(Α᾿ρέτας; Arab. charresh, Pococke, Spec. Hist. Arab. p. 58, or, in another form, c(haurish=חוֹרֵשׁ, graver, Pococke, 1:70, 76, 77, 89), the common name of several Arabian kings (see Diod. Sic. 14:70; comp. Wesseling; Michaelis, in Pott's Syllog. 3, 62 sq.).
1. The first of whom we have any notice was a contemporary of the Jewish high-priest Jason and of Antiochus Epiphanes, about B.C. 170 (2 Maccabees 5:8): "In the end, therefore, he (Jason) had an unhappy return, being accused before Aretas, the king of the Arabians."
2. Josephus (Ant. 13, 13, 3) mentions an Aretas, king of the Arabians (surnamed Obedas, Ο᾿βέδας, Ant. 13, 13, 5), contemporary with Alexander Jannaeus (died B.C. 79) and his sons. After defeating Antiochus Dionysus, he reigned over Coele-Syria, "being called to the government by those that held Damascus (κληθεὶς εἰς τὴν ἀρχὴν ὑπὸ τῶν τὴν Δαμασκὸνἐχόντων) by reason of the hatred they bore to Ptolemy Mennaeus" (Ant. 13:15, 2). He took part with Hyrcanus, who had taken refuge with him (War, 1:6, 2), in his contest (Ant. 14:1, 4) for the sovereignty with his brother Aristobulus (q.v.), and laid siege to Jerusalem (B.C. 65), but, on the approach of the Roman general Scaurus, he retreated to Philadelphia (War, 1, 6, 3). Hyrcanus and Aretas were pursued and defeated by Aristobulus at a place called Papyron, and lost above 6000 men (Ant. 14, 2, 3). After Pompey had reduced Syria to a Roman province, Aretas submitted to him again, B.C. 64 (see Dion Cass. 37:15; Appian, Mithr. 166; Plut. Pomp. 39, 41). Three or four years after, Scaurus, to whom Pompey had committed the government of Coele-Syria, invaded Petraea, but, finding it difficult to obtain provisions for his army, he consented to withdraw on the offer of 300 talents from Aretas (Josephus, Ant. 14, 5, 1; War, 1, 8, 1). This expedition is commemorated on a coin. SEE SCAURUS. The successors of Scaurus in Syria also prosecuted the war with the Arabs (Appian, Syr. 50).
3. Aretas, whose name was originally AEneas (Αἰνείας), succeeded Obodas (Josephus, Ant. 16, 9, 4). He was the father-in-law of Herod Antipas. The latter made proposals of marriage to the wife of his half- brother Herod-Philip, Herodias, the daughter of Aristobulus, their brother, and the sister of Agrippa the Great. (On the apparent discrepancy between the Evangelists and Josephus, in reference to the name of the husband of Herodias, see Lardner's Credibility, etc., 2:5; Works, 1835, 1, 408-416.) In consequence of this the daughter of Aretas returned to her father, and a war (which had been fomented by previous disputes about the limits of their respective countries, see Joseph. Ant. 17, 10, 9) ensued between Aretas and Herod. The army of the latter was totally destroyed; and on his sending an account of his disaster to Rome the emperor immediately ordered Vitellius to bring Aretas prisoner alive, or, if dead, to send his head (Joseph. Ant. 18, 5, 1). But while Vitellius was on his march to Petra, news arrived of the death of Tiberius (A.D. 37), upon which, after administering the oath of allegiance to his troops, he dismissed them to winter-quarters and returned to Rome (Joseph. Ant. 18, 5, 3). The Aretas into whose dominions AElius Gellius came in the time of Augustus (Strabo, 16:781) is probably the same. There is another coin extant inscribed Φιλέλληνος, i, e. lover of the Greeks (Eckhel, Doctr. Num. 3, 330), that may have belonged to this Aretas.
It has been supposed by many that it was at the above juncture that Aretas took possession of Damascus, and placed a governor in it (ἐθνάρχης) with a garrison, as stated by the Apostle Paul: "In Damascus the governor under Aretas, the king, kept the city of the Damascenes with a garrison, desirous to apprehend me; and through a window in a basket was I let down by the wall, and escaped his hands" (2Co 11:32, compared with Ac 9:24). In that case we are furnished with a chronological mark in the apostle's history. From Ga 1:18, it appears that Paul went up to Jerusalem from Damascus three years after his conversion. SEE PAUL. The Emperor Tiberius died March 16, A.D. 37; and, as the affairs of Arabia were settled in the second year of Caligula, Damascus was then most probably reoccupied by the Romans. The city under Augustus and Tiberius was attached to the province of Syria; and we have Damascene coins of both these emperors, and again of Nero and his successors. But we have none of Caligula and Claudius, and the following circumstances make it probable that the rulership of Damascus was changed after the death of Tiberius. By this occurrence at Rome a complete reversal took place in the situation of Antipas and his enemy. The former was ere long (A.D. 39) banished to Lyons, and his kingdom given to Agrippa, his foe (Ant. 18:7), who had been living in habits of intimacy with the new emperor (Ant. 18:6, 5). It would be natural that Aretas, who had been grossly injured by Antipas, should, by this change of affairs, be received into favor; and the more so as Vitellius had an old grudge against Antipas (Ant. 18:4, 5). Now in the year 38 Caligula made several changes in the East, granting Ituraea to Soanmus, Lesser Armenia and parts of Arabia to Cotys, the territory of Cotys to Rhaemetalces, and giving to Polemon, son of Polemon, his father's government. These facts, coupled with that of no Damascene coins of Caligula or Claudius existingr, make it probable that about this time Damascus, which belonged to the predecessor of Aretas (Ant. 13:5, 2), was granted to him by Caligula. The other hypotheses, that the ethnarch was only visiting the city (as if he could then have guarded the walls to prevent escape), that Aretas had seized Damascus on Vitellius giving up the expedition against him (as if a Roman governor of a province would allow one of its chief cities to be taken from him merely because he was in uncertainty about the policy of a new emperor), are very improbable (Wieseler, Chron. des apostolischen Zeitalters, p. 174). If, then, Paul's flight took place in A.D. 39, his conversion must have occurred in A.D. 36 (Neander's History of the Planting of the Christian Church, 1, 107; Lardner's Credibility, etc., Supplement, ch. 11; Works, 5, 497, ed. 1835; Schmidt in Keil's Analekt. 3, 135 sq.; Bertholdt, Einl. 5, 2702 sq.). But it is still more likely that the possession of Damascus by Aretas to which Paul alludes occurred earlier, on the affront of his daughter by the espousal of Herodias (Lu 3:19-20; Mr 6:16; Mt 14:3), which stands in connection with the death of John the Baptist (q.v.); and in that case it affords neither date nor difficulty in the apostle's history (see Browne's Ordo Saeclorum, p. 113 n.; Conybeare and Howson, 1:82; Smith's Dict. of Class. Biog. s.v.). SEE CHRONOLOGY.
4. One or more other kings of Arabia by the same name are mentioned in history (Strabo, 16:781; Dio Cass. 37:15; comp. Assemani, Bibl. Orient. 1, 367; 2, 331; 3, 1, 139; and a coin of one of them is extant (Mionet, Desc. des medailles antiques, p. 284, 285; comp. Conybeare and Howson, St. Paul, 1, 107); but it is not clear that the Aretas whom Josephus names as having a contest with Syllaeus (Ant. 17, 3, 2; War, 1, 29, 3) was different from the preceding, and the succeeding kings of that name are unimportant in any Scriptural relation (see Anger, De tempor. ratione, p. 173; Heyne, De Areta Arabum rege, Viteb. 1775; Heinold, De ethnarcha Jeudeorum Paulo obsidiante, Jen. 1757).