Persia 22: Cyrus/Pasher in the Book of Jeremiah

An earlier hereditary prince called Pasher/Paser was a Vizier, High Priest, and God’s Father in the early 19th Dynasty. The Paser contemporary with Pasher-en-Mut son of Mentuemhet was also the Mayor of Thebes in his own time. He is best known for his investigation of tomb robberies in the Valley of the Kings during which he referred to himself as “the prince that reports to the ruler [Khaemwaset Ramses IX]”. See, John Romer, Ancient Lives, pp 147-162. It has also been shown that Psmtik/Taharqa assumed the name of Ramses (IX), and that it reflected a claim by Taharqa to the Great Throne.

It was in Year 16 of Ramses IX that Assurbanipal was invading Egypt as part of his struggle with Taharqa and Tanuatamon. (Again, see Chart 27 for the chronology.) Consequently, Thebes was temporarily abandoned by Tanuatamon and Taharqa. Although the allies quickly recovered, Assurbanipal returned two years later, this time with his own ally Nebuchadrezzar, and Thebes (“Jerusalem”) was sacked.

The Feud Between Pasher and the Prophet Jeremiah

In the Book of Jeremiah Chapter 20, Pasher/Pashhur is called a priest and chief officer of the Temple in the days before the fall of Jerusalem. He commands Jeremiah to be beaten for prophesying that Nebuchadrezzar would come and take the city. The following day Pasher lets Jeremiah go and is abjectly cursed by him (verse 6): “And thou, Pashhur, and all that dwell in thine house shall go into captivity; and thou shalt come to Babylon, and there thou shalt die, and shalt be buried there, thou, and all thy friends, to whom thou has prophesied lies.”

This is a far cry from the anointing ascribed to Cyrus in the Book of Isaiah, which was written from the persepctive of Isaiah (Mentuemhet) the true father of Cyrus.

Taharqa’s “son” Ush-ankhhuru (a.k.a. Pasher/ Pish-anhuru/Ankh-Hor) was in fact among those listed as captured in the final Assyrian/Babylonian invasion of Egypt. Presumably, he was taken to Babylon (as the "prophesy" states), but he would not have remained there long, at least not as a hostage. Nebuchadrezzar was soon thereafter killed by Tanuatamon. Darius then killed Assurbanipal and claimed the Great Throne for himself. About that same time, Cyrus was designated as heir of Taharqa/Astyges in his secondary kingship. Cyrus died decades later and as co-king of Babylon (with his brother Darius), so at least that much proved true.

The Book of Jeremiah stops short of calling Pasher the “chief priest” or High Priest, perhaps because Pasher is begrudged the title or because the office was in dispute. Jeremiah (Pinedjem II) himself was a High Priest in name, but possibly did not have sufficient power in Thebes to practice as one. (See note below on the priests of Amun.) When Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadrezzar the chief priest that is carried off with the second priest Zephaniah to be executed is not called Pasher but Seraiah, “the quiet prince”. (Jer. 52:24; 2 Kings 25:18) This Seraiah is perhaps the one called the “son of Azriel” and would then correspond to the High Priest of Amun Harkhebi son of Haremakhet/Osorkon IV (“Azariah”). See also the note below.

At some point in his final years, Nebuchadrezzar also claimed the name of Ramses (VI) and sovereignty over all Egypt. He attempted to install one of his own daughters as God’s Wife of Amun. She is referred to rather generically as Iset. Two daughters of Nebuchadrezzar are known, with Kassaya/Kashaya being the more prominent. She was likely the daughter of Nebuchadrezzar by his own mother Nitocris.

Nitocris was however also promoting one of her other daughters, Neskhons/Nesikhonsu II, as successor in the office of God’s Wife. This was her daughter by Nesbanebdjed Smendes II/Assurbanipal. Neskhons II is considered to be the daughter of Nesbanebdjed (Smendes II) and Ta-hent-djehuty. But, Ta-hent-djehuty is evidently the alias of Maatkare/Henuttawy (C)/Nitocris as consort of Nesbanebdjed II (or, alternatively, High Priest of Amun Nesbanebdjed I/Menkheperre/Sennacherib). Maatkare/Nitocris was, strangely enough, buried with a small baboon, the symbol of Djehuty/Thoth.

Adding to the confusion of this volatile period, Nitocris, probably under duress, had adopted one of her younger sisters as God’s Wife, Ankhenesneferibre (daughter of Psamtik II/Tanuatamon by Shepenwepet II). Control over Thebes and the Temple of Amun was being fiercely contested and there were a number of “lead changes”.

The nominal High Priest Pinedjem II (“Jeremiah”) was a son of Menkheperre, and therefore half-brother of both Assurbanipal and Nebuchadrezzar. Judging from his partisanship toward Nebuchadrezzar, he must have owed his appointment as a High Priest to Nebuchadrezzar. Neskhons II, the daughter of Nitocris and Nesbanebdjed (I or II) had the title of High Priestess (i.e., Divine Adoratrice/God’s Wife of Amun) and was also considered a consort of Pinedjem II. This would have further biased Pinedjem toward the side of Assurbanipal and Nebuchadrezzar.

For Nesikhonsu as High Priestess of Amun alongside Pinedjem II, see:
Joyce Tyldesley, Chronicle of the Queens of Egypt, pp 174, 178

Holman Bible Dictionary entry for “High Priest”:

Note: The proliferation of priests was at least partly due to the protracted conflict within the royal family. It might also reflect a convention that once a great prince/king served as a high priest, they would thereafter always be considered a high priest (basically, a high priest emeritus). The proliferation could also be a reflection of the multiple temples of the Theban complex. Besides the Karnak temple of Amun, there was the Luxor temple of Amun. In Western Thebes there were the great temples of Amun at Malkata and Medinet Habu. They probably did not each require their own high priest in peace time, but during conflict may have been claimed by rival contenders.

Note: It is now looking more likely that Harkhebi was a true son of Mentuemhet and only a legal son/heir of Haremakhet/Osorkon IV, who may have only been able to produce a royal daughter like Taharqa/Psamtik . It seems that during the reign of Takelot III/Shabaka, his son Osorkon IV/Haremakhet was paired with Shepenwepet II, the daughter of Piye. The two were either not inter-fertile or the match was annulled with the murder of Shabaka and ascendancy of Piye. The birth of Harkhebi may be reflected in the Book of Isaiah, in which Isaiah is directed to produce a child by the “prophetess” and symbolically call him Maher-shalal-hash-baz. This name implies a pre-emptive strike on the part of “the Lord” (Piye), that is, in this context having an heir produced FOR Haremakhet rather than BY him. It is quite possible that this son was born by Year 20 of Piye, was represented on the Victory Stela as prince Pamai (after Pimay the Libyan name of Ramses II). The prominence of Harkhebi on the Adoption Stela nine years later further indicates that his true parents were Shepenwepet II and Mentuemhet, and that his birth to Shepenwepet II by Year 20 of Piye had enabled her to be formally installed as successor to Amenirdis (the first) in the office of God’s Wife of Amun.

Note: During this period, there were a set of priestly names, Djed-Amon-ef-ankh, Djed-Ptah-ef-ankh, and Djed-Khonsu-ef-ankh. One of these names may have belonged to Amenhotep/Tanuatamon or Mentemhet. However, one may also have been the Libyan/Egyptian name of Harkhebi (a Nubian name). The Hebrew name Sera-iah derives from serah, “to prevail, have power (as a prince). The Egyptian word/symbol Djed signifies “power”, as well.

Note: In the Book of Jeremiah, Pasher is variously called the son of Immer and son of Malchiah. At this time, Taharqa/Ramses IX and Tanuatamon/Ramses VII were co-kings, and Mentuemhet (the actual father of Paser) was governor in Thebes/Upper Egypt. Harkhebi son of Haremakhet (“Melchijah/Nathan-Melech son of Harim”) was also still a very powerful figure.