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Icons of the Bible: King Darius I - Friend of Israel

Updated: Sep 3, 2023

Icons of the Bible: King Darius I - Friend of Israel
Icons of the Bible: King Darius I - Friend of Israel

Icons of the Bible

Who was Darius in the Bible?

"There are three references to rulers named Darius in the Bible. The first, chronologically, occurs in the book of Daniel, where the ruler is called Darius the Mede (Daniel 6:1). This Darius ruled for only two years (538–536 BC) and is best known as the ruler who promoted Daniel to a high position in the kingdom and then cast him into the lions’ den, much against his better judgment. When he saw that Daniel was unhurt by the lions, Darius decreed that “people must fear and reverence the God of Daniel. For he is the living God and he endures forever; his kingdom will not be destroyed, his dominion will never end” (Daniel 6:1–28). It is possible that Daniel used the word Darius (which means “lord”) as a title for the ruler in Babylon, rather than a proper name. Daniel 6:28 refers to “the reign of Darius and the reign of Cyrus the Persian,” showing that Darius and Cyrus ruled concurrently. This has caused Bible scholars to posit that Darius was appointed viceroy over Babylon by his nephew, King Cyrus.

The book of Ezra mentions another king named Darius, also known as Darius I or Darius the Great. This was the son of Hystaspes, a king of Parsa. Darius I ruled Persia from about 521 to 486 BC. Darius I is presented in Ezra as a good king who helped the Israelites in several ways. Prior to Darius’s reign, the Jews who had returned from the Babylonian Captivity had begun rebuilding the temple in Jerusalem. At that time, Israel’s enemies did everything in their power to disrupt the construction, and they had succeeded in halting the building during the reigns of the kings Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4:1–24).

There is some debate about the identity of the “Ahasuerus” or “Xerxes” mentioned in Ezra 4:6 as ruling before Darius I. It is likely that this king is also known in history as Cambyses II, a son of Cyrus the Great. The “Artaxerxes” in verse 7 is called, in other historical records, “Smerdis” or “Bardiya,” another son of Cyrus (or possibly an impostor taking his place). That king ruled only seven or eight months. A related theory suggests that Ezra spoke of Cambyses using his Chaldee name (Ahasuems) in verse 6, and by his Persian name or title (Artaxerxes) in verse 7. In that case, Ahasuerus and Artaxerxes refer to the same person—the king who immediately preceded Darius.

When Darius became king, construction of the temple resumed in the second year of his reign. But the Jews’ enemies again attempted to thwart their efforts. Tattenai, the Persian governor of Judea, wrote a letter to Darius in an effort to turn the king against the Israelites and stop the building of the temple. But Darius responded by commanding Tattenai and his companions to stay far away from the site and let the Jewish elders continue with the rebuilding. Furthermore, the king decreed that the Jewish workers were to be paid from the royal treasury, that the builders would be given whatever was needed for the burnt offerings, and that anyone attempting to destroy the temple or disobey his decree would be impaled on a beam from his own house, which would be made a pile of rubble (Ezra 6:1–12). By his decrees, Darius I showed himself to be a friend of Israel, and the Jews in Jerusalem prospered under his watch. The temple was completed in the sixth year of his reign (Ezra 6:15).

A third reference to a ruler named Darius occurs in Nehemiah 12:22, which refers to the “reign of Darius the Persian.” It is unclear exactly who this Darius is, but most historians believe it to be Darius Codomannus (336–331 BC), the last king of the Persian monarchy who was defeated by Alexander the Great." from the article: Who was Darius in the Bible?

The Destruction and Reconstruction of the Temple

"The Jerusalem temple said to have been built by Solomon was destroyed in 587/586 B.C.E., when the Babylonians captured the city, torched it, and exiled the Judean leadership to Babylon. Second Kings describes the final days:

“In the fifth month … Nebuzaradan, the captain of the bodyguard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem. He burned the house of the Lord, the king’s house, and all the houses of Jerusalem; every great house he burned down.” (2Kgs 25:8-9)

This event marked a turning point in Israelite history because it spelled the end of an autonomous or even semiautonomous Judean state. It initiated a period, usually called the exilic period, that came to an end in the biblical record when King Cyrus of Persia conquered the Babylonian empire in 539 B.C.E., subsumed that empire under his own rule, and permitted Judeans to return to the land and rebuild the temple (see Ezra 1).

The prophetic books of Haggai and Zechariah portray these prophets as urging the leaders and the people to rebuild the temple. Ezra 1-6 depicts their successful efforts to do so, despite opposition from some “peoples of the land” whose identity is not always clear. Most scholars date the actual completion of the restored temple to 516/515 B.C.E.

Ezra 3 depicts the beginning of the restoration, with the building of the altar and setting the temple foundations. According to Ezra 4, however, enemies interfered by reporting to the Persian king that the builders were a rebellious people. After these and other delays, the temple was completed in 516/515 B.C.E, during the time of the Persian king Darius (525-486 B.C.E.).

The Hebrew Bible does not describe the rebuilt temple, although Ezra 6:3 says that “its height shall be sixty cubits and its width sixty cubits.” The emphasis falls on its placement, that is, that it should be installed precisely at the place of the first temple. Ezra 3 contrasts this new edifice with its predecessor: “many of the priests and Levites and heads of families, old people who had seen the first house on its foundations, wept with a loud voice when they saw this house, though many shouted aloud for joy” (Ezra 3:12; see also Hag 2:3, which notes that the restored temple is less grand than the former one).

Whether or not it compared favorably to the first temple, the restored temple marked a new epoch; it signified the renewal of Jewish life after the devastation of exile. Moreover, it signaled a new role for the people themselves. Whereas the first temple was credited to Solomon and was built with forced labor, the second temple was the work of the people themselves. Although it came into being under Persian royal auspices (see Ezra 1:1-4), the actual builders were the Judeans (Ezra 1:5-6:14), who also unilaterally vowed to maintain it (Neh 10:32-39). In the absence of a monarchy, the second temple came to occupy a greater place in Judean life than did Solomon’s temple." from the article: The Destruction and Reconstruction of the Temple

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