Nabatæan king; reigned from 9 B.C. to 40 of the common era. His full title, as given in the inscriptions, was "Aretas, King of the Nabatæans, Friend of his People." Being the most powerful neighbor of Judea, he frequently took part in the state affairs of that country, and was influential in shaping the destiny of its rulers. While on not particularly good terms with Rome—as intimated by his surname, "Friend of his People," which is in direct opposition to the prevalent φιλορώμαις ("Friend of the Romans") and φιλόκαισαρ ("Friend of the Emperor")—and though it was only after great hesitation that Augustus recognized him as king, nevertheless he took part in the expedition of Varus against the Jews in the year 4 B.C. (see Archelaus and Varus), and placed a considerable army at the disposal of the Roman general. It appears, however, that his relations with the Jews, or at least with the reigning family, became later more friendly; and Herod Antipas married his daughter. This marriage, however, led to a war between Aretas and Herod; the latter having conceived a fatal passion for his sister-in-law, Herodias, and having repudiated his wife, thus aroused the hatred of the Nabatæan king. Soon afterward there arose a quarrel between Aretas and Herod concerning the boundary of Gilead, which led to open warfare. In a battle between the two armies, Herod Antipas was defeated, and would have been completely overthrown but for the interference of Rome: it was against Roman interests to permit the spread of the power of Aretas. The emperor Tiberius commanded Vitellius, governor of Syria, to punish Aretas for his independent action. On account of the emperor's death (37), however, his order was never carried out.
Bronze Coin of Aretas IV. Philodeme of Nabathæa, with Inscription—. . . . . . —"Aretas King of Nabathæa . . . Year . . . "
Aretas IV. is probably identical with the Aretas whose governor at Damascus attempted to imprison Paul the apostle while the latter was on his missionary journey (II Cor. xi. 32). Since in a parallel passage (Acts ix. 23 et seq.) the Jews of Damascus are mentioned as lying in wait for Paul, it is very probable that Aretas made the attempt to capture Paul at the request of the Jews. From this it follows that the Jews must have been influential in the Nabatæan kingdom; otherwise the Nabatæans would have been careful to avoid any interference with Paul, who was a Roman citizen.
A. von Gutschmid, in Euting, Nabatäische Inschriften, p. 84, Berlin, 1885;
Schürer,Gesch. i. 617-619, and the bibliography cited;
Paul Ewald, in Realencyclop. für Protest. Theologie, 3d ed., i. 795 et seq.;
Wilcken, in Pauly-Wissowa, Real-Encyclopädie, s.v.;
and the commentaries upon the New Testament passages quoted.