Four Persian Kings in Daniel 11
The four kings of Persia in Daniel 11:2 were the successors to Cyrus. At the end of Cyrus’ reign, during the time described in Ezra chapters 4 and 5, the adversaries of the Jews began to stir up trouble for those trying to rebuild the Temple. The visions of Zechariah and the prophecy of Haggai also took place during this time and give another perspective on the same events.
Daniel 11:2 — Behold, there shall stand up yet three kings in Persia; and the fourth shall be far richer than they all: and by his strength through his riches he shall stir up all against the realm of Grecia.
Three kings — the first, Cambyses the son of Cyrus (530-522 BC); the second, Smerdis Magus (522 BC); the third, Darius the son of Hystaspes (521-486 BC).
The fourth — Xerxes (486-465 BC)
The books of Ezra, Esther and Nehemiah also refer to the kings of Persia who reigned during the rebuilding of the Temple. These kings variously assisted and resisted the building of the Jewish Temple. Ezra 4:5-7 describes the same kings, but he names them differently.
Then the people of the land tried to discourage the people of Judah. They troubled them in building, and hired counselors against them to frustrate their purpose all the days of Cyrus king of Persia, even until the reign of Darius king of Persia.
In the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem.
In the days of Artaxerxes also, Bishlam, Mithredath, Tabel, and the rest of their companions wrote to Artaxerxes king of Persia; and the letter was written in Aramaic script, and translated into the Aramaic language. Rehum the commander and Shimshai the scribe wrote a letter against Jerusalem to King Artaxerxes in this fashion (Ezra 4:5-7).
Four Persian Kings after Cyrus in Ezra 4
Cyrus the Great (Ezra 4:5) issued the first decree for the Jews to rebuild the Temple at Jerusalem in 537 BC. There were then four Persian kings who succeeded Cyrus.
- Cambyses is the same person as “Ahasuerus” (Ezra 4:6) or “Xerxes” in some translations. Ahasuerus (or Xerxes) was a common throne name or title and should not be confused with the later Xerxes who is a key figure in Esther. Cambyses reigned from 530 to 522 BC.
- Smerdis Magus is “Artaxerxes” (Ezra 4:7), not to be confused with the later Artaxerxes of Ezra 7 and Nehemiah 1,2. Again, Artaxerxes was a common throne name. Smerdis Magus was the king who received the letter written in Aramaic from the adversaries of the Jews in 522 BC.
- Darius the Great is “Darius” (Ezra 4:5), who recognized and reissued the first decree of Cyrus in 520 BC and saw the completion of the Temple in 516 BC. Darius reigned from 521 to 486 BC.
- Xerxes I (Esther 1-10) extended the Persian Empire into Greece. He is also known as “Ahasuerus” and was the king who married Esther and heard his Hebrew queen’s intercession on behalf of the Jewish people. Xerxes reigned from 486 to 465 BC.
The Jews finally prevailed against their adversaries during the reign of the fourth king, Xerxes. The next king, Artaxerxes, is not mentioned in Daniel, but plays an important role in the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
Artaxerxes I (Ezra 7,8; Nehemiah 1-13) also called Longimanus, was the son of Xerxes who also assisted Ezra and Nehemiah in the work of rebuilding the city and its walls through two decrees in 457 and 444 BC. He reigned until 424 BC.
Some commentaries assume that the Artaxerxes (Smerdis Magus) of Ezra 4 is the same as the Artaxerxes (Longimanus) of Ezra 7,8. The important indicator in chapter 4 is that Ezra is not one of those listed who wrote the letter addressed to “Artaxerxes.” Ezra does not appear in Ezra 1-6. These events occur from 537 to 516 BC. Ezra was born around the year 488 BC and came to Jerusalem many years after the first wave of refugees under King Cyrus and Darius the Great. In chapter 7, Ezra himself is holding the letter of King Artaxerxes Longimanus. A characteristic of the short-lived reign of Smerdis Magus was his hostility to any religion other than Magianism. Thus the restoration process begun under Cyrus was halted by Smerdis Magus.
At this time, the Jewish people spoke both Hebrew and Chaldean Aramaic as well as Persian and later on Greek. The rulers of the region assumed different names according to the languages of their subjects. Later, the Greek historians used their own versions of these names. We also see family names, throne names and titles being repeated over several generations.
The “Twenty-One Days” of Daniel 10:13
An intriguing interpretation of Daniel’s vision of the angel in chapter 10 concerns the time period of “twenty-one days.”
Daniel relates in chapter 10:1-11 that he began to fast and pray for “three full weeks” (v. 3) in about 535 BC. Presumably, the focus of his prayer was to gain more light on the previous vision that occurred no more than four years prior in 539 BC. In the fourth vision, Daniel was shown a period of 70 weeks in which the vision would be accomplished. This is seventy weeks of years or 490 years.
Presumably, the “three full weeks” are literally 21 days. But a couple strange details indicate that the three full weeks might also be a symbol of the same year for each day scheme of the previous vision.
Daniel 10:12,13 — Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.”
The first thing the angel tells Daniel was that he was sent to respond to his words as soon as the prophet began to pray.
Note that the reference is to “kings” of Persia in verse 13 in the plural. If 21 days is a literal three-week period, then there is just one king, Cyrus, on the throne in the time.
The prince of the kingdom of Persia — refers either to the king of Persia or to an angelic being. The guardian of Persia was perhaps a fallen angel standing in opposition to God’s plan for the Jews’ restoration. Therefore, he desired that the Jews should remain scattered among the nations.
But the reference to the “kings” of Persia must refer to a line of kings. There is then a time indicator that shows a thematic link between the angels struggle with the kings of Persia in ongoing years
Daniel 11:14 – Now I am come to make thee understand what shall befall thy people in the latter days: for yet the vision is for many days.
This assignment to battle with the prince of Persia is then re-emphasized.
Daniel 11:20 – I return to fight with the prince of Persia: and when I am gone forth, lo, the prince of Grecia shall come.
The prince of Grecia shall come — speaks of the time of the end of the Persian Empire that will last until the time of the prince of Greece, that is, Alexander the Great’s conquest of the world, which foreshadows further trouble for the Jews under Alexander’s successors. Since this did not take place until 330 BC, it is obvious that Daniel’s perception of time is limited, but the angel is an immortal being engaged in a centuries long struggle that will culminate with the victory of Jesus Christ.
But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days – from the time of Cyrus’ decree (Ezra 1:1) until the completion and dedication of the Temple (Ezra 6:16) during the reign of Darius the Great, there was a resistance to the building of the Temple. Cyrus decree was in 537 BC. The completion of the Temple was in 516 BC.
- Cambyses reigned from 530 to 522 BC.
- Smerdis Magus reigned for less then a year in 522 BC.
- Darius the Great reigned from 521 to 486 BC. Darius reissued the first decree of Cyrus in 520 BC and saw the completion of the Temple in 516 BC.
There just happens to be a period of 21 years spanning the decree of Cyrus in 537 BC, through the reigns of Cambyses and Smerdis Magus, to the completion of the Temple under the decree of Darius in 516 BC.
The word for “day” here is yowm, and is related to the word, yamin, which is usually translated as “day,” but can also mean a space of “time.” Thus it could be translated as “times.” Although I am not dogmatic about this interpretation, it deserves some scrutiny. However, I have not seen it proposed elsewhere. The “twenty-one days” (Daniel 10:13) and the “three kings” (Daniel 11:2) seem to be linked thematically. There was a time period of “three sevens,” or 21 years, in which the completion of the Temple was prolonged due to the resistance of the “Prince of Persia” (Daniel 10:13,20) representing the three Persian kings who ruled after Cyrus.