This month's National Geographic features Iran, and in a few minutes, I am going to sit down and enjoy reading it.
Iran -- such a puzzle of a country! To many minds today, the word evokes a shudder. Yet, by its ancient name, Persia, the most romantic of imagery is conjured up: Persian rugs, Persian cats, etc.
To the ancient West, Persia was the perennial enemy -- whether the Evil Empire that threatened heroic Greece, the land of the once Great King who fell to Alexander the Great, or the Parthians who frustrated Roman advancement into the East.
Ironically, when the West embraced Christianity, it embraced a book which portrayed a completely different Persia. To the Jews before the Common Era, Persia was a benevolent master, much preferred to the horrible Babylonians that came before. Cyrus, king of Persia, may have been a hiss and a byword to the Athenians but the Bible venerates him. And the Jews had far more trouble from the Hellenizing legions of Alexander than they ever did from the Persians.
Yet this very land of Persia, today's Iran, has to be modern Israel's greatest nightmare.