Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 6

First post in this series can be found here.
This article is not my own, but was originally posted by Darwin’s Beagle. The author has given permission for the article to be reposted here.

6.1 Summary of Chapter 6
Darius the Mede divides the kingdom up into regions to be ruled over by 120 princes. These princes report to 3 presidents. Daniel is first among the three presidents. This creates jealousy among the others, and they decide to take him down. The princes and the other presidents trick Darius into signing an irrevocable order saying that for the next 30 days the penalty for praying to any god other than that of Darius would be punished by having the person put into the lions’ den. Daniel, of course, prays to Yahweh and is reported to Darius. Darius tries to get Daniel off, but the order is irrevocable so Daniel is thrown into the lions’ den. Darius calls to him hoping that Daniel can get God’s help to survive through the night.

Darius is upset and cannot sleep that night. The first thing in the morning he checks to see if Daniel made it through the night. Daniel tells Darius that he is indeed OK and God has closed the lions’ mouths. Darius is extremely happy and takes Daniel out of the lions’ den. He then has the princes, their wives, and their children thrown into the lions’ den in his place. The lions “crush the bones” of these people before they even hit the ground.

6.2 Analysis
According to Persian records, it was Darius I, the father of Xerxes, who divided the kingdom up into regions controlled by satraps (princes). Many scholars take this as evidence that the author of Daniel based the mythical Darius the Mede on Darius I. Note also that dividing the kingdom into 120 regions is something that only a king, and not the governor of Babylon could do.

Note the high level that Daniel supposedly obtained. According to this narrative, he is intimately involved in the ruling of an empire. How could a person so involved have made such historical mistakes as outlined in previous posts? It is impossible. So Daniel must have been fictitious.

Once it becomes clear that Daniel is fictitious, it becomes obvious that this story, along with tales of Daniel and his friends’ arrival at Nebuchadrezzar’s court, and the fiery furnace are myths designed to show the virtue of maintaining one’s faith in the presence of overwhelming persecution. This is just the situation that the Jews were under during the reign of Antiochus IV (also known as Antiochus Epiphanes) during the Maccabean revolt (ca 165 BCE). Note the mythical elements of the tale: Darius the Mede is tricked into doing something he doesn’t want to do, but can’t get out of it, Daniel is magically saved, the instigators of the plot receive their just rewards in the end (although one could argue about how just it was to throw their wives and children into the lions’ den to have their bones crushed before they reach the ground as well).

Needless to say, there is no historical record of such a wholesale purging of upper-level leaders in or around that area.

The next post will deal with Chapter 7. It concerns one of Daniel’s prophecies and will be much more substantive post.

Links to the other articles


3 thoughts on “Skeptical Bible Study: Daniel Chapter 6”

  1. Hi Tom,

    From that link, I also went to this blog post where the argument was laid out in just a bit more detail:

    It would take a lot of research into various sources to give his arguments the fullest treatment, and I’m afraid I don’t have time for that right now. But based off the research I’ve done in the past and considering the brief arguments he lays out in that post, I don’t find him especially convincing.

    If the Bible were truly inspired, I find it hard to believe that God would have caused Daniel to record the name of this ruler in a way that would be so confusing for later generations. The Book of Daniel claims that Darius the Mede took over Babylon, yet we can’t verify that the Book of Daniel dates back to that period. And the contemporary sources we do have attribute Babylon’s fall to Cyrus of Persia. Daniel claims that Darius was the son of Ahaseurus, when we know that the later Persian king Darius had a son named Ahaseurus. To me, that’s too big of a coincidence. I can easily see it as the writer of Daniel having a few of his fact jumbled.

    Dr Anderson suggests that Darius the Mede was actually Cyaxares II, and that the names “Darius” and “Ahaseurus” were throne names. But why would they be? The name “Cyaxares” could have served that role even better, since it had already been the name of a Median king.

    There’s a passage in HH Rowley’s book Darius the Mede and the Four World Empires in the Book of Daniel that explains why Xenophon’s mention of Cyaxares II is not taken to be historically reliable by most scholars (it’s a little lengthy — sorry):

    Even in ancient times it was perceived that Xenophon’s Cyropaedia was no more than a historical romance, written for didactic purposes. This recognition of its character appears not only in the oft-quoted passage from Cicero, but also in Diogenes Laertius, who refers to Plato for support, and in Ausonius. Modern research has abundantly confirmed this judgement. For the inscriptions support Herodotus’s statement that Astyages was the last Median king, and leave no room for this fictitious Cyaxares II. He is a mere figment of Xenophon’s imagination. Xenophon makes Cyrus the general of his uncle Cyaxares, and in the Cyropaedia knows nothing of the revolt of Cyrus and capture of Ecbatana; but this is now certainly established by the Nabonidus Chronicle. Xenophon makes Cyrus assume the style of king first after the capture of Babylon; the inscriptions show that he was already styled King at least a dozen years before the fall of Babylon. Xenophon makes the father and uncle of Cyrus live and rule until after the capture of Babylon, Cyrus inheriting their realms on their death; the only royal title Cyrus gives to his father is “king of Anshan”, yet that is the title he himself bears long before his conquest of Babylon, and we must therefore conclude that his father was already dead, and that he had succeeded to the throne. Xenophon represents Cyrus as the nominal subordinate of Cyaxares after the fall of Babylon; yet Cyrus himself, in his inscriptions, proclaims himself “king of lands” in a way that leaves no doubt that he is no underling. Xenophon calls the father of Cyrus the “king of Persia”; Cyrus does not give this title to his father, and since he himself first appears as “king of Anshan”, in Elam, and later as “king of Persia”, we must conclude that Cyrus himself added the kingdom of Persia, either by conquest or by inheritance.

    The thoroughly unhistorical character of Xenophon’s story is thus sufficiently demonstrated. No Cyaxares II ruled in Media after Astyages, but Cyrus succeeded to the throne by right of conquest. No Cyaxares II ruled in Babylon after the collapse of the Neo-Babylonian empire, for again Cyrus inherited the throne by right of the sword. No imperial monarch interposed his rule between Nabonidus and Cyrus, for ere the month in which Cyrus entered Babylon had run its course, contracts were being dated by his reign.

    If you feel like there’s an especially strong piece of evidence for Anderson’s position that I overlooked, feel free to point me toward it.



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