Who was Darius the Mede? Well, in Daniel 9:1 it says that he is ‘of Xerxes’ – and this implies that Darius the Mede’s father was a man named Xerxes. So what’s the problem?
Well, the only recorded king named Darius, who was connected to a man named Xerxes, is King Darius I of Persia. However, it can’t be him, because Darius I wasn’t born yet (and was actually Xerxes’ father – not his son).
Also, there’s no room in the time between Babylonian King BelShazzar’s reign ending and Persian King Cyrus’s reign starting to then insert an extra king inbetween. And secular history only records Cyrus, the king of Persia conquering Babylon – with no mention of a Median king.
All of this has led Daniel (and the Bible more widely) to be charged with inaccuracy. Indeed, some declare Darius the Mede to be a fictional character! So was Darius the Mede fictional?
No, the accusations make little sense.
The Bible does not say that Darius was the king of Persia. It merely says that he was a Median who ‘took’ the Babylonian kingdom, a kingdom which would be...
...divided among the Medes and Persians. –Daniel 5:28
Now, the Persian Empire was a federal nation, with many different kings and royal families ruling different parts. So if Darius the Mede was just one of the nobility living under Cyrus, who was then appointed over Babylon by him, then we wouldn’t need to ‘find room’ for an ‘extra king’ between BelShazzar and Cyrus.
However, that very night, BelShazzar (the king of the Chaldeans) was killed and Darius the Mede took the kingdom as his own at the age of 62. –Daniel 5:30-31
Therefore, 62-year-old Darius could easily have been appointed as king over Babylon by Cyrus and they both ruled at the same time... but eventually Cyrus became king over Babylon directly.
So DaniEl continued to prosper during the reign of Darius, and on into the reign of Cyrus the Persian. –Daniel 6:28
So the existence of Darius the Mede is not as difficult as some make it out to be. As for the ‘of Xerxes’ part, for all we know, Darius the Mede’s father (or grandfather) may indeed have been called Xerxes, or Xerxes may been a family name or a title passed down from father to son. After all, archaeology has (so far) not found records of all the Median nobility.
So historians and archaeologists could have said:
‘Persian king Cyrus conquered Babylon, but the Bible reports that one of the Empire’s Median nobility, a man named Darius, then became its king – unfortunately we can’t identify him yet.’
However, instead they choose to say:
‘We don’t know who Darius the Mede was, so he must be an invented fictional character.’
However, we can’t entirely blame them for being skeptical; it is rather strange that we have records outside of the Bible describing Cyrus’ conquest of Babylon, and even the name of the city governor that he appointed – but no reference to Darius the Mede. So while there’s nothing wrong with imagining Cyrus appointing one of the Median nobility to rule as king on his behalf (while he leaves to tend to other things) you’d think that Darius would at least be mentioned somewhere.
After all, even if he wasn’t much of a man, he was still ruling over the conquered Babylon! Surely there must be something about him somewhere?
Well, there is an interesting theory that Darius was actually a different name (a ‘throne name’) for the last king of Media, Cyaxares II, whose family was in a marriage alliance with the Persian royalty.
Could that king have been given Babylon by Cyrus? Perhaps, but we don’t know. The records of him are rather scant, but there is a compelling argument for him being our Darius the Mede, and Xerxes could have been a traditional dynasty name.
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