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 Urfa in Turkey, an alternative candidate city for Ur Kaśdīm

Ur Kasdim (Hebrew: אוּר כַּשְׂדִּים, romanizedʾŪr Kaśdīm), commonly translated as Ur of the Chaldeans, is a city mentioned in the Hebrew Bible as the birthplace of Abraham, the patriarch of the Israelites and the Ishmaelites. In 1862, Henry Rawlinson identified Ur Kaśdim with Tell el-Muqayyar near Nasiriyah in the Baghdad Eyalet of the Ottoman Empire (now in Iraq).[1] In 1927, Leonard Woolley excavated the site and identified it as a Sumerian archaeological site where the Chaldeans were to settle around the 9th century BC.[2] Recent archaeology work has continued to focus on the location in Nasiriyah, where the ancient Ziggurat of Ur is located.[3][4][5][6][7][8]

Other sites traditionally thought to be Abraham's birthplace are in the vicinity of the city of Edessa (now Urfa in the Southeastern Anatolia Region of Turkey).

In tradition[edit]


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

The distinction "Kaśdim" is 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 death place of Abraham's brother Haran, and the point of departure of Terah's household, including his son Abraham.

In Genesis 12:1, after Abraham and his father Terah have left Ur Kaśdim for the city of Haran (probably Harran), God instructs Abraham 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 Septuagint translation of Genesis does not include the term "Ur"; instead it describes the "Land of the Chaldees" (Greek χώρα Χαλδαίων, Chora Chaldaion). Some scholars have held that biblical Ur was not a city at all, but simply a word for land.[9]


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 ’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).[10]

New Testament[edit]

In the New Testament, Saint Stephen refers to it as the "land of the Chaldeans" when he retells the story of Abraham in Acts 7 (Acts 7:4).


According to Islamic texts, Abraham (Ibrahim in Arabic) was thrown into the fire. In the story, the temperature of the king's fire was reduced by God, saving the life of Ibrahim. While the Quran does not mention the king's name, Muslim commentators have assigned Nimrod as the king based on hadiths.


Lower Mesopotamia[edit]

Eusebius in his Preparation for the Gospel[11] preserves a fragment of the work Concerning the Jews by the 1st century BC historian Alexander Polyhistor, which in turn quotes a passage in Concerning the Jews of Assyria by the 2nd century BC historian Eupolemus. The passage 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 modern scholars 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 BC), in southern Mesopotamia, where the Chaldeans settled much later (around the 9th century BC);[2] 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 much later appearing 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).

Woolley's identification has become the mainstream scholarly opinion on the location of Biblical Ur Kasdim, in line with some earlier traditions that placed Ur Kasdim in Southern Mesopotamia.[12] Woolley's identification was challenged with the discovery of the city of Harran in northern Mesopotamia, near the present-day village of Altınbaşak in modern Turkey (archaeological excavations at Harran began in the 1950s).

Recent archaeological work focuses on the area of Nasiriyah (in southern Iraq), where the remains of the ancient Ziggurat of Ur stand.[13][14][5]

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 the Sumerian city of 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]

Some Jewish traditions identify 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 AD, 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 AD, 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).

Since Upper Mesopotamia included northern Syria, which was inhabited by groups like the Amorites, some even consider Abraham to be among the Amorites that migrated to the Levant. Like Abraham and his descendants, the Amorites followed shepherding-based lifestyles. Nonetheless, the Biblical authors distanced themselves from the Amorites to assert their moral superiority. [19]

Tradition of Sanliurfa[edit]

Another possible location for Ur of the Chaldees (Ur Kasdim) is the ancient Assyrian and Seleucid city Edessa, now called Şanlıurfa. According to some Jewish traditions, this is the site where Abraham was cast into a furnace by Nimrod as punishment for his monotheistic beliefs, but miraculously escaped unscathed. [20]

The Turkish name for the city, Urfa, is derived from the earlier Syriac ܐܘܪܗܝ (Orhāy) and Greek Ορρα (Orrha), the city being a major centre of Assyrian-Syriac Christianity.[20]

Islamic tradition holds that the site of Abraham's birth is a cave situated near the center of Şanlıurfa. The Halil-Ur Rahman Mosque lies in the vicinity of the cave.[21][22]

Gary A. Rendsburg points out that this location makes better sense of the Biblical references, especially that if Teraḥ and family left Ur-Kasdim to travel to Canaan, but stopped en route in Ḥarran, then the location of Ur-Kasdim should be to the north of Ḥarran.[23] In addition, Abraham's grandfather Nahor and great-grandfather Serug share names with cities located near Ḥarran in northern Mesopotamia ("Til-Nahiri" and Suruç), suggesting that Abraham's clan was well established in this area in the period before the migration from Ur-Kasdim.[24]


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.[25]

Chaldeans in Ur[edit]

The biblical Ur is mentioned four times in the Torah or Hebrew Bible, with the distinction "of the Kasdim/Kasdin"—traditionally rendered in English as "Ur of the Chaldees". The Chaldeans had settled in the vicinity by around 850 BC, but were not extant anywhere in Mesopotamia during the 2nd millennium BC period when Abraham is traditionally held to have lived. The Chaldean dynasty did not rule Babylonia (and thus become the rulers of Ur) until the late 7th century BC, and held power only until the mid 6th century BC. The name is found in Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, and Genesis 15:7. In Nehemiah 9:7, a single passage mentioning Ur is a paraphrase of Genesis.[citation needed]


  1. ^ Rawlinson, Henry C. (19 April 1862). "Biblical geography". The Athenæum: A Journal of Literature, Science, the Fine Arts, Music, and the Drama (1799). London: John C. Francis: 529–531.
  2. ^ a b Arnold, Bill T. (2005). Who Were the Babylonians?. Brill. p. 87. ISBN 978-90-04-13071-5.
  3. ^ Sinan Salaheddin (4 April 2013). "Home of Abraham, Ur, unearthed by archaeologists in Iraq". Csmonitor.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  4. ^ McLerran, Dan (2011-06-23). "Birthplace of Abraham Gets a New Lease on Life | Popular Archaeology – exploring the past". Popular Archaeology. Archived from the original on 2017-06-18. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  5. ^ a b "Journey of Faith – National Geographic Magazine". Ngm.nationalgeographic.com. 2012-05-15. Archived from the original on March 18, 2008. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  6. ^ "City of Biblical Abraham Brimmed With Trade and Riches". 11 March 2016. Archived from the original on March 12, 2016.
  7. ^ "Ancient site unearthed in Iraqi home of Abraham". USA Today.
  8. ^ David, Ariel (22 March 2018). "Archaeologists Glance Into Fox Burrow in Iraq, Find 4,000-year-old Sumerian Port". Haaretz.
  9. ^ 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."
  10. ^ "The Book of Jubilees: The History of the Patriarchs from Reu to Abraham; the Corruption of the Human Race (xi. 1-15)". Sacred-texts.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  11. ^ E.H.Gifford. "Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica (Preparation for the Gospel). Tr. E.H. Gifford (1903) - Book 9". Tertullian.org. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  12. ^ Day, John (2021). "From Abraham of Ur to Abraham in the Fiery Furnace". From Creation to Abraham: Further Studies in Genesis 1-11. Bloomsbury Publishing. pp. 208–209. ISBN 978-0-567-70311-8.
  13. ^ Salaheddin, Sinan (2013-04-04). "Home of Abraham, Ur, unearthed by archaeologists in Iraq". 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.
  14. ^ Compare McLerran, Dan (2011-06-17). "Birthplace of Abraham Gets a New Lease on Life". Daily News. Popular Archaeology. 3. Archived from the original on 2011-06-21. 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.
  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. ^ "Ur of the Chaldees - International Standard Bible Encyclopedia". Internationalstandardbible.com. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  17. ^ "BACKGROUND TO THE DAILY DAF". Shemayisrael.co.il. Retrieved 2017-07-15.
  18. ^ Lipman. "RaMBaN on Lech Lecha — Summary of Lech Lecha". Gates to Jewish Heritage. Archived from the original on 21 September 2004. Retrieved 15 July 2017.
  19. ^ Bohstrom, Philippe (February 6, 2017). "Peoples of the Bible: The Legend of the Amorites". Haaretz. Archived from the original on January 26, 2024.
  20. ^ a b Pococke, Richard; Gravelot, Hubert François; Grignion, Charles (1743). A description of the East, and some other countries. London : Printed for the author, by W. Bowyer. p. 159. Retrieved 22 October 2017.
  21. ^ "The Cave of Prophet Abraham : Sanliurfa, Turkey". 18 May 2014.
  22. ^ "Abraham Path | Halil-ur Rahman Mosque". Archived from the original on 2017-12-01. Retrieved 2017-11-22.
  23. ^ Rendsburg, Gary (2019-11-06). "Ur Kasdim: Where Is Abraham's Birthplace?". thetorah.com.
  24. ^ Ran Tzadok, Olam HaTanakh: Breishit (Tel Aviv, 1993), p.87; Yaakov Medan, Ki Karov Elecha: Breishit, p.181
  25. ^ Issar, A. S. Strike the Rock and There Shall Come Water: Climate Changes, Water Resources and History of the Lands of the Bible, p. 67. Springer. 2014.

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