Jan 26

Daniel and Darius

                  There are certain stories in the Bible that almost everyone has heard of before, especially as children’s stories.  Daniel in the Lion’s Den is one of them. We love stories like these because of their simplicity and memorable qualities. What we often don’t realize is that Daniel is controversial in many ways. Part of the book is end times prophecy; part of the book is ancient history. On both accounts, there is controversy. Critics and scholars question many details. Some of which have been answered by archaeology.

Daniel chapter six is the last chapter in the history section and contains the episode with the lions. This account probably happened within a year or two of the fall of Babylon to the Persians (539–537 B.C.). By this time, some of the Jews would have started returning to Jerusalem and Daniel would have been over 80 years old. Daniel 5:31-6:1 reads, “and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two. It pleased Darius to appoint 120 satraps to rule throughout the kingdom.” Immediately questions spring up for those who like context and history.

The easy question to answer is what are “satraps”? They were officials or administrators. Ancient texts show that Persia was divided up into 20-30 different areas depending on the historical period, with each section ruled by a Satrap. Daniel’s account of 120, therefore, must include the lower officials who helped rule the government. These officials governed throughout the country, so most likely only a small fraction would have been participating in the scheme to kill Daniel at the palace.

A harder question to answer, who is King Darius? Scholars hold multiple explanations. The one I find most compelling is that Darius was the great King Cyrus who ruled all of the Medo-Persian Empire. A couple of reason for this is that both the name Darius and Cyrus are titles. Many of the kings took those names or multiple titles when they ruled. We know for a historical fact that “Cyrus the Persian” ruled the Persian Empire at this time and many of the details fit with his life. The Medo-Persian Empire included different geographic areas, which included the Babylonian empire and Median Empire (modern day Iran) just south of Israel. Each region had a different language and probably used a different title of the same person. The book of Daniel even contains two languages in multiple chapters.

This explanation of Darius identity also conforms to the last verse of Chapter 6. “So Daniel prospered during the reign of Darius [the Mede] and the reign of Cyrus the Persian.” (Daniel 6:28). The “and” here doesn’t have to indicate two separate people as our language normally does. Some scholars argue a better translation is“…Darius, even (namely) the reign of Cyrus…,” which would have been Daniel’s way of indicating that these titles were the same person. One last line of evidence is that we know Cyrus’s mother was Median, which conforms to the Jewish practice of emphasizing the maternal lineage. Daniel was after all writing to his Jewish audience.

There are more interesting questions that we could entertain, but it is important not to miss the main point and especially not miss Daniel himself. His religious life and character were exemplary. When his enemies tried to find dirt on him, they couldn’t find anything. Could you imagine one of our elected officials that no one could find dirt on and he had performed excellent work? I don’t remember an election that mudslinging wasn’t a major part of it. Then Daniel’s his religious devotion was examined and he was unashamed and open about his faith. Even when facing death he did not compromise. I almost picture this old man walking up there to pray and seek God, thinking to himself, “I’ve done this all my life, I trust God, and I’m not stopping now. So what if I see God sooner than later.” I wish I had that character and devotion. I know we don’t just wake up with it or “get zapped”, it takes months and years building to that maturity. I pray that we all are on the path that will take us there. If not, what do we need to change?


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