Politics Derailed the Film about Cyrus the Great

The Cyrus Cylinder is on display at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NYC, through August 4, 2013. This reminds us...

From my post of 1/29/2010: Cyrus was supposed to be the subject of a historical epic film. We wonder what ever happened to that film. Our best guess is that the film industry has closed ranks and decided that given the current political leadership in that country, there will be no film made that extols the culture of Persia, modern day Iran. Not surprising then, modern reality trumps ancient history.

Here is what we said in a blog post about Cyrus and the film - way back in March 2005...

Critics say that Russell Crowe and the movie Gladiator helped revive the Hollywood genre of the so-called sword and sandals historical epic. Warner Brothers released Troy, an adaptation of The Iliad, with Brad Pitt as Achilles. Universal made a film hurling the Spartans into battle against the Persians at the Battle of Thermopylae. Sony Pictures filmed a movie about Hannibal the Carthaginian general from the third century B.C.E.. Dino De Laurentiis produced a movie about Alexander the Great, co-financed by Universal and DreamWorks.

For the Jewish community this trend has been a mixed bag. In February 2004 Mel Gibson's The Passion of the Christ, appeared. It is an epic retelling of twelve days of the life of Jesus. Because it implicates Jews in the death of Jesus, many feared that Gibson's film would be used by anti-Semites to trigger an onslaught of hatred and violence against Jews here in the US and around the world.

But there is reason for Jews and for all proponents of multiculturalism to be more sanguine about this revived sword and sandals fashion in film. In particular, a London-based company, co-owned by Marinah Embiricos, a relative of the Aga Khan and a member of the Greek shipping family that controls the Embiricos Group, has teamed with the Sultan of Brunei to finance a multi-million dollar film about Cyrus the Great.

These backers want to tell the story of Cyrus not just for the entertainment value. They believe that their film will inspire goodwill and world peace.

The title character, Cyrus the Great, lived from 580-529 BCE. Notably he founded the Achaemenian empire in Persia. Impressively, more than 2500 years ago, as emperor he freed the slaves in his empire.

Additionally, Cyrus has been admired by history as an enlightened liberator, not a heroic conqueror, because of his tolerance and respect for the customs and religions of every region of his great empire. Some might argue that Cyrus was the founder of multiculturalism.

From a global point of view, Cyrus was a trailblazer of epic proportions. A decree of Cyrus' social and political views inscribed on a clay cylinder, now in the British Museum, has been described as the first declaration of human rights. The pronouncement concerning his enlightened goals and policies has been recognized as a charter of the rights of nations. A replica of the cylinder is displayed at the United Nations. It declares,
History especially records that Cyrus was very good for the Jews. When he conquered Babylonia in 539 BCE he allowed the Jews to return to Judea. The Hebrew Bible records the Israelite perspective on his great magnanimity at the beginning of the book of Ezra,
. . .When my soldiers in great numbers peacefully entered Babylon... I did not allow anyone to terrorize the people... I kept in view the needs of people and all its sanctuaries to promote their well-being... Freed all the slaves... I put an end to their misfortune and slavery (referring to the Jews and other religious minorities). The Great God has delivered all the lands into my hand; the lands that I have made to dwell in a peaceful habitation...
The Persian Kurash Prism tells of this same multicultural generosity by Cyrus for many peoples and sanctuaries, and from the Persian perspective, Ms. Embiricos, the primary backer of the film, has said that she wants her production to promote harmony among all the world's religions. "We wanted to send out the message that people should be tolerant of each other's religion. It was a very spiritual time and we want to rekindle this. It is not that I want to make movies - I want to make this particular film."
In the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he made a proclamation throughout all his kingdom and also put it in writing: "Thus says Cyrus king of Persia: The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and he has charged me to build him a house at Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel -- he is the God who is in Jerusalem; and let each survivor, in whatever place he sojourns, be assisted by the men of his place with silver and gold, with goods and with beasts, besides freewill offerings for the house of God which is in Jerusalem." Then rose up the heads of the fathers' houses of Judah and Benjamin, and the priests and the Levites, every one whose spirit God had stirred to go up to rebuild the house of the Lord which is in Jerusalem; and all who were about them aided them with vessels of silver, with gold, with goods, with beasts, and with costly wares, besides all that was freely offered.
I am Kurash [ "Cyrus" ], King of the World, Great King, Legitimate King, King of Babilani, When I entered Babilani as a friend and when I established the seat of the government in the palace of the ruler under jubilation and rejoicing, Marduk, the great Lord, induced the magnanimous inhabitants of Babilani to love me, and I was daily endeavoring to worship him.... As to the region from as far as Assura and Susa, Akkade, Eshnunna, the towns Zamban, Me-turnu, Der as well as the region of the Gutians, I returned to these sacred cities on the other side of the Tigris the sanctuaries of which have been ruins for a long time, the images which used to live therein and established for them permanent sanctuaries. I also gathered all their former inhabitants and returned them to their habitations. Furthermore, I resettled upon the command of Marduk, the great Lord, all the gods of Kiengir and Akkade whom Nabonidus had brought into Babilani to the anger of the Lord of the gods, unharmed, in their former temples, the places which make them happy.  
Evidently there is now some good news for the Jews from the world of film.

All who support tolerance and peace in our precarious world must herald with enthusiasm the coming epic about the reign of Cyrus the Great.
The First Declaration of Human Rights By Cyrus The Great (The Cyrus Cylinder at the British Museum)

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