World’s Foremost Expert on the Cyrus Cylinder to Speak at Yale Peabody Museum May 1

Professor Irving Finkel, the Senior Assistant Keeper at the British Museum, will speak about the Cyrus Cylinder, one of the world’s most important artifacts connected to human rights, on May 1 at 6:30 pm.

Finkel’s talk will be the first ever held in the Yale Peabody Museum’s new Central Gallery. Tickets are available here.

Finkel, one of the world’s foremost experts on the Cyrus Cylinder, will offered an illustrated lecture entitled Cyrus and his Cylinder: What was he Thinking?, describing the reality about King Cyrus’s cylinder, and explaining how progress in archeological research has widened our understanding of the man and his motives. 

Finkel is a curator at the British Museum, in charge of cuneiform inscriptions on tablets of clay from ancient Mesopotamia, of which the Middle East Department has the largest collection- some 130,000 pieces – of any modern museum. He specializes in ancient Mesopotamian medicine and magic, and is also interested in literature, religion, and the history of ideas. He is also interested in the history of board games throughout the world. He is the best-selling author of The Ark Before Noah, which documents the newly translated tablet of the Babylonian story of the flood which was recorded on clay tablets long before it was written down in the Hebrew Bible, proving it to be one of the world’s most ancient and lasting stories.

His lectures on cracking ancient codes, the Ark before Noah, and deciphering the world’s oldest rule book have been viewed about 7 million times. 

The inscribed cylinder, named after King Cyrus I of Persia (now Iran), was excavated in 1879 by Mosul-born archaeologist and diplomat Hormuzd Rassam, who sent it to the British Museum in London. Another piece, donated to Yale University in 1922 by James B. Nies, was later reunited with the London fragment. The two pieces are usually on display together at the British Museum. 

The text, written in Babylonian cuneiform, begins with an account of the conquest of Babylon by Cyrus in 539 BC. The cylinder was written to be buried in the foundations of the city wall of Babylon. While the beginning of the text on the cylinder is a standard piece of propaganda castigating the previous ruler for his failings, the voice on the text switches to first person:
“I am Cyrus, king of the world, the great king, the powerful king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four quarters (of the world).… I returned to Ashur and Susa, to Akkad and Der, (the statues) of the gods who used to dwell therein and had them live there for evermore. I gathered all their (exiled) people and brought them back to their settlements .… All the people of Babylon persistently blessed my kingship, and I took care that all countries live in peace.”
Cyrus’ efforts to release people from captivity were likely a pragmatic approach to governance, however, the words echoed throughout the ancient world. For the Jewish people, Cyrus became a messiah like figure; still others, including his enemies, regarded him as a model ruler. 

Since its rediscovery in the 19th century, the Cyrus Cylinder has been used to promote various political and cultural agendas. Dubbed “the first charter of human rights” – a concept that would have been foreign to Cyrus himself – a copy of the Cyrus Cylinder is on display at the United Nations headquarters in New York City.

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Last updated on April 15, 2024

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