nab-a-te’-anz, nab-a-the’-anz (Nabataioi; in 1 Macc 5:25 Codex Sinaiticus reads anabatais hoi, V, Anabattaiois; theNabathites, more correctly "Nabataeans"):
1. Locality and Early History:
A Semitic (Arabian rather than Syrian) tribe whose home in early Hellenistic times was Southeast of Palestine, where they had either supplanted or mingled with the Edomites (compare Mal 1:1-5). In Josephus’ day they were so numerous that the territory between the Red Sea and the Euphrates was called Nabatene (Ant., I, xii, 4). They extended themselves along the East of the Jordan with Petra as their capital (Strabo xvi.779; Josephus, Ant, XIV, i, 4; XVII, iii, 2; BJ, I, vi, 2, etc.). Their earlier history is shrouded in obscurity. Jerome, Quaeat in Ge 25:13, following the hint of Josephus (Ant., I, xii, 4), asserts they were identical with the Ishmaelite tribe of Nebaioth, which is possible, though Nebaioth is spelled with the Hebrew letter taw ("t") and Nabateans is spelled with the Hebrew letter teth ("t). They were apparently the first allies of the Assyrians in their invasions of Edom (compare Mal 1:1 ff). They were later subdued by Sennacherib (Sayce, New Light from the Ancient Monuments, II, 430), but before long regained their independence and resisted Ashurbanipal (Rawlinson, note, at the place). According to Alexander Polyhistor (Fr. 18), they were included in the nomadic tribes reduced by David. Their history is more detailed from 312 BC (Diod. Sic. xix), when Antigonus I (Cyclops) sent his general Athenaeus with a force against them in Petra. After an initial advantage, the army of Athenaeus was almost annihilated. Demetrius, the son of Antigonus, was sent against them a few years later, with little success, though he arranged a friendship with them. The first prince mentioned is Aretas I, to whom the high priest Jason fled in 169 BC. They were friendly to the early Maccabees in the anti-Hellenistic struggle, to Judas in 164 BC (1 Macc 5:25) and to Jonathan in 160 BC (1 Macc 9:35).
2. A Strong Kingdom:
Toward the end of the 2nd century BC on the fall of the Ptolemaic and Seleucid Dynasties, the Nabateans under King Erotimus founded a strong kingdom extending East of the Jordan (in 110 BC). Conscious now of their own strength, they resented the ambition of the Hasmonean Dynasty--their former allies--and opposed Alexander Janneus (96 BC) at the siege of Gaza (Josephus, Ant, XIII, xiii, 3). A few years later (90 BC) Alexander retaliated by attacking Obedas I, king of the Nabateans, but suffered a severe defeat East of the Jordan (Josephus, Ant, XIII, xiii, 5; BJ, I, iv, 4). Antiochus XII of Coele-Syria next led an expedition against the Nabateans, but was defeated and slain in the battle of Kana (Josephus, Ant, XIII, xv, 1-2; BJ, I, iv, 7-8). Consequently, Aretas III seized Coele-Syria and Damascus and gained another victory over Alexander Janneus at Adida (in 85 BC).
The Nabateans, led by Aretas (III (?)), espoused the cause of Hyrcanus against Aristobulus, besieged the latter in Jerusalem and provoked the interference of the Romans, by whom under Scaurus they were defeated (Josephus, Ant, XIV, i, 4 f; BJ, I, vi, 2 f). After the capture of Jerusalem, Pompey attacked Aretas, but was satisfied with a payment (Josephus, ibid.), and Damascus was added to Syria, though later it appears to have again passed into the hands of Aretas (2Co 11:32). In 55 BC Gabinius led another force against the Nabateans (Josephus, ibid.). In 47 BC Malchus I assisted Caesar, but in 40 BC refused to assist Herod against the Parthians, thus provoking both the Idumean Dynasty and the Romans. Antony made a present of part of Malchus’ territory to Cleopatra, and the Nabatean kingdom was further humiliated by disastrous defeat in the war against Herod (31 BC).
4. End of the Nation:
Under Aretas IV (9 BC-40 AD) the kingdom was recognized by Augustus. This king sided with the Romans against the Jews, and further gained a great victory over Herod Antipas, who had divorced his daughter to marry Herodias. Under King Abias an expedition against Adiabene came to grief. Malchus II (48-71 AD) assisted the Romans in the conquest of Jerusalem (Josephus, BJ, III, iv, 2). Rabel (71-106 AD) was the last king of the Nabateans as a nation. In 106 AD their nationality was broken up by the unwise policy of Trajan, and Arabia, of which Petra was the capital, was made a Roman province by Cornelius Palma, governor of Syria. Otherwise they might have at least contributed to protecting the West against the East. Diodorus (loc. cit.) represents the Nabateans as a wild nomadic folk, with no agriculture, but with flocks and herds and engaged in considerable trading. Later, however, they seem to have imbibed considerable Aramean culture, and Aramaic became at least the language of their commerce and diplomacy. They were also known as pirates on the Red Sea; they secured the harbor of Elah and the Gulf of `Akaba. They traded between Egypt and Mesopotamia and carried on a lucrative commerce in myrrh, frankincense and costly wares (KGF, 4th edition (1901), I, 726-44, with full bibliography).