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(Ἀρέτας, Arab, Ḥâritha)

The Gr. form of a name borne by several rulers of the Nabataean Arabs, whose capital was Petra in Arabia.

1. The first known to history, ‘Aretas, prince of the Arabians,’ is said to have had the fugitive high-priest Jason shut up at his court (2 Maccabees 5:8; the Gr. text is doubtful). His designation as ‘prince’ (τύραννος) indicates that the hereditary chieftain of the tribe had not yet assumed the dignity of king-ship. The royal dynasty was founded by Erotimus about 110-100 b.c., when the Greek kings of Syria and Egypt had lost so much of their power, ‘ut adsiduis proeliis consumpti in contemptum finitimorum vencrint praedaeque Arabum geuti, imbelli antea, fuerint’ (Trog. Pomp. ap. Justin., xxxix. 5. 5-6).

2. The second Aretas, called δʼ Αράβων βασιλεύς, is mentioned by Josephus (Ant. xiii. xiii. 3) in connexion with the siege of Gaza by Alexander Jannaeus in 96 b.c.

3. Aretas iii., who reigned from about 85 to 60 b.c., is known as ‘Aretas the Philhellene,’ this being the superscription of the earliest Nabataean coins that are known. Under him the mountain fortress of Petra began to assume the aspect of a Hellenistic city, and the Nabataean sway was extended as far as Damascus. He incurred the displeasure of the Romans by interfering in the quarrel of Hyrcanus and Aristobulus, but the war which Scaurus waged against him left his power unbroken (Ant. xiv. v. i.; Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) i. viii. 1). He could not, however, prevent Lollius and Metellus from taking possession of Damascus (Ant. xiv. ii. 3; Bellum Judaicum (Josephus) i. vi. 1), which thereafter was permanently under the suzerainty of Rome.

4. Aretas IV., Philopatris, the last and best-known, had a long and successful reign (circa, about 9 b.c.-a.d. 40). He was originally called aeneas, but on coming to the throne he assumed the favourite name of the Nabataean kings. He soon found it necessary to ingratiate himself with Rome.

Augustus ‘was angry that Aretas had not sent to him first before he took the kingdom; yet did aeneas send an epistle and presents to Caesar, and a crown of gold of the weight of many talents.’ … The Emperor ‘admitted Aretas’s ambassadors, and after he had just reproved him for his rashness in not waiting till he had received the kingdom from him, he accepted his presents, and confirmed him in the government’ (Jos. Ant. xvi. ix. 4, x. 9).

This Aretas’ daughter became the wife of Herod Antipas, who divorced her in order to marry Herodias (Mark 6:17). Border disputes gave the injured father an opportunity of revenge. Again acting, at this new juncture, without consulting Rome, he attacked and defeated Antipas (a.d. 28); and again fortune smiled on his daring disregard of consequences. The belated expedition which Vitellius, governor of Syria, at Tiberius’ command, led against Petra, had only got as far as Jerusalem, when the tidings of the Emperor’s death (a.d. 37) caused it to be abandoned.

There is circumstantial evidence, though perhaps too slender to be quite convincing, that Tiberius’ successor Caligula favoured the cause of Aretas. St. Paul was converted probably about a.d. 36 (so Turner), and, some time after, the Jews of Damascus conspired to kill him (Acts 9:22 f.). In recalling this fact he mentions a detail (2 Corinthians 11:32) which the writer of Acts omits, namely, that it was the governor (ἐθνάρχης) under Aretas the king who-doubtless at the instigation of the Jews-guarded the city to take him. The question is thus raised when and how Aretas became overlord of Damascus. It is inconceivable either that he captured the city in face of the Roman legions in Syria, or that Tiberius, who in the end of his reign was strongly hostile, ceded it to him. But it is probable that Caligula favoured the enemy of Herod Antipas. One of his first imperial acts was to give the tetrarchy of Philip and Lysanias to Agrippa (Ant. xviii. vi. 10), and he may at the same time have given Damascus to Aretas as a peace-offering. It was better policy to befriend than to crush the brave Nabataeans. Antipas was ultimately deposed and banished in 39.

It was only for a short time, however, that Rome relaxed her direct hold upon the old Syrian capital. There are Damascene coins with the figure of Tiberius down to a.d. 34, and the fact that none has been found with the image of Caius or Claudius is significant of a change of régime; but the image of Nero appears from 62 onwards. To the view of Marquardt (Röm. Staatsverwaltung, 1885, i. 405) and Mommsen (Provinces2, 1909, ii. 149), based on 2 Corinthians 11:32, that Damascus was continuously in subjection to the Nabataean kings from the beginning of the Roman period down to a.d. 106, there are the strongest objections (see Schürer, History of the Jewish People (Eng. tr. of GJV).] i. ii. 354). Cf. article Arabia.

More coins and inscriptions date from the time of Aretas IV. than from any Nabataean reign. While the standing title of Aretas III. was φιλέλληνος, that which the last chose for himself was רחם עמה, ‘Lover of his people.’ He set country above culture; he was a Nabataean patriot first and a Hellenist afterwards. It was probably this successful reign that Josephus had in view when he wrote of the extension of the Nabataean kingdom from the Euphrates to the Red Sea (Ant. i. xii. 4).

Literature-In addition to the authorities cited in the body of the article , see Literature appended to article Arabia, and P. Ewald, article ‘Aretas,’ In Realencyklopädie für protestantische Theologie und Kirche 3.

James Strahan.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Aretas'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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