Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Kingdom of Nabatea

During the first century BCE and CE, the Nabatean kingdom emerged as a great merchant trader ranging from Damascus in the north along the east side of the Jordan River to the Sinai and Negev deserts in the south. At its height under King Aretas IV (reigned 9 BCE–40 CE), Petra was a cosmopolitan trading center with a population of at least 25,000. Throughout this period, the kingdom remained independent. At various times the kingdom had extensive economic and social contacts (including intermarriage) with the people of Galilee and Judea. The two countries also engaged in military conflicts and wars during this period. These disputes centered on control of Perea.

Perea was “a Jewish district east of the River Jordan, extending along the Jordan Valley and the northern part of the Eastern shores of the Dead Sea, its name meaning the land ‘beyond’. On the east it bordered the city territories of Gerasa, Philadelphia (Rabbath-Ammon), Heshbon, and Medaba, and its main cities were Gadara, Abila and Libias (Bethsaida). In the Persian period this territory was ruled by the Tobiads. After the Hasmonean uprising the Maccabees protected the Jews who settled there from their Arab-Nabatean neighbors. John Hyrcanus I enlarged the territory of Perea by conquering Nabatean cities (Josephus, Antiq. XIII, 225; War I, 63). It was part of Herod’s domain and is capital was Gadara.” The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, revised edition, edited by Avraham Negev, (1986), 292.

Herod the Great was the son of Antipater and a Nabatean Princess. In 9 BCE, in a dispute involving the payment of money, Herod invaded Nabatea, seized and plundered Raepta. Caesar Augustus became involved in the dispute as result of which Caesar disciplined Herod. Josephus wrote that Caesar “had used him as his friend, he should now use him as his subject.” Herod lost favor with Caesar and no longer had the right to name his successors.

When Herod died, his son Herod Antipas became tetrarch of Galilee and Perea but its eastern portion was restored to the Nabateans. Herod Antipas married Phasaelis who was the daughter of King Aretas IV. This marriage was arranged by Herod the Great and King Aretas IV as part of the settlement of ongoing border disputes between the two countries. Josephus tells us that Herod arranged the marriages of his children.

According to the Gospel of Luke, Chuza, the steward of Herod Antipas was married to Joanna. This also was probably an arranged marriage. H. Hoehner states the name Chuza appears in two Nabatean inscriptions leading Hoehner to speculate Chuza may have been a Nabatean chief steward of Herod’s estates with his main role in Perea. After a lengthy marriage, Herod Antipas divorced his wife and married Herodias, the wife of one of his half brothers and the daughter of another of his half brothers. Herod Antipas and Herodias were condemned by John the Baptist and Josephus. King Aretas IV used the divorce as an excuse to invade Perea and defeat the army of Herod Antipas in combat. Josephus claimed that Herod Antipas lost his army “as punishment for what he did against John that was called the Baptist.” After his defeat, Herod Antipas was exiled by Rome.

During a brief revival of Nabataean rule in Damascus under Aretas IV, Paul made his exit from the city. The Bible tells us that this was when “the governor under King Aretas guarded the city... in order to seize me, but I was let down in a basket through a window in the wall and escaped his hands” (2 Corinthians 11:32-33).

Copyrighted 2007


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