Darius the Mede (Daniel 6)

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Illustration: Gubaru, thought to be Darius the Mede

Daniel 6 informs us that after the Persian conquest of Babylon, the city was ruled by a king called “Darius the Mede”. This statement poses a problem: There is no record of such an individual outside of the Bible – a fact that has brought the historicity and authorship of Daniel into question. Many believe that an unknown author wrote Daniel hundreds of years after the fall of Babylon and that the figure Darius the Mede, like most of Daniel, is pure fiction. But is it appropriate to patently dismiss Darius the Mede on the assumption that he never existed?

  • Darius the Mede cannot be the Persian king known as Darius I, since this later Darius was the successor of Cyrus, not his predecessor. Furthermore, Darius the Mede, who was purported to be sixty-two years old at the time of the fall of Babylon (5:31), was born in 601/600 B.C., whereas history indicates that Darius I only began to reign in 522 B.C. Those who believe that Daniel is not a historical book sometimes suggest that the author was simply confused about Persian history and thought that Darius I preceded Cyrus the Great. It this were the case, however, the author’s ignorance would truly be astounding; Cyrus the Great, the creator of the Persian empire, is a prominent figure in the Old Testament. Also, Darius I is always presented as a Persian, but Darius the Mede is obviously asserted to be a Mede.
  • Darius the Mede could have been Cyrus the Great. Daniel 6:28 might, according to this theory, be translated “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, in the reign of Cyrus the Persian”. Normally, however, this would be translated simply “and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (emphasis added), as most versions render it. Though a possibility, this interpretation is not persuasive.
  • Darius the Mede could also have been a subordinate king appointed by Cyrus to rule over Babylon. The Hebrew of 9:1 supports this position, stating that Darius was made king, using a passive verb. Also, the Aramaic of Daniel 5:31 states that Darius “received the kingdom” (NIV “took over the kingdom”). Normallyan author would not speak of a conqueror “receiving” a kingdom. Thus, it may be conjectured that Darius the Mede was not a “king” of the same standing as Cyrus but rather a subordinate. It is important to note that the book of Daniel never refers to this Darius as the king either of Persia or of the Medes but simply as the ruler of Babylon. Darius the Mede’s personal name might have been Guaru, that of a governor appointed by Cyrus. Gubaru is mentioned in cuneiform documents, including the Nabonidus Chronicles.

 

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