Who Was Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel?

Most believe Darius the Mede was the general who invaded Babylon. This article presents new biblical understanding that it was someone else. So, who was Darius the Mede?

Before we begin the article, I would like to take this opportunity to announce that I have completed my fourth book, 70 Times 7: Daniel’s Mysterious Countdown and the Church’s Heroic Future. It’s an analysis and explanation of Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy.  This article is based on a portion of “Chapter Two: Daniel, Darius, and the Prophets” of that book.

This book may not only be my most important book to date, but several who have read it claim it may be one of the most important prophetic books written in the last ten years.

I’m not sure I agree with that assessment. The book has not endured the scrutiny of the full opinion of the church yet. However I agree that the book will be one of the most radical and controversial eschatology books in the last ten years. It seems to refute many facets of our current understanding of Daniel’s prophecy. If that prophecy is the foundation of nearly all our interpretations of end time prophecy (and it is), disputing that understanding shakes up nearly every aspect of our insight of what is to come.  This means that it refutes some of what I have previously taught and some of what nearly all other prophetic teachers have espoused. Needless to say, I’d like you to read and consider what this book has to say. You can learn more about this upcoming book at this link (READ HERE).

The book is currently being read and critiqued by many top prophetic teachers. As you can imagine, a book that disputes our current understanding of Daniel’s 70 Weeks is not quickly digested or accepted. These teachers are in the process of providing me with feedback, and I am in the process of reading many of their recommended reference articles and books and revising the manuscript accordingly.

I anticipate a publication date sometime around June 15th of this year. Watch for further announcements.

The following article is a sample of one the new biblical interpretations available in the book. This is certainly a “minor” point, but new discussions of what the Covenant with the Many is, who it is that strengthens it, and how it will be strengthened will certainly cause lots of debate! But even this “minor” point about Darius has caused quite a bit of debate already.

Was there a “Darius the Mede?”

Returning to our discussion of Darius the Mede, Daniel’s 70 Weeks Prophecy takes place during the first year of the reign of this king. Daniel records that this king conquered Babylon on behalf of the Persian Empire and was the king that was tricked into throwing Daniel into the Lion’s Den. The problem is that a king named Darius the Mede is found no where in secular history.

Atheists and Bible critics have jumped on this obvious “problem” to cast doubt on the entire Book of Daniel. Their theory is that Daniel was a forgery written hundreds of years later, and that this forger or pseudo-Daniel did not know history well and confused the later Persian King Darius the Great with Cyrus who was the king who invaded Babylon, combining them into the king “Darius the Mede” who Daniel mentions 8 times.

This article will present new evidence that not only proves the hidden identity of this king, but blows the critics’ theory out of the water. We will get to that new biblical evidence later in this article. In the mean time, let’s look at the critics’ claim logically.

The Book of Daniel and the 70 Weeks Prophecy were widely accepted by both the Jewish and Christian community. It is part of the canon of scripture of both faiths. Jesus refers to the Book of Daniel dozens and dozens of times, and calls Daniel a prophet in Matt. 24:15. In fact, the title Jesus took for himself, the Son of Man, comes from Dan. 7:13-14. We did a four part series on Jesus’s quotes of Daniel. The first article in the series can be accessed by this link (CLICK HERE). The rest of the article series can be found by searching “Daniel” and the “Olivet Discourse” on this website’s search function.

So if Daniel is not an inspired book and was written by a forger, Jesus is not the infallible Son of God. That is what is at stake in this conversation since Jesus mentioned Daniel by name, called him a prophet, and based a significant portion of his teaching on this book.

The Jews not only accepted the Book of Daniel into the canon, but actually changed their calendar to dispute Christians’ claims that Jesus fulfilled the 70 Weeks Prophecy! Yes, you read that correctly, the second century Jews subtracted over 100 years from the calendar to dispute the Christian claims of Jesus being the Messiah! The apostate rabbis even pronounced a curse on those who attempted to determine the identity of Messiah based on the 70 Weeks Prophecy. More complete explanations of these accounts are found in the new book.

But the point is that the Jews were carefully counting years since their return from Babylon based on the 70 Weeks Prophecy. They also had the rest of the Prophets and Chronicles which discuss the chronology of Persian Kings. It is impossible to believe a forger could have fooled the Jewish leaders with a book with an obvious error in it’s chronology. There must be another explanation.

Who Was Darius the Mede?

I think we can be assured that Darius the Mede ruled in Babylon at the time that Daniel indicated. The ancient Jews and Jesus never disputed this passage.

In the first year of Darius the son of Ahasuerus, by descent a Mede, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans. (Dan. 9:1)

His true identity, however, is lost to history. We can only make educated guesses who he was. One reason why his true identity is difficult to confirm is that we cannot be certain whether the names found in the above verse — “Darius” and “Ahasuerus” — are actual names, or are they titles?

The name Darius or Darayavahus in Persian is a nominative form meaning “he who holds firm the good(ness).” Much as “Pharaoh” was a title of the Egyptian rulers and was not a true name; the names of Persian kings found in our Scriptures: Darius, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, and Xerxes may all have been titles as well. If this is true, it casts incredible complexity on the entire chronology of Persian and Median kings as many of them held one (or more) of these titles. A further complication of this analysis is that current historians inappropriately consider these names as being the Persian kings’ proper names and calculate chronologies based on them.

If the titles Darius, Ahasuerus, Artaxerxes, and Xerxes are not proper names, the currently imagined chronology of Persian Kings becomes highly questionable.

For our purposes here, we need to consider that the name “Darius” found in Dan. 6 and 9 was likely a “throne name” or a title and not the man’s proper name.

There are two primary theories about who this “Darius” was. One theory is that “Darius the Mede” was the general, Gobryas, who led the Persian forces when they conquered Babylon. The second theory is that he may have been Cyrus the Great himself. We need to examine these theories because the most likely answer will provide useful information later on.

Gobryas is thought by most to have died less than a month after the conquest of Babylon making it nearly impossible that the events of Dan. 6 and 9 could have taken place during that one-month period of his reign. The biblical historian, William Shea, however, presented evidence that Gobryas may have survived an additional year based on the order of events given in the Chronicle of Nabonidus in which Gobryas’s death is recorded. Shea also presented evidence that economic documents referencing Cyrus do not refer to him as King of Babylon until one year after the conquest .

Shea combined these two pieces of evidence and concluded that Cyrus could have appointed his general, Gobryas, as a vassal king over Babylon until Gobryas died a year later. According to Shea’s theory, Cyrus then would have assumed the combined throne of Babylon and Persia. In this way, Shea proposed that Gobryas was the mysterious Darius the Mede. Based on Shea’s work in the 1980’s, this has become the predominant theory in the eschatological community.

In order to determine whether Cyrus or Gobryas was Darius the Mede, we need to examine the four evidences found in Daniel’s account. Regardless of which character it was, however, it is obvious that the name “Darius” was not his proper name and rather is a throne name or title – as we have proposed.

Dan. 9:1-2 gives us two of the four clues to his identity:

• He was the son of Ahasuerus, most likely a King of the Medes
• He was of Median descent.

And in Dan. 5:30 – 6:1, we learn two more facts about Darius:

• He was 62 years old when he ascended the throne
• He appointed 120 satraps or governors.

DARIUS THE MEDE

The first two facts are that “Darius” was a Mede and that he was the son of Ahasuerus. Now as we’ve indicated, “Darius” was a throne name and title, and “Ahasuerus” was most likely, as well. The Hebrew name “Ahasuerus” is “Xerxes” in the Persian, meaning “hero among rulers.” Cyrus was the son of the Persian Cambyses I (who could possibly have been titled Xerxes) and grandson of Astyages, who was a Median king (who also could possibly have been titled Xerxes.)

In this way, Cyrus was of both Persian and Median royal descent. At one point, he defeated his grandfather, Astyages, to become king of both the Persians and Medes. Even though he was a conqueror, he was readily accepted by the Medes because he was “one of them.” In fact, the Medes revolted against his grandfather and handed him over to Cyrus. So he was of Median royal descent just as Daniel states when he refers to Darius the Mede.

Gobryas is minor character in secular history, and as such, little is known about his lineage. Xenophon, the historian, referred to him as an Assyrian, however, Xenophon was known to be inaccurate in many aspects of his account . But whether Xenophon was correct or inaccurate, there is no evidence that Gobryas was a Mede or the son of a king.

In these first two of the four evidences for Darius’s identity, Cyrus is consistent and Gobryas is not. But the question must be asked why would Daniel make such an issue out of claiming Darius (Cyrus) was a Mede and not a Persian? Today, we generally focus on Cyrus’s Persian ancestry. As we will discover in the next section, Daniel was a student of the prophets. And he was likely aware that Isaiah had prophesied in multiple places that Babylon would be conquered by the Medes (and Persians.)

Behold, I am going to stir up the Medes against them, who will not value silver or take pleasure in gold . . . And Babylon, the beauty of kingdoms, the glory of the Chaldeans’ pride, will be as when God overthrew Sodom and Gomorrah. (Isa. 13, 17,19 NASB, emphasis mine)

Go up, Elam (Persia), lay siege, Media; I have made an end of all the groaning she has caused . . . And one said, “Fallen, fallen is Babylon; and all the images of her gods are shattered on the ground.” (Isa. 21:2,9 NASB, clarification and emphasis mine)

So in Dan. 6 and 9, when the conqueror of Babylon is mentioned, the Holy Spirit stressed his Median ancestry to Daniel.

These two facts then — that Cyrus was a Mede and that he was the son of a king — are entirely consistent with Cyrus and probably very few, if any, other Persians who invaded Babylon, including Gobryas.

Historians also believe that Cyrus was most likely 62 years old when he ascended to the throne of Babylon just as was indicated by Daniel, although his actual year of birth is shrouded in the mists of time. Gobryas may have also been 62 years old at that time as well, but that would be an unusual coincidence.

Daniel informs us that Darius the Mede appointed 120 governors. The Chronicle of Nabonidus does indicate that Gobryas appointed sub-governors in Babylon. However, this was likely within the city of Babylon only and not for the entire nation as the Chronicle primarily makes references to cities not nations. The appointment of such a large number of officials (120) would also probably not have been left to an interim leader like Gobryas. It was a task that only Cyrus himself would have likely undertaken. Finally, this document refers to Gobryas as only a governor and not a king.

William Shea, the greatest critic of the “Cyrus as Darius” equivalency, acknowledges that Cyrus is a good match with the four facts about Darius as presented by Daniel. However, he asks one additional probing question; one no one has been able to answer until this book, “Why does Daniel refer to both the third year of Cyrus (Dan. 10:1) and the first year of Darius the Mede (Dan. 11:1) in the same vision (Daniel’s Great Vision Prophecy in Dan. 10-12)?” This question about why Daniel would use two names for one king seems to contradict Cyrus being Darius the Mede . And this use of BOTH names in Daniel is the main reason that Grobyas is the primary candidate for Darius the Mede in the church today.

This use of two names is actually quite easy to understand. The first usage referenced by Shea in Dan. 11:1 is the writing of a scribe who transcribed and probably collated the Book of Daniel, and not to Daniel’s actual words. Daniel would never refer to himself in the third person:

In the third year of Cyrus king of Persia, a message was revealed to Daniel, who was named Belteshazzar (Dan. 10:1 NASB)

The fact that a scribe collated the Book of Daniel is not well understood, but it is obvious this verse was not Daniel’s own words. This doesn’t mean that every word wasn’t inspired. No, not at all, it just means that several explanatory verses were added later when Daniel’s actual words were collated into a book.

Additionally, in the Book of Daniel, the prophet never refers to the name “Cyrus.” Daniel’s references to this king in Dan. 5:31, 6:1,6,9,25,28, 9:1, and 11:1 always use the names “Darius” or “Darius the Mede.” There is one other reference to the name “Cyrus” in the Book of Daniel, and not surprisingly, it is also the writing of the scribe, again referring to Daniel in the third person.

So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Dan. 6:28 NASB, emphasis mine)

If we closely examine this second verse, it also seems to preclude Darius and Cyrus from being the same person. It seems to refer to two kings. However, it is possible that the Hebrew passage in the NASB may be misunderstood. It may actually say something quite different than the way it is translated. This theory was first proposed by D. J. Wiseman:

The basis of the hypothesis is that Daniel 6:28 can be translated ‘Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even (namely, or i.e.) the reign of Cyrus the Persian.’ Such a use of the appositional or explicative Hebrew “waw” construction has long been recognized in Chronicles 5:26 (‘So the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul king of Assyria even the spirit of Tiglath–pileser king of Assyria’) and elsewhere . — D. J. Wiseman

Wiseman’s point centers around the Hebrew word “waw”. This word can function as a simple conjunction (“and”) or in a host of other ways. “Waw” is much more expressive and is utilized in a greater variety of ways than the English “and.” One of these ways is to equate two items. This use is known as a “hendiadys.” That is the use found in 1 Chron. 5:26 about the Assyrian King Tiglath-pileser whose throne title was “Pul” or “Pulu.” The construction in Dan. 6:28 is identical to 1 Chron. 5:26. The NIV, NLT, HCSB, and TNIV all provide footnotes that Wiseman’s translation of Dan. 6:28 is an acceptable alternative to the NASB translation.

This hendiadys fits perfectly with the reasons for the uses of the names “Cyrus” and “Darius” in the Book of Daniel. In the days of Daniel, Cyrus was likely referred to by the throne name “Darius” in the court in Babylon. That may be why Daniel only refers to him by this name. If the Book of Daniel was collated by a scribe years later when the king’s proper name “Cyrus” was in common use to refer to this king, the scribe may have desired to clarify this possible misconception. The scribe likely entered the hendiadys in Dan. 6:28 to explain to his readers in no uncertain terms that Darius the Mede was Cyrus.

This brand new understanding of the historic uses of “Cyrus” and “Darius” in the Book of Daniel finally and conclusively solves the mystery of “Darius the Mede” which has puzzled the church for hundreds of years. It is historically interesting and mildly important, and will be even more crucial to our understanding of how the Bible’s chronology fits with our knowledge of the secular Persian Kings in future chapters.

It is also of importance in discounting the atheist arguments that Daniel was a forgery. First it provides the identity of Darius the Mede which ends their argument. But almost more importantly, notice the ancient scribe’s careful maintenance of Daniel’s actual words. A simple solution for the scribe would have been to substitute the name “Cyrus” for “Darius the Mede” in Daniel’s writings. But the scribe didn’t do that, rather he inserted an explanatory comment in Dan. 6:28 and preserved Daniel’s Holy and inspired words despite fully knowing that this was confusing given his culture’s use of the name “Cyrus” instead of “Darius.”

Of all the evidence I’ve ever seen of why Daniel is not a forgery, this is the strongest. No forger would ever, ever, ever insert an explanatory comment into his forgery. Only an original document and a scribe who valued and desired to preserve the divine nature of that original would have been written this way.

 

4 thoughts on “Who Was Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel?”

  1. This takes me back 40 yrs to undergraduate work in Persian history & Aramaic study. Its a long time ago but feels plausible to me .. King Darius passed and signed Laws according to the legal system of the Medes and Persians (Iran) . In the book of Esther confirms that only Kings of the Medes and Persians (Iran) could authorize, pass and sign/seal laws. The founder of the Persian/Iranian Empire had both Median and Persian ties.

    1. Thanks Roland. There are several additional factors that I didn’t include in the article. First, in Dan. 11:1, notice the messenger angel stood up to support Darius. Why would he support him and not Cyrus if they were different people? Second, in the Septuagint (LXX) version, Dan. 11:1 substitutes Cyrus for Darius showing their equivalency. You will find these additional facts and my reasoning that it was Ezra, the scribe, who collated Daniel in the new book.

  2. Blazing some new ground here again Nelson, excellent! Atheists who stake their belief in the supposed error of passages like this should take notice and reconsider!

  3. I literally just finished reading this portion of Daniel when the email came for your new article. I noticed the names while I was reading. I was thinking about running down these names later.Does this mean something, I have no idea. Keep at it Nelson.

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