Ur of the Chaldees

UR OF THE CHALDEES (א֥וּר כַּשְׂדִּֽים, Gr. χω̂ρα (τω̂ν) Χαλδάιον). City in Mesopotamia from which Abraham migrated to Haran (Gen 11:28, 31; 15:7; Neh 9:7).

Name and location.

Until 1850, “Ur of the Chaldees” was considered to be Urfa, near Haran, S. Turkey, where there is a local tradition of Abraham’s residence to which he sent in search for a wife for Isaac (Gen 24:1-10) from the “land of his nativity.” This view has been recently revived by Cyrus H. Gordon, who interprets the OT as implying a northern tradition (he places it at Ura’ near Harran) and that Abraham was a merchant prince. He considers that the term “Chaldee” can be adequately explained as a reference to N Mesopotamia (as he thinks is meant by Isa 23:13). Against this it must be noted that any tradition of Abraham at Urfa/Edessa goes back only to the 8th-9th cent. a.d. The OT scarcely implies that Abraham was a merchant or that he moved only a short distance from Ur to Haran. Moreover “the land of my nativity” (Gen 24:7) could equally be tr. “land of my kindred.” There are also several places called Ura’, one a seaport in Cilicia, another a Hitt. fortress in NE Anatolia.

In favor of a more southerly location can be cited local tradition which is strong, linking Abraham both with Warka (Erech) and Kutha (Tell Ibrahīm) and, by Eusebius (on Eupolemus c. 100 b.c.) with Kamerina (“the moon-city”) of Babylonia, called by some the city Urie. By 1866 the name U-ri was read on several buildings and other inscrs. from the site of Tell el-Muqayyar in S Iraq, 6 m. SE of Nasiriyah on the Euphrates River. This ancient city of Ur certainly lay in territory called Kaldu (Chaldaea) from the early first millennium b.c. Since this area was normally named after the tribes living there, and no earlier general name for the area is known, it would be unscientific to call the reference to Ur “of the Chaldees” in the second millennium an anachronism. The southern identification for the Biblical Ur is followed here.


In 1853-1854 J. E. Taylor, British Vice-Consul at Basra was asked by the British Museum to investigate the site of “Múgeyer.” He explored the ziggurrat and vicinity. A few soundings were made by R. C. Thompson in 1918 and shortly afterward by H. R. Hall who, however, concentrated on al ’Ubaid, 4 m. to NW, where he found a circular oval with a decorated temple of Ninhursag in use from prehistoric (’Ubaid) levels (c. 4000 b.c.) until the third dynasty of Ur (2113-2066). From 1922-1934 a joint expedition of the British Museum and University Museum of Pennsylvania led by (Sir) C. L. Woolley excavated large areas of the site which measured 1,200 x 675 meters and housed an estimated population of c. 34,000, possibly representing a quarter of a million persons in the whole of the Greater Ur district.


The three-staged step pyramid tower built by Ur-Nammu (2113-2096) and remodeled by Nabonidus (556-539 b.c.) dominated the city. This massive structure of burnt-brick skin over a mud brick core of 200 x 150 ft. originally stood to a height of 70 ft. above the plain, though only 50 ft. of the lowest platform now remains. There is some evidence that the different stages were each colored differently below the silver one-roomed shrine of Nannar, the mood-god, at the top. The terraces were planted with trees. Identification of the ziggurat of Ur by name, and of the work of restoration by Nabonidus are provided by foundation deposits found at the corners of the building. Close by the ziggurat, which rose from an inner court, is found a shrine of Ningal and, in the angle formed by the main stairway leading up into the ziggurat, two small chapels. Around the wall were associated kitchens. A single gateway (Edublalmah) led into the sacred area with its open-air altar and large storehouse for receiving offerings. On this temenos was a temple for Ningal (Enumah), a palace of Amar-Su’en and further to the SE Ehursag, the palace of Ur-Nammu and Shulgi. The whole complex was divided from the town by a wall last rebuilt by Nebuchadrezzar II.

Royal cemetery.

An outstanding discovery were the tombs of the rulers of the brilliant Early Dynastic III period c. 2500 near and below the mausoleum of kings Shulgi and Amar-Su’en. The finest equipped of the sixteen graves were those of Meskalamshar and his “queen” Pū-Abi (Shubad) and of the founder of the first dynasty Mesannipada and his son A’annipada who are known to be contemporary with the early kings of Mari. The ritual of burial included human sacrifice whereby from six to eighty retainers accompanied the deceased to the tomb where they too were killed, prob. by poisoning or suffocation. Objects of gold, silver, precious stones, wood, ivory and shell with lapis-lazuli mosaic inlay were found in abundance and testify to the wealth of this early time. They include chariots, sledges, standards, musical instruments, weapons and vessels, gaming-boards and much personal jewelry. An outlying cemetery at Diqdiqqeh yielded grave goods of a later period.

Flood level.

In a deep sounding to virgin soil in Pit F (and at other check points) Woolley met at 4.50 m. above sea level a stratum of clean, water-laid sand more than 3 m. deep which he considered to have been laid in two subsequent stages and to date to the end of the ’Ubaid period c. 3500 b.c. He linked this with the Flood of Genesis and of the Babylonian Epic of Gilgamesh. Though some take this as proof of these events (see Flood (Genesis)) the archeological evidence here does not necessarily warrant this interpretation. The Flood layer seems to have been an accumulation of debris and is not strictly paralleled by the similar layers found at other sites which may be more closely related to the classical event, e.g. Kish and Shurrupak c. 2500 b.c. No flood level is known from Eridu, twelve m. to the SW.

Private houses.

A quarter of the city occupied during the Isin-Larsa period was cleared to show the layout of thickly populated private houses. From many tablets discovered the activity of the market and seaport sections of the city can be reconstructed. Trade was carried on over a wide area by merchants including sea-borne traffic with India and Africa via the Persian Gulf from a canal-basin harbor.


Ur was a flourishing city in Sumer. times, dominating S Babylonia and sometimes farther afield, after a period of eclipse after the Gutian infiltration (2150-2070) which itself followed a time when Ur was overshadowed by the strong Sem. dynasty of III Agade to the N (2350-2150 b.c.). The Ur Dynasty founded by Ur-Nammu saw a revival of Sumer. prosperity and the extension of Ur’s influence once again to Syria and N Mesopotamia which continued during the reigns of his successors, Shulgi and Amar-Su’en. When the Amorites overran the S, Hammurabi (1792-1750 b.c.) controlled Ur for a time, but when it rebelled against his son it was sacked. Ur’s importance as a religious center insured that it was never abandoned for long, and later kings Kurigalzu II (1345-1324) and Marduk-nadin-aḫḫe (1098-1081) kept it in repair as did Nebuchadrezzar II and Nabonidus (550-539 b.c.). The latter rebuilt the ziggurat and other shrines before installing his daughter, Bel-shalṭi-Nannar as highpriestess in her own new palace. Cyrus paid reverent attention to the shrines but after the 4th cent. the city fell into decline with the diversion of the Euphrates River and the silting up of the canal system.


C. L. Woolley, Excavations at Ur (1954); C. H. Gordon, “Abraham and the Merchants of Ura,” JNES XVII (1958), 28-31; H. W. F. Saggs, “Ur of the Chaldees,” Iraq XXII (1960), 200-209; M. E. L. Mallowan and D. J. Wiseman, Ur in Retrospect (1960); M. E. L. Mallowan, “The Development of Cities,” CAH rev. ed. I (1967), 29, 30; C. J. Gadd, “Ur,” Archaeology and Old Testament Study (1967), 87-101.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(’ur kasdim; he chora (ton) Chaldaion): For more than 2,000 years efforts have been made to identify the site of this city. The writers of the Septuagint, either being unfamiliar with the site, or not considering it a city, wrote chora, "land," instead of Ur. Eupolemus, who lived about 150 BC, spoke of it as being a city of Babylonia called Camarina, which he said was called by some Ouria. Stephen (Ac 7:2,4) regarded the place as being in Mesopotamia. The Talmud, however, as well as some later Arabic writers, regarded Erech (the Septuagint Orek) as the city. The cuneiform writing of this city, Urnki, would seem to support this view, but Erech is mentioned in Genesis. Ammianus Marcellinus identified the city with the castle of Ur in the desert between Hatra and Nisibis, but this was only founded in the time of the Persians. Owing to its nearness to Haran, and because Stephen placed it in Mesopotamia, Urfa or Oorfa, named Edessa by the Greeks, has also in modern times been identified as the city. But Seleucus is credited with having built this city.

The most generally-accepted theory at the present time is that Ur is to be identified with the modern Mugheir (or Mughayyar, "the pitchy") in Southern Babylonia, called Urumma, or Urima, and later Uru in the inscriptions. This borders on the district which in the 1st millennium BC was called Chaldea (Kaldu).

This, some hold, accords with the view of Eupolemus, because Camarina may be from the Arabic name of the moon qamar, which refers perhaps to the fact that the ancient city was dedicated to the worship of the moon-god. Another argument which has been advanced for this identification is that Haran, the city to which Terah migrated, was also a center of moon-god worship. This, however, is precarious, because Urumma or Urima in Abraham’s day was a Sumerian center, and the seat of Nannar-worship, whereas Haran was Semitic, and was dedicated to Sin. Although these two deities in later centuries were identified with each other, still the argument seems to have little weight, as other deities were also prominently worshipped in those cities, particularly Haran, which fact reminds us also that the Talmud says Terah worshipped no less than 12 deities.

It should be stated that there are scholars who hold, with the Septuagint, that Ur means, not a city, but perhaps a land in which the patriarch pastured his flocks, as for instance, the land of Uri or Ura (Akkad). The designation "of the Chaldeans" was in this case intended to distinguish it from the land where they were not found.

Still another identification is the town Uru (Mar-tu) near Sippar, a place of prominence in the time of Abraham, but which was lost sight of in subsequent periods (compare Amurru, 167). This fact would account for the failure to identify the place in the late pre-Christian centuries, when Urima or Uru still flourished. Western Semites--for the name Abram is not Babylonian--lived in this city in large numbers in the age when the patriarch lived. The Babylonian contract literature from this, as well as other sites, is full of names from the western Semitic lands, Aram and Amurru. This fact makes it reasonable that the site should be found in Babylonia; but, as stated, although the arguments are by no means weighty, more scholars at the present favor Mugheir than any other site.