Archive Authors E.J. Hutchinson Nota Bene

Cyrus as “Messiah”

As far as I know, there is only one heathen ruler referred to in the Old Testament as a “messiah,” and that is Cyrus the Great of Persia. In Isaiah 45.1, one finds: … כֹּה־אָמַ֣ר יְהוָה֮ לִמְשִׁיחֹו֮

Thus Cyrus in the LXX is transformed into a “christ,” χριστός being the Greek equivalent of messiah: Οὕτως λέγει κύριος ὁ θεὸς τῷ χριστῷ μου Κύρῳ…

The connection remains clear in the Vulgate: haec dicit Dominus christo meo Cyro…

A modern English version will say something like: “Thus says the LORD to his anointed, to Cyrus…” (ESV).

Rendering the term as “anointed” is at once more and less accurate than rendering it as “messiah” or “christ”: more, because it reflects what the word means rather than simply transliterating it; less, because it obscures the resonances of the word messiah/χριστός in the context of the history of redemption.

By E.J. Hutchinson

E.J. Hutchinson is Assistant Professor of Classics at Hillsdale College.

4 replies on “Cyrus as “Messiah””

To be fair, מָשִׁיַח is *consistently* translated with “anointed” in the OT, at least by the ESV. The force of tradition weighs against it, but I’d love to see a translation that consistently does the same with χριστός in the NT, so John 1:41, for example, would be rendered, “He first found his own brother Simon and said to him, ‘We have found the Messiah’ (which means Anointed).”

Hazael of Syria is also anointed (1 Kings 19:15), although we never explicitly see the event itself, and his career goes in a different direction from Cyrus.

Hi Ben–I know. But I think you’ve correctly grasped my point: doing it one way in the OT and another in the NT obscures the connection between the two.

Interesting, thanks. This is a little different, right? He’s to be anointed king over Syria, and Jehu is to be anointed king over Israel, so he doesn’t have quite the same role vis-a-vis God’s people as Cyrus, unless I’m misunderstanding you. Is he ever referred to as “the Lord’s anointed,” do you know?

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