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Encyclopedia of The Bible – Darius the Mede
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Darius the Mede

DARIUS THE MEDE də rī’ əs (דָּרְיָ֨וֶשׁ׃֙). Medo-Pers. governor (“king”) of Babylonia under Cyrus the Great mentioned esp. in the sixth ch. of Daniel. Immediately following the death of “Belshazzar the Chaldean king” in Oct. 539 b.c., Darius the Mede is said to have “received the kingdom” (Dan 5:31), prob. having been made “king over the realm of the Chaldeans” (9:1) by Cyrus the Great (1:21; 6:28). He is best remembered for the unalterable decree which his officers tricked him into signing, which resulted in Daniel being cast into a den of lions (6:7-18). In contrast to Nebuchadnezzar, this ruler was helpless to reverse his own decree, vividly illustrating the inferiority of the silver kingdom of Medo-Persia to the golden kingdom of Babylon in the matter of royal sovereignty. Compare Daniel 3:29; Esther 1:19; 8:8, and the testimony of Diodorus Siculus (xvii, 30), that Darius III (335-331) wanted to free a man he had condemned, but realized that “it was not possible to undo what was done by royal authority.”

Darius the Mede is not to be confused with the later Pers. monarch, Darius I Hystaspes (521-486 b.c.), for he was of Median extraction (“of the seed of the Medes,” Dan 9:1 KJV), and his father’s name was Ahasuerus (the Heb. equivalent of “Xerxes,” the name of the son of Darius I. See Esth 1:1). Darius the Mede was born in the year 601/600 b.c., for at the fall of Babylon in 539 b.c. he was sixty-two (Dan 5:31).

A major assumption of negative higher criticism has been that the Book of Daniel was authored by an unknown writer of the Maccabean age (c. 164 b.c.) who mistakenly thought that an independent Median kingdom ruled by Darius the Mede followed the fall of Babylon and preceded the rise of Persia under Cyrus. Darius the Mede, however, is not depicted in the book as a universal monarch. His subordinate position (under Cyrus) is clearly implied in the statement that he “was made king (Heb. passive, homlak) over the realm of the Chaldeans” (9:1 KJV). Also, the fact that Belshazzar’s kingdom was “given to the Medes and Persians” (5:28) and that Darius found himself incapable of altering the “law of the Medes and Persians” (6:15) renders the critical view untenable.

The early 20th cent. publication of additional cuneiform texts from this period has enabled one to understand much better the circumstances surrounding the fall of Babylon in 539 b.c. It seems quite probable that Darius the Mede was another name for Gubaru, the governor under Cyrus who appointed sub-governors in Babylonia immediately after its conquest (“Nabonidus Chronicle,” ANET, 306; cf. Dan 6:1). This same Gubaru (not to be confused with Ugbaru, governor of Gutium, the general under Cyrus who conquered Babylon and died three weeks later, according to the Nabonidus Chronicle) is frequently mentioned in cuneiform documents during the following fourteen years as “Governor of Babylon and the Region Beyond the River” (i.e., the entire Fertile Crescent). Gubaru thus ruled over the vast and populous territories of Babylonia, Syria, Phoenicia, and Pal., and his name was a final warning to criminals throughout this area (cf. J. C. Whitcomb, Darius the Mede [1963], pp. 10-24). The fact that he is called “king” in the sixth ch. of Daniel is not an inaccuracy, even though he was a subordinate of Cyrus. Similarly, Belshazzar was called “king,” even though he was second ruler of the kingdom under Nabonidus (5:29).

The Book of Daniel gives more information concerning the personal background of Darius the Mede than of Belshazzar or even of Nebuchadnezzar; for he is the only monarch in the book whose age, parentage, and nationality are recorded. Although he was a subordinate ruler like Belshazzar, it is evident that he ruled Babylonia with far greater zeal and efficiency than did his profligate predecessor; and even more important, he honored the God of Daniel (6:25-27). See Book of Daniel.

Bibliography R. D. Wilson, Studies in the Book of Daniel: A Discussion of the Historical Questions (1917); H. H. Rowley, Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires of the Book of Daniel (1935); E. J. Young, The Prophecy of Daniel (1949); J. C. Whitcomb, Jr., Darius the Mede: A Study in Historical Identification (1963); D. J. Wiseman, et al., Notes on Some Problems in the Book of Daniel (1965), 9-16.