Ur Kaśdim

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Abraham's pool heritage site near Sanliurfa in modern Turkey, a candidate for Ur Kasdim
The ruins of Ur in modern Iraq, 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. 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.

Ur Kasdim in tradition[edit]

Jewish[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.

Islamic[edit]

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).[1]

Identifying Ur Kaśdim today[edit]

Lower Mesopotamia[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[2] 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.

Wolley's identification of Ur[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;[3] 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 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)

Wolley's identification had become the mainstream scholar opinion on the location of Biblical Ur Kasdim, despite the earlier traditions that Ur Kasdim should lie in Northern Mesopotamia.[4] Wolley's identification was challenged with the discovery of Harran in Northern Mesopotamia, near the modern village of Altinbasak in modern Turkey. Urkesh in Upper Mesopotamia, for instance, makes a much more plausible candidate for the origin of a travel via Harran to Canaan than the Sumerian city of Ur.[4]

T.G. Pinches' identification of Uruk[edit]

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",[5] understood this as an identification of Uruk (biblical Erech) with Ur Kaśdim. The Jewish Talmud (Yoma 10a) identifies the Biblical city of Erech with a place called "Urichus".[6] However, no tradition exists equating Ur Kaśdim with Urichus or Erech/Uruk.

Upper Mesopotamia[edit]

Jewish scholarship is almost unanimous in identifying Abraham's birthplace as somewhere in Upper Mesopotamia. This view was particularly noted by Nachmanides (Ramban).[7] 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".

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.

Urkesh[edit]

According to some opinions, Ur Kasdim - the city from which Terah and Abraham migrated to Canaan, is identified with the site of Urkesh - the capital of the Hurrian Kingdom, now in North-Eastern Syria.[4] 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.[4]

References[edit]

  1. ^ A.S. Noordeen (1994). Hajjah Amina Hatun, Lore of Light: Stories from the Lives of the Prophets. ISBN 967-9963-66-7.
  2. ^ chapter XVII
  3. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 
  4. ^ a b c d 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.
  5. ^ Ur of the Chaldees
  6. ^ background on Yoma 10
  7. ^ Ramban on Lech Lecha.

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