Defending the Theistic View

The Identity of Darius the Mede

cyrusHe is a man who is unknown to history outside of the book of Daniel. He is shown as the depicted as the one who conquered the Babylonian empire and became king. His name is given as “Darius the Mede.” The absence of knowledge about him outside of the Bible has lead most historians and scholars to assume that he never existed. Also, the description that Daniel gives about him may have also lead others to believe that the writer of Daniel had confused Darius I with Cyrus the Persian. — Alongside the doubts of his existence, there are also theories that attempt to identify him. Many speculate that he was a governor and others believe he was a king. Many prefer to believe that the Bible is just an inaccurate collection of myths and illustrations told to get a certain point across.

I have already studied the identity of this mysterious man named “Darius the Mede” in a previous post (see “Defending the Book of Daniel“) but what I plan to do now is make a more detailed study about who he may be and what sceptics think about him.

The Ugbaru Theory
One of the most widely referenced theories that many Christians cite is that Darius was a general under Cyrus. The Ancient Chronicle of Nabonidus found in the middle east gives detailes about the kings of Babylon from the year 556 B.C. to 539. In it, there is a general mentioned that is said to have conquered Babylon. He is called Gobryas or Ugbaru. In the text, he is described as doing certain things that Daniel 6:1 claims that Darius had done (i.e appointing sub governors immediately.) Then on October 29 of 539 B.C. Cyrus finally entered Babylon .

Chris Sandoval in his paper “The Failure of Daniel’s Prophecies” doesn’t buy into the theory that Gobryas the governor could be Darius on the grounds that:

His royal edicts were irrevocable according to the laws of the Medes and Persians(Daniel 6:8,12,15). Darius had the power to decree that he was the only god or man in the empire to whom petitions might be made (Daniel 6:7)–a foolish move to make indeed if he were just a governor or puppet king who owed allegiance to Cyrus and the Persian Empire.

He then insists that “contemporary documents prove the nonexistence of Darius the Mede beyond reasonable doubt.” He says that since Cyrus’ documents never mention him that therefore he never existed. But even later he then admits it is possible he existed, but only “barley.”

He then admits that arguments from silence which he makes in the case of Darius the Mede “must be used with caution” but later says that “silence carries even more weight as evidence if positive facts get in the way,” again basing his arguement on the lack of any mention of Darius in documentation saying they “leave no room for Daniel’s Darius the Mede as the sole sovereign of Babylon, thereby proving his nonexistence at that time beyond a reasonable doubt.”

Also, Farrell Till (in Darius the Son of Ahashuerus?) argues against the theory that Gobryas is Darius says that “there are no records that Gubaru was ever made the ‘king of Babylon.’”Again, the argument is based on silence. And in “Darius the Mede: An Actual Historical Character?,” another of his posts he argues:

Gobryas, which was literally Ugbaru, died on March 4, 538 BC, just a few months after the conquest of Babylon in October 539 BC. Hence, if this information is correct Gobryas or Ugbaru could not have been “Darius the Mede,” because Daniel referred to the “first year of the reign of Darius” (9:1-2; 11:1), which implies that Darius had reigned longer than a year and certainly longer than just five months.

I’m now going to make some concessions: I agree with Chris Sandoval that the description of Darius in the book of Daniel seems to indicate a monarch and not a mere governor because of his ability to legislate irrevocable laws. But my bigger problem with this particular theory is the lifespan of Gobryas as described in the Chronicle of Nabonidus: “In the month of Arashamnu, on the night of the eleventh, Gobryas died [November 6].” That’s just a very few days after the Persians conquered Babylon, so it would have been an extremely tight fit for Daniel. Not that it’s impossible, but it is very unlikely.

And also, the date given by the Nabonidus Chronicle differs from the date Till gives for the death of Gobryas which is actually November 6, and not March 4. However, the date he gives is still supported by a reliable link he gives, so I will cut him some slack here.

But as for his protests that Gobryas cannot be Darius the Mede because of the time shown in historical records and the Bible only referencing “the first year” of Darius the Mede and no more, Till shows his ignorance of the Babylonian-Persian calender system called the “accession year.” — The Berytus Archeological Studies of the American University of Beirut shows:

The Achaemenidae, having introduced in the Persian Empire the same Babylonian system of time-reckoning, used the device of the “accession year.” The last civil year of a previous ruler was identified with the “year of the beginning” of his successor, and “year 1″ of the latter started at the next Nisanu 1 only. Under the Macedonian rulers the natives of Asia continued to reckon regnal years from Nisanu 1.

So, using this system, though Gobryas‘ life ended really soon, his reign over Babylon as governor (or possibly Satrap) under Cyrus would have officially lasted a year starting on the first day of the next year. So, on that basis alone, there is no problem.

But, where I disagree with Sandoval and Till is obvious: I do not believe that the lack of a mention of Darius’ name in ancient records in anyway disproves or undermines his existence beyond a reasonable doubt. It would be to much of an oversimplification to believe that it did. After all, scholars used to doubt the existence of Belshazzar because of the lack of any mention of him, however he had been identified in the 19th century when inscriptions bearing his name were found (Commentary Reference Series vol 8, Pages. 127-250 & 255)

The Cyrus-Darius Theory
Another theory is mentioned in D. J. Wiseman’s Some Historical Problems in the Book of Daniel which he advanced in 1957 that Darius the Mede may, in fact, be Cyrus the Persian. He says:

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 Tiglathpileser king of Assyria’) and elsewhere.

In this particular verse the term “waw” is usually rendered as “and.” –But Mentioning Pul and TiglathPileser as an example to prove his point is important, because the two of them were the same person . Pul was a title name, and TiglathPilaser was his real name. His translation of 1 Chronicles 5: 26 emphasise that they were one and the same, though with different titles. Even though some translations like the New American Bible translate this verse as “God of Israel incited against them the anger of Pul, king of Assyria, and of Tiglathpileser” phrasing the verse as if they were different persons, many modern translations, like the New King James Version, phrase it as “the spirit of Pul king of Assyria, that is, TiglathPileser king of Assyria” showing they are the same individual, which they are, and also because it was a possible translation. — So, obviously, this verse can be legitimently translated both ways.

He then points out that his verse is structured similarly to Daniel 6: 28, hence it would then be possible that Cyrus and Darius were the same. *One name would be a given name and the other might possibly be a title.*

Well, of course, this solution has been attacked by overly skeptical critics. In his post entitled “Darius the son of Ahashuerus?” Farrell Till argues:

I have checked various translations, and I can find none that support Wiseman’s hypothesis. The translation of the Jewish Publication Society renders this verse the same as do other translations: “Thus Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius and during the reign of Cyrus the Persian.”

Till’s objection has two major problems: 1) The over reliance on Bible translations to rule out how a Biblical verse can or cannot be translated is very unscholarly and crossing the line to being pathetic. And 2) In his search of “support from translations” for Wiseman’s suggestion he obviously hasn’t checked enough translations because in several of them (in the footnotes) similar readings are accepted as a legitimate alternative translation. These Bible versions are the New International Version, the New Living Translation, the Holman Christian Standard Bible, and the Today’s New International Version. It is given as, ” . . . Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus,” or as “Darius, even . . .”

So Wiseman didn’t make this up. The verse can be translated as ” So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius, that is, the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” It doesn’t just have to say ” . . . during the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus” as Till keeps on insisting. The “that is” or “even” point to the reigns of both Cyrus and Darius as being one and the same, like King Pul’s anger or spirit being the same as TiglathPileser’s. So, the truth is that Wiseman’s hypothesis does, in fact, have support. — So, even with this evidence that any novice, including Till, can access I think this renders any protests against the alternate translation of Daniel 6:28 as irrelevant. However, this isn’t the end of the end of the Cyrus-Darius debate.

Cyrus’s Possible Origins
Something very important to the Cyrus-Darius debate is where Cyrus came from and what his origins are. It would be understandable for people to reject the theory that Cyrus is Darius on the basis that Cyrus is called a Persian and Darius is called a Mede. However, that would be to forget Cyrus’s heritage. — Cyrus was possibly half-Mede, the grandson of Astyages who was the last king of the Medes.

The Historian George Grote says that Cyrus’ childhood may be legendary as the Historian Herodotus tells it. He says:

According to the legend, Astyages, the king of the Medes and overlord of the Persians, gave his daughter in marriage to his vassal in Persis, a prince called Cambyses. From this marriage Cyrus was born.

This shows that is possible that Cyrus was Half-Mede, though some historians think it is legend. And Ferrell Till is very sure to say that this relationship to the Medes by Cyrus “is by no means historically certain.” Till continues to say:

Let’s assume that Cyrus’s mother was a Median princess. Why would that have made the son of a Persian king, born in Persia, “a Mede by birth”? That kind of logic would have made Obed, the grandfather of David, a Moabite, because his mother Ruth was a Moabitess (Ruth 1:3-4; 4:13-21) [ . . . ] According to 1 Chronicles 3:1-3, the mothers of three of David’s sons were foreigners, so the same logic that inerrantists use to make Cyrus a Mede would make these sons of David the same ethnicity as their mothers.

Till is trying to show the saying that Cyrus was Mede as problematic based on certain Biblical examples of Half-blood Isrealites. He apparently thinks that these children could not have identified, at least in part, as part of their mothers’ race. As someone who is biracial himself I find this assumption absurd. — There is no reason why Obed, a son of an Isrealite man mentioned by Till in his examples, couldn’t have admitted to being of the “seed” of a Moabite. And as for his examples of David’s sons: It wouldn’t be said that they were actually “foreigners” because they were the sons of an Isrealite, but they did have foreign blood in their veins from their mother, so the same thing goes for them. So again, Till’s reasoning is absurd and I think barley even worth mentioning.

Now, back to the prossible relationship between Astyages and Cyrus: Some historians, in fact accept that it is “possible that the story of Cambyses‘ Median marriage was invented to justify Cyrus’ rule.” – However, they also say that such a relationship between the two men “would explain why the Medes accepted Cyrus’ rule; he was one of them.” — In other words, it is possible one way or the other, and such a relationship of Cyrus the Persian to the Median royal family should not be ruled out. And to do so would be bad scholarship.

Also, if the Medes indeed did accept Cyrus as “one of them” because of the blood relation through his mother, then that would be full justification for also labeling him as a Mede. — Also, that assertion shows that scholars don’t agree with Till when he claims that even if Cyrus were the grandson of the last Median King and the son of a Mede princess that he wouldn’t be of the “seed of the Medes.” But apparently, nothing is good enough for Farrell Till:

Cyrus was not “of the seed of the Medes” or “by birth a Mede.” He was a Persian, and the writer of Daniel described him as such when he was unequivocally referring to his ethnicity (Dan. 6:28). As noted above, the author of Daniel specifically said that “Darius the Mede” was “by birth a Mede,” so he was obviously emphasizing his ethnic origin; therefore, if Miller’s spin on Daniel 6:28 is correct, it would have this verse meaning: “So Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius [the Mede], even in the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” Only a desperate biblical inerrantist would say that this interpretation of the verse makes any logical sense, because a more plausible interpretation is that the writer was emphasizing that Cyrus was a Persian as opposed to Darius, whom he had just identified as a Mede.

This arguement that, dispite potential authentic historical possibilities, shows how closed minded Till is. There is no way he can actually say with certainty that Cyrus was not of Median origins. But since it hurts his anti-Biblical position, he decides to pretend it is impossible. And that, as I said, is bad scholarship. — And as for his protest for the alternate translation of Daniel 6: 28, I think I have already made my point.

The Meaning of “Darius the Mede
A logical question could potentially be: If Daniel meant that Darius the Mede is Cyrus the Persian, then why not simply call him “Cyrus?” Several Christian scholars and apologists have noted that certain pre-Daniel Biblical prophesies that predicted that the Medes would have a hand in Babylon’s downfall. A notable example, in the context of a fall of Babylon is Isaiah 21:2:

A dire vision has been shown to me: The traitor betrays, the looter takes loot. Elam, attack Media, lay siege! I will bring to an end all the groaning she [Babylon] caused. (TNIV, Brackets mine)

Another example is Isaiah 13: 17,19:

See, I will stir up against them the Medes, who do not care for silver and have no delight in gold. Their bows will strike down the young men; they will have no mercy on infants, nor will they look with compassion on children. Babylon, the jewel of kingdoms, the pride and glory of the Babylonians, will be overthrown by God like Sodom and Gomorrah. (TNIV)

So for a Jewish prophet, it would only be natural to emphesis the fullfilent of this certain prophesy in his lifetime. Hence, we get the Median side of Cyrus. As a matter of fact, Daniel personally may have prefered calling him a Mede over a Persian. For modern readers, this is misleading, but it wouldn’t have been for Daniel’s first readers.

Farrel Till, always scratching for something wrong, insists that these verses are a basis that a misinformed Jew from the second century B.C. used to come to conclusion that the Persians didn’t conquer Babylon, but rather the Medes instead. (I’ll talk about this a little later)

I have another contention about the name “Darius” as far as Cyrus is concerned. According to the Encyclopedia of the Orient “It is not known whether Cyrus was a title or a personal name.” — So if “Cyrus” is indeed a title then his real name would be unknown. But then if he and “Darius the Mede” are indeed one and the same as Daniel 6:28 seems to show, then that could mean that Daniel himself that he preserved his name (Darius) which is otherwise historically unknown.

The Son of Ahasuerus
According to Daniel 9:1 Darius the Mede is called the son of Ahasuerus (or Xerxes). The main point of Farrel Till’s Darius the Son of Ahashuerus? is to slam this statement. He claims that this makes a chronological problem:

Ahasuerus was the Xeres of the book of Esther, who reigned over the Persian empire from 485-465 BC. How, then, could Darius the Mede, who conquered Babylon in 539 BC and allegedly ruled over it, have been the son of a king who didn’t reign till 54 years later? The sensible explanation is that the writer of Daniel, who lived centuries after the events he was writing about, was confused about when and where certain 5th– and 6th-century BC rulers had lived.

One could understandably agree with Till that this is a “chronological problem” as he puts it. Till then mocks assertions by Christian apologists that “Ahasuerus” could be a title instead of an actual name. By this he says that making “Ahasuerus” a title for Darius’ father would cause confussion to the ancient readers of the Hebrew Bible. He then cites verses from the books of Esther, Ezra as well as other verses which mention the Persian “Ahasuerus.” — He continues after citing an extremely long Biblical passage which mentions many kings:

This passage, which described conflict that the returning Jewish exiles had with the inhabitants of the region, mentioned five kings: Esar-Haddon of Assyria, Cyrus of Persia, Darius of Persia, Ahasuerus of Persia, and Artaxerxes also of Persia. Werethese names or just “royal titles”? Will inerrantists try to argue that Esar-Haddon was not the name of an Assyrian king, that Cyrus was not the name of a Persian king, that Darius was not the name of a Persian king, and that Artaxerxes was not the name of a Persian king? In each case, the “royal title” king was used in reference to these monarchs, so if inerrantists argue that Ahasuerus was just a “royal title,” they will be arguing that Ezra used the specific names of four different kings in this passage but referred to the fifth one by just a “royal title.” How likely is that? (Emphasis his)

For the record, as I mentioned earlier, “Cyrus” may indeed be a title. But apparently Till doesn’t know that. — And also, to compare Daniel’s style of writting to that of others is a flawed approach because obviously Daniel doesn’t have to write in the same manner as Ezra or any other prophet. Different people have different writing styles, and that’s a fact. — Till is assuming way to much in believing that the “Ahasueras” of Esther and Ezra really has to be the one mentioned in Daniel.

I don’t pretend to actually know who this “Ahasueras” really was, but I do have a really good idea as to his identity. I think it would be a huge mistake to identify him as Cambyses (Cyrus’ birth-father). So I’d say that leads to the maternal side of the family which would identify him as King Astyages the Mede. — Besides my assumption, there is historical evidence to back it up: The ancient Jewish historian Josephus, although he doesn’t identify Darius as Cyrus, says that, “[Darius] was the son of Astyages, and had another name among the Greeks.” (Antiquities of the Jews, 10,11, 4) — This identification of Darius’ father as Astyages is extremely important because Josephus would have known that Daniel called Darius’s father “Ahasueras.” So he likely saw them as one and the same.

Also, I should mention that if, as mentioned before, that Daniel focused on the Median ethnicity of Cyrus to show that Biblical prophesy had been fulfilled through him, then Astyages is the safest bet to identify “Ahasuerus.” — I have no opinion of which of the two names (”Astyages” or “Ahasuerus”) are titles or actual names as some other Christians do.

To the Medes or the Persians?
Earlier, I mentioned that Farrel Till insists that the Book of Daniel says that Babylon fell to the Medes and not to the Persians:

The author of Daniel, writing long after the fact, obviously didn’t know the facts about the actual fall of Babylon, and so he theorized that the city had to have been conquered by the Medes.

The truth is there is textual evidence in Daniel itself that the author know the true history of the Babylonian fall. It can be found in the fifth capter of the book when Daniel interprates the so-called “writing on the wall.”

“This is the inscription that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, Parsin. “This is what these words mean: Mene: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. Tekel: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Peres: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” (Daniel 5:25,28 NIV)

This may not look like proof but it should be noted that in verse 28, Daniel used “Peres” which is the singular of “Parsin.” The Alternate understandings of this term include renderings such as “half mina,” “half shekel,” and most importantly to my case it can even mean “Persia.” — In other words the evidence that Daniel know the true story of how Babylon fell is found in a pun in the term used for “divided.” Daniel did not make a mistake. However in another of his posts (See “The Linguistic ‘Evidence’”) this still isn’t good enough for Till. So, one could wonder if any evidence will ever be good enough.

The identity of Darius the Mede is indeed problematic, but not impossible to resolve. So far, there seems to be more of a possiblity for him to be Cyrus the Persian than for him to be Gobryas (or Ugbaru). The strongest bit of evidence is the alternate translation of Daniel 6:28 as, “Daniel prospered in the reign of Darius, even (namely, or i.e.) the reign of Cyrus the Persian” which points in that dirrection. The rest of the evidence to identify him as such in no way goes against known history, though sometimes it is speculative in several instances. Someday this matter may be resolved satisfactually.


One response

  1. Pingback: The Book of Daniel — The Persian and Median Empire « Explanation

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