Ur of the Chaldees, various proposals

Walter Mattfeld mattfeld at mail.pjsnet.com
Mon Jun 5 16:58:19 EDT 2000

Things haven't changed much since Pinches' day (1908) in regards to the
various choices one can pick from on Ur of the Chaldees' location.

Pinches covers all the proposals of his day (which seem to still be with us
today) for the identity of Ur of the Chaldees (Ur kasdim). He discusses each
at some length. They are, Urfa in Northern Syria, Tell Mugheir/Muqayyar
(south of Babylon, ancient Uriwa/Uru), and his own proposal that Ur is the
region of northern Babylonia called Akkad by the Semites, but Uri by
non-Semites ( cf. pp.122 & 193, T.G. Pinches, The Old Testament, In the
Light of the Historical Records and Legends of Assyria and Babylonia,
London: S.P.C.K., 1908)

"Eusebius quotes the following from Eupolemus concerning Abraham-
"He saith, moreover, that in the tenth generation in a city of Babylonia,
called Carmarina (which, by some, is called the city of Urie, and which
signifyeth a city of the Chaldeans), there lived, the 13th in descent, (a
man called) Abraham, a man of a noble race, and superior to all others in
wisdom." (p.146,  Pinches)

"Nicolas of Damascus, apparently wishing to glorify his own city, states
that Abram was king of Damascus, and went there, with an army, from that
part of the country,which is situated above Babylon of the Chaldeans,
afterwards transferring his dwelling to the land which was at that time
called Canaan, but is now called Judea. Justin also states that Abraham
lived at Damascus, from which city he traces the origin of the Jews."
(p.147, Pinches)

"We see, therefore, from the 11th chapter of Genesis, that Abraham was a
Babylonian from Ur, now known as Mugheir (Muqayyar), or (better still) from
that part of the country which lay north of Babylon, known by the
non-semitic inhabitants as Uri, and by the Semitic population as Akkad."
(p.147, Pinches)

"There have been many discussions as to the position of Ur of the Chaldees.
Some, on account of the distance from Canaan, apparently, have contended
that Ur of the Chaldees is the same site known for many hundreds of years as
Urfa, in Mesopotamia...Urfa or Orfa, called by the Greeks Edessa, was known
as Orrha at the time of Isidore of Charax (date about 150 BC). Pocock, in
his Description of the East, states that it is the universal opinion of the
Jews that Orfa or Edessa was the ancient Ur of the Chaldees, and this is
supported by local tradition, the chief place of worship there being called
the mosque of Abraham, and the pond in which the sacred fish are kept being
called Bahr Ibrahim el-Halil, 'the Lake of Abraham the Beloved." (p.193,

"It is noteworthy that the transcription of the Babylonian name of the city,
Urie, contains traces of the Akkadian termination -iwa (Uriwa) which is
absent in the Hebrew form Ur. This is important, as it shows that at a
compartively late date (Eupolemus lived just before the Christian era), the
ending in question made itself felt in the transcription of the word, and
that the form in Genesis, Ur, does not quite agree, as traces of that
termination (two syllables in the Akkadian form) are altogether wanting in
it. There can be no doubt, therefore, that the theory that Abraham lived and
passed his earlier years at the Ur which is now represented by the ruins of
Mugheir, originated with the Jews during their captivity at Babylon and in
the cities of Babylonia. Eupolemus, as a student of Jewish history, would
naturally get his information from a Jewish source, and the Jews had in
common with most of the nations of the earth, a tendency to attribute to
their own forefathers, whom they venerated so highly, the glory of being
connected with any renowned city of great discovery of earlier ages. Thus,
it arises that Eupolemus, following his Jewish informant, makes Abraham to
be the inventor of astrology and Chaldean magic, and to have dwelt at Ur. It
must have been the Jewish captives exiled in Babylonia who first identified
Ur with the renowned city Uru or Uriwa, quite forgetting that the form of
the name could not have been Ur in Hebrew, and that there was another Ur,
much more suitable as the dwelling-place of a nomad-family like that of
Terah and his sons, namely, the country of Akkad itself, called in
non-Semitic idiom, Uri or Ura, a tract which included the whole of northern
Babylonia." (p.197, Pinches)

In conclusion, we several proposals, Uruk of the Talmud, then
Mugheir/Muqayyar which is currently the most favored by scholars, followed
by Urfa (favored by a smaller number of scholars), and finally the region of
Uri (Pinches' proposal).

I am not aware of any "extra-biblical source" existing before the second
century BCE in regards to "pin-pointing" what region Ur of the Chaldees is

As noted in a previous post to this list, the Book of Judith (5:5-9),
believed by some scholars to date from the late 2nd century BCE, identifies
Israel's ancestors as inhabitants of Chaldea. Eupolemus who flourished ca.
150 BC, (the 2nd century BCE), also understands Abraham is from
Babylonia/Chaldea. Nicholas of Damascus (late 1st century BCE, a
contemporary of Herod the Great) identified Damascus as Abraham's city. Now
Urfa is in Syria like Damascus, so perhaps the notion that "Ur is in Syria"
arose in the 1st century BCE, or sometime thereafter ?

Banyai Michael:  "Could you Walter explain why you do regard the tradition
of the southern UR as being the earlier ?"

So, dear Banyai, unless I am misunderstanding the facts, the earliest
attested "extra-biblical" source identifying Abraham's origins as being
Syria, is the late 1st century BCE statements of Nicholas of Damascus, the
earlier century gave Babylonia/Chaldea as Abraham's place of origin.

All the best,


Walter Reinhold Warttig Mattfeld
Walldorf by Heidelberg

More information about the b-hebrew mailing list