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ARETAS, âr´e-tas (later Gk. form Arethas, on coins and inscriptions Charethath): The name of four princes of the Nabatæan kingdom in the s. and e. of Palestine, whose capital was Petra. In the Bible (according to correct readings) only two of them are named-in II Macc. v. 8, the earliest of the name whom we know, or Aretas I., with whom in 169 B.C. the high priest Jason sought refuge from Antiochus Epiphanes; and the one who is probably to be designated Aretas IV., mentioned in II Cor. xi. 32. According to Josephus (Ant., xviii. 5) his daughter was the first wife of Herod Antipas, who was put away to make room for Herodias (Matt. xiv. 3 and parallels). This divorce caused enmity between him and Herod, and disputes over boundaries brought on a war, in which Aretas was victorious (c. 38 A.D.). At the command of Tiberius, the proconsul of Syria, Vitellius, took the field against him; but while the expedition was on its way toward Petra, it was recalled by the news of Tiberius’s death (Mar. 18, 37). It is difficult to determine how a “governor” (Gk. ethnarchēs) under Aretas came to have power at Damascus about the same time, as mentioned in II Cor. xi. It is unlikely that, as Marquardt and Mommsen conjecture, the city had belonged to the Nabatæan territory since the days of Aretas III. More probable is the widely held view that Aretas IV. took forcible possession of it temporarily before, during, or after the expedition of Vitellius, at least during the winter of 36-37. Another theory is that Caligula, who (unlike his predecessors) was unfriendly to Herod, conceded to Herod’s opponent the sovereignty of the city which had once belonged to the Nabatæan princes. Zahn has sought to solve the problem in a surprising way by trying to show that this “governor” or ethnarch of King Aretas was a Bedouin chief subject to him (cf. Schürer, in TSK, lxxiii.,1899, pp: 95 sqq.), who had no authority in Damascus, but watched the gates of the city, from the outside. Another difficulty is offered by the fact that Luke (Acts ix. 23-25) attributes the peril of Paul at Damascus not to the ethnarch under Areta, but to the Jews. It is possible, however, that the Jews caused the ethnarch’s action and also watched the gates themselves, but the simplest explanation is that Luke mentions them merely as the original instigators. In any case the notices give no certain date for Pauline chronology; but the event can be approximately fixed in the winter of 36-37, if the hypothesis of forcible occupation be correct, or after March, 37, if that of investiture by Caligula is preferred. But Zahn has made clear that an earlier date is not impossible.
Bibliography: Schürer, Geschichte, i. 726-744, Eng. transl., I. i. 345-362 (contains history of the Nabatæan kings and a very full bibliography); K. Wieseler, Chronologie des apostolischen Zeitaltar, 142-143, 167-175,. Göttingen. 1848; Gutschmid, in J. Euting, Nabatäische Inschriften, Berlin, 1885: Conybeare and Howson, Paul, i., chap. iii., appendix, London,1888; C. Clemen, Chronologie der paulinischen Briefe, § 22. Halle, 1893; T. Zahn, in NKZ, 1904, 39 sqq.
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