Ur of the Chaldees

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The ruins of Ur in modern Iraq, the current scholarly consensus for the city of Ur Kaśdim.
Abraham's pool heritage site near Şanlıurfa in modern Turkey, a candidate city for Ur Kasdim based on the hypotheses of Josephus and Maimonides

Ur Kaśdim (Hebrew: אוּר כַּשְׂדִּיםʾūr kaśdīm), commonly translated as Ur of the Chaldees, is a city mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the birthplace of the Israelite and Ismaelite patriarch Abraham. One of the traditional sites of Abraham's birth is placed in the vicinity of the city of Edessa (Şanlıurfa in modern Turkey). Some Islamic and Jewish authorities, such as Maimonides and Josephus, placed Ur Kaśdim at various Mesopotamian or southeast Anatolian sites such as Urkesh, Urartu, Urfa or Kutha.

In 1862 Henry Rawlinson identified Ur Kaśdim with Tell el-Muqayyar, near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.[1] In 1927, Leonard Woolley excavated the site and identified it as Sumerian archaeological site where the Chaldeans were to settle in much later times, around the 9th century BCE;[2] the site is now known simply as Ur, and includes an ancient ziggurat.[3][4][5]

Ur Kasdim in tradition[edit]

Hebrew Bible[edit]

Ur Kaśdim is mentioned four times in the Hebrew Bible, at Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, Genesis 15:7, and Nehemiah 9:7.

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 Haran (probably Harran), 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 Haran.


The LXX translation of Genesis does not include the term "Ur"; instead it describes the "Land (Chora) of the Chaldees". Some scholars have held that Ur was not a city at all, but simply a word for land.[6]

The Septuagint Greek used the word Χαλδαίων, or Chaldaion, from which Chaldees is derived.


The Book of Jubilees states that Ur was founded in 1688 Anno Mundi (year of the world) by 'Ur son of Kesed, presumably the offspring of Arphaxad, adding that in this same year wars began on Earth.

And 'Ur, the son of Kesed, built the city of 'Ara of the Chaldees, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father." (Jubilees 11:3).[7]


The Talmud associated Ur with Warka (today identified as Uruk).

New Testament[edit]

In the New Testament, it is described indirectly at Acts 7:4, as the "land of the Chaldeans".


According to Islamic texts, the prophet Ibrahim (Abraham) was thrown into the fire in Ur Kasdim. In the story, the temperature of the king's fire was reduced by God, saving the life of Ibrahim. While the Qur'an does not mention the king's name, Muslim commentators have assigned Nimrod as the king based on Jewish sources, namely the Book of Jasher (11:1 and 12:6).[8]

Location of Ur Kasdim[edit]

Lower Mesopotamia[edit]

Eusebius in his Preparation for the Gospel[9] 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[by whom?] with the Sumerian city of Ur located at Tell el-Mukayyar, which in ancient texts was named Uriwa or Urima.

Woolley's identification of Ur[edit]

In 1927 Leonard Woolley identified Ur Kaśdim with the Sumerian city of Ur (founded c. 3800 BCE), in southern Mesopotamia, where the Chaldeans settled much later (around the 9th century BCE);[10] Ur lay on the boundary of the region later 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 of Sumerian Ur 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)

Woolley's identification became for a period the mainstream scholarly opinion on the location of Biblical Ur Kasdim, despite the earlier traditions that Ur Kasdim should lie in Northern Mesopotamia.[11] Woolley's identification was challenged with the discovery of Harran in northern Mesopotamia, near the present-day village of Altınbaşak in modern Turkey (archaeological excavations at Harran began in the 1950s). According to A. S. Issar, Urkesh in Upper Mesopotamia (in present-day Syria), seems a more plausible candidate for the origin of a journey via Harran to Canaan than the Sumerian city of Ur.[11]

Recent archaeological work focuses on the area of Nasiriyah (in southern Iraq), where the remains of the ancient Ziggurat of Ur stand.[12][13][14]

Identification with Uruk[edit]

According to T.G. Pinches[15] and A.T. Clay,[16] some Talmudic and medieval Arabic writers identified Ur of the Chaldees with Uruk, called Erech in the Bible and Warka in Arabic. Both scholars reject the equation. Talmud Yoma 10a identifies Erech with a place called "Urichus", [17] and no tradition exists equating Ur Kaśdim with Urichus or Erech/Uruk.

Upper Mesopotamia[edit]

Jewish scholarship identifies Abraham's birthplace as somewhere in Upper Mesopotamia. This view was particularly noted by Nachmanides (Ramban).[18] 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".

Writing in the 4th century CE, 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, recording travels dated to the early 380s CE, 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 (224-651).

Tradition of Sanliurfa[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 in Sanliurfa. 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.


According to A.S. Issar, Ur Kasdim is identified with the site of Urkesh – the capital of the Hurrian Kingdom, now in northeastern Syria. It is further hypothesized that the Biblical travel of Abraham's kin from Urkesh to Harran in order to reach Canaan is much more reasonable than a travel from the Sumerian city of Ur.[11]


  1. ^ James Silk Buckingham; John Sterling; Frederick Denison Maurice; Henry Stebbing, Charles Wentworth Dilke, Thomas Kibble Hervey, William Hepworth Dixon, Norman Maccoll, John Middleton Murry, Vernon Horace Rendall (1862). The Athenaeum: A Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music, and the Drama. J. Francis. pp. 531–. 
  2. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ [2]
  5. ^ [3]
  6. ^ A. T. Clay, International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, 1915: "kal'-dez ('ur kasdim; he chora (ton) Chaldaion): For more than 2,000 years efforts have been made to identify the site of this city. The writers of the Septuagint, either being unfamiliar with the site, or not considering it a city, wrote chora, "land," instead of Ur.... It should be stated that there are scholars who hold, with the Septuagint, that Ur means, not a city, but perhaps a land in which the patriarch pastured his flocks, as for instance, the land of Uri or Ura (Akkad). The designation "of the Chaldeans" was in this case intended to distinguish it from the land where they were not found."
  7. ^ Book of Jubilees, at sacred-texts.org
  8. ^ A.S. Noordeen (1994). Hajjah Amina Hatun, Lore of Light: Stories from the Lives of the Prophets. ISBN 967-9963-66-7.
  9. ^ chapter XVII
  10. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 
  11. ^ a b c Issar, A.S. Strike the Rock and There Shall Come Water: Climate Changes, Water Resources and History of the Lands of the Bible:p67. Springer. 2014.
  12. ^ Salaheddin, Sinan (2013-04-04). "Home of Abraham, Ur, unearthed by archaeologists in Iraq". The Christian Science Monitor. The Christian Science Monitor. Retrieved 2016-10-17. The dig began last month when the six-member British team worked with four Iraqi archaeologists to dig in the Tell Khaiber in the southern province of Thi Qar, some 200 miles (320 kilometers) south of Baghdad. 
  13. ^ Compare McLerran, Dan (2011-06-17). "Birthplace of Abraham Gets a New Lease on Life". Daily News. Popular Archaeology. 3. Retrieved 2010-10-17. Through joint efforts of the U.S.-based Global Heritage Fund, the Iraq Ministry of Culture, State Board of Antiquities and Heritage, and the Dhiqar Antiquities Office, what remains of Ur will be systematically restored and stabilized and a plan established to breath new life into tourism and the local community. It will also build a foundation for future archaeologists to again resume serious research and investigation of this seminal site. [...] In 2009, an agreement was established for joint archaeological research and excavations by the University of Pennsylvania and the Government of Iraq. 
  14. ^ [4]
  15. ^ Pinches, Theophilus Goldridge (1902). The Old Testament in the light of the historical records and legends of Assyria and Babylonia. Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge. pp. 193–. 
  16. ^ International Standard Bible Encyclopedia article "Ur of the Chaldees" ([5], [6])
  17. ^ Background on Yoma 10
  18. ^ Ramban on Lech Lecha.

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