Jefferson Influenced by Persian King

Jefferson Influenced by Persian King March 19, 2013

BBC News has an interesting article with information that, with all the study I’ve done of Thomas Jefferson, I had never come across before. One of the influences on him when it came to religious and political liberty was Cyrus, the Persian king who conquered Babylonia in the sixth century BC.

As the Cyrus Cylinder begins its US tour, BBC Persian’s Khashayar Joneidi explores how the reputedly liberal monarch who gave his name to the ancient Persian artefact inspired US founding father Thomas Jefferson…

Referred to by some scholars as the “first bill on human rights”, the cuneiform inscriptions on the cylinder appear to encourage freedom of worship throughout the Persian Empire and to allow deported people to return to their homelands…

In addition to the objects borrowed from the British Museum, a copy of Cyropaedia, Xenophon’s book on Cyrus, is on display at the exhibition in Washington DC.

The book, a bilingual Greek and Latin version published in Europe in 1767, is one of the two copies of Cyropaedia belonging to Thomas Jefferson that is currently held at the Library of Congress.

A contemporary of Socrates, Xenophon wrote on how Cyrus ruled a diverse society based on tolerance…

The book became popular during the Enlightenment among political thinkers in Europe and America, including those who drafted the US Constitution in 1787.

“In the 18th Century, that model of religious tolerance based on a state with diverse cultures, but no single dominant religion, became a model for the founding fathers,” said Mr Raby…

Jefferson not only studied the book in detail, but also advised his family to read it, according to Massumeh Farhad, Freer and Sackler’s chief curator.

Ms Farhad said Jefferson in a letter had asked his grandson to study Cyropaedia.

“He wrote. ‘when you start learning Greek, the first book you should read is Cyropaedia,'” Ms Farhad said.

Although a source of inspiration for European and American philosophers, the state model created by Cyrus, based on diverse cultures, but no single dominant religion, was only picked up on in the 18th Century United States.

That’s very cool, I think.

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