Towards Understanding Revelation


Here’s the second installment. 

The Arguments Based on the History of Babylonian Kings

Critics claim that there was never a king of Babylon named “Belshazzar;” the last king was Nabonidus. Also, Nebuchadnezzar didn’t have a son named “Belshazzar.”

Four cylinders were found in the ruins of a ziggurat in 1854 at Ur which contained a prayer from Nabonidus to the gods:

As for me, Nabonides, King of Babylon, save me from sinning against your great godhead and grant me as a present a life of long days, and as for Belshazzar, my oldest son my offspring, instill reverence for your great godhead in his heart and may he not commit any cultic mistake, may he be sated with a life of plentitude.

A further inscription from Nabonides’ reign was found that says:

Putting the camp under the rule of his oldest son, the firstborn. The army of the empire he placed under his command. His hands were now free; He entrusted the authority of the royal throne to him.”

So we can see that Nabonides did have a son named Belshazzar, and he was made co-regent. So why does Daniel refer to Belshazzar as  “the son of Nebuchadnezzar”?  Nebuchadnezzar was his maternal grandfather, and of course, very famous.  The word that we translate ‘son of’ or ‘son’ in Hebrew is ‘ben;’ it’s cognate in Aramaic is ‘bar.’ The actual meaning of both of them is ‘one of,’ as in ‘one of a certain house,’ or ‘one of a certain profession,’ or ‘one of a certain country,’ etc. In the true sense of the word, Belshazzar was ‘one of’ the family of Nebuchadnezzar. 

In 1924, another inscription was found that described how Nabonides had stopped worshipping Marduk (the chief god of Babylon) in favor of Syn, the moon god. This god was also known as Sin, Suen, Sen, or Nanna in Akkad. In Sumer, in the Aramaic language he was called Syn, Nannar or Shr (which is the Aramaic word for moon). Most of his temples were in the areas of Ur and Harran. He had many children who were also gods, and one of them was the goddess Ishtar. Some sources say that Nabonides’ mother was a priestess in a temple of the moon god.

Some sources say that Nabonides had given command of the army and the kingship to his oldest son, so that he could go out on a long journey. 

We know from Daniel that Nabonides was not in Babylon at the time of the Medo-Persian invasion: history tells us that Nabonides was in northern Arabia at that time. Ancient historians also tell us that the Babylonians were having a big feast when they were taken by surprise by the Medo-Persians. 

Some references say that Nabonides was out fighting the Medes in the north; but others say he spent 10 years going from village to village, excavating the old moon-god temples and rebuilding them. The last source I read told a more complete story: Nabonides spent 10 years refurbishing Syn’s Temples, then, upon hearing of the Medo-Persians attacking, rejoined his army and led them unsuccessfully in the north against them. He was able to escape and returned to Babylon, hoping to raise a defense from there (not realizing that the enemy had already taken it), and was captured by the Medo-Persians. His ultimate fate is unknown, though it’s assumed that he was put to death. Part of this is based on the Babylonian Chronicle account for the years 556 to 539 BC:

“When Cyrus did battle at Opis on the [bank of] the Tigris against the army of Akkad, the people of Akkad retreated. He carried off the plunder  (and) slaughtered the people. On the fourteenth day Sippar was captured without a battle. Nabonides fled. On the sixteenth day, Ugabaru, governor of Gutium, and the army of Cyrus, without battle they entered Babylon. Afterwards, after Nabonidus retreated, he was captured in Babylon…On the third day of the month Arahsamna, Cyrus entered Babylon.”

What about the decree that Cyrus made concerning the return of the Jews and the rebuilding of the Temple? Here are the Bible references, in historical order, starting with the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel:

24 …I, the Lord, am the maker of all things…26Confirming the word of His servant And carrying out the purpose of His messengers. It is I who says of Jerusalem, ‘She shall be inhabited!’ And the cities of Judah, ‘They shall be built.’ And I will raise her ruins again. 27I am the One who says to the depth of the sea, ‘Dry up!’ And I will make your rivers dry up. 28It is I who says of Cyrus, ‘He is My shepherd, And he will carry out all My desire.’ And he says of Jerusalem, ‘She will be built,’ And of the temple, ‘Your foundation will be laid.’” 1This what the Lord says to Cyrus His annointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, To subdue nations before him And to undo the weapons belt on the waist of kings; To open the doors before him so that gates will not be shut (Isaiah 44:24-28, 45:1; NASB)

‘Then it will be when seventy years are completed I will punish the king of Babylon and that nation,’ declares the Lord, ‘for their wrongdoing, and the land of the Chaldeans; and I will make it an everlasting desolation.  (Jeremiah 25: 12; NASB)

1Now these are the words of the letter which Jeremiah the prophet sent from Jerusalem to the rest of the elders of the exile, the priests, the prophets, and all the people whom Nebuchadnezzar had taken into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon…10“For this is what the Lord says: ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. For I know the plans that I have you,’ declares the Lord, ‘plans for prosperity and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope. (Jeremiah 29:1,10; NASB)

So you are to know and understand that from the issuing of a decree to restore and rebuild Jerusalem, until Messiah the Prince, there will be seven weeks and sixty-two weeks; it will be built again, with streets and moat, even in times of distress.  (Daniel 9:25; NASB)

22Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia — in order to fulfill the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah — the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia so that he sent a proclamation throughout his kingdom, and also put it in writing, saying, 23“This is what Cyrus king of Persia says: ‘The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may the Lord his God be with him; go up then!’”  (2 Chronicles 36:22-3; NASB)

So, did this really happen? Was it real?

In 1879, a baked clay cylinder was found in the ruins of Babylon; in 1970, a clay fragment in the Yale Babylonian collection was recognized to be a missing part of the same cylinder. When put together they read:

“I am Cyrus, king of the world, great king, mighty king, king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad…From [Babylon]…as far as the region of Gutium, the sacred centers on the other side of the Tigris, whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, I returned the images of the gods, who had resided there, to their places and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned to them their dwellings…May all the gods whom I settled in their sacred centers, ask daily Bel and Nabu that my days be long and may they intercede for my welfare.”

We can see that it did really happen, and not just for the Jews. And we can see why it happened: Cyrus was trying to appease all the gods by returning them all to their lands. God took Cyrus by the hand, but it sounds like Cyrus didn’t get the message very well.

Is Darius the Mede fake history?

Now we’ll look at the most effective argument: Who was Darius the Mede?  This has been most effective in recent years because there is no archaeological evidence yet indicating who this person was. There does seem to be some historical evidence, however.

Let’s start by looking at the conventional historical view of what happened when the Medo-Persians took over Babylon.  The actual taking of Babylon is argued about, with some agreeing with Herodotus that the Euphrates was diverted into a marshy area resulting in a wadeable stream that the soldiers were able follow under the wall. Others are sure that the Medo-Persians dug a tunnel under the wall (as evidenced by the mention of repairs being needed on the wall). Daniel describes what was going on inside the palace, and Herodotus agrees with him, that everyone was celebrating a festival. Some modern-day historians don’t believe this, but I haven’t seen a better explanation of why the Babylonians didn’t notice what the Medo-Persians were up to.

It’s unclear whether Cyrus was actually on the scene when Babylon was taken. Certainly the Babylonian Chronicles don’t say that he was. Ugabaru (or Gabaru, or Gobyras in the Greek) is named as the ‘general’ of the army that entered “without battle.” Some modern sources place Cyrus at the siege, but I think it likely that he started the siege and then left Gabaru to pursue it while he took a big part of the army north to conquer the rest of the empire…leading to the stories about Nabonides fighting the Medo-Persians. 

The modern, conventional historical view is that Cyrus took command of Babylon, and while he may not have lived there right away, he was the only king that needed mentioning. They also see him as the Medo-Persian king, because they believe Herodotus. 

Herodotus was a Greek with an interest in geography and ‘history,’ who traveled around the known world observing and collecting stories from the locals. He’s often called ‘the father of history’, but he acted more like what we would call an anthropologist rather than an historian. He collected the stories of an area without critique or any attempt to verify them, so, by sheer chance, some things in the stories are based on fact, while others are pure imagination. His contemporaries, and many of those who followed him, stated flatly that imagination was the main tool used in his stories, and several just called him a liar. It would seem to be wise to only believe things he wrote that are corroborated by other sources.

According to Herodotus, Cyrus was king of the Persians, but his mother was a Mede (this is corroborated). His maternal grandfather, Astyages, was the ruler of the Medes (which he was). The story goes off the tracks when Herodotus has Cyrus take an army and defeat Astyages, capturing him, and keeping him in his court. In this way, Herodotus has Cyrus being the sole king of the Medo-Persians. Modern historians seem to agree with this story and because of it, they see the Persians as the stronger of the two. There are a lot of reasons why that isn’t true, and we will look at some them shortly, but not the least is that the name we call them starts with the Medes.

So, with that background, we go back to the traditional thoughts on Babylonia. Cyrus was the one and only king, and he had a governor in charge when he wasn’t there, and that governor was probably Gabaru; end of story, no King Darius.

But, Josephus mentions Darius: was he just taking Daniel’s word for it? And, Jeremiah 51:11 said that God would use the Medes to conquer Babylon. Is God usually half right?

Sharpen the arrows, fill the quivers! The Lord has stirred up the spirit of the kings of the Medes, Because his plan is against Babylon to destroy it; For it is the vengeance of the Lord, vengeance for His temple. (Jeremiah 51:11; NASB)

Some see ‘Elam’ in Isaiah 21:2 as ‘Persia’: 

A harsh vision has been shown to me; The treacherous one still deals treacherously, and the destroyer still destroys. Go up, Elam, lay siege, Media; I have put an end to all the groaning she has caused. (Isaiah 21:2; NASB) 

‘Elam’ was a region just east of Media that was later to become part of Persia. Whether ‘Elam’ means ‘Persia’ is debated. What I haven’t seen mentioned is the idea that Media is the one “lay[ing] siege” (the more literal translations all say this). I haven’t looked really extensively to see if others have commented on it, but that line certainly jumped out at me. You’ll see why shortly.

There have been three theories in theological circles regarding who Darius the Mede was; these are basically: 1) Darius was really Cyrus; 2) Darius was Gubaru; and 3) Darius was Cyaxares II.

Let’s look at each one in a little more depth. That Darius was really Cyrus was probably the first theory to emerge. In all these theories, Darius and Ahasuerus (the name of Darius’ father in Daniel) would have been throne names. Kings taking throne names was not uncommon in that time, and both these names were used as throne names prior to this. Both names have meanings that indicate that the names are also used as an honorific. Darius means “upholder of the scepter,” a good name for the son of a dynasty-founding king. Ahasuerus is made up of two words: lion (‘shir’) and king (‘shah’, a word still used today as a ‘throne name’); lion king, or king of lions, is a good name for the king who founded a dynasty. 

Because Daniel had said that Darius was 62 years old when he took the throne, it was thus concluded by some theologians (who apparently didn’t read Greek histories) that Cyrus was that age. Unfortunately, the Greek histories say that Cyrus was about 40 when Babylon was taken, and they also seem to say that Cyrus took the throne of Babylon immediately after it fell.

The second theory is based on the historical realization that Cyrus wasn’t named king of Babylon until about 2 years after the conquest, despite the fact that Cyrus led the conquering army. The critics report that certain Babylonian sources say that Cyrus appointed his son Cambyses as king of Babylon for the first year, and then Gubaru was appointed as governor. Theologians picked up on Gubaru as being 62 years old when he conquered Babylon, and that he may have been the King Darius reported in Daniel. But, how does a governor, who is ruling under a king, get the title ‘king’ for himself? And if he’s not the king, how does he merit a ‘throne name’?

The third theory is more complex, and thus more likely to be true. To understand this theory, we have to look at the taking of Babylon again through different eyes.

Remember Herodotus? He wasn’t the only Greek historian looking at Medo-Persian history. Xenophon of Athens (c. 430 – c.355 BC) was a Greek military leader, philosopher, and historian who marched with Cyrus the Younger. He wrote several books, and his book outlining military campaigns and tactics was inspirational for Alexander (the Great). He tells a different story of Cyrus the Great, and while modern historians have chosen to believe Herodotus over Xenophon, archaeology and history are starting to show Xenophon as far more reliable. For example, Xenophon mentions Belshazzar and Gobryas (Gubaru), which Herodotus doesn’t. Also, Herodotus characterized Cyrus as a commoner, who, when he rises to be king, takes the neighboring Medes by force. Xenophon’s account has Cyrus raised in a royal household with a royal education; and as the son of the king of the Persians and grandson of the King of the Medes, this makes sense. Xenophon also does not have Cyrus defeating the Medes.

As Xenophon tells it, when Cyrus led the army against the Babylonians, he was crown prince of the Persians on his father’s side, and second in line for the Median throne on his mother’s side. His grandfather, Astyages, king of the Medes, had recently died and his son, Cyaxares II, Cyrus’ uncle, was on the throne. Cyrus was about 40 at that time, so his uncle was most likely ~20 years older, which puts him in the right age range for the theologians. Xenophon reports that in the first campaigns against the Lydians, Babylonians, and their allies, the Medes were led by Cyaxares II, and the Persians by Cyrus in an alliance.

Xenophon says that the Medes were the strongest of the kingdoms that opposed Babylon, not slaves that had been overcome by Cyrus. This is backed up by the Harran Stele, which is a ‘document’ from the court of Nabonidus. In the entry for the 14th or 15th year of his reign (542-540 BC), Nabonidus says his enemies are the kings of Egypt, the Medes, and the Arabs; he doesn’t even mention the Persians. Further evidence is from the bas reliefs in Persepolis [the capitol of Cyrus’ eventual empire] which show no difference in rank or status between the Persian and Median nobility; indeed, Medes were employed in high office and were chosen to lead Persian armies.

Both Herodotus and Xenophon say that Cyrus was about 40 years old when Babylon fell. According to the Nabonidus Chronicle, Cyrus’ wife died shortly after the fall of Babylon, and he mourned her heavily. Xenophon further reports that a short while later, Cyaxares II gave his daughter (Cyrus’ cousin) in marriage to Cyrus with the kingdom of Media as her dowry. And so, per Xenophon, when Cyaxares died about two years later, the Median kingdom passed peacefully to Cyrus.

So, was Cyaxares II Darius the Mede of Daniel 5:31?

So Darius the Mede received the kingdom at about the age of sixty-two. (Daniel 5:31; NASB)

Chapter six in Daniel tells how Darius set up the kingdom, then the story of how Daniel was thrown in the lion’s den, and reports the decree written by Darius the Mede declaring that Daniel’s God is the most powerful. The last verse of chapter six says:

So this Daniel enjoyed success in the reign of Darius, and in the reign of Cyrus the Persian. (Daniel 6:28; NASB)

This last verse seems to imply a short reign for Darius, followed by the reign of Cyrus.  Xenophon fails to say that anyone but Cyrus was king of Babylon, leading many to circle back to the first theory from here. But others see this as Cyrus changing history to suit himself…he took Babylon (single-handed) and he ruled it (single-handed)…it wasn’t his maternal uncle with his Median army who took Babylon while he was fighting with his Persian army in the north, and it wasn’t his uncle who had the throne of Babylon for a short time before he died, before Cyrus had the whole Medo-Persian empire to himself. 

Also, Xenophon really idolized Cyrus, to the point that before the archaeology started backing up the outline of his story, no one paid attention to him because Cyrus couldn’t have been so perfect. So, when Xenophon attributes the organizing of the kingdom to Cyrus, while Daniel attributes it to ‘Darius’, I tend to believe Daniel. Xenophon has Cyaxares II twiddling his thumbs in Media while Cyrus is organizing Babylon; he has Cyrus visiting Cyaxares in Media to report that “a palace had been prepared for him in Babylon.” To me, this suggests that Cyrus was technically, if not really, under the rule of Cyaxares, but Xenophon didn’t want to admit that.

To complicate things, the Nabonidus Chronicle says that Astyages, king of the Medes, moved to attack Cyrus, his grandson. Astyages’ troops revolted against him before the attack and delivered him in chains to Cyrus. Cyrus then took the capital of Media (Ecbatana) and looted it. Curiously, it doesn’t seem to say that Cyrus took the throne, though modern scholars believe that to be the case, and that there never was a Cyaxares II.

Steven Anderson wrote a thesis in 2014 supporting the theory that Darius the Mede was actually Cyaxares II, who ruled Babylon as co-regent with Cyrus for the two years before his death. Mr. Anderson wrote an article about his thesis in 2016 (found here: ). His thesis is also available online. 

In the article, Mr. Anderson lists some of the supporting arguments to support his thesis, I include several of them here:

  • The Behistun inscription of Darius Hystaspes (‘Darius I’) states that two Medians who launched rebellions against Darius at separate times did so on the basis of (allegedly) false claims to be of the family of Cyaxares. The fact that they claimed a relation to Cyaxares, rather than to Astyages, is evidence that Cyaxares II did indeed exist and was the last Median king.”
  • “There are strong historical evidences that the Medes and the Persians had formed a confederated government, and that Herodotus’ story of Cyrus subjugating the Medes and deposing the last Median king is therefore historically inaccurate. Xenophon and Herodotus agree that the Median king Astyages gave his daughter Mandane in marriage to Cambyses I, who was king of the Persians. In the ancient Near Eastern context, such marriages signified the formation of political alliances, and it seems that Astyages made just such an alliance with Persia with a view toward checking Babylonian hegemony. A passage in the Persae of Aeschylus is noted in chapter 4 which presents Astyages as the founder of the alliance, though without naming him directly. Chapter 3 notes biblical texts which describe the Medes and Persians governing their empire jointly, and also notes abundant archeological evidence which presents the Medes as senior partners and equals with the Persians, rather than their vassals.”
  • “The Harran Stele, which is an inscription of Nabonidus, mentions a certain ‘king of the land of the Medes’ alongside the kings of Egypt and Arabia as Babylon’s leading enemies. This inscription was produced well after the supposed conquest of Media by Cyrus, and therefore seems to indicate that Cyrus did not depose the last Median king.”
  • “The historian Berossus [an early 3rd century BC Hellenistic Babylonian writer], whose history of Neo-Babylonia is well respected but poorly preserved, refers to the actions of an unspecified ‘King Darius’ shortly after the fall of Babylon. The conventional version of the history of the period does not recognize any such ‘King Darius.’”
  • “Valerius Harpocration [2nd century AD], a professional researcher and lexicographer at the library of Alexandria, affirms in a lexical work that there was a king of the Medo-Persian Empire named ‘Darius’ who reigned sometime before Darius Hystaspes. Once again, the conventional version of the history of the period has no explanation for this ‘Darius.’”
  • “The Greek tragic dramatist Aeschylus, who wrote before Herodotus, describes two Median kings who preceded Cyrus as rulers of Medo-Persia. Although Aeschylus does not name these two kings, he presents the first as the founder of the dynasty, the second as his son and the king who was on the throne when Babylon fell, and the third, Cyrus, as the natural successor of the second king. The conventional history of the period does not recognize this second Median king.”

Mr. Anderson wrote a book based on his thesis (he says it’s easier to understand) and it can be found on Amazon:

The writer of the book of Daniel clearly had a grasp of Babylonian history which would have been unknown to later writers. Many of the cultural and chronological details would not have been available to a pseudonymous writer living over 400 years later.

That’s all for this segment, one more to go.

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