ʿEZRĀ-NĀMA, paraphrased versification of the Book of ʿEzrā (q.v.) containing midrashic and Iranian legends. It was composed by Šāhīn (q.v.), the leading Judeo-Persian poet of the 14th century. ʿEzrā-nāma, which includes about 500 distichs, is generally found at the end of Šāhīn’s Ardašīr-nāma (q.v.) and is composed in the same meter; the date of its composition was thus probably the same as that of the latter work, Šawwāl 773/April-May 1372.
The main part of ʿEzrā-nāma deals with the story of the Cyrus the Great, who was called “God’s messiah” (cf. Isaiah 45:1). According to ʿEzrā-nāma, Cyrus was born of Esther and Ahasuerus (q.v.), king of Persia, a legend most probably created to answer two important questions that were debated and elaborated in the Talmud and the midrashim: why a gentile was elected “God’s messiah” and why the miraculous delivery of the Jews from Babylonian exile was at Cyrus’ hand. In the second targum of the Book of Esther (q.v.), Cyrus is said to be seated on the throne of the King Solomon, an honor that had not been granted to the kings of Israel (cf. Megillah 12a; Rosh ha-Shanah 3b; Song of Songs Rabbah v, 5; Ecclesiastes Rabbah x, 12). The arguments and reservations expressed in the Jewish sources are not echoed in ʿEzrā-nāma, however; Šāhīn indicated no doubt that Cyrus was Esther’s son and thus, according to Jewish law, a Jew. This legendary descent also was also mentioned by Ṭabarī (I, pp. 654, 688, 691, 718). In ʿEzrā-nāma Cyrus’ birth is depicted as the gift of God, Who bestowed all beauty and goodness on the child; he is presented as a godly figure of no less stature than the prophets and kings of Israel. His justice, truthfulness, and heroism are unparalleled among the kings of the world.
After retelling the story of the destruction of the temple by Nebuchadnezzar, Šāhīn narrated the struggle undertaken by ʿEzrā and other Jewish leaders of the Diaspora to prevent the extinction of the community. ʿEzrā urges them to meet Cyrus, open to him the secret of their peoplehood, and ask him to liberate them from the torture of exile and return them to their Holy Land. The drama of the liberation of the Jews and restoration of their national existence is superbly depicted in ʿEzrā-nāma. Cyrus dies a hero, a king who has ruled according to the will of God. A long eulogy brings to an end this part of ʿEzrā-nāma. Šāhīn concludes his composition by describing the death of Esther and Mordechai (q.v.), her adoptive father, and their burial in the city of Hamadān.
W. Bacher, “Le livre d’Ezra de Schahin Schirazi,” Revue des études juives 55, 1908a, pp. 249-80.
Idem, Zwei jüdisch-persische Dichter Schahin und Imrani, Strassbourg, 1908b, pp. 66-71.
A. Netzer, “Some Notes on the Characterization of Cyrus the Great in Jewish and Judeo-Persian writings,” Acta Iranica 2, 1974, pp. 35-52.
Idem, “Ha-Siphrut shel Yehudei Paras” (The literature of the Jews of Persia), Peʿamin 13, 1982, pp. 10-11.
Idem, Manuscripts of the Jews of Persia in the Ben Zvi Institute, Jerusalem, 1985, pp. 28-29 (in Hebrew).
E. E. Urbach, “Koresh ve-Hachrazato be-ʿEinei Ḥazal” (Cyrus and his declaration in the eyes of the sages), Molad 19, 1961, pp. 368-74.
Originally Published: December 15, 1999
Last Updated: January 20, 2012
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Vol. IX, Fasc. 2, p. 131