Daniel 6:1 – Who is Darius the Mede?

Although Daniel 6 is one of the most well-known stores in the Bible, it also has several historical details which are difficult to reconcile with history. The main problem is “Who is Darius the Mede?”

The main problem is that both the biblical and the extra-biblical sources identify Cyrus as the conqueror of Babylon. There is no room for the reign of another king named Darius who conquered Babylon organized the Persian Empire. Daniel 5:31 states Darius “received the kingdom” when he was sixty-two years old. In 6:1 Darius organized the empire in 120 satrapies. The end of Daniel 6 states Cyrus the Persian ruled after Darius. In Daniel 9:1 Darius is identified as the son of Ahasuerus (probably not the same as Esther). Ahasuerus is Xerxes in the LXX, see the NIV 2011).

Darius the MedeIn the Old Greek versions of Daniel 6;1, the name of the king is “Artaxerxes the Mede” and he was “full of days and glorious in old age” (πλήρης τῶν ἡμερῶν καὶ ἔνδοξος ἐν γήρει), rather than sixty-two years old. The second edition of the Lexham English Septuagint (2019) follows the Old Greek but retains the name Darius rather than Artaxerxes the Mede. This does not help much, but it does indicate the historical problems associated with Darius the Mede were known in antiquity.

The name Darius is common in Persian history. Darius the Great (550–486 BC), sometimes called Darius I Hystaspes, ruled over the Persian Empire and organized the empire into satrapies, but he ruled 18 years after the fall of Babylon. If Daniel 6:1 refers to Darius I Hystaspes, then Daniel is very old, over 100 years old. While this is not impossible, the book does not mention Daniel’s extraordinary age.  Darius is  sixty-two years old when he conqued  Babylon (Daniel 6:1), but Darius I Hystaspes was in his thirties and organized the kingdom into twenty satrapies. Finally, Darius I Hystaspes was a Persian not a Mede.

Goldingay suggests the precise age sixty-two refers to the writing on the wall: the value of the mena mena tekel parsin is sixty two shekels. The years of Darius, according to Goldingay, indicate he is the one fulfilling the decree made against Belshazzar (Daniel2, 294).

The most common suggestions for the identity of Darius are:

Astyages. The last king of Media (585-550 B.C.), and the king who immediately preceded Cyrus the Great. His daughter marred the Persian Cambyses, whose son was Cyrus II (“the Great”). Astyages was warned in a dream that if his grandson lived, he would overshadow him (Herodotus 1.110). Cyrus did in fact lead a Persian army against his Median grandfather, aided in part by a defection of some of Asyages’ army.

Cyaxares II. According to Xeonophon, Cyrus did not conquer the Medes before the fall of Babylon and Astyages did have an heir Cyaxares II who was still ruling in 539 B.C. (and was an old man, Cyropaedia 4.5.32). he combined the army of the Medes with the Persians to conquer Babylon and ruled Babylon for a short time. (For details of this view, see Keil and Delitzsch, 9:617, Tanner, Daniel 357-58).

Cambyses II. Cambyses I was a Persian king of Anshan (600-559 B.C.) and was a vassal of Astyages. He married Astyages daughter Mandane, and their child was Cyrus the Great. Cyrus’ son Cambyses II (529-522). Babylonian court records describe him as overseeing affairs in Babylonia during Cyrus’ administration, although he may have been more interested in military excursions in to Egypt (Boutflower, In and around the Book of Daniel, 148).

Gobryas. Gobryas or Gubaru was the Median military general in charge of the capture of Babylon described in Daniel 5. This has been the favored explanation among conservative scholars for many years (Bill Shea, for example), although H. H. Rowley argued strenuously against this view (Darius the Mede, 21). Xenophon said Gobyras was “an Assyrian, a man well advanced in years” (Cyropaedia 4.6.1).

Several scholars argue Darius the Mede is another name for Cyrus the Persian, the king known from history as the conqueror of Babylon. A key argument supporting Cyrus as Darius is Wiseman’s translation of 6:28: “Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” This translation implies Darius and Cyrus are two different people. Wiseman suggests we ought to translate the waw-conjunction as “even” rather than and, on the analogy of 1 Chronicles 5:26, “Pul, even Tiglath Pilesar III was king of the Assyrians.” (See also Joyce Baldwin, 146; Miller, 189).

Does it matter? For many interpreters of Daniel, the book was written in the Greek period and simply muddled Persian history. For conservative scholars with a faith-commitment to the truth of the Bible, there must be some explanation that preserves both the veracity of Scripture and accurate history.

It is very easy to get lost in the historical details trying to reconcile Daniel 6:1 and history and miss the point the book is actually making: The Most High God of the Judean Exiles sets up kingdoms and he brings them down. As Psalm 2:4-6 says, the one enthroned in heaven scoffs at the nations and the kings of the earth who rise up against him. This is true whether the empire is Persian, Greek, Rome, or America. Any arrogant modern empire which claims to be the greatest kingdom in the history of the world will be brought low by the One Enthroned in Heaven.

4 thoughts on “Daniel 6:1 – Who is Darius the Mede?

  1. Wow! I never realized how much controversy there was about who Darius was and the confusion of the possibility that he could have been Astyages, Cambyses II or even Gobryas. To be honest, I never would have seen this struggle of not knowing who he is by just looking at the text. I can see now after reading the article though why this is an issue as the historical accuracy of the Greek period and accuracy of scripture. At the end of the day however, I love the Psalms 2 passage in the article that says “the one enthroned in heaven scoffs at the nations and the kings of the earth who rise up against him” (Long) . No matter the kingdom our country that practices the idea of being “the greatest kingdom” will be humbled by the King of Kings. With living in a country that views itself as “the greatest country”, I can definitely relate to this idea. With Daniel 6 being such important passage in the Bible (Daniel and the Lion’s Den) figuring out who Darius truly is, is worth the time for any biblical scholar to do.

  2. What puzzles me the most is that the Bible is so specific in naming who Darius was, down to his age. If our biblical author knew this figure so well, then why is he not mentioned in historical records? Why don’t other books of the Bible reference him? I am intrigued by Goldingay’s theory mentioned in the article, that his age is actually a reference to earlier in the passage, the system weights that denounced king Belshazzar (Daniel 5:24-28). I wish there was more detail on it, though I am sure that it is much more likely that Darius is an alternate title for one of the men listed.

    For being a pivotal character in the story of Daniel, it really is a shame that the historical identity of Darius the Mede continues to puzzle theologians. However, I agree with the article in that I don’t think that it is all that important for Daniel’s overall theme. If God truly is sovereign over the nations of this world, and those rulers of the nations by proxy, then I don’t see why a Mede called Darius couldn’t have been put in power by God, even if he wasn’t remembered by secular history with that name, or he wasn’t remembered at all.

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