebuild the temple (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). These final verses of the Hebrew Bible (which is in a different order than English Bibles), have God speaking words of deliverance through a foreign ruler which, as MacGregor points out, are essentially a paraphrase of the words of the Cyrus Cylinder. Amazing.