Monday, April 15, 2013

History and Belief Collide in Ur

Ziggurat uncovered at Ur
Anytime archaeologists find something with a biblical connotation, the faithful get excited. Right now, the religious portion of our population has been salivating over some really old buildings found in southern Iraq.  There, archaeologists have begun digging up an area near Ur of Chaldea, an ancient city linked to Abraham.

The enthusiastic response to the discovery highlights the fast differences between history and religion.

The ancient structures have been dated to around 2000 BCE and are located now in a desolate area.  At one time, however, the region was part of Sumeria, the first great civilization in this part of the world.

To faithful readers of the Bible, the discovery helps “prove” the existence of Abraham, the father of Christianity, Islam and Judaism.  In Jewish teaching, Abraham’s son Isaac is the father of the Jews.  In Islam history, Ishmael, Abraham’s other son, was their ancestor.  Christians say Jesus was a descendant of Abraham.

The Bible makes the connection between Abraham and Ur in three separate verses:

Genesis 11:31: Terah took his son Abram, his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, the wife of his son Abram, and together they set out from Ur of the Chaldeans to go to Canaan. But when they came to Harran, they settled there.

Genesis 15:7: He also said to him, "I am the Lord, who brought you out of Ur of the Chaldeans to give you this land to take possession of it."

Nehemiah 9:7  "You are the Lord God, who chose Abram and brought him out of Ur of the Chaldeans and named him Abraham.”

However, the Bible designates Ur as a “country” or “land,” not a city.  Scholars looking for the land have come up empty.  Finding the city was much easier.  Ur has been known since the 1920s, but not by that name.  Instead, many scholars today believe it is Mugheir (or Mughayyar, "the pitchy") in Southern Babylonia, which was also called called Urumma, or Urima, and later Uru in the inscriptions. Around 1000 BCE, the border area was labeled Chaldea for the first time.

However, it was not known as Chaldea when Abraham must have lived there maybe 1,000 years earlier.

Instead, the research has demonstrated that the biblical account is simply a mishmash of information from various time periods.  That’s understandable: the first biblical texts were not written down until the 7th century BCE at the earliest.

By that time, any written sources had long since disappeared.  Stories that circulated from parent to child told the story of the Jewish people.  They changed over time, getting additions and losing material.  The end result is the biblical account we read today.

The scholars working on the site are fully aware that it may or may not have any connection to Abraham or any biblical story.  They have been very careful to avoid saying anything that implies a link, simply calling the site very important.  It is for anyone interested in ancient history and the development of human civilization, regardless of any religious connection.

Religious folks have not been that careful.  They are enthusiastically watching and writing about the dig, happily putting their faith in history.  That’s a very precarious decision. After all, all archaeological findings to date have consistently contradicted biblical accounts.  The faithful can only pray that this time the results will be different.

Long-time religious historian Bill Lazarus regularly writes about religion and religious history.  He also speaks at various religious organizations throughout Florida.  You can reach him at  He is the author of the famed Unauthorized Biography of Nostradamus; The Last Testament of Simon Peter; The Gospel Truth: Where Did the Gospel Writers Get Their Information; Noel: The Lore and Tradition of Christmas Carols; and Dummies Guide to Comparative Religion.  His books are available on, Kindle, bookstores and via various publishers.  He can also be followed on Twitter.

You can enroll in his on-line class, Comparative Religion for Dummies, at

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