Kohen or cohen is the Hebrew word for "priest", used in reference to the Aaronic priesthood. Levitical priests or kohanim are traditionally believed and halakhically required to be of direct patrilineal descent from the biblical Aaron, brother of Moses. During the existence of the Temple in Jerusalem, kohanim performed the daily and holiday duties of sacrificial offerings. Today, kohanim retain a lesser though distinct status within Rabbinic and Karaite Judaism, are bound by additional restrictions according to Orthodox Judaism. In the Samaritan community, the kohanim have remained the primary religious leaders. Ethiopian Jewish religious leaders are sometimes called kahen, a form of the same word, but the position is not hereditary and their duties are more like those of rabbis than kohanim in most Jewish communities; the noun kohen is used in the Torah to refer to priests, whether Jewish or pagan, such as the kohanim of Baal or Dagon, though Christian priests are referred to in Hebrew by the term komer.
Kohanim can refer to the Jewish nation as a whole, as in Exodus 19:6, part of the Parshath Yithro, where the whole of Israel is addressed as "a kingdom of priests and a holy nation". The word derives from a Semitic root common at least to the Central Semitic languages. Translations in the paraphrase of the Aramaic Targumic interpretations include "friend" in Targum Yonathan to 2 Kings 10:11, "master" in Targum to Amos 7:10, "minister" in Mechilta to Parshah Jethro; as a starkly different translation the title "worker" and "servant", have been offered as a translation as well. The status of priest kohen was conferred on Aaron, the brother of Moses, his sons as an everlasting covenant or a covenant of salt. During the 40 years of wandering in the wilderness and until the Holy Temple was built in Jerusalem, the priests performed their priestly service in the portable Tabernacle, their duties involved offering the daily and Jewish holiday sacrifices, blessing the people in a Priestly Blessing also known as Nesiat Kapayim.
In a broader sense, since Aaron was a descendant of the Tribe of Levi, priests are sometimes included in the term Levites, by direct patrilineal descent. However, not all Levites are priests; when the Temple existed, most sacrifices and offerings could only be conducted by priests. Non-priest Levites performed a variety of other Temple roles, including ritual slaughter of animals, song service by use of voice and musical instruments, various tasks in assisting the priests in performing their service; the Torah mentions Melchizedek king of Salem, identified by Rashi as being Shem the son of Noah, as a "priest" kohen to El Elyon Genesis 14:18. The second is Potiphera, priest of Heliopolis Jethro, priest of Midian both pagan priests of their era; when Esau sold the birthright of the first born to Jacob, Rashi explains that the priesthood was sold along with it, because by right the priesthood belongs to the first-born. Only when the first-born sinned in the incident of the golden calf, the priesthood was given to the Tribe of Levi, which had not been tainted by this incident.
Moses was supposed to receive the priesthood along with the leadership of the Jewish people, but when he argued with God that he should not be the leader, God chose Aaron as the recipient of the priesthood. Moses is, referred to as a priest in Psalms 99:6 - according to tradition, this refers to his service in the first seven days of the dedication of the Tabernacle. Aaron received the priesthood along with his children and any descendants that would be born subsequently. However, his grandson Phinehas had been born, did not receive the priesthood until he killed the prince of the Tribe of Simeon and the princess of the Midianites. Thereafter, the priesthood has remained with the descendants of Aaron; the Torah provides for specific vestments to be worn by the priests when they are ministering in the Tabernacle: "And you shall make holy garments for Aaron your brother, for dignity and for beauty". These garments are described in detail in Exodus 28, Exodus 39 and Leviticus 8; the high priest wore eight holy garments.
Of these, four were of the same type worn by all priests, four were unique to the Kohen Gadol. Those vestments which were common to all priests, were: Priestly undergarments: linen pants reaching from the waist to the knees "to cover their nakedness" Priestly tunic: made of pure linen, covering the entire body from the neck to the feet, with sleeves reaching to the wrists; that of the high priest was embroidered. Priestly sash: that of the high priest was of fine linen with "embroidered work" in blue and purple and scarlet. Priestly turban: that of the high priest was much larger than that of the priests and wound so that it formed a broad, flat-topped turban; the vestments that were unique to the high priest were: Priestly robe: a sleeveless, blue robe, the lower hem of, fringed with
Levi was, according to the Book of Genesis, the third son of Jacob and Leah, the founder of the Israelite Tribe of Levi and the great-grandfather of Aaron and Moses. Certain religious and political functions were reserved for the Levites; the Torah suggests that the name Levi refers to Leah's hope for Jacob to join with her, implying a derivation from yillaweh, meaning he will join, but scholars suspect that it may mean priest, either as a loan word from the Minaean lawi'u, meaning priest, or by referring to those people who were joined to the ark of the covenant. Another possibility is that the Levites originated as migrants, that the name Levites indicates their joining with either the Israelites in general, or the earlier Israelite priesthood in particular. In the Book of Jubilees 28:14-15. In the Book of Genesis and his brother, exterminate the city of Shechem in revenge for the rape of Dinah, seizing the wealth of the city and killing the men; the brothers had earlier misled the inhabitants by consenting to Dinah's rapist marrying her, when Jacob hears about their destruction of Shechem, he castigates them for it.
In the Blessing of Jacob, Jacob is described as imposing a curse on the Levites, by which they would be scattered, in punishment for Levi's actions in Shechem. Some textual scholars date the Blessing of Jacob to a period between just one and two centuries prior to the Babylonian captivity, some Biblical scholars regard this curse, Dinah herself as an aetiological postdiction to explain the fates of the tribe of Simeon and the Levites, with one possible explanation of the Levites' scattered nature being that the priesthood was open to any tribe, but became seen as a distinct tribe itself. Isaac, Levi's grandfather, give a special blessing about the lineage of priests of God. In the Book of Genesis, Levi is described as having fathered three sons—Gershon and Merari. A similar genealogy is given in the Book of Exodus, where it is added that among Kohath's sons was one—Amram—who married a woman named Jochebed, related to his father, they were the biological parents of Moses and Miriam; the Masoretic Text's version of Levi's genealogy thus implies that Levi had a daughter, the Septuagint implies further daughters.
The names of Levi's sons, possible daughter, are interpreted in classical rabbinical literature as being reflections on their future destiny. In some apocryphal texts such as the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, the Book of Jubilees, Levi's wife, his children's mother, is named as Milkah, a daughter of Aram; some scholars attribute the genealogy to a hypothetical Book of Generations, a document originating from a similar religiopolitical group and date to the priestly source. According to some biblical scholars, the Torah's genealogy for Levi's descendants, is an aetiological myth reflecting the fact that there were four different groups among the Levites – the Gershonites, Kohathites and Aaronids. Aaron—the eponymous ancestor of the Aaronids—couldn't be portrayed as a brother to Gershon and Merari, as the narrative about the birth of Moses, which textual scholars attribute to the earlier Elohist source, mentions only that both his parents were Levites; some biblical scholars suspect that the Elohist account offers both matrilinial and patrilinial descent from Levites in order to magnify the religious credentials of Moses.
In accordance with his role as founder of the Levites, Levi is referred to as being pious. The Blessing of Moses, which some textual scholars attribute to a period just before the deuteronomist, speaks about Levi via an allegorical comparison to Moses himself, which hagaddah take to support the characterisation of Levi as being by far the greatest of his brothers in respect to piety; the apocryphal Prayer of Asenath, which textual scholars believe dates from some time after the first century AD, describes Levi as a prophet and saint, able to forecast the future, understand heavenly writings, someone who admonishes the people to be forgiving, as well as in awe of God. The Book of Malachi argues that the Levites were chosen by Yahweh to be the priests, because Levi as minister of God, was specified only the true religious regulations, was reverent, revered Yahweh, was in awe of the God's name, upheld peace, was a model of good morality, turned many people from sin; the Testament of Levi is believed to have been written between 153 BC and 107 BC, closer to the latter date.
On his deathbed, Levi gathered all his children to narrate the story of his life to them, prophesied unto them what they would do, what would happen to them until judgment day. He told them that God had chosen him and his seed as priest of Lord unto eternity. In this testament, Levi is described as having had two visions; the first vision covered eschatological issues, portraying the seven heavens, the Jewish Messiah, Judgement Day. The second vision portrays seven angels bringing Levi seven insignia signifying priesthood and judgement.
Jacob given the name Israel, is regarded as a Patriarch of the Israelites. According to the Book of Genesis, Jacob was the third Hebrew progenitor with whom God made a covenant, he is the son of Isaac and Rebecca, the grandson of Abraham and Bethuel, the nephew of Ishmael, the younger twin brother of Esau. Jacob had twelve sons and at least one daughter, by his two wives and Rachel, by their handmaidens Bilhah and Zilpah. Jacob's twelve sons, named in Genesis, were Reuben, Levi, Dan, Gad, Issachar, Zebulun and Benjamin, his only daughter mentioned in Genesis is Dinah. The twelve sons became the progenitors of the "Tribes of Israel"; as a result of a severe drought in Canaan and his sons moved to Egypt at the time when his son Joseph was viceroy. After 17 years in Egypt, Jacob died, the length of Jacob's life was 147 years. Joseph carried Jacob's remains to the land of Canaan, gave him a stately burial in the same Cave of Machpelah as were buried Abraham, Isaac and Jacob's first wife, Leah. Jacob is mentioned in a number of sacred scriptures, including the Hebrew Bible, the Talmud, the New Testament, the Quran and the Book of Mormon.
According to the folk etymology found in Genesis 25:26, the name Yaʿaqob יעקב is derived from aqeb עָקֵב "heel". The historical origin of the name is uncertain. Yaʿqob-'el is notably recorded as a placename in a list by Thutmose III; the same name is recorded earlier still, in cuneiform inscriptions. The suggestion that the personal name may be shortened from this compound name, which would translate to "may El protect", originates with Bright; the Septuagint renders the name Ιακωβος, whence Latin Jacobus, English Jacob. The name Israel given to Jacob following the episode of his wrestling with the angel is etymologized as composition of אֵל el "god" and the root שָׂרָה śarah "to rule, have power, prevail over": שָׂרִיתָ עִם־אֱלֹהִים; the biblical account of the life of Jacob is found in the Book of Genesis, chapters 25–50. Jacob and his twin brother, were born to Isaac and Rebecca after 20 years of marriage, when Isaac was 60 years of age. Rebekah went to inquire of God why she was suffering.
She received the prophecy that twins were fighting in her womb and would continue to fight all their lives after they became two separate nations. The prophecy said that "the one people shall be stronger than the other people. According to Genesis 25:25, Isaac and Rebecca named the first son Hebrew: Esau; the second son they named יעקב, Jacob. The boys displayed different natures as they matured. ... and Esau was a man of the field. Moreover, the attitudes of their parents toward them differed: "And Isaac loved Esau, because he did eat of his venison: but Rebecca loved Jacob." Genesis 25:29–34 tells the account of Esau selling his birthright to Jacob. This passage tells that Esau, returning famished from the fields, begged Jacob to give him some of the stew that Jacob had just made. Jacob offered to give Esau a bowl of stew in exchange for his birthright; as Isaac aged, he became blind and was uncertain when he would die, so he decided to bestow Esau's birthright upon him. He requested. Isaac requested that Esau make "savory meat" for him out of the venison, according to the way he enjoyed it the most, so that he could eat it and bless Esau.
Rebecca overheard this conversation. It is suggested that she realized prophetically that Isaac's blessings would go to Jacob, since she was told before the twins' birth that the older son would serve the younger. Rebecca blessed Jacob and she ordered Jacob to bring her two kid goats from their flock so that he could take Esau's place in serving Isaac and receiving his blessing. Jacob protested that his father would recognize their deception since Esau was hairy and he himself was smooth-skinned, he feared his father would curse him as soon as he felt him, but Rebecca offered to take the curse herself insisted that Jacob obey her. Jacob did as his mother instructed and, when he returned with the kids, Rebekah made the savory meat that Isaac loved. Before she sent Jacob to his father, she dressed him in Esau's garments and laid goatskins on his arms and neck to simulate hairy skin. Disguised as Esau, Jacob entered Isaac's room. Surprised that Esau was back so soon, Isaac asked. Jacob responded, "Because the LORD your God brought it to me."
Rashi, on Genesis 27:21 says Isaac's suspicions were aroused more, because Esau never used the personal name of God. Isaac demanded that Jacob come close so he could feel him, but the
Darius the Great
Darius the Great or Darius I was the fourth Persian king of the Achaemenid Empire. He ruled the empire at its peak, when it included much of West Asia, the Caucasus, parts of the Balkans, most of the Black Sea coastal regions, parts of the North Caucasus, Central Asia, as far as the Indus Valley in the far east and portions of north and northeast Africa including Egypt, eastern Libya and coastal Sudan. Darius ascended the throne by a claimed usurper; the new king quelled them each time. A major event in Darius's life was his expedition to punish Athens and Eretria for their aid in the Ionian Revolt and subjugate Greece. Although ending in failure at the Battle of Marathon, Darius succeeded in the re-subjugation of Thrace, expansion of the empire through the conquest of Macedon, the Cyclades and the island of Naxos and the sacking of the city of Eretria. Darius organized the empire by placing satraps to govern it, he organized Achaemenid coinage as a new uniform monetary system, along with making Aramaic the official language of the empire.
He put the empire in better standing by building roads and introducing standard weights and measures. Through these changes, the empire was centralized and unified. Darius worked on construction projects throughout the empire, focusing on Susa, Persepolis and Egypt, he had the cliff-face Behistun Inscription carved to record his conquests, an important testimony of the Old Persian language. Darius is mentioned in the biblical books of Haggai and Ezra–Nehemiah. Dārīus and Dārēus are the Latin forms of the Greek Dareîos, itself from Old Persian Dārayauš, a shortened form of Dārayavaʰuš; the longer form is seen to have been reflected in the Elamite Da-ri-a-ma-u-iš, Babylonian Da-ri-ia-muš, Aramaic drywhwš, the longer Greek form Dareiaîos. The name is a nominative form meaning "he who holds firm the good", which can be seen by the first part dāraya, meaning "holder", the adverb vau, meaning "goodness". At some time between his coronation and his death, Darius left a tri-lingual monumental relief on Mount Behistun, written in Elamite, Old Persian and Babylonian.
The inscription begins with a brief autobiography including his lineage. To aid the presentation of his ancestry, Darius wrote down the sequence of events that occurred after the death of Cyrus the Great. Darius mentions several times that he is the rightful king by the grace of Ahura Mazda, the Zoroastrian god. In addition, further texts and monuments from Persepolis have been found, as well as a clay tablet containing an Old Persian cuneiform of Darius from Gherla, Romania and a letter from Darius to Gadates, preserved in a Greek text of the Roman period. In the foundation tablets of Apadana Palace, Darius described in Old Persian cuneiform the extent of his Empire in broad geographical terms: Darius the great king, king of kings, king of countries, son of Hystaspes, an Achaemenid. King Darius says: This is the kingdom which I hold, from the Sacae who are beyond Sogdia to Kush, from Sind to Lydia - what Ahuramazda, the greatest of gods, bestowed upon me. May Ahuramazda protect me and my royal house!
Herodotus, a Greek historian and author of The Histories, provided an account of many Persian kings and the Greco-Persian Wars. He wrote extensively on Darius, spanning half of Book 3 along with Books 4, 5 and 6, it begins with the removal of the alleged usurper Gaumata and continues to the end of Darius's reign. Darius was the eldest of five sons to Hystaspes and Rhodugune in 550 BCE. Hystaspes was a leading figure of authority in Persia, the homeland of the Persians; the Behistun Inscription of Darius states that his father was satrap of Bactria in 522 BCE. According to Herodotus, Hystaspes was the satrap of Persis, although most historians state that this is an error. According to Herodotus, prior to seizing power and "of no consequence at the time", had served as a spearman in the Egyptian campaign of Cambyses II the Persian Great King. Hystaspes was a noble of his court. Before Cyrus and his army crossed the Aras River to battle with the Armenians, he installed his son Cambyses II as king in case he should not return from battle.
However, once Cyrus had crossed the Aras River, he had a vision in which Darius had wings atop his shoulders and stood upon the confines of Europe and Asia. When Cyrus awoke from the dream, he inferred it as a great danger to the future security of the empire, as it meant that Darius would one day rule the whole world. However, his son Cambyses was the heir to the throne, not Darius, causing Cyrus to wonder if Darius was forming treasonable and ambitious designs; this led Cyrus to order Hystaspes to go back to Persis and watch over his son until Cyrus himself returned. Darius did not seem to have any treasonous thoughts. There are different accounts of the rise of Darius to the throne from both Darius himself and Greek historians; the oldest records report a convoluted sequence of events in which Cambyses II lost his
Book of Zechariah
The Book of Zechariah, attributed to the Hebrew prophet Zechariah, is included in the Twelve Minor Prophets in the Hebrew Bible. Zechariah's prophecies took place during the reign of Darius the Great, were contemporary with Haggai in a post-exilic world after the fall of Jerusalem in 587/6 BC. Ezekiel and Jeremiah wrote before the fall of Jerusalem, while continuing to prophesy in the early exile period. Scholars believe Ezekiel, with his blending of ceremony and vision influenced the visionary works of Zechariah 1–8. Zechariah is specific about dating his writing. During the Exile many Judahites and Benjamites were taken to Babylon, where the prophets told them to make their homes, suggesting they would spend a long period of time there. Freedom did come to many Israelites, when Cyrus the Great overtook the Babylonians in 539 BC. In 538 BC, the famous Edict of Cyrus was released, the first return took place under Sheshbazzar. After the death of Cyrus in 530 BC, Darius consolidated power and took office in 522 BC.
His system divided the different colonies of the empire into manageable districts overseen by governors. Zerubbabel comes into the story, appointed by Darius as governor over the district of Yehud Medinata. Under the reign of Darius, Zechariah emerged, centering on the rebuilding of the Temple. Unlike the Babylonians, the Persian Empire went to great lengths to keep “cordial relations” between vassal and lord; the rebuilding of the Temple was encouraged by the leaders of the empire in hopes that it would strengthen the authorities in local contexts. This policy was good politics on the part of the Persians, the Jews viewed it as a blessing from God; the name "Zechariah" means "God remembered." Not much is known about Zechariah's life other than what may be inferred from the book. It has been speculated that his grandfather Iddo was the head of a priestly family who returned with Zerubbabel, that Zechariah may himself have been a priest as well as a prophet; this is supported by Zechariah's interest in the Temple and the priesthood, from Iddo's preaching in the Books of Chronicles.
Some scholars accept the book as the writings of one individual. For example, George Livingstone Robinson's dissertation on chapters 9–14 concluded that those chapters had their origin in the period between 518 and 516 BC and stand in close relation to chapters 1–8, having most been composed by Zechariah himself. However, most modern scholars believe the Book of Zechariah was written by at least two different people. Zechariah 1–8, sometimes referred to as First Zechariah, was written in the 6th century BC. Zechariah 9–14 called Second Zechariah, contains within the text no datable references to specific events or individuals but most scholars give the text a date in the fifth century BCE. Second Zechariah, in the opinion of some scholars, appears to make use of the books of Isaiah and Ezekiel, the Deuteronomistic History, the themes from First Zechariah; this has led some to believe that the writer or editor of Second Zechariah may have been a disciple of the prophet Zechariah. There are some scholars who go further and divide Second Zechariah into Second Zechariah and Third Zechariah since each begins with a heading oracle.
The return from exile is the theological premise of the prophet's visions in chapters 1–6. Chapters 7–8 address the quality of life God wants his renewed people to enjoy, containing many encouraging promises to them. Chapters 9–14 comprise two "oracles" of the future; the book begins with a preface, which recalls the nation's history, for the purpose of presenting a solemn warning to the present generation. Follows a series of eight visions, succeeding one another in one night, which may be regarded as a symbolical history of Israel, intended to furnish consolation to the returned exiles and stir up hope in their minds; the symbolic action, the crowning of Joshua, describes how the kingdoms of the world become the kingdom of God's Messiah. Chapters Zechariah 7 and Zechariah 8, delivered two years are an answer to the question whether the days of mourning for the destruction of the city should be kept any longer, an encouraging address to the people, assuring them of God's presence and blessing.
This section consists of two "oracles" or "burdens": The first oracle gives an outline of the course of God's providential dealings with his people down to the time of the coming of the Messiah. The second oracle points out the glories that await Israel in "the latter day", the final conflict and triumph of God's kingdom; the purpose of this book is not historical but theological and pastoral. The main emphasis is, he will cleanse them from sin. Zechariah's concern for purity is apparent in the temple and all areas of life as the prophecy eliminates the influence of the governor in favour of the high priest, the sanctuary becomes more the centre of messianic fulfillment; the prominence of prophecy is quite apparent in Zechariah, but it is true that Zechariah allows prophecy to yield to the priesthood. Most Christian commentators read the series of predictions in chapters 7 to 14 as Messianic prophecies, either directly or indirectly; these chapters helped the writers of the Gospels understand Jesus’ suffering and resurrection, which they quoted as they wrote of Jesus’ final days.
Much of the Book of Revelation, which narrates the denouement of his
Gospel of Luke
The Gospel According to Luke called the Gospel of Luke, or Luke, is the third of the four canonical Gospels. It tells of the origins, ministry, death and ascension of Jesus Christ. Luke is the longest book in the New Testament; the cornerstone of Luke–Acts' theology is "salvation history", the author's understanding that God's purpose is seen in the way he has acted, will continue to act, in history. It divides the history of first-century Christianity into three stages, with the gospel making up the first two of these – the arrival among men of Jesus the Messiah, from his birth to the beginning of his earthly mission in the meeting with John the Baptist followed by his earthly ministry, Passion and resurrection; the gospel's sources are the Gospel of Mark, the sayings collection called the Q source, a collection of material called the L source, found only in this gospel. Luke–Acts does not name its author. According to Church tradition this was Luke the Evangelist, the companion of Paul, but while this view is still put forward the scholarly consensus emphasises the many contradictions between Acts and the authentic Pauline letters.
The most probable date for its composition is around AD 80–110, there is evidence that it was still being revised well into the 2nd century. Autographs of Luke and the other Gospels have not been preserved, as is typical for ancient documents; the earliest witnesses for Luke's gospel fall into two "families" with considerable differences between them, the Western and the Alexandrian, the dominant view is that the Western text represents a process of deliberate revision, as the variations seem to form specific patterns. The fragment P 4 is cited as the oldest witness, it has been dated from the late 2nd century. The oldest complete texts are the 4th century Codex Sinaiticus and Vaticanus, both from the Alexandrian family. Codex Bezae shows comprehensively the differences between the versions which show no core theological significance; the gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles make up a two-volume work which scholars call Luke–Acts. Together they account for 27.5% of the New Testament, the largest contribution by a single author, providing the framework for both the Church's liturgical calendar and the historical outline into which generations have fitted their idea of the story of Jesus.
The author is not named in either volume. According to a Church tradition dating from the 2nd century he was the Luke named as a companion of Paul in three of the letters attributed to Paul himself, but "a critical consensus emphasizes the countless contradictions between the account in Acts and the authentic Pauline letters." An example can be seen by comparing Acts' accounts of Paul's conversion with Paul's own statement that he remained unknown to Christians in Judea after that event. Luke admired Paul, but his theology was different from Paul's on key points and he does not represent Paul's views accurately, he was educated, a man of means urban, someone who respected manual work, although not a worker himself. The eclipse of the traditional attribution to Luke the companion of Paul has meant that an early date for the gospel is now put forward; some experts date the composition of the combined work to around 80–90 AD, although some others suggest 90–110, there is evidence, both textual and from the Marcionite controversy that Luke–Acts was still being revised well into the 2nd century.
Luke–Acts is a religio-political history of the Founder of the church and his successors, in both deeds and words. The author describes his book as a "narrative", rather than as a gospel, implicitly criticises his predecessors for not giving their readers the speeches of Jesus and the Apostles, as such speeches were the mark of a "full" report, the vehicle through which ancient historians conveyed the meaning of their narratives, he seems to have taken as his model the works of two respected Classical authors, Dionysius of Halicarnassus, who wrote a history of Rome, the Jewish historian Josephus, author of a history of the Jews. All three authors anchor the histories of their respective peoples by dating the births of the founders and narrate the stories of the founders' births from God, so that they are sons of God; each founder taught authoritatively, appeared to witnesses after death, ascended to heaven. Crucial aspects of the teaching of all three concerned the relationship between rich and poor and the question
Iran called Persia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, is a country in Western Asia. With over 81 million inhabitants, Iran is the world's 18th most populous country. Comprising a land area of 1,648,195 km2, it is the second largest country in the Middle East and the 17th largest in the world. Iran is bordered to the northwest by Armenia and the Republic of Azerbaijan, to the north by the Caspian Sea, to the northeast by Turkmenistan, to the east by Afghanistan and Pakistan, to the south by the Persian Gulf and the Gulf of Oman, to the west by Turkey and Iraq; the country's central location in Eurasia and Western Asia, its proximity to the Strait of Hormuz, give it geostrategic importance. Tehran is the country's capital and largest city, as well as its leading economic and cultural center. Iran is home to one of the world's oldest civilizations, beginning with the formation of the Elamite kingdoms in the fourth millennium BCE, it was first unified by the Iranian Medes in the seventh century BCE, reaching its greatest territorial size in the sixth century BCE, when Cyrus the Great founded the Achaemenid Empire, which stretched from Eastern Europe to the Indus Valley, becoming one of the largest empires in history.
The Iranian realm fell to Alexander the Great in the fourth century BCE and was divided into several Hellenistic states. An Iranian rebellion culminated in the establishment of the Parthian Empire, succeeded in the third century CE by the Sasanian Empire, a leading world power for the next four centuries. Arab Muslims conquered the empire in the seventh century CE; the Islamization of Iran led to the decline of Zoroastrianism, by the country's dominant religion, Iran's major contributions to art and science spread within the Muslim rule during the Islamic Golden Age. After two centuries, a period of various native Muslim dynasties began, which were conquered by the Seljuq Turks and the Ilkhanate Mongols; the rise of the Safavids in the 15th century led to the reestablishment of a unified Iranian state and national identity, with the country's conversion to Shia Islam marking a turning point in Iranian and Muslim history. Under Nader Shah, Iran was one of the most powerful states in the 18th century, though by the 19th century, a series of conflicts with the Russian Empire led to significant territorial losses.
The Iranian Constitutional Revolution in the early 20th century led to the establishment of a constitutional monarchy and the country's first legislature. A 1953 coup instigated by the United Kingdom and the United States resulted in greater autocracy and growing Western political influence. Subsequent widespread dissatisfaction and unrest against the monarchy led to the 1979 Revolution and the establishment of an Islamic republic, a political system that includes elements of a parliamentary democracy vetted and supervised by a theocracy governed by an autocratic "Supreme Leader". During the 1980s, the country was engaged in a war with Iraq, which lasted for eight years and resulted in a high number of casualties and economic losses for both sides; the sovereign state of Iran is a founding member of the UN, ECO, NAM, OIC, OPEC. It is a major regional and middle power, its large reserves of fossil fuels – which include the world's largest natural gas supply and the fourth largest proven oil reserves – exert considerable influence in international energy security and the world economy.
The country's rich cultural legacy is reflected in part by its 22 UNESCO World Heritage sites, the third largest number in Asia and 11th largest in the world. Iran is a multicultural country comprising numerous ethnic and linguistic groups, the largest being Persians, Azeris and Lurs. Organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have criticized Iran's women's rights record; the term Iran derives directly from Middle Persian Ērān, first attested in a third-century inscription at Rustam Relief, with the accompanying Parthian inscription using the term Aryān, in reference to the Iranians. The Middle Iranian ērān and aryān are oblique plural forms of gentilic nouns ēr- and ary-, both deriving from Proto-Iranian *arya-, recognized as a derivative of Proto-Indo-European *ar-yo-, meaning "one who assembles". In the Iranian languages, the gentilic is attested as a self-identifier, included in ancient inscriptions and the literature of the Avesta, remains in other Iranian ethnic names Alan and Iron.
Iran has been referred to as Persia by the West, due to the writings of Greek historians who referred to all of Iran as Persís, meaning "land of the Persians", while Persis itself was one of the provinces of ancient Iran, today defined as Fars. As the most extensive interaction the Ancient Greeks had with any outsider was with the Persians, the term persisted long after the Greco-Persian Wars. In 1935, Reza Shah requested the international community to refer to the country by its native name, effective March 22 that year; as The New York Times explained at the time, "At the suggestion of the Persian Legation in Berlin, the Tehran government, on the Persian New Year, March 21, 1935, substituted Iran for Persia as the official name of the country." Opposition to the name change led to the reversal of the decision, Professor Ehsan Yarshater, editor of Encyclopædia Iranica, propagated a move to use Persia and Iran interchangeably. Today, both Iran and Persia are used in cultural contexts, while Iran remains irreplaceab