This is the second post in a series on who wrote the book of Daniel. Read the first post, Who Wrote the Book of Daniel? (Part 1) and the third post, Who Wrote the Book of Daniel? Part 3: The Prayer of Nabonidus.
In a previous post, I argued that the book of Daniel itself views the prophet Daniel as author of the entire book, both the stories in Daniel 1–6 as well as Daniel’s own visions in chapters 7–12. One of the most significant objections to this claim is the king known as “Darius the Mede.” He “received the kingdom” after the death of Belshazzar (Dan. 5:31), and soon he began to appoint 120 satraps (provincial governors) over “the kingdom” (6:1). Over these officials, he also appointed three administrators, one of whom was Daniel (6:2). Before long, Daniel displayed such remarkable ability as an administrator that Darius planned to make him the leader of the three top officials (6:3). That was what provoked the other two administrators to gain the support of some of the satraps to find some way to discredit Daniel (6:4–5). And by tricking King Darius they threw Daniel into a den of lions.
After Daniel escaped any harm from the lions (6:21–22), the king made a proclamation to “all peoples, nations, and languages” that everyone in his dominion must “tremble and fear before Daniel’s God” (6:25–27). Daniel 6 concludes with a summary: “Now this Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius and [or ‘even’] in the reign of Cyrus the Persian” (6:28). The book of Daniel mentions Cyrus only two other times. In 1:21 Daniel “remained until the first year of Cyrus the king.” Then at Daniel 10:1: “in the third year of Cyrus the king of Persia, a message was revealed to Daniel.” One can reconcile these two dates, the first year of Cyrus and his third year, if Daniel 1:21 means that he remained at the Babylonian court until the first year of Cyrus.
Why is this important? Ancient Babylonian and Greek sources identified the king who conquered Babylon as Cyrus, and Darius the Mede is not mentioned anywhere in the Bible or in ancient sources outside of the Bible, with the exception of Josephus (A.J. 10), who had knowledge of the biblical account. Thus many argue that the author of Daniel made a blunder when he said that Darius the Mede “received the kingdom” of Babylon rather than Cyrus. Jeremiah 51:11 states that the Lord would use the Medes to conquer Babylon, so perhaps, according to the argument, the author of Daniel assumed a Median king would conquer Babylon and got the name Darius from the biblical references to the later Persian king known as Darius Hystaspes (Rowley, p. 59). The book of Ezra, however, places Cyrus earlier than Darius Hystaspes (Ezra 4:5 and 6:14). So who was Darius the Mede? And why does Daniel’s book make him the conqueror of Babylon?
Whitcomb (1959) attempted to equate Darius the Mede with a certain Gubaru, whom Cyrus appointed governor of Babylon. This popular view has major problems. Most importantly, according to certain Babylonian sources, Cyrus appointed his son Cambyses king of Babylon in his first year (Grabbe, pp. 201–203), and Cyrus appointed Gubaru as governor of Babylon only several years after the conquest of the city (Grabbe, p. 206). It is also unlikely that the people would treat a mere governor like a king, as the sixth chapter of Daniel portrays Darius the Mede.
Recently Steven Anderson has revised an older view that identifies Darius the Mede with a certain Cyaxares, whom Xenophon identified as the maternal uncle of Cyrus the Great (Cyropaedia 1:4:9). The Greek writer Herodotus and the ancient sources written in Babylonian do not mention this Cyaxares. Anderson argues that Cyrus was a subordinate king to Cyaxares, with Darius as an alternate throne name.
For Anderson’s view to work, Cyaxares/Darius would be taking an active role at first, doing all the things described of Darius the Mede in chapter six of Daniel. Then when Cyaxares/Darius dies, Cyrus becomes the sole king (Dan. 6:28). Xenophon, though, depicts Cyrus setting himself up as king of Babylon and moving into the royal palace right after he took Babylon (7.5.37ff.). Then Xenophon describes how Cyrus organized the empire (book 8). During that time Cyrus visited Media and saw Cyaxares, assuring him that a palace had been prepared for him in Babylon (8:17ff.). Nothing indicates that Cyaxares was doing anything of substance in Babylon or that Cyrus was subject to Cyaxares as the real king of the Medo-Persian empire. Xenophon, like Herodotus and the Babylonian documents, ascribes to Cyrus what Daniel 6 ascribes to Darius the Mede.
Most historians view Cyaxares as “wholly unhistorical” (Miller, introduction to Xenophon, 1947, ix–x). Herodotus and the Babylonian Chronicle of Nabonidus (Grayson #7) show that Cyrus defeated Astyages and thereby became king of the Medes. But Xenophon introduced Cyaxares as the successor of Astyages and the helpful uncle of Cyrus. Anderson prefers Xenophon’s account over Herodotus and the Babylonian texts, arguing that those accounts became contaminated with bias for which Cyrus himself was responsible. According to Miller, who translated Xenophon’s Cyropaedia, “Cyaxares, the son of Astyages, is probably not a historical personage, but was invented by Xenophon to bring out Cyrus’s perfect discipline in obedience as well as in ruling” (LCL 52, p. 468). In other words, Xenophon portrayed Cyrus as the ideal ruler. His book is more about the philosophy of leadership than history.
D. J. Wiseman proposed a more likely solution to the identity of Darius the Mede (1965, 9–16), namely that Darius the Mede is an alternate name for Cyrus the Persian. This would entail reading Daniel 6:28 with the marginal reading found in an earlier edition of the NIV (2011): “Darius, that is, in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Such a reading is linguistically justifiable and assumes that Darius, a name borne by three later Persian kings, was an alternate name for Cyrus. Precedent for dual names for a king is known from the Bible and from other ancient sources. For example, Tiglath-pileser was also known as Pul, as attested both in the Bible and in Babylonian inscriptions (1 Chron. 5:26; Grayson, 1992, p. 552). More to the point, Daniel and his companions had dual names; two languages were used in the book; and the expression “the Medes and the Persians” refers to a single kingdom with two parts. Cyrus the Great conquered Media in 550 BC, so when he conquered Babylon in 539 b.c. his kingdom already included Media. Prophets before Daniel also predicted the overthrow of the Babylonians by both the Medes (Isa. 13:17; 21:2; Jer. 51:11, 28) and the Persians (Elam in Isa. 21:2).
According to Herodotus (Histories 1:107–123) and Xenophon (Cyropaedia 1.2.1), Cyrus’ father Cambyses, who was Persian, married the daughter of Astyages, the king of the Medes. This would make Cyrus part Persian and part Median. Daniel 9:1 names the father of Cyrus Ahasuerus, but this may refer to his grandfather Astyages or to “an ancient Achaemenid royal title” given to one of Cyrus’s ancestors (Wiseman, 1965, p. 15).
Daniel never called Darius the king of the Medes. Of eight references to Darius in Daniel, three refer to his Median ancestry without directly calling him king, though his royal office is clear (5:31; 9:1; 11:1). Three call him “king” without mentioning his Median ancestry (6:6, 9, 21), and two simply call him “Darius” (6:1, 28). His Median ancestry follows the Jewish custom of tracing the ancestry of a person of mixed parents through the mother (cf. Ezra 6:3). Cyrus, on the other hand, is called “the king of Persia” (Dan. 10:1), and at 11:1 both ancient Greek versions (the Old Greek and Theodotion) substitute Cyrus for Darius the Mede. The book of Daniel has no court story that takes place during the reign of Cyrus. But if Daniel 6:28 summarizes the reign of Darius/Cyrus as “in the reign of Darius, even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian,” then Daniel 6 presents a court story that took place under the combined rule of the Medes and the Persians.
There are other things I could say regarding the controversial identity of Darius the Mede, and while I cannot prove that Cyrus was also known as Darius without extra-biblical verification, until further data become known this appears to be the best solution to the identity of Darius the Mede.
For my next post on the subject, “Who Wrote the Book of Daniel?”, I will examine the intriguing document from the Dead Sea Scrolls known as “The Prayer of Nabonidus.”
Anderson, Steven D. Darius the Mede: A Reappraisal. Steven D. Anderson, Grand Rapids, 2014.
Grabbe, Lester L. “Another Look at the Gestalt of ‘Darius the Mede.’” Catholic Biblical Quarterly 50:198–213. 1988.
Grayson, A. K. Assyrian and Babylonian Chronicles. Locust Valley, NY. J. J. Augustin. 1975.
Grayson, A. K. “Tiglath-pileser.” In Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 6:552. 1992.
Herodotus. Vol. 1. Books I–X. Trans. A. D. Godley. LCL. Cambridge, MA. 1946.
Josephus. Antiquity of the Jews.
Rowley, H. H. Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel. Cardiff, Wales: University of Wales. 1935.
Shea, William H. “The Search for Darius the Mede (Concluded), or, the Time of the Answer to Daniel’s Prayer and the Date of the Death of Darius the Mede.” Journal of the Adventist Theological Society 12:97–105. 2001.
Whitcomb, John C., Jr. Darius the Mede. Phillipsburg, NJ: Presbyterian and Reformed. 1959.
Wiseman, D. J. “Some Historical Problems in the Book of Daniel.” In Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel. London: Tyndale Press.
Xenophon. Cyropaedia. Books 1–8. Trans. Walter Miller. LCL 51 and LCL 52. Cambridge, MA. 1914.
For Additional Reading
Bulman, James M. “The Identification of Darius the Mede.” Westminster Theological Journal 35:247–267.
Colless, Brian E. “Cyrus the Persian as Darius the Mede in the Book of Daniel.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament 56:113–126. 1992.
Steinman, Andrew E. Daniel. Saint Louis: Concordia. 2008. Pages 290–296.