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A grievous vision is declared unto me; the treacherous dealer dealeth treacherously, and the spoiler spoileth. Go up, O Elam: besiege, O Media; All sighing thereof have I made to cease.
-- Isaiah 21:2 (KJV)

Is Isaiah referring to Persia when he mentions Elam? The chapter is about the fall of Babylon. I've heard that the name "Persia" had come around by the Greeks during the reign of Alexander the Great, so Isaiah wouldn't had used it to describe them. But I've also heard that the Persians referred to themselves as the "Parsa" people, so he may have been able to use the name Parsa rather than Elam. Though I think Isaiah is talking about regions rather than peoples.

I'm not sure whether the region Persis (where the Persions came from) was recognised during Isaiah's time.

I've heard that the Persian (Parsa) people were descended from Elam, Shem's son. Would this be the reason why Isaiah would refer to the Persians as Elam, if he was referring to them at all?

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  • Elam was a neighboring nation to the Medes and Persians.
    – user2910
    Apr 29 '17 at 15:44
  • Yeah but I heard that the bible uses the names of Noah's grandsons to refer to nations. Eg: the bible calls Egypt "Mizraim" after Ham's son because the Hebrews believed that Mizraim was the founder of the Egyptians. The same is for Media - the bible names them Madai after Japheth's son. So when Isaiah mentions Elam, he more referring to the descendants of Elam (Shem's son) rather than the region. My question is whether the Persians are descended from Elam.
    – user329957
    Apr 30 '17 at 13:15
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Elam was known to the Jews long before Persia showed up in history. Genesis 14:1

At the time when Amraphel was king of Shinar, Arioch king of Ellasar, Kedorlaomer king of Elam and Tidal king of Goyim,

Isaiah prophesied Elam and Media gainst Babylon in 21:

2 A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. Elam, attack! Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she caused. ...

9 Look, here comes a man in a chariot with a team of horses. And he gives back the answer: 'Babylon has fallen, has fallen! All the images of its gods lie shattered on the ground!'"

Ezekiel prophesied the death of Elam in 32:24

"Elam is there, with all her hordes around her grave. All of them are slain, fallen by the sword. All who had spread terror in the land of the living went down uncircumcised to the earth below. They bear their shame with those who go down to the pit.

Now we have a bit of a puzzle. How would a dead nation lay siege on Babylon?

Cambridge Bible provides an answer:

ElamMedia] The dominions of Cyrus. The former [Elam] lay east of the Tigris and north of the Persian Gulf; Media was the mountainous district adjoining it on the north. Cyrus, according to the Babylonian records, was originally king of Anzan, in the north of Elam; in 549 he conquered Media, uniting the two in one kingdom. The name “Persia” never occurs in pre-exilic books.

Is the prophet referring to Persia when he mentions Elam in Isaiah 21?

Yes, because the name Persia was unknown to Isaiah or to the Israelites. Isaiah used the closest territorial approximation, i.e., Elam and Media.

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  • I believe this about a harsh prophecy concerning Babylon which is called the traitor.
  • Babylon which plundered other nations till now will be plundered
  • O Elam refers to Persia
  • O Media refers to Medes

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