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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible


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ARETAS . This is the dynastic name (Aram. [Note: Aramaic.] Charethath ) of several kings of the Nahatæan Arabs whose capital was Petra (Sela), and whose language for purposes of writing and commerce was an Aramaic dialect, as is seen from the existing inscriptions. (Cooke, N. Semitic Inscr . p. 214 ff.). The first of the line is mentioned in 2Ma 5:8 ; the fourth (whose personal name was Æneas) in 2 Corinthians 11:32 , where his ‘ethnarch’ is said to have ‘guarded the city of the Damascenes in order to take’ St. Paul; but the Apostle escaped. This was within three years after his conversion ( Galatians 1:17 f., Acts 9:23 ff.). There is a difficulty here, for Damascus was ordinarily in the Roman province of Syria. Aretas III. had held it in b.c. 85; the Roman coins of Damascus end a.d. 34 and begin again a.d. 62 3. It has been supposed that the Nabatæans held the city during this interval. Yet before the death of Tiberius (a.d. 37) there could hardly have been any regular occupancy by them, as Vitellius, proprætor of Syria, was sent by that emperor to punish Aretas IV. for the vengeance that the latter had taken on Herod Antipas for divorcing his sister in favour of Herodias. It has therefore been thought that a.d. 37 is the earliest possible date for St. Paul’s escape; and this will somewhat modify our view of Pauline chronology (see art. Paul the Apostle, § 4). Yet the allusion in 2 Corinthians 11:32 f. does not necessarily imply anything like a permanent tenure of Damascus by Aretas’ ethnarch. A temporary occupancy may well have taken place in Aretas’ war against Herod Antipas or afterwards; and it would be unsafe to build any chronological theory on this passage. The reign of Aretas IV. lasted from b.c. 9 to a.d. 40; inscriptions (at el-Hejra ) and coins are dated in his 48th year (Cooke, l.c. ).

A. J. Maclean.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Aretas'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. 1909.

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