ETHNARCH: The title of an office which is often mentioned in Hellenistic times. Strabo mentions strategoi, nomarchai, and ethnarchai among the officials in Egypt in the time of Augustus; and Lucian (Macrobioi, xvii.) speaks of an ethnarch Asandros made king of the Bosporus by Augustus. Thus it is clear that the title was not one peculiar to the Jews. Among them it probably indicates a degree of independence; at least, according to Strabo (quoted in Josephus Ant. XIV., vii. 2), that is the position held by the ethnarch of the Jews in Egypt. For the Jews in Egypt the office is an indication that they followed their customs and religion as a special race among an alien people. This comes out in the edict of Claudius cited in Josephus (Ant. X X., v. 2). While the statement that after the death of an ethnarch Augustus continued the office seems to contradict a statement of Philo (Flaccum, §10), that after the death of the genarch (a word practically the same as ethnarch) Augustus established a gerousia, this may mean only that a gerousia was constituted, presided over by a plurality of heads. But ethnarch is not substantiated as a general title among the Jews of the diaspora.
It was a title borne by the Hasmoneans (q.v.), in the first case by Simon. His brother and predecessor Jonathan was called by Alexander, son of Epiphanes, stratēgos and meridarchēs, titles which imply the union of military and civil power. That Simon had in mind a higher title is clear from the connection in I Macc. xiv. 28 sqq., cf. xv. 1 sqq., and the idea of the titles conferred on him as stated in I Macc. xiv. 42 is that of hereditary right. In spite of this, in the case of John Hyrcanus the title failed to follow succession. The coins of Hyrcanus I. mention alongside "John the High Priest" the "Commonwealth of the Jews," or name him "Head of the Commonwealth of the Jews," from which it follows that John regarded his office as less than that of a political ruler, and considered himself the priestly head of a theocratic state. Yet the sense of the well-known anecdote of the encounter with Eleazar, the spokesman of the Pharisees, in which the latter asked John to lay aside the high-priesthood and be contented with the political rulership, implies the position of ethnarch. His son Aristobulus was the first after the exile to take the title of king, in which he was followed by Alexander Jannæus (Josephus, Ant. XIII. xi. xii.). Alexandra also assumed the title of queen, and is so called by Josephus. Her son Hyrcanus, when he retired to private life, passed the title of king to his brother Aristobulus. Pompey gave to Hyrcanus the high-priesthood and also the title of king. But a later decree of Cæsar made Hyrcanus ethnarch and high priest, the former title as compensation for the loss of the royal name. Herod obtained from the Roman Senate the royal title, but his son Archelaus was only ethnarch.
Of special interest is the mention of the ethnarch of King Aretas in Damascus (II Cor. xi. 32). It is the Nabatæan King Aretas IV. who is meant, and the ethnarch is not a governor of the Jews but the ruler of the city. This could have been only in the days of Caligula or Claudius, since under Tiberius and Nero Damascus was under Roman control. Paul's flight therefore could not have been before 37 A.D.