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Ur of the Chaldees

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Great Ziggurat at the Sumerian Ur

Ur of the Chaldees (Hebrew: אור כשדים, ʼŪr Kaśdīm) is the name given to the city where Abraham was born.


The location of the particular city called "Ur of the Chaldees" is completely unsettled. Traditionally, the location of Ur is believed to be near or actually be the city of Edessa (modern Şanlıurfa, or simply Urfa) in south-eastern Turkey however, it has been popularly identified since 1927 by Sir Charles Woolley as a Sumerian city named Ur (modern Tell el-Mukayyar).

Since then, other scholars have proposed other identifications, including the city of Enoch, as if any city could have survived the Global Flood and been repopulated. The chief flaw in the available scholarship on Ur of the Chaldees is that it assumes either that the city predated the Flood, or that Abraham lived far later than the Bible says that he lived, or that the name "of the Chaldees" is simply an anachronism.

According to Genesis 11:31 , Abraham was born in Ur of the Chaldees (or Ur Kaśdim). The problem is that there are several ancient sites in that region called "Ur." The sites of Urfa, Urkesh, Kutha, Uruk, and Urim have all been identified, at one point or another, as the Biblical Ur Kaśdim. In Genesis 12:1 , after Abram (later Abraham) and his father Terah have left Ur Kaśdim for Haran in Aram-Naharaim, God instructs Abram to leave his native land (Hebrew: מולדת, mowledeth).

Similarly, in Genesis 24:4-10 , Abraham instructs his servant to bring a wife for Isaac from his mowledeth, and the servant departs for Aram-Naharaim. Hence, Abraham's birthplace is somewhere in Aram-Naharaim (literally "Aram of the Two Rivers). Based on the meaning of its name, we see that Aram-Naharaim was located in Aram (ancient Syria) between the two rivers (the Tigris and Euphrates). Thus, Ur of the Chaldees can best be identified as the modern city of Urfa (also called Şanlıurfa) in Turkey, which was known in antiquity as Edessa, near the ancient Kingdom of Urartu. The Sumerian site of Urim (Tell el-Mukayyar), therefore, is not the Biblical city of Ur as has often been speculated.

Urfa (Edessa or Şanlıurfa) is indeed located on the other side of the Euphrates River from Canaan, and is in the region of Aram-Naharaim. There is no debate over where Haran is located, 10 miles north of the Syrian border in Turkey along the Balikh River, a tributary of the Euphrates River. Haran later became an important Hurrian center, mentioned in the Nuzi tablets. If Ur were located in Southern Iraq, why would Abraham travel 60 miles way out of his way to go to Haran?

The names of several of Abraham's relatives like Peleg, Serug, Nahor and Terah, appear as names of cities in the region of Haran.[1] In northern Syria, in 1975, the archives of ancient Ebla (a city 150 miles south of Haran) were discovered. This city existed during the time of Abram. And mentioned in the Ebla texts, uncontested, are cities whose names reflect Abraham's relatives: "Phaliga" (Peleg); "Sarugi" (Serug); "Til-Turakhi" (Terah); "Nakhur" (Nahor); and "Harran" (Haran). They also mention "Ur in the region of Haran." A town called Nahuru (Nahor, the name of Abraham's grandfather as well as a brother) is known from both the Cappadocian tablets and the Mari texts to be in the same region. The name of Abraham's father, Terah, is preserved at Til-sa-Turah, the "ruin of Terah" in the Balikh Valley.

Abraham sent his servant back to the region of Haran to find a wife for Isaac (Genesis 24:10 ). After working for Laban, Jacob fled across the Euphrates River back to Canaan (Genesis 31:21 ). If Ur was located Southern Iraq, then Jacob would not need to cross the Euphrates. Laban lived in Paddan-Aram, which is in the region of Haran (Genesis 28:5-7 ), which seems to be the same area as Aram-Naharaim, Abraham's homeland (Genesis 24:10 ).

The Patriarchs, then, one can clearly see, were closely identified with northern Mesopotamia and northern Syria. The Bible states that:

"Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees."Genesis 11:28

He was called "Haran" because he was born in the district of Haran, near where Ur was in northern Mesopotamia (Genesis 24:10 ; Genesis 11:31 ). Nahor, too, was born in that area, which was also called "Aram-Naharaim," in which we find a city called Nahor, near Mari. The picture we gain is that the whole area of northern Mesopotamia is the theatre of activity of the Patriarchs, not southern Mesopotamia.

The Muslims, for centuries, have accepted the city of Edessa (modern Urfa) as the Biblical city of Ur and still do. The Christian world also accepted Edessa as the Biblical city of Ur for centuries. Only in the latter half of the 19th century when Urim (Tell el-Mukayyar) was discovered that the latter gained acceptance as Abraham's home. The New Bible Dictionary says that if Urfa is the correct location, it would require that "Chaldaea" be equated "with the Indo-Aryan Haldai."[2]

Now, the Bible mentions that Terah took his son Abram, Lot, and Sarai and "went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees" (Genesis 11:31 ). St. Stephen's statement in the Book of Acts lends support to Urfa ("the northern Ur") as the location of Ur of the Chaldees:

"The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia [which means "between two rivers"], before he dwelt in Charran. And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall show thee. Then came he out of the land of the Chaldaeans, and dwelt in Charran ..."Acts 7:2-4

See Genesis 24:4-10 .

Joshua's statement also proves the northern Ur:

"And Joshua said unto all the people, 'Thus saith the LORD God of Israel, 'Your fathers dwelt on the other side of the flood [i.e., the Euphrates River] in old time, even Terah, the father of Abraham, and the father of Nahor: and they served other gods. And I took your father Abraham from the over side of the flood [river], and led him throughout all the land Canaan, and multiplied his seed, and gave him Isaac.'"Joshua 24:2-3

Notice that Abraham came from the other side of the Euphrates River. Ur of the north (Urfa) was and is on the other side of the Euphrates.[3] For the descendants of ArpachshadArfu-Chesed or "Urfa of the Chaldees"—occupied northern Mesopotamia. That is were his descendants first located; 400 miles northwest of Babylon. Patriarchal activity was centered around the north of Mesopotamia at this time. It is where Jacob fled (Genesis 27:43 ) and found a wife (Genesis 29:4 ) and Abraham sent his concubines and their sons to the "east country" (Genesis 25:6 ) which was Haran (Genesis 29:1-4 ).


According to the Book of Jubilees the city of Ur was founded in Founded::1688 AM by Ur, son of Kesed, presumably the offspring of Arpachshad, adding that in this same year wars began on Earth.

"And ’Ûr, the son of Kêsêd, built the city of ’Arâ of the Chaldees, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father." - Jubilees 11:3
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  1. Harper's Bible Dictionary, p. 373
  2. Douglas: 1912 : 1305, See Strong's : 1890: # 774, 775
  3. Pfeiffer: 1966 : 602. See also Dictionary of Biblical Archaeology entry on this subject, "Abraham's Ur," and Biblical Archaeological Review, Jan-Feb 2000: 16-25, 60-65.

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