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Cyrus conquers Babylon
(3220 AM - 540 BCE)
The Cylinder of Cyrus
(3221 AM - 539 BCE)
Return to Sion
(3222 AM - 538 BCE)
The Yehud province
(3222 AM - 538 BCE)
(3225 AM - 535 BCE)
Death of Cyrus
(3230 AM - 530 BCE)
End of the Egyptian Dynasties
(3235 AM - 525 BCE)
Succession crisis in Persia
(3238 AM - 522 BCE)
(3238 AM - 522 BCE)
Daniel in the lions' den
(3238 AM - 522 BCE)
Darius introduces the alphabet
(3238 AM - 522 BCE)
Death of Daniel
(3239 AM - 521 BCE)
God orders the reconstruction of the Temple
(3239 AM - 521 BCE)
Previous << Generation 27 >> Next
Hebrew years 3120 to 3240 (640-520 BCE)
~~~ Part I ~~~ Part II ~~~ Part III ~~~ Part IV
About 20 years after the end of the reign of Nebuchadnezzar, and 64 years after Daniel interpreted the colossus dream which had puzzled the great king, the Babylonian Empire came to an end at the hand of the Medes people who had founded the Persian Empire. The ruler to wage the war against Babylon was Cyrus the Great, who took the city and the empire in the year 540 BCE Cyrus’s name in Old Persian is kûr-uš, which means “Sun-like”.
The empires before the conquest of Cyrus
(Shepherd, William, Historical Atlas, 1911)
Unlike many rulers of the time, Cyrus was very close to monotheism because he followed the religion that was established by Zoroaster (also known as Zarathustra). This religion is generally considered to have started in the late second millenium BCE so its beginning was contemporary to King Solomon. This old religion was built upon duality, with one God and one Evil. The theme of evil was widely used in the Israelite literature but not as a evil "god", but more like the human evil sides to which man can be attracted. The religion has borrowed other concepts from the Bible, for example in the theme of the Creation:
Thus therefore do we worship Ahura Mazda, who made the Kine, and the Righteousness, and the waters, and the wholesome plants, the stars, and the earth, and all (existing) objects that are good. --- Yasna 37:1 (for text online, click here)
It is probable that, in the time of Solomon, who was known in the antique world for his wisdom, and was the source for the Book of the Proverbs and for the poem the Song of Songs, men of importance would come to visit him and benefit from his wise teaching as depicted by the case of the Queen of Sheba who came from Africa or the Arabic Peninsula. They would go back to their abode and, maybe like Zoroaster, would create a new school of thought. Then some details being added to other local legends, a new religion would be established.
Isaiah the Prophet had predicted the rise of Cyrus, under God’s will:
That says of Cyrus: 'He is My shepherd, and shall perform all My pleasure'; even saying of Jerusalem: 'She shall be built'; and to the temple: 'My foundation shall be laid’.' --- Isaiah 44:28
The Book of Ezra also opens with the following mention:
Now in the first year of Cyrus king of Persia, that the word of the Lord by the mouth of Jeremiah might be accomplished, the Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus king of Persia, that he made a proclamation throughout his entire kingdom, and put it also in writing, saying. --- Ezra 1:1
This proclamation does exist. It was found written on a clay cylinder discovered in the ruins of Babylon in 1878, and is now at the British Museum. The text is a praise of Cyrus for his conquest of the Chaldean empire and of the great city of Babylon. In this text, Cyrus proclaimed himself king of Babylon, king of Sumer and Akkad, king of the four corners of the world. Since then, Cyrus was represented as a four-winged ruler, conqueror of the four corners of the world, which was an expression borrowed from the defeated Babylon ruler (the text of the Nabonides cylinder bears some similarities).
Depiction of Cyrus the Great
(19th century engraving of a bas-relief from Pasargadae)
But, more importantly, the cylinder also details how the conqueror restored peace and justice in the empire, and abolished forced labour. In other words, Cyrus was presented more as a liberator of people than a conqueror of kingdoms. The cylinder is also considered as the first declaration of human rights, some 2000 years before the French Revolution. In 1971, its text has been translated into all the official languages of the United Nations.
The Cyrus Cylinder (British Museum)
So, for the Israelite captives as well, this change of ruler meant freedom because the cylinder mentions Cyrus’ decree of allowing the Jews to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. This text is corroborated by the Biblical text in the Book of Ezra:
'Thus saith Cyrus king of Persia: All the kingdoms of the earth has the Lord, the God of heaven, given me; and He has charged me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whosoever there is among you of all His people -- his God be with him -- let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and build the house of the Lord, the God of Israel, He is the God who is in Jerusalem. And whosoever is left, in any place where he sojourns, let the men of his place help him with silver, and with gold, and with goods, and with beasts, beside the freewill-offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem.' --- Ezra 1:2-4
The question may be asked: why were they allowed to rebuild their temple? The reason is that Cyrus, unlike the Assyrians and the Chaldeans before him, wanted to allow every nation to follow their own religion, so that they would be happy to live under his empire, as long as they paid annual duty. For the pagan people who were liberated, the return to their religion was easy enough: they could use again the statues of their deities (Bel, Baal, etc.) and exercise their cult. But what to allow the Jews to do? They had no statue of any (pagan) god. The only way for them to return to their religion and be part of the empire was to rebuild their temple in Sion, and then restore the priesthood and its religious service with sacrifices and so on.
Cyrus returned to the Israelites all the vessels that Nebuchadnezzar had taken from the Temple of Jerusalem and authorized them to rebuild it. But, in total, only 42,360 people returned to Sion (Ezra 2:64). They were led by a few leaders of the exiled community of Babylon, of which Zerubbabel, the grand grandson of King Jehoiakim of Judah, as well as many Levites and Mordechai, who would return to Persia at some point, once the reconstruction of the Temple came later to a halt under the reign of Cambyses.
The Jews return to the ruins of Jerusalem (Gustave Doré, 1868)
This early return to Sion was not exclusively composed of Israelites from Judah and Benjamin, because about a quarter of it came from other Israelites tribes, exiled since the times of Assyria, who happened to dwell in Babylon. After the fall of the Assyrian Empire, and the change of regional power to the city of Babylon, several people from these 10 exiled tribes moved to Babylon from the places in Assyria where they had dwelled.
Once they arrived to Jerusalem, they restored the divine service at the place of the destroyed Temple. A year later, they laid the foundations of the Temple for its reconstruction (Ezra 3:8). But they soon faced the opposition of the local Samaritans who were established in the country since the time of the Assyrian conquest and had adopted some of the practices of the Israelites, but with pagan customs. The latter complained about this reconstruction to all Persian rulers from the time of Cyrus until the reign of Darius:
Be it known unto the king, that the Jews that came up from you are come to us unto Jerusalem; they are building the rebellious and the bad city, and have finished the walls, and are digging out the foundations. Be it known now unto the king, that, if this city is built, and the walls finished, they will not pay tribute, impost, or toll, and so thou wilt endamage the revenue of the kings. […] We announce to the king that, if this city is built, and the walls finished, by this means you shall have no portion beyond the River. --- Ezra 4:12-16
The works ultimately came to a halt and would not resume until the second year of the reign of Darius. Several of the Israelites who came to Sion returned to Persia after their plans of reconstruction had been compromised: they thought God was not supportive of this recontruction. This group included Mordechai. The Israelites who remained in Judea lived in despair and were waiting for better days.
The name Yehud was given to the new province of the Persian empire where the Jews were allowed to return. At its peak, this vast empire was divided in 12 satrapies, and each satrapy into 'nations' or provinces. the latter were ruled by governors who reported to the satrap above him. The list of satrapies has been detailed by Herodotus in his Histories. The 5th satrapy was called "beyond the river" and included the Levant. Each satrapy was fragmented in provinces or 'nations'. For example, Egypt, which was the 6th satrapy, was divided into two provinces of the 5th satrapy, but the Levant was much more fragmented into many nations. One of them was Yehud, which was neighboured by Idumea in the south (the old Judean city of Lachish became part of it), Samaria in the north, the Ashdod province in the west, as well as the Sharon province given to the Sidonians (Phoenicians) to build harbours in defence against the Greeks, and, on the Eastern side, the provinces of Ammon and Moab. The province/nation of Yehud was thus very shrunk compared to what used to be the kingdom of Judea.
The Persian province of Yehud
(source: Aharoni, the MacMillian Bible Atlas)
It is interesting to note that Idumea was formed for the Edomites. But this people used to leave at the other side of the Dead Sea, south from Moab ! The reason for this new situation is that, when the Jews left their country at the time of Nebuchadnezzar, the Edomites moved West and established themselves in this new region instead of the Jews. And, consequently, a new nation of Arab nomads established themselves in what used to be Edom: they were known as the Nabataeans.
So during the Persian empire, there were three locations where Jews had settled: Babylon (over time many of them moved to Persian cities such as Susa), Egypt (such as Elephantine and in the Delta region), and the new province of Yehud.
A drachm-type coin from the new Persian province of Judea has been recently found in a hill near Hebron. It displays a lion (symbol of Judea) slaying a cow and three letters in Aramaic (yod-heh-dalet) forming the word yehud (Jewish or Judea). This was probably the first minted coins after the return to Sion. The most astonishing fact is that coins were issued in the small province of Yehud whereas the use of coinage was started in the Persian empire just a few years earlier after they conquered the kingdom of Lydia in Asia Minor. This kingdom is credited by Herodotus to have been the first nation to introduce coinage. After it was conquered, coinage was used in the Persian empire, but Yehud was one of the first province to adopt it.
The "yehud" coin ca. 500 CE, to read more about it, click here
(courtesy: Vladimir Naikhin, Israel Museum)
The Greek philosopher and mathematician, Pythagoras, from the island of Samos, travelled to Egypt in his youth in order to acquire knowledge. He went across the Levant region where he became acquainted with Jews and learned about their faith and customs:
Now it is plain that he [Pythagoras] did not only know our doctrines, but was in very great measure a follower and admirer of them. There is not indeed extant any writing that is owned for his but many there are who have written his history, of whom Hermippus is the most celebrated, who was a person very inquisitive into all sorts of history. Now this Hermippus, in his first book concerning Pythagoras, speaks thus: "That Pythagoras, upon the death of one of his associates, whose name was Calliphon, a Crotonlate by birth, affirmed that this man's soul conversed with him both night and day, and enjoined him not to pass over a place where an ass had fallen down; as also not to drink of such waters as caused thirst again; and to abstain from all sorts of reproaches." After which he adds thus: "This he did and said in imitation of the doctrines of the Jews and Thracians, which he transferred into his own philosophy." For it is very truly affirmed of this Pythagoras, that he took a great many of the laws of the Jews into his own philosophy. --- Josephus, Against Apion, 1,22
After his voyage in the region, Pythagoras went on to Croton, in Southern Italy, where he established a secret school of teaching mathematics and also a sect bound by a vow to follow religious rites and practices that he had learned. The influence of Pythagoras on many of the philosophic schools in Greece, of which Socrates and Plato, and subsequently on Aristotles, is well known, but the origin of his knowledge is not. Pythagoras was the first true mathematician whereas Euclid was a mere compiler of the mathematical knowledge of his times.
Cyrus had divided his huge empire into four parts, each of them with a capital governed by a general satrap, equivalent to a regional king. Babylon and Suse were two of them. In Suse, the satrap was Hystaspes who controlled Persia and other parts of the empire. One night, during a military campaign, Cyrus had a dream that he immediately understood it to be a message from God. He called Hystaspes and told him:
“The gods, whose favour I enjoy, disclose to me all those events which menace my security. In the night just passed I beheld your eldest son having wings on his shoulders, one of which overshadowed Asia, the other Europe; from which I draw certain conclusions that he is engaged in acts of treachery against me.” --- Herodotus, The History, book I, Clio, section 209
Hystaspes was sent back to Persia to check the matter which in fact was not a conspiracy led by his eldest son Darius, who was less than 20 years old at the time. But the dream foretold that Cyrus was going to die soon and that Darius would eventually reign over the empire. And Cyrus died soon after, in 530 BCE and was buried in his palace of Pasargadae, one of his capitals.
Tomb of Cyrus in Pasargadae, Iran
Nobody actually knows how Cyrus died. Herodotus assumed it happened during that fateful campaign but admitted that there were other opinions. Although Herodotus wrote his History less than 100 years later after these events, the facts were not firmly established, which demonstrates somehow the hard task of historians to gather witness accounts even a relatively short period after the events.
Cyrus was succeeded by his son Cambyses II. In the 5th year of his reign, this new ruler led a campaign against Egypt in order to extend the vast empire that his father had left him. He succeeded in defeating the Pharaoh Psamtik in the battle of Pelusium (modern-day Port-Said) in 525 BCE and then captured the capital Memphis. This campaign effectively put an end to the 26th Dynasty of Egypt, which was the last dynasty composed of native rulers. from that conquest, all subsequent pharaohs of Egypt came from foreign extract, first Persian then Greek.
When the Persians conquered Egypt, they destroyed many of the templs of the Old Egyptian cult. But they also found a community of Jews far south on the island of Elephantine. They established themselves there soon after Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (to check their entry in the previous Generation, click here). This community had their own temple, which the Persians did not touch. We know this from a petition that the Jews of Elephantine wrote to a later Persian ruler in 407 BCE to protest against their Egyptian neighbours who damaged it and to ask permission to carry out its reconstruction:
Now our forefathers built this temple in the fortress of Elephantine back in the days of the kingdom of Egypt, and when Cambyses came to Egypt he found it built. They [the Persians] knocked down all the temples of the gods of Egypt, but no one did any damage to this temple. --- Petition to Bagoas, from Elephantine Papyri, dated 407 BCE, cited in Wikipedia
The Elephantine Papyri (the words circled in red and yellow above are Darius the King respectively)
Cambyses declared himself Pharaoh of a new dynasty, which is known to historians as the 27th Dynasty. The conquest on the eastern borders of the Persian Empire, until the Hindus, was done by his father Cyrus and predecessors. But the conquest on the western side, until the border of Ethiopia, was done by Cambyses.
There is a enigma though: Cambyses did not have any son, so who did he suppose would continue his “dynasty”? The answer is in the Bible and in the Achaemenid family tree. First, this tree shows that Cambyses had an elder sister called Atossa who was married to Darius, the son of Hystaspes:
Second, the Bible mentions:
And Darius the Mede received the kingdom -- already about threescore and two years. --- Daniel 6:1
So, in fact, Darius son of Hystaspes received the kingdom, which avoided a problem of succession. Under Persian law, when an Achaemenian king would engage into a difficult military campaign, he needed to name a heir before leaving. Darius was the one chosen before Cambyses’ campaign to Egypt. But then Cambyses could indeed create a dynasty of Egypt, because the Achaemenid heir would de facto become Pharaoh as well.
The next part of the above sentence has been wrongly translated from Hebrew to Greek and other languages, so it has misled most of Biblical scholars. The translations usually give about threescore and two years old whereas the Hebrew text does not refer to the age of Darius at the time he came to power. And indeed granting him an old age of 62 years old at the start of his reign would make it nearly impossible to reconcile with the fact that he reigned for 36 years, as this would have made him over 100 years old at death time, a time when he was campaigning in Greece !
History records that Darius reigned from 522 BCE and that he was about 25 years old at the time he came to power. It is accepted that he died in 485 BCE which is a sure date because this is when his son Xerxes became king. If we assume that Darius reigned from the age of 25 years old until the year 485 BCE, this would mean that he died at the age of 62 years old, as indicated in the Bible text. So the mention already about threescore and two years could be read as Darius received the kingdom until about the age of 62 years old.
But there is another explanation which is more appropriate. Before Darius would become king over the entire Persian Empire, he was given the throne of Babylon at the time of Cambyses’ new dynasty. The Biblical text indeed mentions Darius as ruler of Babylon:
In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans. --- Daniel 6:9
Why would the text mention Darius as being made king and over the realm of the Chaldeans if this sentence would apply at the time when he became king of the entire Persian empire? The only sensible explanation is that Darius was already made king over Babylon during Cambyses’ reign. This would have also allowed him to get a grasp over politics and the role of a king while still young of age. So the mention of already about threescore and two years refers to another event: as usually done in the Bible, the start of a reign is often given in relation to another event that preceded it, such as the reign of another monarch. In the case of the Persian Empire, there is no other monarch to mention as all the kingdoms were absorbed into this single empire. But the one event that is recorded in History and in the Bible is the fall of Jerusalem in 587 BCE. This was precisely 62 years before Cambyses founded his dynasty and made Darius his heir and king of Babylon. So the Biblical text from Daniel refers to the time, 62 years after the fall of Jerusalem, when Darius received the kingdom of the Chaldeans, not of all Persia. This was the time when Darius started to rule as a king.
In the same sentence, the Biblical text refers to Darius as son of Ahasuerus, while Darius was the son of Hystaspes. The name Ahasuerus will be used in the Biblical text as the name of the ruler at the time of the story of Esther. And that ruler Ahasuerus is Xerxes, the son of Darius not the father. The matter seems confusing. But, it is not. The name Ahasuerus is formed of the same word as satrap in the Aramaic text of the Book of Daniel. It may be derived from the same Persian root that forms the word Achaemenid, so the Aramaic prefixe Aha would be the Persian Achae or Axa. The name Ahasuerus is written אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ in Daniel 9:1 whereas the word satrap, or rather the function “satrapy”, is written אֲחַשְׁדַּרְפְּנַיָּא in Daniel 6:2, and elsewhere (in Old Persian, the term is khshathrapavan). It can be understood that the name Ahasuerus אֲחַשְׁוֵרוֹשׁ is formed of the two parts אֲחַשְׁ and וֵרוֹשׁ, and therefore simply means “satrap and head”. It is corroborated with the fact that the name Xerxes (Ahasuerus in the Bible) means “ruler” [of heroes] in Old Persian: Xerxes is the Latin and Greek version of the name, while the Old Persian was Khashayar.
In Babylon, Darius came to know Daniel the Prophet who was still alive and lived in the city.
When Cambyses died, of undetermined circumstances, the empire of Persia went through some political turmoil because an usurper, who claimed to have rights over the throne as being the brother of Cambyses, seized power. He was killed a few months later by a conspiracy led by a group of 7 dignitaries of the empire, one of them being Darius who had been chosen heir of the empire by Cambyses.
With the political changes that brought Darius to power in Persia, after having ruled over Babylon, Daniel reflected upon the prophecy of Jeremiah that he read from the manuscripts that were taken from the Temple of Jerusalem to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar. The presence of such ancient Hebrew documents is confirmed by the Greek historian Berossus who lived at the time of Alexander the Great:
And he [Berossus] mentions [in the first book of his history of Babylonia] that there were written accounts, preserved at Babylon with the greatest care, comprehending a period of above fifteen myriads of years, and that these writings contained histories of the heaven and of the sea, of the birth of mankind, and of the kings, and of the memorable actions which they had achieved. --- Cory, Isaac Preston, Ancient Fragments, London, 1832, chapter Berossus
There is little doubt that the written accounts mentioned by Berossus must have included the books of Torah written by Moses himself of which the book of Genesis. Because the Chaldeans had borrowed some of the concepts of the Creation they read from the Hebrew writings and built their own story more suited to their own pantheon and legends. But some fragments of the tale of the Creation have remained intact:
This Belus [the main god of Babylon], by whom they signify Jupiter, divided the darkness and separated the heavens and the earth, and reduced the universe to order. --- ibid.
The tale of the Flood is also strikingly similar to the Hebrew account in the book of Genesis, with the ark, the animals to preserve, the birds sent to check the levels of the water after the rain had stopped, and the fact that the bird did not return to the ark the third time it was sent. Berossus also indicates that the landing place of the ark was on the side of a mountain in the land of Armenia. Berossus also detailed the story of the Tower of Babel, as found in the book of Genesis, with a direct reference to the Hebrew sources in the following extract:
And the gods introduced a diversity of tongues among men, who till that time had all spoken the same language; […]. The place in which they built the tower is now called Babylon, on account of the confusion of the tongues; for confusion is by the Hebrews called Babel. --- ibid.
The prophecy that Daniel referred to was recorded in the Hebrew writings kept in Babylon:
In the first year of Darius, the son of Ahasuerus, of the seed of the Medes, who was made king over the realm of the Chaldeans; in the first year of his reign, I Daniel meditated in the books, over the number of the years, whereof the word of the Lord came to Jeremiah the prophet, that He would accomplish for the desolations of Jerusalem seventy years. And I set my face unto the Lord God, to seek by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes. --- Daniel 9:1-2
Jeremiah's prophecy was that God will remember the Israelites after 70 years of Babylonian exile:
For thus says the Lord: After seventy years are accomplished for Babylon, I will remember you, and perform My good word toward you, in causing you to return to this place. --- Jeremiah 29:10
When Darius was brought to power in Babylon, this period of Babylonian exile had already come to an end because the captivity of Babylon is counted from the time when King Jehoiachin and the High Priest were taken captive. Jerusalem was then desolated, first spiritually before falling (materialistically) a few years later. This explains the meditation, and calculation, made by Daniel who realized the time had passed and, yet, the "exile of Babylon" was still endured, although at the time Cyrus has already cancelled all the decrees that had given the Israelites of the Babylonian realm the status of captives. But the fact was that the Promised Land was devastated, most of the Israelites remained in exile instead of returning to Sion, and started the process of assimilation in the new ruling power, of Persia, which had shown much more tolerance for them and freed them from their captivity status. So Jeremiah’s prophecy mentioning the 70 years was not accomplished yet, except that the Israelites were not captive but remained exiled. The time for the end of their exile was still uncertain.
What was causing this delay of redemption? The Israelites were spread over the Chaldean and Persian empires, in which they assimilated and embraced the new status of citizen of the most powerful empire of all times. For them the captivity was finished but for Daniel the exile was not. The problem was that there was a lack of faith in divine designs to eventually decide to depart for Sion, even though Cyrus’ decree authorized it, because the region of Judah still had the stigma of the ravage caused by preceding wars, and was known to be utterly desolated. In order to push more Israelites out of exile, spiritually and physically, and make them rebuild the destroyed city and Temple, God needed to create the inspiration and faith into His people. This came with a succession of ordeals, designed to put the Israelites in danger and to awaken their dormant spirituality. The same had already occured for their ancestors in Egypt: they went down on self-exile due to a famine in their land, but then received honours and property and decided to remain; they ended up in assimilation and were about to forget all their roots until God designs made a new king to rule over Egypt who decided to enslave the Hebrews. They then missed the opportunity to return to Sion by their own choice during the reign of monotheist Akhenaten, and the same scenario repeated itself with the semi-monotheist Cyrus who freed them from captivity, gave them back the vessels of the Temple and authorized them to rebuild it, and yet, they remained in the Persian Empire instead. Assimilation was threatening their existence once more...
Other considerations of these 70 years calculation are:
1- the prophecy of Jeremiah only mentioned that God will "cause" the return to Sion, so the 70 years does not apply to the return itself but rather to event(s) that would lead to the return
2- if we consider that Jeremiah actually was taken to Egypt, and not Babylon, the 70 years may also applied to the exiles in Egypt and the event that would cause their return to Sion would be the collapse of the Egyptian monarchy
3- the 70 years apply to the total exile from Judea; and this only happened in the year of the destruction of the Temple, so 586 BCE; at that time, Gedaliah was murdered and Judea was depopulated of its Jewish people; 70 years later, in 516 BCE, the Second Temple will be dedicated
Anyhow, Daniel was more personally affected by this situation because he would soon need to move out of Babylon, not to return to Sion but to get himself even further away, to the city of Susa. The exile seemed more and more deepening and this explains why Daniel felt the urge to seek [the Lord God] by prayer and supplications, with fasting, and sackcloth, and ashes.
Darius set 120 satraps over his empire (Daniel 6:2), which meant that he governed over 120 provinces. And he named 3 general satraps to supervise them, headquartered in Persepolis, Susa and Babylon. One of them was Daniel. This nomination was quite extraordinary because Daniel was not from the high dignitaries of the Persian aristocraty. The special relationship that bonded between the old and wise Daniel and the young Darius while he ruled in Babylon was the only reason for such unusual choice. Daniel then moved from Babylon to Susa, where his new function was calling him. He however felt it as a second exile because he had been taken from Judah to Babylon by Nebuchadnezzar to serve as an advisor in his palace, and now history repeated again, only this time to move to Susa and serve in Darius’ palace.
This foreign newcomer caused jealousy among the other officials who were firmly established in Susa, and they conspired to bring him down. They convinced young Darius to sign a decree that would condemn to the den of lions any person who would not show enough respect to the king. They then came to Daniel and found him praying towards Jerusalem:
And when Daniel knew that the writing was signed, he went into his house -- now his windows were open in his upper chamber toward Jerusalem -- and he kneeled upon his knees three times a day, and prayed, and gave thanks before his God, as he did aforetime. --- Daniel 6:11
Reluctantly, Darius was obliged to bind by his own decree:
Then the king commanded, and they brought Daniel, and cast him into the den of lions. Now the king spoke and said unto Daniel: 'Your God whom you serve continually, He will deliver you.' And a stone was brought, and laid upon the mouth of the den; and the king sealed it with his own signet, and with the signet of his lords; that nothing might be changed concerning Daniel. Then the king went to his palace, and passed the night fasting; neither were diversions brought before him; and his sleep fled from him: Then the king arose very early in the morning, and went in haste unto the den of lions. And when he came near unto the den to Daniel, he cried with a pained voice; the king spoke and said to Daniel: 'O Daniel, servant of the living God, is your God, whom you serve continually, able to deliver you from the lions?’ Then said Daniel unto the king: 'O king, live for ever! My God has sent His angel, and has shut the lions' mouths, and they have not hurt me; forasmuch as before Him innocence was found in me; and also before you, O king, have I done no hurt.' --- Daniel 6:17-23
Daniel in the lions' den - by Briton Riviere, 1875
(National Museums Liverpool)
The fasting of the king was surely borrowed from the common practice he had seen Daniel doing in Babylon in times of fear about the future and of prayer to God.
Darius threw the conspirers into the lions den and decreed:
Then Darius wrote unto all the peoples, nations, and languages that dwell in all the earth: ‘I make a decree, that in all the dominion of my kingdom men tremble and fear before the God of Daniel; for He is the living God, and stedfast for ever, and His kingdom that which shall not be destroyed, and His dominion shall be even unto the end; He delivers and rescues, and He works signs and wonders in heaven and in earth; who has delivered Daniel from the power of the lions.' --- Daniel 6:26-29
Darius’ signet (source: Images of Ancient Iran)
The mention of the above Biblical text that Darius wrote unto all… languages is not a insignificant detail. It is well know that this king introduced a new alphabet in Persia about this exact time: it was later called the Aryan script and was used by Darius for royal inscriptions such as the famous Beshitun. It was before his death that Daniel instructed Darius about the use of an alphabet, as Solomon did before with the Phoenicians. The Beshitun inscription is as important to the knowledge of the Old Persian language as the Rosetta stone has been to deciphering the hieroglyphs.
The Beshitun inscription
There is no mention in the Bible about the death of Daniel. But we can assume that it was around Hebrew year 3239 (521 BCE) because Darius started to communicate with another Israelite, Haggai, as a spokesperson for the Israelite people. Surely if Daniel was still alive, Darius would have conferred with him about several matters that concerned the Jewish nation.
Towards the end of his life, after having served the greatest kings of these times, from Nebuchadnezzar the Chaldean to Darius the Mede, Daniel had a last vision about the end of the world. But he could not understand it because God did not reveal to him its significance:
And I heard, but I understood not; then said I: “O my Lord, what shall be the latter end of these things?” And he said: “Go your way, Daniel; for the words are shut up and sealed till the time of the end.” --- Daniel 12:8-9
Go your way, Daniel: the Prophet knew at this point that the term of his life was near. He was then living in Susa, and knew he would die in Susa, the place where one of his earliest visions had taken him long ago, even before Persia came to overpower the known world:
In the third year of the reign of King Belshazzar a vision appeared unto me, even unto me Daniel, after that which appeared unto me at the first. And I saw in the vision; now it was so, that when I saw, I was in Shushan the castle, which is in the province of Elam; and I saw in the vision, and I was by the stream Ulai. --- Daniel 8:1-2
He must have been 100 years old when he died, because he was taken to Babylon when he was a young person, probably no older than 20 years old, and had been educated and raised in the palace of Nebuchadnezzar. This was in Hebrew year 3155, and Daniel must have died in Hebrew year 3239, so 84 years before. If he had come to Babylon at the age of 16, he would have died at the age of 100. But, according to Seder Olam Rabbah, following an opinion from the Talmudists, Daniel was still alive in the time of Queen Esther, which took place some 45 years later than now, and making Daniel someone who lived over 140 years of age !
Daniel was buried near the stream and castle of his vision and his tomb still stands there:
Map of the stream and Daniel’s tomb near Susa
Tomb of Daniel in Susa
(Flandin, Eugène, Voyage en Perse Moderne, 1851)
In the second year of Darius’s reign, God addressed Himself to the Israelites through Haggai the Prophet to appeal to them to rebuild the Temple:
Then came the word of the Lord by Haggai the prophet, saying: “Is it a time for you yourselves to dwell in your sealed houses, while this house lays waste? Now therefore thus”, says the Lord of hosts, “Consider your ways. You have sown much, and brought in little, you eat, but you have not enough, you drink, but you are not filled with drink, you clothe you, but there is none warm; and he that earns wages earns wages for a bag with holes. “Thus” says the Lord of hosts, “consider your ways. Go up to the hill-country, and bring wood, and build the house; and I will take pleasure in it, and I will be glorified,” says the Lord. “You looked for much, and, lo, it came to little; and when you brought it home, I did blow upon it. Why?” says the Lord of hosts. “Because of My house that lays waste, while you run every man for his own house. Therefore over you the heaven has kept back, so that there is no dew, and the earth has kept back her produce. And I called for a drought upon the land, and upon the mountains, and upon the corn, and upon the wine, and upon the oil, and upon that which the ground brings forth, and upon men, and upon cattle, and upon all the labour of the hands.” --- Haggai 1:3-11
Through the mouth of the prophet Haggai, God chose Zerubbabel as leader of the Jewish people at this time:
In that day, says the Lord of hosts, will I take you, O Zerubbabel, My servant, the son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and will make you as a signet; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts. --- Haggai 2:23
God addressed Himself to Zechariah the Prophet as well:
“The Lord has been sore displeased with your fathers. Therefore say you unto them, Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return unto Me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return unto you, says the Lord of hosts. Be you not as your fathers, unto whom the former prophets proclaimed, saying: Thus says the Lord of hosts: Return you now from your evil ways, and from your evil doings; but they did not hear, nor attend unto Me, says the Lord. Your fathers, where are they? And the prophets, do they live for ever? But My words and My statutes, which I commanded My servants the prophets, did they not overtake your fathers? so that they turned and said: Like as the Lord of hosts purposed to do unto us, according to our ways, and according to our doings, so has He dealt with us.” --- Zechariah 1:2-6
The burden of the word of the Lord concerning Israel. The saying of the Lord, who stretched forth the heavens, and laid the foundation of the earth, and formed the spirit of man within him: Behold, I will make Jerusalem a cup of staggering unto all the peoples round about, and upon Judah also shall it fall to be in the siege against Jerusalem. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will make Jerusalem a stone of burden for all the peoples; all that burden themselves with it shall be sore wounded; and all the nations of the earth shall be gathered together against it. In that day, saith the Lord, I will smite every horse with bewilderment, and his rider with madness; and I will open Mine eyes upon the house of Judah, and will smite every horse of the peoples with blindness. And the chiefs of Judah shall say in their heart: 'The inhabitants of Jerusalem are my strength through the Lord of hosts their God.' In that day will I make the chiefs of Judah like a pan of fire among the wood, and like a torch of fire among sheaves; and they shall devour all the peoples round about, on the right hand and on the left; and Jerusalem shall be inhabited again in her own place, even in Jerusalem. The Lord also shall save the tents of Judah first, that the glory of the house of David and the glory of the inhabitants of Jerusalem be not magnified above Judah. In that day shall the Lord defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem; and he that stumbleth among them at that day shall be as David; and the house of David shall be as a godlike being, as the angel of the Lord before them. And it shall come to pass in that day, that I will seek to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. And I will pour upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace and of supplication; and they shall look unto Me because they have thrust him through; and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his first-born. In that day shall there be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the valley of Megiddon. And the land shall mourn, every family apart: the family of the house of David apart, and their wives apart; the family of the house of Nathan apart, and their wives apart; The family of the house of Levi apart, and their wives apart; the family of the Shimeites apart, and their wives apart; All the families that remain, every family apart, and their wives apart. --- Zechariah 12
The work of reconstruction of the Temple resumed in the 2nd year of the reign of Darius, when he was king of Persia (Ezra 4:24), and not just when he was king over the realm of the Chaldeans. The Israelites started the work under the guidance of their prophets. When Persian officials asked them who gave them authorization to resume the work, they replied:
“We are the servants of the God of heaven and earth, and build the house that was builded these many years ago, which a great king of Israel builded and finished.” --- Ezra 5:11
They also mentioned that Cyrus the Great had authorized such work as he had returned the vessels of the Temple to restore its divine service. The officials referred the case to Darius. The decree of Cyrus that the Israelites mentioned was found in a roll (Ezra 6:2), which was surely the so-called Cyrus cylinder. Darius gave his full approval for the works to resume and even granted support from the empire:
And that which they [the Jews] have need of, both young bullocks, and rams, and lambs, for burnt-offerings to the God of heaven, wheat, salt, wine, and oil, according to the word of the priests that are at Jerusalem, let it be given them day by day without fail; that they may offer sacrifices of sweet savour unto the God of heaven, and pray for the life of the king, and of his sons. Also I have made a decree, that whosoever shall alter this word, let a beam be pulled out from his house, and let him be lifted up and fastened thereon; and let his house be made a dunghill for this; and may the God that has caused His name to dwell there overthrow all kings and peoples, that shall put forth their hand to alter the same, to destroy this house of God which is at Jerusalem. I Darius have made a decree; let it be done with all diligence. --- Ezra 6:9-12
Map of the Temple, drawn by Maimonides (12th century CE)
 The Living Creation, which is opposite to the Void and Chaos, the Tohu and Bohu of the Bible
 God as creator of mankind, where the Righteousness has taken a human form, a body
 Herodotus is considered as the Father of History as he completed his book in 440 BCE
 This practice has been adopted by Jews since the exile of Babylon
 To see the ancient Persian alphabet, click here
 According to Tradition, these books were however compiled at the time of King Hezekiah
 According to Herodotus (Histories, Book 3, Chapters 90-94), the 5th satrapy was due to pay a tribute of 350 talents in the time of Darius, and the 6t satrapy (Egypt) paid 700 talents; to read it online, click here
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