Ur Kaśdim or Ur of the Chaldees (אוּר כַּשְׂדִים) is the town in the Hebrew Bible and related literature where Abraham (origin. Abram Gen. 17.5) may have been born. The traditional site of Abraham's birth is in the vicinity of Edessa — both Islamic tradition, and classical Jewish authorities such as Maimonides and Josephus, had placed Ur Kaśdim at various northern Mesopotamian sites such as Urkesh, Urartu, Urfa, or Kutha. However, in 1927 Leonard Woolley identified Ur Kaśdim with the Sumerian city of Ur, in southern Mesopotamia, which was under the rule of the Chaldeans; and this identification remains popular today.
References to Ur Kaśdim in Jewish texts
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 Abraham.)
The pseudepigraphal Book of Jubilees states that Ur Kaśdim was founded in 1687 Anno Mundi by "'Ur, son of Keśed", presumably the offspring of Arphaxad, adding that wars began on Earth that same year. However, Arphaxad is recorded in Genesis as having been born two years after Noah's flood (MT: 1656 A.M.), and hence only aged 29 years in 1687 A.M.
- "'Ur son of Keśed 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)
Jubilees also portrays Abraham's immediate ancestry as dwelling in Ur Kaśdim, beginning with his great-grandfather Serug.
Identification of Ur kasdim
Jewish sources say very little about the location of Ur Kaśdim. In Genesis 12:1, after Abram and his father Terah have left Ur Kaśdim for the city of Harran in Aram-Naharaim, God instructs Abram to leave his native land (Hebrew mowledeth). The traditional Jewish understanding of the word mowledeth 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 mowledeth, and the servant departs for Aram-Naharaim. Hence, Jewish scholarship is almost unanimous in identifying Abraham's birthplace as somewhere in Aram-Naharaim. This view was particularly noted by Nachmanides (Ramban). (See Ramban on Lech Lecha.) Nevertheless, this interpretation of mowledeth as meaning "birthplace" is not universal. Many Pentateuchal translations, from the Septuagint to some modern English versions, render mowledeth as "kindred" or "family". However, multiple references to erets moladet in Genesis 24 contained within a directive by Abraham towards his house's eldest servant to take a wife for his son Isaac seemingly reinforce the traditional Jewish understanding.
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 (see extract) and A. T. Clay, writing in the 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.
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 C. 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.
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 first century BCE historian Alexander Polyhistor, which in turn quotes a passage in Concerning the Jews of Assyria by the second 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.
Ur was the sacred city of the moon god and the name "Camarina" is thought to be related to the Arabic word for moon qamar, although Camarina is in fact the name of an ancient city in Sicily. 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). Jewish tradition relates however that Terah worshipped many gods and the argument along this line remains weak.
Ur lay on the boundary of the region called Kaldu (Chaldea, corresponding to Hebrew Kaśdim) in the first millennium BCE and the site remains the most popular identification of Ur Kaśdim amongst scholars.
- Biblical Archaeology Review May/June 2001: Where Was Abraham's Ur? by Allan R. Millard
- Locating Ur of the Chaldees (Hebrew: Ur Kasdim) on www.BibleOrigens.net
- Ur of the Chaldees in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia
- Prophet Abraham and Sanliurfa Islamic traditions connecting Abraham's early life and Sanli Urfa.
- Cyrus H. Gordon, Abraham and the Merchants of Ura, Journal of Near Eastern Studies 17 (1958), pp. 28–31.
- Ur of the Chaldees by Kyle M. Pope
- COJS: Royal Tombs of Ur, 2600-2500 BCE
- Woolley’s Ur Revisited, Richard L. Zettler, BAR 10:05, Sep/Oct 1984.