“Ur of the Chaldees” (Genesis 11:31)

The ‘Ur of Chaldees’ noted in Genesis 11:31 has confounded many scholars. Before proceeding unto the different views on the precise location of Abraham’s Ur in Gen. 11:31, one must first address the apparent facts of the text. Simply put, Genesis 11:31 does not read ‘Ur of Chaldees;’ it reads ‘Ur of Kasdu.’[1] The LXX did not know of Kasdu, so it ‘interpreted’ it as Chaldees.

The Chaldeans were a Semitic people known in Babylonia from at least the end of the 2nd millennium B.C., but there are no references to their presence in N Mesopotamia. LXX wrote ‘the land (chōra) of the Chaldees’, perhaps being unfamiliar with the site.[2]

The question then turns to what is the original signification and location of ‘Ur of Kasdu.’

Unger suggests that ‘Chaldees’ is a “later scribal gloss to explain to a subsequent age, when Ur and its location had utterly perished, that the city was located in southern Babylon.”[3] Davis seemingly agrees and adds that “this explanation seems preferable” in light of other such ‘scribal glosses’ in Genesis (cf. 14:2, 3, 7, 8, 17).[4] This would place the noted ‘Ur of the Chaldees’ (Kasdu) in southern Mesopotamia. “The most generally accepted identification is with the ancient site of Ur (Uri), modern Tell el-Muqayyar, 14 km W of Nasiriyeh on the river Euphrates in S Iraq.”[5]

Another option is that of understanding Chaldees (Kasdu) as anachronistic, a harsher take on the ‘scribal gloss.’ Scholars such as Sarna and Yates take up this view.[6] Fowler agrees that such anachronism “is not without precedent in Genesis (cf. ch. 14),” but continues by stating, “this would be unusual to have omitted the ancient name.”[7] It appears that scholars have focused too much on the scribal influence rather than the original text, which reads ‘Kasdu.’

A third view, Dr. Donald Fowler asserts that Kasdu stood for the “Ur of the Arameans, that is, Ur in the North.” If it were south, it would have read ‘Shinar.’ Fowler proposes three evidential paths to his consensus. Firstly, there is the argument from personal names. Three of Abraham’s fathers have names from the North – Serug (11:20), Nahor (11:23ff), and Terah (11:24). Secondly, there is an argument from geographical conjecture. Abraham’s departure from the North is more consistent with his stop in Haran. If he were coming from the South, Haran would have been a 400-500 mile detour with four river crossings (two over the mighty Euphrates). Thirdly, and most convincing is the innerbiblical attestation for Ur of Kasdu being in the North (Isa. 23:13), as well as the patriarchs’ homeland being in the North (Gen. 24:4-7, 10; 28:2; Josh. 24:2-3). Furthermore, Hill and Walton recognize the possible alternative interpretation of Ur in the North.[8] “Northern Mesopotamia was the homeland of Israelite origins in that the Hebrew patriarchs lived in the area of Haran in Paddan-Aram between the Tigris & Euphrates.”[9]

In the perusal of all of the data, this student is convinced of the latter interpretation. Dr. Fowler’s proposal for a northern ‘Ur of Kasdu’ based on the innerbiblical evidence appears to be the simplest and best conclusion. It is not an exegetical hill to die on defending, but it is the exegesis that appears to best honor the original inerrancy of the biblical text.

[1] D. L. Fowler, Old Testament Backgrounds (Lynchburg, VA: Liberty University, 2012), 70.

[2] D. J. Wiseman, “Ur of the Chaldees” in the New Bible Dictionary, ed. D. R. W. Wood, I. H. Marshall, A. R. Millard and J. I. Packer, 3rd ed. (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1996), 1219. Fowler agrees, “Chaldees is a late term used to identify Aramean-like peoples who first appear in south[ern Mesopotamia] at around 1000 B.C,” Old Testament Backgrounds, 70.

[3] Merrill F. Unger, Archaeology and the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1954), 108.

[4] John J. Davis, Paradise to Prison: Studies in Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Sheffield Pub Co, 1998), 166.

[5] Wiseman, “Ur of the Chaldees” in the New Bible Dictionary, 1219. Davis concurs with the southern location of Ur, identified as Tell el-Muqayyar, p. 165; so does Ayraham Negev, The Archaeological Encyclopedia of the Holy Land, 3rd ed. (New York: Prentice Hall Press, 1990); and Alfred Edersheim, Bible History: Old Testament (Oak Harbor: Logos Bible Software, 1997), Ge 11:27–13:4.

[6] Kyle M. Yates, “Ur,” in Charles F. Pfeiffer, ed., The Biblical World, 602; Nahum M. Sarna, Understanding Genesis (Grand Rapids, MI: Schocken, 1970), 98.

[7] Fowler, Old Testament Backgrounds, 71.

[8] Andrew E. Hill and John H. Walton, A Survey of the Old Testament, 2nd ed. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2000), 36.

[9] Ibid., 36.


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