Darius the Mede as fiction?

The Book of Daniel mentions Darius the Mede. Who is this ruler and why is he controversial? How is this controversy resolved?

The book of Daniel records Darius the Mede as a king who seceded the throne after Belshazzar. While it is recorded that Daniel found favor in Darius’ eyes, it was not before the king had Daniel thrown into the den of lions. This story is important to the Christian faith for a variety of reasons and is taught to young children in Sunday School. While the story is beautiful, the controversy of Darius is who he was and if he ever existed. Historians such as Rowley have argued that Darius a historical misunderstanding and, “the product of fuzzy historical memory.” (FN1)

Firstly, there are no historical records of Darius the Mede, King of Babylon, outside of the biblical text. His status as a Mede is also dubious, considering that Babylon was conquered by the Persians and not the Medes. There is also the question of the 120 satraps recorded in Daniel 6:1. Extra-biblical sources record 20 satraps instated by King Cyrus, several years after the supposed reign of Darius. (FN2) Biblical scholars have been forced to grapple with these apparent historical inaccuracies within the text. Does the Bible err in the book of Daniel? And if so, how can the Bible be inerrant?

Scholars Whitcomb, Wiseman, and Shea have proposed several explanations for this apparent error in the book of Daniel. Whitcomb stated that Darius was a title name given to the governor of Babylon (Gubaru), hence why Darius is called the “King of Babylon,” but not called, “King of Lands.” Wiseman has argued that Darius the Mead and Cyrus the Great are the same man but with different titles. Citing the passage at the end of Daniel 6 as an emphatic description of the same man rather than two separate rulers. Shea’s argument holds a greater weight in the minds of most theologians. He argues, like Whitcomb, that Darius the Mede is Gubaru, but not the same Gubaru. Instead Darius would be a general of the Persian army who would have served for a short time before Cyrus began rule over Babylon, an interim ruler. (FN3) Many conservative scholars have analyzed the work of Grabbe, who is rejects Whitcomb and Wiseman but endorses Shea’s thesis. At the moment, while we may speculate, this controversy is unresolved (especially for less conservative theologians).

Unfortunately, there is too great a lack of historical evidence to corroborate any of these perspectives. As more evidence presents itself biblical scholars will have the opportunity to explore this issue. At the present moment, there does not appear to be a clear answer on who Darius may be. Nevertheless, the biblical narrative holds true and the book of Daniel serves as a fantastic resource for stories of great faith in times of uncertainty and persecution. Time will only tell the answers to the misunderstandings on this King of Babylon.

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