LANDS AND PLACES

Ur—Genesis 11:28

As the hometown of Abraham’s family (Gen. 11:27-32, 15:7; Neh. 9:7; cf. Acts 7:2-4; Heb. 11:8), most scholars identify the ancient city of Ur of the Chaldees with the impressive ruins of Tell el-Mukayyar located near the Euphrates River at a point roughly halfway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf. Henry Rawlinson was the first scholar to link Tell el-Mukayyar with Ur after deciphering an inscribed brick with the name Ur brought to him from the site in 1849.

After some exploratory excavations in 1851–1859 and later soundings (1918–1919), Leonard Woolley led a large-scale archaeological campaign at Ur 1922–1934, publishing a series of popular accounts and scientific reports 1927–1976, some of them appearing posthumously. Woolley, later knighted for his significant contributions to ancient Near Eastern history, sought to find evidence of Abraham, which did not materialize. Digging through an 11-foot layer of silt sandwiched between occupational layers, Woolley initially believed he had evidence for the Great Flood (Gen. 6–8). However, he later attributed the silt to a major, although not universal, flood confined to the Tigris-Euphrates Valley. Woolley also recovered a large yield of precious artifacts from royal burials at Ur, as well as numerous other finds throughout the vast site. Cuneiform tablets depict extensive trade extending as far as the Indus Valley.

During the third dynasty at Ur (ca. 2110–2000 BC), the city reached its height in power and size, governing an empire that stretched from the Persian Gulf to northern Syria. Under the leadership of the third dynasty’s first king, Ur-Nammu (2113–2095 BC), Ur reached an unusually high cultural level. Ur-Nammu formulated the oldest currently known law code. Perhaps the largest city of its time, Ur covered 155 acres with an estimated population of nearly 30,000 and boasted large unwalled suburbs. Ur-Nammu and his son Shulgi (2095–2047 BC) erected a great ziggurat (stepped tower with outside staircases with a shrine at its summit).

About 2100 BC, Ur constructed a temple complex for the city’s moon deity. After a century of dominance, Ur then fell to the Elamites who captured Ibbi-Sin (2029–2004 BC), king of Ur and sacked the city. While rebuilt, it never regained its previous power, though Nebuchadnezzar II (604–582 BC) established a new era of economic activity at Ur and the last Babylonia king, Nabonidus (555–539 BC) renovated the ziggurat. After the conquest of Babylon by the Persians, the city went into steeper decline. A shift in the course of the Euphrates River destroyed its commercial importance, and it was abandoned after 400 BC.

While some scholars locate Abraham’s Ur in southeastern Anatolia or northern Mesopotamia at a site closer to Haran (e.g., Gen. 11:27–12:4; 24:1-10), many biblical historians continue to recognize the southern site of Tell el-Mukayyar as the probable biblical Ur of the Chaldeans. Written materials unearthed at Ur so far do not mention Abraham or his family, but that is hardly surprising as his clan was but one of many family groups migrating across or settling in the region throughout the period.

 

Crawford, Ur: The City of the Moon God.

Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ura,” 28-31.

Millard, “Where was Abraham’s Ur?”, 52-53, 57.

Saggs, “Ur of the Chaldees: A Problem of Identification,” 200-209.

Sigrist and Goodnick Westenholz, “Ur—The Primaeval City of Kingship,” 1-49.

Woolley, Excavations at Ur: A Record of Twelve Years’ Work.