We know what kind of people live in Jerusalem, Babylon and people like that, so I want to know a bit about the city of…
Prophecy Against False Prophets
1 And the word of the LORD came unto me, saying,
2 Son of man, prophesy against the prophets of Israel that prophesy, and say thou unto them that prophesy out of their own hearts, Hear ye the word of the LORD;
3 Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe unto the foolish prophets, that follow their own spirit, and have seen nothing!
4 O Israel, thy prophets are like the foxes in the deserts.
5 Ye have not gone up into the gaps, neither made up the hedge for the house of Israel to stand in the battle in the day of the LORD.
6 They have seen vanity and lying divination, saying, The LORD saith: and the LORD hath not sent them: and they have made others to hope that they would confirm the word.
“They have seen vanity” – whether the false prophets had actual visions is unknown, but they claimed to have received revelations from God when in reality their messages only proclaimed what their hearers wanted to hear (see Is 30:10; Jer 23:9-17; 2 Tim 4:3).
7 Have ye not seen a vain vision, and have ye not spoken a lying divination, whereas ye say, The LORD saith it; albeit I have not spoken?
8 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Because ye have spoken vanity, and seen lies, therefore, behold, I am against you, saith the Lord GOD.
9 And mine hand shall be upon the prophets that see vanity, and that divine lies: they shall not be in the assembly of my people, neither shall they be written in the writing of the house of Israel, neither shall they enter into the land of Israel; and ye shall know that I am the Lord GOD.
10 Because, even because they have seduced my people, saying, Peace; and there was no peace; and one built up a wall, and, lo, others daubed it with untempered mortar:
11 Say unto them which daub it with untempered mortar that it shall fall: there shall be an overflowing shower; and ye, O great hailstones, shall fall; and a stormy wind shall rend it.
12 Lo, when the wall is fallen, shall it not be said unto you, Where is the daubing wherewith ye have daubed it?
13 Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will even rend it with a stormy wind in my fury; and there shall be an overflowing shower in mine anger, and great hailstones in my fury to cons
14 So will I break down the wall that ye have daubed with untempered mortar, and bring it down to the ground, so that the foundation thereof shall be discovered, and it shall fall, and ye shall be consumed in the midst thereof: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
15 Thus will I accomplish my wrath upon the wall, and upon them that have daubed it with untempered mortar, and will say unto you, The wall is no more, neither they that daubed it;
16 To wit, the prophets of Israel which prophesy concerning Jerusalem, and which see visions of peace for her, and there is no peace, saith the Lord GOD.
17 Likewise, thou son of man, set thy face against the daughters of thy people, which prophesy out of their own heart; and prophesy thou against them,
18 And say, Thus saith the Lord GOD; Woe to the women that sew pillows to all armholes, and make kerchiefs upon the head of every stature to hunt souls! Will ye hunt the souls of my people, and will ye save the souls alive that come unto you?
“Women that sew pillows to all armholes” – exactly what the women were doing is not known, but that it was some kind of black magic or voodoo is clear.
19 And will ye pollute me among my people for handfuls of barley and for pieces of bread, to slay the souls that should not die, and to save the souls alive that should not live, by your lying to my people that hear your lies?
“For handfuls of barley” – involvement in religious matters of any kind of gain is consistently condemned in the Bible.
“To…slay” – the women had used their evil powers to unjust ends, involving even matters of life an death.
20 Wherefore thus saith the Lord GOD; Behold, I am against your pillows, wherewith ye there hunt the souls to make them fly, and I will tear them from your arms, and will let the souls go, even the souls that ye hunt to make them fly.
21 Your kerchiefs also will I tear, and deliver my people out of your hand, and they shall be no more in your hand to be hunted; and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
22 Because with lies ye have made the heart of the righteous sad, whom I have not made sad; and strengthened the hands of the wicked, that he should not return from his wicked way, by promising him life:
23 Therefore ye shall see no more vanity, nor divine divinations: for I will deliver my people out of your hand: and ye shall know that I am the LORD.
Lost Cities of the Near and Middle-East:
Persepolis (3 of 8)
Location: Fars Province, Iran
Date of Construction: 513 B.C.
Abandoned: 8th century B.C.
Built by: Darius the Great of the Achaemenid Persian Empire
Key features: Monumental Terrace; Gate of all Nations; Apadana Audience hall; Hall of one Hundred Columns; Tombs of the Kings; Palaces of Darius and Xerxes; Treasury and Harem; Reliefs; Clay Tablets
In the rocky uplands of modern-day Iran, silent ruins atop a huge terrace bear mute witness to the glory of a long-vanished kingdom – the Achaemenid Empire, sometimes described as the first world empire.
Where once a forest of mighty columns supported massive roofs of cedar and teak, today only a few remain. Yet extensive surviving reliefs and carvings attest to the pomp and ceremony that was the lifeblood of this courtly capital.
The ruins of Persepolis lie around 43 miles to the northeast of the city of Shiraz, on the eastern edge of a plain known as the Marv Dasht, in the province of Fars. The name itself is actually a Greek rendition of the original name Parsa, both meaning simply “city of the Persians”. It was constructed to serve as the ceremonial capital of the Achaemenid Empire.
The Achaemenids were a dynasty of Persian kings who emerged from relative obscurity in the middle of the 6th century B.C. when Cyrus II (also known as Cyrus the Great, reign 559-530 B.C.) unified the competing kingdoms of Persia and swept across the Middle and Near East to acquire a vast empire.
He snatched the imperial mantle from its ancient Mesopotamian heartland and conquered territories from the Levant to Bactria and Sogdiana in Central Asia. His heirs extended the empire to Egypt, Asia Minor and into Greece, creating a globe-spanning polity that was the first to connect the Mediterranean world to the borders of India and China in a single kingdom.
New Emperor – New Capital
Cyrus made his capital at Pasargadae, but after the death of his successor Cambyses (522 B.C.) there was an intense struggle for the throne that ended when Darius I (again later known as “the Great,” reign 521-486 B.C.) assumed the crown.
To bolster the legitimacy of his claim and assert majesty and dominion in his own right he founded a new and glorious capital, a city of such splendor that it would proclaim and affirm his right to rule the world as the king of kings.
Accordingly work was begun on a site chosen for its impressive aspect, where a vast and imposing terrace of stone would support great buildings calculated to awe subjects and visiting rulers alike.
The discovery by archaeologists of construction sites where the builders’ rubble had yet to be removed shows that work continued on the site under Darius’s successors, right up until the Achaemenid Empire was conquered in the late 4th century B.C.
The Terrace and Main Buildings
A huge terrace of stone was partly carved out of the rocky hill (known as the Kuh-e Rahmat or “Mountain of Mercy”) that the site backs on to, and raised up above the surrounding plain. The terrace was 1,476 feet long and 984 feet wide – covering over 1/3 million square feet), and rose 46 feet above the plain.
Although there is no trace of them now, ancient sources record that the terrace was bounded by three huge walls, the greatest of which was said to be 88½ feet high. Massive staircases from the plain led up to the terrace, with steps wide and low enough for horses to pass freely up and down.
The main staircase onto the site was on the northwest corner, leading to a huge gatehouse built by Xerxes – known as either Xerxes’ Gate or the Gate of All Nations (symbolizing the extent of Achaemenid rule), and the ruins of which still remain.
Massive double doors of wood bound in metal gave on to a hall with four 39½ feet high columns. Two other doorways led out to the eastern and southern sectors of the site. The doors were flanked by huge carved bulls and hybrid beasts – winged, human-headed bulls – a motif of kingship and power borrowed from Mesopotamia.
To the south of the gate stood the greatest building, the Apadana, an audience hall begun by Darius and completed by Xerxes. The main hall was 197 feet on each side, with 62¼ feet high columns holding up a roof of oak and cedar beams, imported from the Levant.
The capitols of each column were carved into the shapes of animal heads. Along three sides were deep porticoes with more great columns, and huge staircases led up to the north and east facades.
These still stand, and are decorated with impressive reliefs, which are among the finest surviving examples of Achaemenid art. They show 23 pairs of delegates from the nations of the empire, bringing tribute for the king (who is shown holding audience).
Some of them hold barsom sheaves – bundles of sticks/grasses that had a sacred, ceremonial purpose – and it is thought that the relief may show the celebration of the Persian New Year festival.
It is interesting to note that depictions of the king at Persepolis appear to show him as much larger than his subjects, reflecting the ultimate purpose of the decoration and indeed the overall architecture of the city.
On the eastern side of the terrace sit the remains of another audience hall, known as the Hall of One Hundred Columns (also known as the Throne Hall or the Hall of Honor of the Imperial Army, the latter name referring to its later function as an imperial museum).
A square hall, 229½ feet on each side, was filled with 100 columns. Behind it lays a lesser building; known as the Treasury, where archaeologists recovered a cache of clay tablets that proved to be records kept by financial officers (more were found in the city walls).
Side by side behind the Apadana sit two magnificent palaces. On the western side sit the remains of the palace of Darius, with suites of rooms running alongside a pillared hall. Ornate carvings show the hero king struggling with real and mythical animals.
To the east of this lie the remains of Xerxes’s even larger palace, and alongside it is a long building traditionally known as Xerxes’s Harem, although there is no proof that this is what it was.
Pomp and Ceremony
The evidence of the site shows that Persepolis was more of a ceremonial and symbolic capital than a genuine center of government. To begin with it was not geographically well situated in terms of the vast Persian Empire.
Cities such as Babylon and Susa were closer to the main centers of population, economic activity and transport links. Persepolis was comparatively remote and inaccessible, reflected by the fact that the city was relatively unknown to the ancient Greeks until Alexander invaded the Persian Empire.
The site itself shows that it was not well suited to be a major center of population. Plumbing and sewage supply was relatively limited and there is more evidence of people living on the plain around the terrace than on the terrace itself.
There is even a surviving inscription from a pillar base on the plain suggesting that Xerxes had a palace there, hinting that even when he was officially ‘in residence’ he stayed on the plain.
Instead it seems likely that one of the main roles of Persepolis was, on the rare occasions that the court was in residence, to function as a kind of theatre, where elaborate ceremonies drove home the magnificence and power of the king, thus asserting the legitimacy of his rule and impressing visiting dignitaries and the nobles, generals and vassals of the empire.
The scale and grace of the architecture and the magnificence of fie decoration backed up this message, and it is not hard to imagine the awestruck experience of a visitor to Persepolis as he made his way between huge stone beasts, mighty gateways and long avenues of giant columns, while around him the courtiers and warriors of ne empire posed in all their finery.
When the court was absent, it is likely that few people actually lived on the terrace. The Treasury records indicate that around 1,300 workmen tended to the site as a sort of skeleton staff, and these men and their families probably lived in ruder structures just beyond the walls of the city.
Tombs of the Kings
Among the ceremonial functions of the city were probably those involved in the funerals of dead kings, Carved into the rocks behind the city are an unfinished tomb and two completed ones, which probably belonged to Artaxerxes II and III, late kings of the nasty.
While a few kilometers to the north of Persepolis is a more significant site where the tombs of four kings are cut into a cliff side, carved into magnificent facades. The site is called Naqsh-e Rustam – “the picture of Rustam.”
Rustam or Rostam was a Persian folk hero during the Middle Ages, by which time knowledge of the ancient Achaemenids had been largely lost, and it seems that the local people mistook the elaborate carvings for depictions of their legendary hero.
The Oxus Treasure
In fact the tombs belong to Darius the Great, Xerxes and their successors. Once, they would have been filled with stupendous treasures but they were looted (probably in ancient times) and now stand empty.
It is possible, however, to get a flavor of the grave goods that might have been interred in the tombs from the Oxus Treasure, the finest surviving collection of Achaemenid artifacts. The treasure came to light in the late 19th century, when it was dug out of a hill beside the Oxus River in Central Asia, sold to merchants, stolen by bandits and then recovered by a British political officer.
Eventually most of it ended up in the British Museum, London. Current thinking is that the hoard of gold and silver ornaments, figurines, jewelry, votive pieces, coins and other assorted valuables was buried to protect it from raiders, but had initially resided in a temple in Bactria, on the edge of the Achaemenid Empire, and that it was at least partly made up of pieces looted from tombs.
Many of the pieces show designs similar or practically identical to reliefs at Persepolis, and it is plausible to suggest that before they were buried as grave goods or carried to Bactria, they graced the bodies and costumes of visitors to the court.
In 333 B.C. Alexander the Great invaded the Persian Empire and three years later he was at the gates of Persepolis. According to the ancient accounts the Macedonian king was astounded at the great wealth of the city, and he was said to have employed a baggage train of 20,000 mules and 3,000 camels to cart it away.
Having looted Persepolis and occupied it for around three months, Alexander destroyed it, probably for strategic reasons (it would have been dangerous to leave a fortified city behind him).
However, ancient sources, such as Diodorus of Sicily, record a colorful tale about a drunken courtesan who goaded Alexander into burning Persepolis in revenge for the razing of the Acropolis at Athens by Xerxes during the Second Persian War, more than a century earlier.
Whatever his motives, Alexander’s destructive visit marked the beginning of the end for Persepolis. Under his successors and the Second Persian Empire of the Sassanids, the locale retained its status as regional capital.
But probably only ever regained a fraction of its former glories and after the Islamic conquest the city declined still further until it was completely abandoned. More recently, in 1971, the site formed the center piece of extravagant celebrations of the 2,500th anniversary of the Iranian monarchy, with a tent city constructed to house heads of state and other guests attending a lavish ceremony there.
That was quite the city/empire that Darius the Great built. They talk about him in the books of Ezra, Nehemiah, Daniel, Haggai, and Zechariah. They also talk about Cyrus in the books of 2 Chronicles, Ezra, Isaiah, and Daniel.