10 Mar 2013 
#61 About the mention of the ethnarch of Aretas the king in 2 Corinthians 11:32-33

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2 Corinthians 11:32-33 YLT
"In Damascus the ethnarch of Aretas the king was watching the city of the Damascenes, wishing to seize me, and through a window in a rope basket I was let down, through the wall, and fled out of his hands."

Part of 32-33 (more so "of Aretas the king") or the whole is contested as interpolation because there is no external evidence that Damascus came under Aretas' rule at that time. However, it is not necessarily meant here this ethnarch had control of the city. Rather, he may just have been the representative of Nabataean residents and, at the same time, ambassador for Aretas IV (9-40 CE). As such, he could hire men in order to watch the city gates and search for Paul, for the purpose of bringing him to trial.

Damascus was a center of trade by caravans and less than eighty kilometers North of the territory held by the Nabataean Arabs. Furthermore, in the past, Damascus had been part of the Nabataean kingdom. Therefore the presence of a Nabataean minority in Damascus is plausible.

According to Josephus (Ant., XIX, V, 2-3), the Jews of Alexandria (Egypt) were represented by an ethnarch and Claudius extended the practice to all cities with Diaspora Jews. Therefore it is very plausible other significant national minorities in cities would also have their own ethnarch.

Here are some extracts from Antiquities, XIX, V, 2:
"... when the Jewish ethnarch was dead, Augustus did not prohibit the making such ethnarchs, as willing that all men should be so subject [to the Romans] as to continue in the observation of their own customs, and not be forced to transgress the ancient rules of their own country religion; ...
I will therefore that the nation of the Jews be not deprived of their rights and privileges, ..."

Note: the Nabataeans also had their very own religion.

Here is a description of the function of the Jewish ethnarch in Alexandria, from Strabo being quoted by Josephus in Ant. XIV, VII, 2:
"and it hath come to pass that Egypt and Cyrene, as having the same governors, and a great number of other nations, imitate their way of living, and maintain great bodies of these Jews in a peculiar manner, and grow up to greater prosperity with them, and make use of the same laws with that nation also. Accordingly, the Jews have places assigned them in Egypt, wherein they inhabit, besides what is peculiarly allotted to this nation at Alexandria, which is a large part of that city. There is also an ethnarch allowed them, who governs the nation, and distributes justice to them, and takes care of their contracts, and of the laws to them belonging, as if he were the ruler of a free republic. In Egypt, therefore, this nation is powerful, because the Jews were originally Egyptians, and because the land wherein they inhabit, since they went thence, is near to Egypt. They also removed into Cyrene, because that this land adjoined to the government of Egypt, as well as does Judea, or rather was formerly under the same government."

Strabo, in his Geography XVII, wrote":
"The Romans have, to the best of their ability, I might say, set most things right, having organised the city [Alexamdria] as I have said,and having appointed throughout the country officials called Epistrategi and Nomarchs ["rulers of Nomes"] and Ethnarchs,[rulers of tribes] thought worthy to superintend affairs of no great importance."

Cordially, Bernard

Tags: {Aretas} {2 Corinthians} {2 Corinthians 11:32-33}
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