Ur Kaśdim

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The ruins of Ur, a candidate for the city of Ur Kaśdim.

Ur Kaśdim (Hebrew: אוּר כַּשְׂדִים’Ūr Ḵaśdîm), commonly translated as Ur of the Chaldees, is a city mentioned in the Book of Genesis as the birthplace of the Patriarch Abraham. There is much debate about the city's location.

Identifying Ur Kaśdim[edit]

In 1927 Leonard Woolley identified Ur Kaśdim with the Sumerian city of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, where the Chaldeans were to settle in much later times, around the 9th century BCE;[1] Ur lay on the boundary of the later region called Kaldu (Chaldea, corresponding to Hebrew Kaśdim) in the first millennium BCE. It was the sacred city of the moon god and the name "Camarina" is thought to be related to the Arabic word for moon qamar. The identification with Ur Kaśdim accords with the view that Abraham's ancestors may have been moon-worshippers, an idea based on the possibility that the name of Abraham's father Terah is related to the Hebrew root for moon (y-r-h). The Book of Joshua says "Joshua said to all the people, "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: 'Long ago your ancestors, including Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods.'"(Joshua 24:2)

One of the traditional sites of Abraham's birth is placed in the vicinity of the Assyrian city of Edessa. Both Islamic tradition and classical Jewish authorities, such as Maimonides and Josephus, placed Ur Kaśdim at various Assyrian or south east Anatolian sites such as Urkesh, Urartu, Urfa, or Kutha.

Jewish tradition[edit]

Ur Kaśdim is mentioned four times in the Tanakh, with the distinction "Kaśdim" usually rendered in English as "of the Chaldees." In Genesis, the name is found in 11:28, 11:31 and 15:7. Although not explicitly stated in the Tanakh, it is generally understood to be the birthplace of Abraham. Genesis 11:27–28 names it as the birthplace of Abraham's brother Haran, and the point of departure of Terah's household, including his son Abram.

In Genesis 12:1, after Abram and his father Terah have left Ur Kaśdim for the city of Harran in Assyria, God instructs Abram to leave his native land (Hebrew moledet). The traditional Jewish understanding of the word moledet is "birthplace" (e.g. in the Judaica Press translation). Similarly, in Genesis 24:4–10, Abraham instructs his servant to bring a wife for Isaac from his moledet, and the servant departs for Harran. Hence, Jewish scholarship is almost unanimous in identifying Abraham's birthplace as somewhere in Upper Mesopotamia (a region never inhabited by Chaldeans). This view was particularly noted by Nachmanides (Ramban). (See Ramban on Lech Lecha.) Nevertheless, this interpretation of moledet as meaning "birthplace" is not universal. Many Pentateuchal translations, from the Septuagint to some modern English versions, render moledet as "kindred" or "family".

The Talmud (Yoma 10a) identifies the Biblical city of Erech with a place called "Urichus". (See background on Yoma 10.) T.G. Pinches in The Old Testament in the Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia A.T. Clay, writing in the 1915 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article "Ur of the Chaldees", understood this as an identification of Uruk (biblical Erech) with Ur Kaśdim. However, no tradition exists equating Ur Kaśdim with Urichus or Erech/Uruk.

Islamic tradition[edit]

The traditional site of Abraham's birth according to Islamic tradition is a cave in the vicinity of the ancient Seleucid city Edessa, now called Şanlıurfa. The cave lies near the center of Şanlıurfa and is the site of a mosque called the Mosque of Abraham. The Turkish name for the city, Urfa, is derived from the earlier Syriac ܐܘܪܗܝ (Orhāy) and Greek Ορρα (Orrha). The tradition connecting Ur Kaśdim with Urfa is not exclusive to Islam. The 18th-century anthropologist Richard Pococke noted in his publication Description of the East that this traditional identification of Ur Kaśdim with Urfa was the universal opinion within contemporary Judaism.

Scholars[who?] are skeptical of the identification of Ur Kaśdim with Urfa. Although the origin of the Greek and Syriac names of the city are uncertain, they appear to be based[original research?] on a native form, Osroe, the name of a legendary founder, the Armenian form of the Persian name Khosrau. Similarity with "Ur" would thus be accidental.

Classical views[edit]

Ammianus Marcellinus in his Rerum Gestarum Libri (chapter VIII) mentions a castle named Ur which lay between Hatra and Nisibis. A. T. Clay understood this as an identification of Ur Kaśdim although Marcellinus makes no explicit claim in this regard. In her Travels (chapter XX), Egeria mentions Hur lying five stations from Nisibis on the way to Persia, apparently the same location, and she does identify it with Ur Kaśdim. However, the castle in question was only founded during the time of the second Persian Empire.

Eusebius in his Preparation for the Gospel (chapter XVII) preserves a fragment of the work Concerning the Jews by the 1st century BCE historian Alexander Polyhistor, which in turn quotes a passage in Concerning the Jews of Assyria by the 2nd century BCE historian Eupolemus, which claimed that Abraham was born in the Babylonian city Camarina, which it notes was also called "Uria". (Such indirect quotations of Eupolemus via Polyhistor are referred to as Pseudo-Eupolemus.) This site is identified with the Sumerian city of Ur located at Tell el-Mukayyar, which in ancient texts was named Uriwa or Urima.


  1. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 

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