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The boundaries of Persia varied from era to era, but the name Persia is usually associated with the territory on the northern side of the Persian Gulf. In ancient times the north-western part of this territory (the area that bordered the Mesopotamian Plain) was known as Elam (Genesis 14:1). At times the Bible makes a distinction between Elamites and Persians (Ezra 4:9), but usually Elam is simply another name for Persia (Isaiah 11:11; Isaiah 21:2; Jeremiah 25:25; Jeremiah 49:35-39). Regions to the north of Elam that were later closely allied with Persia were Media and Parthia (Esther 1:18; Acts 2:9).


Persia’s period of greatest power was during the reign of the Emperor Cyrus. Having come to the Persian throne about 558 BC, Cyrus proceeded to enlarge his territory, as one by one he conquered kingdoms large and small. One of his greatest triumphs was the conquest of Media. Media then became Persia’s strongest ally, and its leaders shared in the civil and military leadership of the expanding Persian Empire. So closely were the Medes and the Persians associated that people sometimes used their names interchangeably. The greatest victory for the Medo-Persian army came in 539 BC, when it conquered Babylon and Cyrus became undisputed ruler of the region (Isaiah 13:17; Isaiah 21:1-10; Isaiah 44:28; Isaiah 45:1; Jeremiah 51:11; Jeremiah 51:28; Daniel 5:30-31; Daniel 8:20; Daniel 9:1; Daniel 10:1).

Upon becoming ruler of Babylon, Cyrus quickly gave permission for all the people held captive by Babylon in foreign lands to return to their homelands. As a result many of the Jews returned to Jerusalem, where they soon began rebuilding the temple and the city (Ezra 1:1-4). They completed the temple in 516 BC, in the reign of a later Emperor, Darius (Ezra 6:14-15). (This Darius is a different person from Darius the Mede, the man who led the Medo-Persian attack on Babylon over twenty years previously; cf. Daniel 5:30-31.)

When at times non-Jewish people of the region opposed and persecuted the Jews in Jerusalem, the Persian rulers protected the Jews (Ezra 5:3-17; Ezra 6:1-12; Nehemiah 2:9-10; Esther 8:9-14). The Persian government even gave the Jews funds to help carry out their program for the reconstruction of their nation and religion (Ezra 6:8-10; Ezra 7:14-16; Ezra 7:21-24; Nehemiah 2:7-8). At times the Emperor gave his personal support to Jewish leaders who went from Persia to Jerusalem to teach and reform the Jewish people (Ezra 7:11-20; Nehemiah 2:5-8).

The capital of Persia was Susa, or Shushan (Esther 1:1-3; Esther 2:3; Esther 9:11; Daniel 8:2). The Empire was divided into provinces ruled by Persian or Median nobles (satraps), with local people under them as governors and other officials (Ezra 4:8-10; Ezra 5:3; Ezra 5:14; Ezra 6:2; Ezra 7:21; Nehemiah 2:9; Nehemiah 5:14; Nehemiah 7:2; Esther 3:1; Esther 8:9; Esther 10:3).

Persian rule lasted about two hundred years, but the biblical narratives cover little more than the first half of this period. Several Emperors feature in the record.


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Bibliography Information
Fleming, Don. Entry for 'Persia'. Bridgeway Bible Dictionary. 2004.

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