Ur of the Chaldees
In the Old Testament, this city is usually called “Ur of the Chaldees” (Ur Kasdim). It is identified as the birthplace of Abram. It is mentioned four times in the Old Testament, in the Book of Genesis (Genesis 11:28, Genesis 11:31, Genesis 15:7), and the Book of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 9:7). In the New Testament, it is described indirectly at Acts 7, as the “land of the Chaldeans.”
The region of this city was later occupied by Aramaic Chaldean tribes, who may have arrived there somewhat earlier (Genesis 10:22). These tribes were closely related to the family of Terah, and both were descendants of Arphaxad.
As shown by manuscripts and diggings, this city is where Haran (Abraham’s father) was born. It has a long and renowned history. The ruins of the city have long been known under the modern name Tell el–Muqayyar, which is located about halfway between Baghdad and the Persian Gulf, near Nasiriyah in southern Iraq.
Between 1922 and 1934 a joint British-American expedition was one of the most productive of all Mesopotamian excavations. In 1927, Leonard Woolley excavated the site and identified it as a Sumerian archaeological site where the Chaldeans settled around the 9th century BC. Recent archaeology work has continued to focus on the location in Nasiriyah, where the ancient Ziggurat of Ur is located.
In this city, archeologists unearthed amazing treasures in the Royal tombs of an old dynasty. The well-kept ruins of houses, temples, and a temple tower have revealed rich material from which we may restore the history of the city. It had a significant role from early history to the time of the Persian Empire.
At the beginning of the second millennium B.C., when Abram lived there, the city had a surprisingly advanced culture. Houses were well built, commonly two stories high. Rooms on the ground floor were lined around a central lobby, and a staircase led up to the second story.
The city had a well-organized sewage system, even in comparison to some cities in that country today. Excavations show that in the schools of Ur, students learned reading, writing, arithmetic, and geography as the main subjects of instruction.
The advanced cultural level of the city in Abram’s time shows that he was not a common nomad. His youth was spent in a great advanced cultured and cosmopolitan city. He lived as the son of one of its rich citizens, and without doubt he was a very educated citizen.
Abram was familiar with the religious life of this city, which, as excavations have shown, was polytheistic. Joshua states that Terah, Abram’s father, had served other gods in the city (Joshua 24:2). It might be so that Terah’s other sons did that too, for Rachel, Jacob’s wife, stole idols from her father, Laban, who was a grandson of Abram’s brother Nahor (Genesis 31:19).
Near Eastern excavations have discovered these idols in great numbers. They were usually made of wood, clay, and precious metals. Some represent male gods, but the majority are small statues of female deities 2 to 3 in. in length. They were kept as household gods or were carried on the body as protective charms or to promote fertility. Documents found at Nuzi, in Mesopotamia, show that in the patriarchal age the possession of the family’s household gods, guaranteed to their holder the title to his father’s properties (ANET 219, 220).
Worshiping the true and One God is a powerful testimony that Abram stayed untouched by the pagan influences around him (Genesis 26:5). It was only by the grace of God that he and his descendants received such a favored position to spread His truth to the world (Genesis 22:18).
In His service,