Ur (Nehemiah 9)

Bilderesultat for ancient ur

Bilderesultat for ancient ur

Reference to the Biblical Ur usually point to the ancient city located at modern Tee el-Muqqayyar in southern Mesopotamia (pictured above). This was one of the great cities of the Sumerians that flourished in the third millennium B.C. Founded perhaps as early as the fifth millennium B.C., it grew during the fourth millennium B.C. and became prominent around 2600-2500 B.C., during the city’s Early Dynastic period. Excavations of this phase have revealed a number of possibly royal tombs containing Jewelry, ceremonial weapons and musical instruments.

After a period during which this particular Ur was under Akkadian domination, it achieved its greatest glory during the Third Dynasty of Ur (ca. 2100-2000 B.C.), when it governed an empire that covered much of Mesopotamia. A massive ziggurat and temple complex as ell as thousands of cuneiform tablets have been excavated from this period. However, the city was sacked by the Elamites and, although rebuilt, was never again to become the power centre it had been. Even so, the city continued to exist and was periodically rebuilt by various Akkadian and Babylonian rulers. As late as the reign of Nabonidus of Babylon (555-539 B.C.), restoration work was carried out there. The site was finally abandoned during the Persian period.

Since the name Ur was identified on an inscribed brick in 1855 at Tell el-Muqqayyar, this site has been thought to be the Biblical Ur. The excavations of C.L. Wooley (1922-1934) were based on that assumption, but more recently scholars have come to question this theory for the following reasons:

  • Although several cities named Ur existed in antiquity, the Biblical Ur is always referred to as “Ur of the Chaldeans“, most likely to distinguish it from a famous city of the same name (i.e. the southern Mesopotamian Ur discussed above). The designation Chaldean applies to southern Mesopotamia only after about 1000 B.C., long after Abraham’s lifetime. Previous to that time the Chaldeans lived in Northwestern Mesopotamia. Another city named Ur, located in the north, is in fact probably intended by the Biblical references.
  • On a trip from the southern Mesopotamian Ur to Canaan, Haran is far out of the way, and yet the patriarchs stopped there (see Genesis 11:31). Crossing the Euphrates at Mari, south of Haran, would have been more direct had they begun their journey from the south. This suggests that their starting point was actually in the north.
  • When Abraham sent his servant to his “own relatives” to procure a bride for Isaac (Genesis 24:4), he went to Paddan-Aram in northern Mesopotamia (as did Jacob; see Genesis 28:2). The patriarchs apparently did not regard southern Mesopotamia as their ancestral home.
  • Cultural influences (customs, laws etc.) seen in the patriarchal narratives follow the northern Mesopotamian models of Nuzi and Mari rather than the southern Mesopotamian model.

Based on this evidence, it appears that “Ur of the Chaldeans” is located near Haran in the north. At least two sites have been suggested: Ura (322 km north of Haran) and Urfa (modern Edessa), but a definite identification of Abraham’s Ur is currently impossible. The archaeological artifacts of the more famous Ur, magnificent as they are, most likely have no relationship to Abraham.



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