Tag Archives: Old Testament

Abraham’s Journeys: Shechem

Bereishit יב (Genesis 12)

1 Now the Eternal One said unto Avram: ‘Get out of your country, and from your kindred, and from your father’s house, unto the land that I will show you. 2 And I will make of you a great nation, and I will bless you, and make your name great; and you will be a blessing. 3 And I will bless them that bless you, and him that curses you will I curse; and in you shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ 4 So Avram went, as the Eternal One had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him; and Avram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. 5 And Avram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother’s son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Kena’an; and into the land of Kena’an they came. 6 And Avram passed through the land unto the place of Shekhem, unto the terebinth of Moreh. And the Kena’ani was then in the land. 7 And the EterOone appeared unto Avram, and said: ‘Unto your seed will I give this land’; and he built there an altar unto the Eternal One, who appeared unto him.

Shechem was a Canaanite city during the time of Abraham. Traditionally, Shechem is associated with Nablus but is specifically identified with the site of Tell Balatah i Balata al-Balad (a suburb of Nablus) in Samaria. It lies between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal.1 According to the Tanakh, Shechem lays north of Beth-El and Shiloh on the highway going from Jerusalem to the northern parts of Samaria (Judges 21:19). Shechem is a short distance from Michmethath (Joshua 17:7) and Dothan (Genesis 37:12-17). It was in the hill country of Ephraim (Joshua 20:7) immediately below Mount Gerizim (Judges 9:6-7).

The Madaba map places Shechem between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal2 as does Flavius Josephus in his work Antiquities of the Jews (4:8:44):

…and that when they had got possession of the land of the Canaanites, and when they had destroyed the whole multitude of its inhabitants, as they ought to do, they should erect an altar that should face the rising sun, not far from the city of Shechem, between the two mountains, that of Gerizzim, situate on the right hand, and that called Ebal, on the left…3

Shechem dates back approximately four thousand years. The city is mentioned in the third-millennium Ebla Tablets that were discovered near Aleppo, Syria.4 During Senusret III’s military campaign directed toward Nubia, a campaign of retribution and plunder, is recorded on an Egyptian stele belonging to Sobkkhu. This military campaign also led to the capture of a Sekmem (Shechem) in the hill country of Ephraim.5 In the fourteenth-century BCE Amarna Letters, Shechem is presented as part of the kingdom that was lorded over by Labayu.6


1Rast, Walter. Through the Ages in Palestinian Archaeology: An Introductory Handbook. (Harrisburg, PA: Trinity Press International, 1992).
2Rudd, Steve. “The Madaba Map and the Exodus Route” bible.ca. The Interactive Bible. n.d. Web. 4 November 2011. [http://www.bible.ca/archeology/bible-archeology-exodus-madaba-map.htm]
3Whiston, William. (trans.). The Works of Flavius Josephus. (1737). Web. 4 November 2011. [http://www.sacred-texts.com/jud/josephus/ant-4.htm]
4Kessler, Oren. “Excavations Done at Former Israelite Capital Shechem” jpost.com. Jerusalem Post. 25 July 2011. Web. 4 November 2011. [http://www.jpost.com/NationalNews/Article.aspx?id=230833]
5Dunn, Jimmy. “Senusret III, The 5th King of the 12th Dynasty.” touregypt.net. Tour Egypt. 20 June 2011. Web. 4 November 2011. [http://www.touregypt.net/featurestories/senusret3.htm]
6“Letter from Labayu of Shechem.” reshafim.org.il. Kibbutz Reshafim. n.d. Web. 4 November 2011. [http://www.reshafim.org.il/ad/egypt/a-labayu.htm]

Abraham’s Journeys: Ur and Haran (Part 2)

There are many traditions regarding the location of Ur Chasdim including Islam and the classical writer Eusebius.

According to Islamic tradition, the birthplace of Abraham – Ur Chasdim – is location not in Mesopotamia but in southern Turkey. Islamic tradition places Ur Chasdim in the ancient city of Edessa (now known as Sanliufra or simply as Urfa).1

In 1848 J.J. Benjamin II visited the town of Urfa and wrote about his travels there in his book Eight years in Asia and Africa.

“Eighteen hours’ journey from Birdschak lies, in a desert neighbourhood, the town of Urfa, likewise enclosed by a wall. Round about the town are to be found a great number of grottoes, built by human hand; these are all open, and lead into a subterranean passage, which is said to be several hours’ journey in length. Regular gates, doors, streets, extensive places and even wells are to be found here. It is beyond all doubt that these are the traces of a town destroyed by an earthquake. Could it not be the ancient „Ur” of the Chaldees, of which Moses speaks? *

In Urfa are to be found monuments of antiquity, which date from the oldest biblical times; some are preserved up to this day; others are lying in ruins. We mention here some of the most remarkable:

1) The house, in which Abraham was born. It is an artificial grotto, hewn out of a single piece of rock; and a cradle of white stone. The grotto is closed and guarded by the Arabs; one can however enter it on payment of a small gratuity. The Arabs are wont to carry thither their sick children, and to lay them in Abraham’s cradle, in which they leave the little ones for the whole night; if they are not found dead the next morning, their recovery can be looked forward to with safety.”2

Eusebius wrote about the city of Ur Chasdim in his book Preparation for the Gospel. Eusebius  preserves a portion of Alexander Polyhistor’s work Concerning the Jews which in turn quotes from the historian Eupolemus’ work Concerning the Jewish of Assyria.

AND with this agrees also Alexander Polyhistor, a man of great intellect and much learning, and very well known to those Greeks who have gathered the fruits of education in no perfunctory manner: for in his compilation, Concerning the Jews, he records the history of this man Abraham in the following manner word for word:

[ALEXANDER POLYHISTOR] ‘Eupolemus in his book Concerning the Jews of Assyria says that the city Babylon was first founded by those who escaped from the Deluge; and that they were giants, and built the tower renowned in history.

‘But when this had been overthrown by the act of God, the giants were dispersed over the whole earth. And in the tenth generation, he says, in Camarina a city of Babylonia, which some call the city Uria (and which is by interpretation the city of the Chaldees), + in the thirteenth generation + Abraham was born, who surpassed all men in nobility and wisdom, who was also the inventor of astronomy and the Chaldaic art, and pleased God well by his zeal towards religion.”3

Bereishit יא (Genesis 11)

31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Abram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Haran was the city, according to the Torah, where Abram and his family journeyed when they left Ur Chasdim on their way to Canaan. It was in this place that Abram’s father Terah died. When Abram was 75 years old, Abram, Sarai, Lot, their extended family and servants left Haran to continue onto Canaan. There is an indication later in Bereishit (27:42-43) that some of Abram’s relatives remained in Haran.

Biblical Haran is identified by scholars with the city Harran in modern-day Turkey. This city was the chief home of the Mesopotamian god Sin and remained the chief city of the pagan god under the Assyrians, Chaldeans, and Romans.4 According to the Christian apocryphal work The Book of the Cave of Treasures, Nimrod is credited with founding the city of Harran.

And in the fiftieth year of [the life of] Reu, Nimrod went up and built Nisibis, and Edessa, and Harrân, which is Edessa. And Harrânîth, the wife of Dâsân, the priest of the mountain, surrounded it with a wall, and the people of Harrân made a statue of her and worshipped her. And Baltîn, who was given to Tamûzâ (Tammuz)–now because B`êlshemîn loved her, Tammuz fled before him–set fire to Harrân and burned it. (The Book of the Cave of Treasures – The Fourth Thousand Years)5

The death and burial of Abram’s father Terah in Harran is also mentioned in the Arabic work Kitab al-Magall.

When Terah, father of Abraham, reached two hundred and three years he died. Abraham and Lot buried him in the city of Haran. [God] commanded him that he should travel to the Holy Land.6


1Wikipedia. Ur Kasdim. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ur_Ka%C5%9Bdim#Islamic_tradition]
2Benjamin, J. Eight Years in Asia and Africa From 1846 to 1855. (Hanover, 1859).
3Gifford, E. H. Eusebius of Caesarea: Praeparatio Evangelica. (1903). [http://www.tertullian.org/fathers/eusebius_pe_09_book9.htm]
4“Harran.” britannica.com. Encyclopedia Britannica. n.d. Web. 23 October 2011. [http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/255841/Harran]
5Budge, E. A. W. The Book of the Cave of Treasures. (London: The Religious Tract Society, 1927).
6Gibson, M. D. “Kitab al-Magall or The Book of Rolls” Apocrypha Arabica. (London, 1901).

Abraham’s Journeys: Ur and Haran (Part 1)

Bereishit יא (Genesis 11)

27 Now these are the generations of Terah. Terah begot Avram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begot Lot. 28 And Haran died in the presence of his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. 29 And Avram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Avram’s wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor’s wife, Milka, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milka, and the father of Yiska. 30 And Sarai was barren; she had no child. 31 And Terah took Avram his son, and Lot the son of Haran, his son’s son, and Sarai his daughter-in-law, his son Avram’s wife; and they went forth with them from Ur-kasdim, to go into the land of Kena’an; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Although not specifically mentioned in the Tanakh, Ur Chasdim is identified as Abraham’s placed of birth.

Terach took his son Avram, his grandson Lot (Haran’s son), and his daughter-in-law Sarai (Avram’s wife). With them, he left Ur-kasdim, heading toward the land of Kena’an. They came as far as Haran and settled there. (Bereishit 11:31)1

Various people have attempted to identify the location of Ur Chasdim throughout the centuries including Maimonides (Rambam) and Josephus. Maimonides spoke of Abraham being reared in Kutha which could then be associated as “Ur Chasdim” – the birthplace of Abraham.

Abraham was brought up in Kutha; when he differed from the people and declared that there is a Maker besides the sun, they raised certain objections, and mentioned in their arguments the evident and manifest action of the sun in the Universe. (Guide for the Perplexed 3:29)2

Kutha was an ancient Sumerian city on the eastern branch of the Upper Euphrates River about 25 miles northeast of Babylon.3

According to Josephus, Ur was located in the Chaldean territory and Haran was distant from Ur and not located in Chaldea.

Now Abram had two brethren, Nahor and Haran: of these Haran left a son, Lot; as also Sarai and Milcha his daughters; and died among the Chaldeans, in a city of the Chaldeans, called Ur; and his monument is shown to this day. These married their nieces. Nabor married Milcha, and Abram married Sarai. Now Terah hating Chaldea, on account of his mourning for Ilaran, they all removed to Haran of Mesopotamia, where Terah died, and was buried, when he had lived to be two hundred and five years old… (Antiquities of the Jews 1:6:5)4

Josephus locates the area of Chaldea near Babylon.

And Nicolaus of Damascus, in the fourth book of his History, says thus: “Abram reigned at Damascus, being a foreigner, who came with an army out of the land above Babylon, called the land of the Chaldeans… (Antiquities of the Jews 1:7:2)4

Josephus distinguishes the land of the Chaldeans (descendants of Arphaxad) from Syria (descendants of Aram) where Haran is located.

Shem, the third son of Noah, had five sons, who inhabited the land that began at Euphrates, and reached to the Indian Ocean. For Elam left behind him the Elamites, the ancestors of the Persians. Ashur lived at the city Nineve; and named his subjects Assyrians, who became the most fortunate nation, beyond others. Arphaxad named the Arphaxadites, who are now called Chaldeans. Aram had the Aramites, which the Greeks called Syrians… (Antiquities of the Jews 1:6:4)4

According to Josephus, Ur Chasdim is located in Southern Mesopotamia and not in Syria or Turkey as some others have stated.

Nachmanides (Ramban) declares that Ur Chasdim is in fact Abraham’s birthplace. Not only does he declare this to be his birthplace but Nachamnides places Ur Chasdim in the area of Aram-naharim in Mesopotamia based upon Bereishit 24:10.

[The] verse stating, “And I took your father Abraham from beyond the river and led him throughout all the land of Canaan [Yehoshua 24:3], should have stated, ‘And I took your father from Ur of the Chaldees and led him throughout all the land of Canaan,’ for it was from there that he was taken, and it was there that he was given [the command to get out of his country and from his birthplace – Bereishit 12:1]. (Commentary on the Torah – Lech Lecha)5

According to the Talmud, Ur is associated with the city Erech.

…Between the two there is [a distance] of one hundred parasangs and its circumference one thousand parasangs . And the beginning of his kingdom was Babel and Erech, and Accad, and Calneh in the land of Shinar. ‘Babel’ in its usual sense; ‘Erech’ ‘ i.e. Urikath; ‘Accad’, i.e. Baskar;15 ‘Calneh’, i.e. Nupar — Ninpi. Out of that land went Ashur. (Babylonian Talmud – Yoma 10a)6

Uruk was the ancient name for Erech, a city in Chaldea (Kasdim, a region on the Euphrates and the Persian Gulf which was originally the southern part of Babylonia). This was near the city of Ur, the birthplace of Avraham, on the lower Euphrates River which was then on the Persian Gulf (before it receded).7

The apocryphal Book of Jubilees also implies that it is in Ur Chasdim that Abraham was born by linking the city “Ur” back to Abraham’s ancestor Serug (Sêrôḫ).

And in the thirty-fifth jubilee, in the third week, in the first year thereof, Reu took to himself a wife, and her name was ’Ôrâ, the daughter of ’Ûr, the son of Kêsêd, and she bare him a son, and he called his name Sêrôḫ, in the seventh year of this week in this jubilee. 2. And the sons of Noah began to war on each other, to take captive and to slay each other, and to shed the blood of men on the earth, and to eat blood, and to build strong cities, and walls, and towers, and individuals (began) to exalt themselves above the nation, and to found the beginnings of kingdoms, and to go to war people against people, and nation against nation, and city against city, and all (began) to do evil, and to acquire arms, and to teach their sons war, and they began to capture cities, and to sell male and female slaves. 3. And ’Ûr, the son of Kêsêd, built the city of ’Arâ of the Chaldees, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father. (Book of Jubilees 11:1-3)8


1Aryeh Kaplan. The Living Torah. (New York: Moznaim Publishing Corporation, 1981).
2M. Friedlander (translator). The Guide for the Perplexed. (London: Routledge & Kegan Paul Ltd., 1904). [http://sacred-texts.com/jud/gfp/index.htm]
3Wikipedia. Kutha. [http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Kutha]
4William Whiston (translator). The Works of Flavius Josephus. (1737).
5Charles Chavel. Ramban: Commentary on the Torah (Genesis). (New York: Shilo Publishing House, Inc., 1971).
6I. Epstein Soncino Babylonian Talmud. (London: Soncino Press, 1949).  [http://halakhah.com/pdf/moed/Yoma.pdf]
7Dafyomi Advancement Forum. Background on the Daily Daf – Yoma 10. [http://dafyomi.shemayisrael.co.il/yoma/backgrnd/yo-in-010.htm]
8R.H. Charles (translator). The Book of Jubilees. (London: Society for Promoting Christian Knowledge, 1917).