Ur Kaśdim

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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 Sanliurfa in modern Turkey, a candidate city for Ur Kasdim based on the hypotheses of Josephus and Maimonides

Ur Kaśdim (Hebrew: אוּר כַּשְׂדִים‎‎ ’Ūr Ḵaśdîm), 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 (Sanliurfa 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 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] Recent archaeology work places the location in Nasiriyah, where the ancient Ziggurat of Ur is located.[2][3][4]

Ur Kasdim in 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 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.


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).[5]

Location of Ur Kasdim[edit]

Lower Mesopotamia[edit]

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).

Eusebius in his Preparation for the Gospel[6] 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.

Wolley'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);[7] 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 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.[8] Wolley's identification was challenged with the discovery of Harran in northern Mesopotamia, near the modern village of Altınbaşak in modern Turkey. (Archeological work at Harran stated in the 1950s). Urkesh in Upper Mesopotamia (in present-day Syria), for instance, makes a much more plausible candidate for the origin of a journey via Harran to Canaan than the Sumerian city of Ur.[8]

Recent archaeological work focuses in the area of Nasiriyah (in southern Iraq), where the remains of the ancient Ziggurat of Ur stand.[9][10][11][need quotation to verify]

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",[12] 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".[13] However, no tradition exists equating Ur Kaśdim with Urichus or Erech/Uruk.

Upper Mesopotamia[edit]

Jewish scholarship identifyies Abraham's birthplace as somewhere in Upper Mesopotamia. This view was particularly noted by Nachmanides (Ramban).[14] 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.


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 northeastern Syria.[8] 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.[8]


  1. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 
  2. ^ [1]
  3. ^ [2]
  4. ^ [3]
  5. ^ A.S. Noordeen (1994). Hajjah Amina Hatun, Lore of Light: Stories from the Lives of the Prophets. ISBN 967-9963-66-7.
  6. ^ chapter XVII
  7. ^ Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5. 
  8. ^ 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.
  9. ^ 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. 
  10. ^ 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. 
  11. ^ [4]
  12. ^ Ur of the Chaldees
  13. ^ background on Yoma 10
  14. ^ Ramban on Lech Lecha.

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