E. J. Wilson D.O. | Jerusalem
If there is one thing that Latter-day Saints have in common with Arabs and Jews, it is a belief that Abraham is our literal ancestor. Since we are in possession of some reliable material not available to the other two groups (viz. the Book of Abraham), we should be in the forefront of Abrahamic research. Unfortunately, this has not been the case. One of the problems has been that of evaluating the massive written material that has accumulated over the centuries in various languages regarding this somewhat enigmatic patriarch, and another is the difficulty in accurately appraising the peripheral evidence concerning his background which is being gleaned from the somewhat esoteric fields of Egyptology and Assyriology.
Scholarship is very often a matter of the ill-informed being able to bluff the uninformed; and it is beyond dispute that one ounce of revelation would be worth more than several tons of scholarship, particularly in regard to this ancestor whom we share with both Jews and Arabs. Unfortunately, in the absence of prophetic pronouncements, we must continue to be “anxiously engaged” and follow the admonition to become acquainted with “languages, tongues and people” (D&C 90:15) as well as “to obtain a knowledge of history, and of countries, and of kingdoms...”(D&C 93:53).
For some of us, that means delving into the history and languages of the Ancient Near East in an attempt to elucidate the circumstances surrounding our ancient forefathers. Unfortunately, even LDS scholars who may be “anxiously engaged” on the same subject do not always arrive at the same conclusions. This is particularly true in regard to the localization of Abraham’s homeland - Ur of the Chaldees. Some LDS scholars wish to place that city in northern (or northwestern) Syria. This is an idea that began among non-LDS scholars long ago, but which has since been largely rejected by the non-LDS academic community. Certainly the conclusions of scholars outside the Church are not binding on those of us inside the Church, and I would be willing to take a serious look at the possibility of a northern Ur if there were any doctrinal reason to do so; for doctrinal considerations are ultimately more important than purely academic considerations.
I cannot, however, see any doctrinal reasoning in the cases presented by our own scholars for placing Ur in the north. On the contrary, there is at least one subtle doctrinal problem with placing Abraham’s hometown in the northern reaches of Mesopotamia or near the Syrian coast. When we do that, we lose some wonderful gospel symbolism. For example, the fact that Abraham was commanded by God to come out of Ur gains special significance if we acknowledge that Ur was in southern Mesopotamia, in a land later known as Babylonia; because it parallels a commandment given to the Church in the Latter-days to come out of Babylon (D&C 133:5, 7). We could carry the symbolism even further and note that he left Ur (according to the Book of Abraham) during a time of famine; and we are commanded to leave Babylon during a time of spiritual famine. Since Abraham lived around 2000 B.C. (the dating will be discussed below), that means that he received his commandment to leave Babylon about 2000 years before Christ, and we received ours almost 2000 years after Christ. In other words, it forms a nice chiasmus with Christ in the middle (which is a fairly common phenomenon in scriptures).
This symbolism may not be convincing to scholars. but it is certainly in keeping with what we know about how the Lord works; for parallelism is one of his basic teaching tools. And while that may not be good enough for non-LDS scholars (who normally would not be caught dead basing geographical conclusions on doctrinal considerations), it is to be hoped that LDS scholars will pose the following question to themselves: If I try to locate Abraham’s Ur in northern Syria, does that contribute anything to our understanding of any important gospel principles? If the answer is no, then that should be reason enough to re-evaluate that stance. We could write sermons on the symbolism of Abraham coming out of Babylon (i.e. the area around the southern Ur), but the thought of that ancient saint wandering from one obscure town in northern Syria to another obscure town in northern Syria just doesn’t provide the same doctrinal impact.
That is not the only problem with subscribing to the northern Ur theory. The other problem is that the so-called southern Ur, i.e. that city that was excavated by Leonard Woolley in the 1920’s and 1930’s, was only partially excavated. In fact, approximately 90% of it was never examined and still lies buried, together with its written and archeological treasures, under the sand of southern Iraq. We know where the southern Ur is and we know that it is a find there of great magnificence. We do not know where any northern Ur is, and yet some of us are willing to give up a bird in the hand to seek one in the bush which only promises to be less doctrinally significant (even if the location should turn out to be generally correct) and of only limited archeological or linguistic interest!
We are living in (spiritual) Babylon ourselves, and as a result of our exposure to Babylonian sophistry, we find it at least a little difficult to completely turn our backs on what we supposed to be scholarship, for the sake of a doctrinal consideration whose beauty, after all, may be only in the eye of the beholder. It is therefore at least moderately appropriate that we examine the question of the location of Abraham’s hometown in an academic fashion and view the “evidence” for the northern site and the “evidence” for the southern site. If we can demonstrate that there is no real evidence for a northern homeland for Abraham, then perhaps we can turn our attention back to the bird-in-the-hand that we have in southern Iraq and do some more exploring there before we throw out the baby with the bath water. Besides, since almost all Jewish scholars (with one exception which I will note below), and indeed other scholars as well, accept the site of Woolley’s Ur in southern Mesopotamia as Abraham’s homeland, a little archeology in that area in the future might be a project of common interest for Muslims, Jews and Latter-day Saints. We shall therefore begin with the purported evidence for the northern Ur, and perhaps show how ephemeral it is.
The arguments for a northern site for Abraham’s Ur are quite old. In fact, there were scholars in previous centuries who reasoned that if Abraham’s relatives were Arameans, as the Biblical record seems to indicate, then they must have come from Syria, for Syria was the homeland of the Arameans. They therefore looked for a site in northern Mesopotamia and the surrounding regions and many of them settled on the city of Urfa (ancient Edessa), which is actually in southern Turkey (i.e. north of Syria). The city name contained the element “Ur” and there were apparently some legends that seemed to support this assumption. 1
In 1855 however, the great pioneer cuneiformist, Henry Rawlinson, found some inscribed bricks which contained the name of Ur at a place known to the Arabs as al Muqayyar. This site is rather far south in Mesopotamia, not far from the Persian Gulf, and the name of Ur on the bricks convinced many that this must be the Ur of Abraham. Nonetheless, there were still scholars such as A.T. Clay, 2 who clung to the theory of a more northern location for Ur.
The scholarly opinions shifted even more toward acceptance of al Muqayyar as the site of Abraham's Ur when it was excavated by Sir Leonard Woolley in the 1920's and 30's. Although Woolley was only able to excavate a relatively small portion of that site during 11 seasons, his work revealed a great ancient city which had been the capitol of an extensive empire. That discovery shifted the majority opinion among scholars toward the view that this "southern" Ur was Abraham's city. Nevertheless, the controversy continues even today, and may be typified by an exchange between two very well-known scholars: Cyrus Gordon and H.M.W. Saggs.
Gordon tried to make a case for a northern Ur in 1958 in an article entitled "Abraham and the Merchants of Ura". 3 There he argued that there was a strong Old Testament tradition for a northern Ur, based on several factors. For one thing, he believed that Abraham was not simply a nomad, for Gen. 13:2 and 24:35 tell us he had gold and silver. For that reason, he would like to compare Abraham to the merchants of Ura (a northern city) mentioned in a Ugaritic text (17.130 in PRU IV).
Another consideration was the fact that Gen. 11:31 says Abraham moved to Canaan from Ur via Haran. "Any route from the Ur excavated by Sir C. Leonard Woolley to Canaan would not go so far north or east as Haran. The Ur of the Chaldees in Genesis has to be north or east (probably northeast) of Haran for Terah's itinerary to make sense."
Gordon also claimed that the reference to the Chaldees would be as much at home in northern Mesopotamia as in southern Mesopotamia. To support that argument, he cited Xenophon who mentioned the Chaldeans as a warlike people blocking the way to Armenia (Anabasis iv. 3. 4). Moreover, in Isa. 23:13 the land of the Chaldees cannot, he stated, be located in Babylonia "for what precedes and follows it point to a northern location." He also stated that, "The northern locale of Abraham's nativity is further confirmed by Gen. 24:4, 7, where the land of his birth is clearly defined as the country that embraced the city of Haran and the area known as Paddan-Aram." 5
This article was answered by H.W.F. Saggs in 1960. 6 He noted that the argument that the Old Testament favors a northern birthplace for Abraham was not new and was based on Gen. 24:1-10 wherein Abraham sends his servant to his moledet to find a wife for Isaac. He says that in actual OT usage, the word moledet does not mean "birthplace" as assumed by Gordon and others, but rather "kindred, birth, offspring." He states that there is no place in the Old Testament where this term must mean "place of birth" and several where it cannot mean that (e.g. Lev. 18:9,11 and Ezek. 16:4). He therefore interprets the instructions given to the servant as "to the land where my kindred are currently to be found." 7
Saggs also points out that Gordon's assertion that Haran was not en route from Ur to Canaan assumes that Terah had Canaan in mind as a final destination when he started out. This is a cogent argument, for the scriptures relate that Abraham and his family stayed in Haran for a while before they moved on to Canaan. Apparently, they were only given instructions for one leg of the journey at a time.
Saggs argues with Gordon's assertion that Abraham was essentially a tamkaru-merchant because those merchants probably traded in copper, which was very important to Ugarit and which came mainly from Asia minor (modern Turkey). There is no mention of copper among Abraham's possessions. Instead, the list of Abraham's possessions includes animals, slaves, gold, silver etc. and was therefore more suggestive of a sheik than of a tamkaru-merchant.
In terms of the geographical location of "Chaldees", he discusses Gordon's claim that Isa. 21:13 cannot refer to Babylonia, but rather to Urarta (based on the Akkadian ḫaldu) and shows that a reference to Babylonian Chaldees in that locus is quite reasonable. He notes that the Chaldeans were found in lower Babylonian from the end of the second millenium and, "Their territory at the beginning of this period extended roughly north and east from the city of Ur, in the region known as the Sealands, but rapidly extended up the Euphrates until it reached almost to Borsippa." 8
Gordon had also cited Gen. 22:22 as containing a reference to Kesed, whom he designated the eponymous ancestor of the Chaldeans, to which Saggs replied, "In fact, there is no evidence that eponymous ancestors are concerned in this passage. Professor Gordon has apparently confused the Aram of Gen. xxii.21, Abraham's great-nephew, with the eponymous ancestor Aram of Gen. x.23, the brother of Abraham's ancestor eight generations back in the paternal line. That the Aram of Gen. xxii.21 was not regarded by the biblical writers as the eponymous ancestor of the Aramaeans is shown by the fact that Bethuel, the uncle of the junior Aram, is already referred to as 'the Aramaean', as is Bethuel's son Laban." 9
Saggs thus answered Gordon’s assertions and showed them to be unconvincing at best. As for the one assertion mentioned by Gordon that we have not yet touched, viz. the fact that Xenophon spoke of Chaldeans in the north, that is completely irrelevant to the time of Abraham. Xenophon lived around 400 B.C. and long before his time, the term “Chaldean” had been extended to cover the Babylonians in general. This is already apparent in certain Biblical passages, such as Isa. 48:20 and Jer. 32:4. The fact that some people called Chaldeans had spread to the north by the fifth and fourth centuries B.C. therefore has no bearing on the geographical location of Chaldeans some 1600 years prior to that. In short, Gordon’s arguments were so poorly received that the famous British Assyriologist, W.G. Lambert, was able to write in 1973 (in regard to Abraham’s homeland), “Scholarly opinion still favours the well-known Ur, an originally Sumerian city near the Persian Gulf.”
Undeterred by the lack of acceptance, Gordon restated his case in 1963 11 and again in 1977. 12 In the 1977 article, he sought further support for his case in the fact that a tablet was found at the site of the ancient city of Ebla that mentioned "Ur in Haran". 13 This tablet, found in a northern location, coupled with the fact that the southern Ur excavated by Woolley was never called "Ur of the Chaldees" in any of the tablets excavated there, was seen by Gordon as further support of his case for a northern Ur.
There are, however, two logical flaws in this thinking. First, the mention of an "Ur of Haran" in the north is not evidence that that Ur was Abraham's "Ur of the Chaldees", but rather it could not be Abraham's Ur precisely because it is called "Ur of Haran" rather than "Ur of the Chaldees." In other words, there was clearly more than one city called Ur in ancient Mesopotamia. "Ur of Haran" was therefore not simply called "Ur", because that was also the name of at least one other city; but the fact that it is called "Ur of Haran" might be intended to place it in contradistinction to "Ur of the Chaldees" just as Richmond, Virginia is in contradistinction to Richmond, Indiana. The second flaw is in the argument that the southern Ur is not "Ur of the Chaldees" because it is not called such in any of the tablets found there. When people who reside in Richmond, Virginia speak of their city, they do not normally say "Richmond, Virginia" to distinguish it from Richmond, Indiana; they merely say "Richmond". This would have been the case in the southern Ur, and even more so. Where the residents of Richmond, Virginia do in fact at least write "Virginia" on their return addresses, the citizens of Ur would never have had any occasion to distinguish their city from any other Ur, for theirs was the original Ur - a thriving and important city that was, at times, the center of an empire that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Persian Gulf.
Then why would the Bible and Book of Abraham speak of Ur of the Chaldees if that important southern Mesopotamian city was meant? The answer is probably quite simple: The Bible and Book of Abraham were not written by citizens of Ur. They were written by Semites who were not native to that area, for even though Abraham probably lived there for a while, his lineage differed from that of the Sumerians, who were not a Semitic people. Moreover, the Bible and Book of Abraham were not written for the citizens of Ur, but rather for audiences that would consist of foreigners (from the standpoint of the Sumerian citizens of Ur, or even the Akkadian inhabitants who had migrated there), either Egyptians or later Israelites, and the latter would have been familiar with more than one Ur since some of their relatives were indeed to be found in the northern area, the area of "Ur of Haran". Therefore, someone writing for them might well have referred to the southern Ur as "Ur of the Chaldees", thus reflecting the geographical proximity of that city to the semitic Chaldeans.
As far as the mention of the Chaldeans is concerned, the mention of the Chaldeans (or the toponym “Chaldees”) is considered by many non-LDS scholars to be an anachronism, because there is no mention of such an ethnic group in any of the texts from Abraham’s time. Indeed, the Chaldeans (Hebrew kaśdim) were first mentioned in an Assyrian text (using the Akkadian term kaldu) that describes the campaign of Ashurnasirpal II into southern Mesopotamia in 878 B.C.
14 When next mentioned, they were the target of a campaign by the Assyrian king, Shalmaneser III in 850 B.C.
If the Chaldeans were mentioned in connection with Abraham’s Ur only in the Genesis account, we could perhaps accept the idea that that is an anachronism, because we know that some inaccuracies crept into the Biblical text over the centuries (I Nephi 13:26ff.). That solution is not acceptable, however, for the Chaldeans are also mentioned in the Book of Abraham, and that must be dealt with! The reaction of one LDS scholar was to view the mention of the Chaldeans in the Book of Abraham as evidence against the southern Ur, stating flatly that there were no kaldu in southern Mesopotamia until long after the time of Abraham (a conclusion that can only be based on the fact that the Chaldeans are not referred by that name, i.e. kaldu until the ninth century). He therefore assumed that the Ur mentioned in the Book of Abraham must be somewhere else. 15 Once again, this constitutes giving up a bird in the hand (i.e. the earliest recorded home of the Chaldeans, and indeed the only location that can be identified with the Chaldeans historically), for one in the bush (since there is no record of Chaldeans anywhere else during the early periods). Worse than that, it is an argument ex silencio, meaning that just because no written records of kaldu or kaśdim have been found which can be dated prior to the ninth century B.C., that does not mean that the Chaldeans were not there. It simply means that if they were there, then either no one wrote about them, or else we just have not found those writings. The third possibility is that anyone who wrote about them in earlier periods might have called them by some other name, as will be discussed below. The fact is, that we may really have one such record that places Chaldeans in southern Mesopotamia during Abraham’s time, and that is the Book of Abraham itself.
At the time of the Assyrian excursions into Babylonia in the ninth century, the Chaldeans (or kaldu) were at home in southernmost Mesopotamia and had well established cities. The very existence of such cities would seem to indicate very strongly that they had been around long before 850 B.C., because they did not simply move in and erect cities overnight. But the question again arises, if they were there before Shalmaneser III mentions them, why do we not see their name in some earlier records? The answer (i.e. the third possibility mentioned above) may be deceptively simple - they were quite possible called by some other name.
A German is called un allemand by the French and un tedesco by the Italians, but he calls himself ein Deutscher. It should not be surprising therefore, if the Assyrians used a name for the Chaldeans that they did not use for themselves, or even a name different from that by which they were called by the local Sumerian or Akkadian scribes. What we need to look for is a group of people who lived in the area previously, were relatively well established, but who were nonetheless ethnically different from the Sumerians and Akkadians who formed the two main groups in southern Mesopotamia during and after Abraham's time.
A group that fits the criteria would seem to be the Amorites. 16
They were a Semitic-speaking people who were already in southern Mesopotamia by the time of Abraham and who had integrated themselves fairly well into that society. We must note here that while their language was definitely Semitic, Genesis 10:15-16 indicates that they were actually descended from Ham through Canaan. The Bible therefore indicates that Abraham could not have been an Amorite himself. Nevertheless, it is possible that Abraham’s family had attached themselves to the wave of Amorites who came into southern Mesopotamia during the third millenium B.C., and that would also account for the apparent similarity in language; for Abraham’s forefathers seem to have had predominantly Amorite names. In fact, the great Catholic Bible scholar, Roland de Vaux, noted that some of the patriarchal names occur in lower Mesopotamia during this period, but not in upper Mesopotamia.
17 For example, the name of Abraham’s great-grandfather is given in the Bible as Serug, and the name Se-ru-gi occurs in a text from Tello of the Ur III period (Abraham’s time!);
18 and the name of Nahor (Abraham’s brother) occurs in four documents from the same time period which probably come from Nippur.
19 Moreover, the name Jacob also occurs in various forms from Kish and in documents of the first Babylonian Dynasty.
There is some additional confusion concerning the Chaldeans, however, for the fact that they are mentioned in Daniel 2:5 as speaking Aramaic has led many people to assume that they were in fact Arameans, 21 but that is not necessarily the case. They could very well have adopted the language, as did the Jews later, as a result of contact with the Arameans who filtered into that area during the first millennium B.C. In fact. the idea that the Chaldeans were Arameans has been effectively refuted by J. A. Brinkman who has shown that there is no evidence to warrant such a conclusion. 22
Another indication that these "Chaldeans" had been around long before 850 B.C. is the fact that in the Assyrian documents they are called kaldu from the first, while in the Bible they are designated by the Hebrew word kaśdim. This is significant because the original Akkadian word would most likely have been kaśdu (from kaśādu = "to arrive"), but the letter "s" eventually became an "l" in Akkadian when followed by another sibilant or a dental. The Hebrew obviously represents a loan word that was borrowed from Akkadian before that shift took place. Since that shift occurred during the Middle Babylonian period (ca. 1500-1000 B.C.), the Hebrew word must have been borrowed from the Akkadian several centuries before the Assyrians first mentioned the kaldu!
Thus, the Hebrew term kaśdim, which may have originally meant something like "those who have arrived" (an apt designation for immigrants!), may have been an esoteric term for the Chaldeans which they used for themselves, but which was not taken up by the Sumerian and Akkadian scribes who continued to call them by some other name. It is conceivable, for example, that the group in question could be the Amorites, who were called by the Akkadian scribes amurru, a word meaning something akin to "westerners" (Sumerian MAR.TU), thus indicating the direction from which they immigrated. Since Abraham was not a Sumerian or Akkadian scribe, he may have simply preserved the term which might have been used for the Chaldeans by the Chaldeans themselves, or at least by Abraham's kin, who were themselves foreigners in the land of Ur. Since Abraham was himself semitic, he may have felt a certain kinship for the semitic-speaking Chaldeans, and since they were already present in great numbers during his day (assuming that they were really the same as the Amorites who were already numerous in Mesopotamia), that may explain why the term "Ur of the Chaldees" would appear in the Book of Abraham as well as the Bible. In any case, the mention of Chaldeans in the Book of Abraham, far from sending us off on a wild goose chase, should bring our focus right back to Woolley’s Ur in southern Mesopotamia.
Having dealt with the “evidence” (perhaps it would be more appropriate to speak of a “lack of evidence”) presented by non-LDS scholars, we can now turn our attention to arguments presented by LDS writers. One of the proponents of the northern Ur theory has been Paul Hoskisson of BYU (recently retired), a very capable scholar, but one who will not be offended (I hope) if I disagree with some of the material he has penned. For example, in an Ensign article 23 he mentioned the well-known fact (well-known at least among Assyriologists) that there was a cult of the Moon god, Su’en (or Nanna in Sumerian) at Ur and one at Haran as well. He then commented that the Book of Abraham says that Abraham left Ur partly to get away from the local cult, and that he would not have gone to another location with the same cult. As it stands, that statement seems reasonable, but there is one major problem with it: no one ever said that Abraham went to another location with the same cult! The fact that the moon-god was venerated in Haran at a later date, does not mean that this was already the case when Abraham went there. On the contrary, the Book of Abraham suggests that Abraham and his entourage were the ones who gave Haran its name (Abr. 2:4), which might mean that Haran did not even exist prior to that. If Haran did not even exist as a place before Abraham, then it is apparent that worship of Su’en was introduced into that area by someone from Ur either during the time of Abraham, or later. This was also recognized by Roland de Vaux who wrote: “It is almost certain that the cults of Sin [i.e. Su’en] and Ningal [the wife of Su’en] were introduced at Haran from Ur and it is also probable that this took place as early as the Third Dynasty when the neo-Sumerian civilisation was spreading far beyond the political frontiers of the empire of Ur.” 24
As Latter-day Saints, we are in a position to refine that further, for the Book of Abraham points a finger right toward Abraham’s father, Terah, as being the one who probably introduced that cult; for while they were in Haran, Terah “turned again to his idolatry, therefore he continued [i.e. stayed] in Haran” (Abr, 2:5). In other words, if Terah had been engaged in false worship at Ur, that worship would most likely have been the cult of Su’en (or “Nanna”), and if he fell back into the worship of false gods in Haran, it is only logical that the false gods involved would have been Su’en and Ningal. In fact, there are Jewish legends that report that he had been engaged in the production of idols in Ur and fell back into it at Haran. Therefore, far from being evidence against a southern Ur, the Su’en connection is actually very strong evidence for a southern Ur.
Prof. Hoskisson also states in that same article that when Abraham left Ur there was a famine in both Ur and Haran, and he derives from that that Ur and Haran must have been in the same ecological system. He is referring to the fact that the southern Ur is in an alluvial plain where agriculture is carried out by irrigation, while Haran is in a hilly area where there is enough precipitation annually to premit rain farming. In other words, Ur in southern Iraq and Haran are definitely in two different ecological areas and he assumes that if Ur and Haran had a famine at the same time, then Ur must be in the north, near Haran, in order for it to have been affected by a crop failure simultaneously with Haran.
The problem here is with the reading of Abr. 2:1-5. Nowhere in these verses is it written that there was a famine in Haran when Abraham went there, and if there was no famine in Haran at that time, the whole argument falls apart. If one is not careful, one could jump to the conclusion after reading verse 5 that there was a famine there, because it speaks of the famine abating, and that information follows the verse which mentions their arrival in Haran. But let us look carefully at that verse:
“And the famine abated; and my father tarried in Haran
and dwelt there, as there were many flocks in Haran; and my father
turned again unto his idolarty, therefore he continued in Haran.”
This verse does not say that a famine in Haran abated, it simply states that the famine abated. The famine spoken of is almost certainly the famine which had been in Ur at the time of their departure. But does this verse not at least suggest that that famine was simultaneously in Haran? Not necessarily. The verse is telling us that the famine in Ur had abated, and implies that under normal circumstances the family might have been expected to return to Ur at that point; but there were two reasons to stay in Haran, and both are given in that verse as reasons why Terah chose to stay in Haran, rather than to return to Ur or go somewhere else. The first reason was that there were “many flocks” there. If there were many flocks there, does that sound like famine conditions? For that matter, one could also argue that Abraham would not have fled a famine (and we can’t even say that that was his main reason for leaving Ur, since the text simply states that the Lord told him to go) just to go to another place where there was a famine. On the contrary, he probably would have been led by the Lord to a place where there was food, and this verse says that they had food - many flocks!
The second reason stated in the verse for Terah’s choosing to remain in Haran was his re-apostasy. but that topic was already covered above. Nevertheless, the mention of it in this verse, along with the statement that Terah tarried in Haran because of the many flocks, will suffice to demonstrate that this verse is structured as it is to show why Terah stayed in Haran even after the famine in Ur had abated. 25
We may ask ourselves, however, if the reference to the famine in the Book of Abraham fits any historical data already in our possession that would further increase our assumption that the southern Ur is really Abraham’s homeland. In fact, there is just such historical information available.
The last ruler of Ur was Ibbi-Sin (2027-2003). One of his subordinates was a fellow named Ishbierra. Ishbierra used the first opportunity to break away from Ibbi-Sin and set himself up as king. The opportunity came around 2015 B.C. when there was a famine in the land round about Ur. Ishbierra had amassed a considerable supply of grain in the city of Isin, grain which Ibbi-Sin desparately needed in Ur in order to prevent an uprising. Ishbierra agreed to send the grain, if only Ibbi-Sin would send him the barges necessary to move the grain from Isin to Ur. Apparently Ishbierra knew that Ibbi-Sin had no such barges at his disposal, so this answer became a means of refusing help without appearing to be in open rebellion. In any case, the trick worked and Ishbierra was able to remove Isin from the influence of Ur. Within a few years (ca. 2003 B.C.), Ur was totally destroyed by a confederacy of Subarians from the north and Elamites from the east. It therefore seems reasonable to assume that this famine, which led to the downfall of Ur, was probably the very famine mentioned in the Book of Abraham. for the timing is just right (the date of Abraham will be discussed below).
A final comment on Prof. Hoskisson’s article concerns his statement that “... southern Mesopotamia has never been under Egyptian cultural or religious influence...”
26 LDS scholars know something from the Book of Abraham that other scholars do not know, viz. that there were Egyptian religious practices and even Egyptian priests in Abraham’s hometown (wherever we might want to locate it). Therefore, any attempt to locate Ur should take into account the possible presence of Egyptian influence during the period in question.
Those who support the northern Ur theory within the Church are wanted to speak of “Egyptianization” of northern Mesopotamia and the lack of it in southern Mesopotamia during Abraham’s time. At the same time, they insist that there was no Egyptian influence in southern Mesopotamia, as Brother Hoskisson did. However, to make such a dogmatic statement is risky, because it cannot be proven. Again, we cannot argue from silence. Therefore, we must stick to what we really know, and ask ourselves if we can draw any broad conclusions from that knowledge and if not, what areas would be the most fruitful for further research.
What we do know (or at least think we know) is this: the first recorded contact of any note between Egypt and upper Mesopotamia occurred when Tutmosis I (1506-1494) initiated a policy of expansion and took his armies to the northern reaches of the Euphrates, going east from Syria. His grandson, Tutmosis III, later did likewise, crossing the Euphrates at or near Carchemish and setting up a stele next to that of his grandfather around 1457 B.C. - long after the time of Abraham. 27 It was on this particular expedition that Tutmosis III became the first Pharaoh to meet face to face with a Babylonian monarch (probably Karaindash), and this alliance was strengthened later when a Kassite (i.e. Babylonian) princess was sent to the Pharaoh Amenophis II, the successor of Tutmosis III. This was the first historical period for which we can speak with any certainty of direct Egyptian contact with upper Mesopotamia, but contact is still a long way from “Egyptian influence,” 28 and it is light years away from the “strong Egyptian presence” that was claimed by John Lundquist. 29
The “evidence” circulating among LDS scholars which they interpret as pointing to Egyptian influence in northern Mesopotamia comes primarily from Ebla. Brother Lundquist, for example, presents some Ebla findings as a basis for his belief in Egyptian influence/presence in northern Syria. He mentions inscriptions of the Pharaoh Pepi I of the Sixth Egyptian Dynasty and an alabaster jar lid with his name on it; but this does not constitute proof of any Egyptian influence in Ebla, let alone Egyptian presence. The reason is simple and may best be explained by analogy:
A person in Dayton, Ohio may have a small trinket in his house that was made in Tibet. Is that proof that the Tibetans ever occupied Dayton, Ohio? Can we speak of a “strong Tibetan presence” in Dayton, Ohio based on that evidence? Obviously not. To make such a claim, we would first have to examine many other things in Dayton. We might begin by determining whether the inhabitants of Dayton, Ohio all speak some Tibetan dialect. If they did, than that might be a pretty good indication that there had been a Tibetan presence there. Some written records in Dayton describing a Tibetan invasion in years gone by would also solidify our case for a Tibetan presence there at some point. Or we might check social structures, legal institutions and other such matters to see if there are any peculiarities which are paralleled by similar structures or institutions in Tibet. In the absence of any other stronger evidence, these similarities might at least point toward some significant contact between Dayton and Tibet. If even such indirect evidence is lacking, then the simplest explanation would be to assume (and we would certainly be right) that the Tibetan trinket found its way to Dayton after someone’s uncle went to New York and found it in a shop that imports items like that from the Orient. Such was the case with the few Egyptian artifacts found at Ebla.
At this point, we must point out that there was an enormous difference between the north Syrian coast and the interior of Syria in the eyes of the Ancients (a fact apparently overlooked by some our zealous colleagues), for the coast was (as most coasts tend to be) on the sea. That meant that the cities on the coast, such as ancient Ugarit and Byblos, had access to other Mediterranean lands via the sea routes, and other Mediterranean maritime lands had access to them. The interior however, was part of a different economic system in which trade was carried out via caravan routes.
Ships and camels (perhaps donkeys in the earlier periods) seldom travel on the same routes, and that all too obvious fact is what separates those two general systems of international trade. The points of contact between those two systems occurs at the sea ports. Anciently, the Egyptians, as noted, traveled to Byblos for wood and perhaps some other items. But they traveled by ship, and having gotten their goods, returned to Egypt by ship. The travel by ships was easy, but a foray into the interior (where Ebla was located) would have required enormous preparation and severe logistical problems. Such an effort could only be justified by extreme circumstances such as war, and even the latter wars with the Hittites did not take the Egyptians much north of the land of Canaan. 30 This leaves with the assumption generally made by Egyptologists and Assyriologists to explain the Egyptian artifacts found at Ebla: they had been transported to Byblos (or perhaps Ugarit) by Egyptians and sold there. Then they had been bought by traders who took them from Byblos to Ebla (much like the story of our Tibetan artifact). Therefore, these items cannot be used as evidence for anything more than indirect contact. They do not in any way support the assumption of direct contact between those two cultures.
Unfortunately, these persistent trinkets were brought up again by Daniel Peterson in his article. His chief reference was to a book by Pettinato 31 which, in his words, “...presents evidence to indicate considerable Egyptian influence in the general area ofnorthen Syria even before the time of Abraham.” 32 This means that we have to look a Pettinato’s book.
Pettinato was the original epigrapher for the Ebla excavation, and certainly knows something about the subject. But if we read the pages cited by Brother Peterson, we find that Brother Peterson has made claims for the Ebla material which Pettinato himself never makes. Pettinato never claims Egyptian presence, or even influence, in Ebla. Instead, he actually makes a case for contact between Ebla and southern Mesopotamia, not between Ebla and Egypt!
33 Indeed, he mentions a mace with the name of Pharaoh Hetepibre Hornedjheryotef from the 18th century B.C.,
34 and a cartouche of Chephren, 35 as well as fragments of vases with titles of Chephren (4th Dynasty) and Pepi I (6th Dynasty) found in the palace at Ebla.
36 . But what is his evaluation of these findings? Does he leap to the conclusion that the Egyptians had been in Ebla? On the contrary, he states: “The discovery of Egyptian objects beginnng with the second Pharaonic Dynasty showed that Byblos carried on trade with Egypt throughout the third millenium; hence it is more than logical to think that the Egyptian objects found at Ebla in the royal palace may have come from that city.”
37 Pettinato obviously knows something about how Tibetan souvenirs can end up in Ohio.
There is one final piece of “evidence” that must be discussed in connection with claims for Egyptian presence/influence/contact in northern Syria. Returning once again to Brother Lundquist’s article, he also mentioned an ancient Egyptian record which, in his opinion, served as proof of an Egyptian army in northern Syria at one point. 38 That document appears in Pritchards Ancient Near Eastern Texts 39 on p. 227 f. in a translation by John Wilson. Unfortunately for Brother Lundquist’s argument, the text says nothing at all about any Egyptians in the interior of northern Syria, where Ebla was located. It actually describes a sea expedition along the coast. It is true that the trip goes to (or at least near) a place with mountains, but these are not the mountains near Ebla. The translator suggests (with good reason) that the mountains in question are the Carmel area (of northern Israel) along the coast! 40
One last comment concerning Ebla. While we cannot speak of any “Egyptianization”of Ebla, it is possible to speak of “Sumerization” of Ebla, and that is precisely the term used by J. Krecher (i.e. Sumerisierung) in speaking of the Sumerian influence on the Eblaite language. 41 There is thus some irony in the fact that Ebla was never (as far as we can ascertain) under the influence of Egypt, but is was significantly influenced by the culture and language of Sumer - the site of the southern Ur! Brother Lundquist also mentioned the occurrence of the name Ulisum in a text dealing with an expedition of Naram-Sin into northern Syria, and he equates that Ulisum with the Olishem of the Book of Abraham, stating that Olishem and Ulisum are linquistically the same form. 42 There are two problems with this conclusion. First there is the old axiom that is well-known among biblicists and Assyriologists: locus unus, locus nullus. In English, this means that if we have something attested only once, then we can’t draw any solid conclusions from it. It is a little like the law of witnesses, we need two or three occurrences to really establish something.
The second problem is the statement that Ulisum and Olishem are linquistically identical. This is probably not true. The pertinent section of the Naram-Sin inscription reads: iš-tum-ma pu-ti Purattim (UD.KIB.NUN.I7) a-dì-ma ù-li-si-imki , “From the head (lit. “forehead”) of the Euphrates to Ulisum.”
43 The name of Ulisum in this passage is actually declined (with the prepositional ending -im rather than the -um ending of the nominative form). This shows that the ending (either -um or -im) is merely an Akkadian grammatical ending, and not part of the root of the name, which would probably be something like *Ulis. Since Akkadian endings do not normally appear on place names when they are translated into Hebrew (cf. Hebrew babel and Akkadian bābilum), we would expect the name to end up in the Book of Abraham as *Olish, or something similar. Moreover, the fact that the vowel in the last syllable of the name in the Book of Abraham is -e- rather than -u- is even more significant. If Abraham had intended to transfer the name in toto, he would have perhaps written *Olishum. Since that was not the case, we must suspect that the ending is actually an integral part of Hebrew (or at least West Semitic) name. The most likely supposition would be that the "shem" of Olishem is the West Semitic (Hebrew) term for “name” as well as the name of Shem, Noah’s son from whom all Semites are descended. In that case, Olishem could mean any number of things, like “upon me is a name”, or even “the ascent of Shem.” In any case, the linguistic evidence speaks against rather than for an identification with Ulisum.
As a final remark concerning the article by John Lundquist, we are indebted to him for searching out the names of deities which are similar to some of the god names in the Book of Abraham. Once again, however, the occurrences of those names cannot be construed as providing any evidence for a northern Ur. Those names were collected from various sources, but we must note that most of the god-lists which appear in cuneiform texts were originally composed in southern Mesopotamia, even the ones found in the region of Assyria, for those had been collected and copied by northern scribes from southern sources.
Significantly, Brother Lundquist 44 also mentions a certain dKa-la-bu, which he interprets as the “god of Kolob.” While that is not impossible, there is a better candidate for Kolob, and that is the sacred place in the city of Uruk (in southern Mesopotamia) known as Kullab!
Having dealt with the claims for a northern Ur, we may now return to southern Mesopotamia and further examine the question of whether there is any stronger evidence for Abraham’s hometown there than there was in the north.
As is evident from the foregoing discussion, it would be nice to find some solid evidence - either in the form of written records or else very convincing artifacts - that there were priests of Pharaoh practicing their religion in the area of southern Mesopotamia, since we know from the Book of Abraham that there were indeed such priests in the land of Ur. However, the fact that we have no such items at present does not mean that we can rule out the southern Ur as Abraham’s homeland. First of all, the presence of a few foreign priests in an area does not guarantee that there will be either a great influx of Egyptian goods, or that there will be references to these priests in the literature in terms that we would readily recognize as referring to Egyptians. But secondly, and more importantly, we must remember that only 10% of Ur was ever excavated, and the evidence we need may well still be buried beneath the sand there.
Meanwhile, we can at least ask whether there is any indication at all that there was at least some contact between the Sumerians and the Egyptians at an early period. As it happens, there are indeed some indications of early contact between Egypt and southern Mesopotamia at an early date.
On Egyptian soil, contact with Mesopotamia during the pre-dynastic period (i.e. before 3000 B.C.) is indicated by various art motifs such as a bearded man holding two lions apart - the Gilgamesh motif - which was on an ivory knife handle found at Gebel el-Araq, and the Mesopotamian motif of the intertwined serpents also can be found in Egypt. 45 In addition, Helen Kantor reports that a Mesopotamian element in Egyptian architecture "...was the custom of constructing niched brick buildings, which gave rise to niched patterns and elaborate false doors used during many phases of Egyptian art." 46 She also notes the use of cylinder seals which were an invention of southern Mesopotamia, but which used during the Old Kingdom and found in Egyptian graves dating back as far as the Gerzean period. 47 There is also some evidence to indicate movement of people from Sumer toward Canaan during Abraham’s time, and that is very significant, because the general movement seemed to be from west to east during much of the history of Mesopotamia, and not vice versa. Therefore, any evidence of movement from east to west would strengthen the argument that a trek from Ur of southern Mesopotamia toward Canaan is quite thinkable for Abraham, because other southern Mesopotamians made the same journey.
Such evidence is furnished in the form of temples which are similar in form to those of Sumer. The temples in question were excavated in Nahariya, which is located in the northern coastal zone of modern Israel. There were two temples there which were examined by J. Kaplan who noted that they had a "bent axis" approach to the statue similar to 3rd millenium temples in Mesopotamia. Kaplan says of these temples, known as "phase B" and "phase C", "In summary it may be stated that the plans of the two Nahariya temples clearly attest that these sanctuaries were built in accordance with the early Mesopotamian tradition which reached Palestine in the Early Bronze Age and reappeared, after the interruption of the MB I Age, in the MB II A period." 48
Kaplan also discusses pottery in Palestine that corresponds to Mesopotamian pottery of ED II and ED III, as well as several types that occur in the Ur III Period. Two of the types, "D" and "F" are not continued in later periods. That leads Kaplan to state, "Accordingly, these two types may date in Palestine within the range of Ur III only."
49 That is most significant for our current purposes, because it points to a migration from the area of Ur during or at the end of the Ur III period which would have brought such pottery to Palestine, and that is exactly what we would expect if not only Abraham, but also others, left Ur about the time of its destruction and wandered westward. Kaplan summarizes the evidence as follows:
"In the foregoing part, we set out the archeological evidence. In the light of this evidence we shall now attempt to deal with the problem of the date of the end of the MB I Age and the beginning of MB II A. As was seen earlier, the pottery of group B points to an association with Ur III, at which period the West Semites who over the centuries had become assimilated to Mesopotamian civilization were beginning to fan out all over the Near East and also reached Palestine. Very likely the biblical tradition of Abraham's family migration from Mesopotamia to Harran and south-westward to Palestine distantly recalls this migratory movement of the West Semites. It thus emerges that the end of Ur III is the only date possible at which the first indications of Mesopotamian culture could have appeared in Palestine; and the material adduced in this article furnishes the archeological evidence to substantiate this date; i.e. ca. 2000 B.C." 50
We therefore have significant archeological evidence 51 for southern Mesopotamia as the starting point of Abraham’s wanderings, i.e. from the Ur excavated by Leonard Woolley! Not only that, the dates that Kaplan mentions are quite in accord with the historical period hinted at for Abraham in the above discussion, but which should now be somewhat further refined before continuing to look at other data, because all of this discussion presupposes a particular time frame for Abraham's presence in Mesopotamia, and the time period during which Abraham lived has also been in dispute.
Gordon, for example, supposed that he lived during the Late Bronze period, based on legal and social parallels between Genesis and the 15th-13th century B.C. texts from Nuzi and Ugarit. This is a minority view however, and others favor a much earlier period. Wm. Dever, for example, favors the Middle Bronze I period. 52 This would place Abraham in Mesopotamia around the end of the third millennium or beginning of the second millennium B.C., which is more in tune with biblical dating.
The determination of biblical dates is often associated with the name of Bishop Ussher, who is credited with having calculated that Adam left the Garden of Eden about 4004 B.C. By adding up the ages of the patriarchs in the Bible when they had their children, and then noting the time involved until the birth of the grandchildren etc. we find that there were 1656 years from Adam to the flood. From the flood to the birth of Abraham there were 292 years, or a total of 1948 years from Adam to Abraham. Assuming that Bishop Ussher's calculations were correct, this would mean that Abraham would have been born around 2056 B.C.
According to the Book of Abraham, he left Ur and traveled to Haran and then left Haran at the age of 62. This fact is important because it disagrees with the biblical account which says he left Haran to enter Canaan at the age of 75. If he was 62 when he left Haran, that would have been around 1994 B.C. Assuming that he spent two or three years in Canaan before the famine there drove him into Egypt, then he would have entered Egypt around 1991 B.C. This corresponds well with known historical facts, for there was a documented influx of Asians into the Egyptian delta around 1991 B.C.
In fact, Amenemhet (also called Ammenemes), who founded the 12th Dynasty, was aided in his seizure of power by a pseudoprophecy of Neferty purporting to have been given in earlier times and predicting an influx of Asians into the Delta area, an event that was taking place at the time that Amenemhet took control of Egypt. 54
In any case, he would have entered Egypt at approximately the time of the founding of the 12th Dynasty and his sojourn would have been during the early part of that dynasty.
55 That is significant, for Facsimile 1 in the Book of Abraham contains very good evidence that Abraham's stay in Egypt did indeed occur during the 12th dynasty, and that evidence is the crocodile labeled Fig. 9 with the explanation that it is "The idolatrous god of Pharaoh." There was just such a crocodile god, known as Sobek (or Suchos), and though he was not terribly significant during much of Egyptian history, it was precisely during the 12th dynasty that he attained considerable stature and became associated with the Pharaohs.
56 We may also note that the statement in the Book of Abraham that he was 62 years old when he left Haran is quite compatible with the known facts, whereas the biblical age of 75 years would place him in Egypt at a time when no special influx of people from Canaan was being reported.
The year of his departure from Ur is more difficult to date than his departure from Haran because we are not told how old he was at the time. The only special point of reference is the famine already noted above, which is mentioned in Abr. 1:29 and 2:1 in which his brother Haran died. If this is the same famine which allowed Ishbierra to rebel against Ibbi-Sin, then it occurred around 1015 B.C. and that would be the approximate time of Abraham's departure from Ur. That means that Abraham would have been around 40 years old when he left Ur for Haran.
We may now “look to the hills,” so to speak; for another objection on the part of LDS scholars to placing Abraham's Ur in the south is the mention of Potiphar's Hill in the Book of Abraham (1:10), and they point out that there are no hills in or around Woolley's Ur, only flat, alluvial plain. While it is true that Ur lies in the midst of a plain with no natural hills, that is still not a valid argument against that great city as being the Ur of Abraham, for the information in the Book of Abraham still fits quite well into the context of the southern Ur.
The fact that the southern Ur has no natural hills is not a problem, for there were many "hills" which were artifically built or otherwise represented in the religious complexes of Ur just as they were in every other Sumerian city of any significance. Potiphar's Hill could have been one of three different types of “hills.” In Sumer, there was the ziggurat that resembled a mountain in form, but there were two other "mountains" that are mentioned in the religious literature, often in connection with special ceremonies conducted in the temple proper (i.e. not related to the ziggurat). These were known as the KUR and the DUKU.
The word KUR is most interesting. First, it is written in the earliest inscriptions using a pictogram with three mountains. These mountains are thought to have represented a foreign country where there were mountains (Sumer was a plain and had no mountains), and for that reason the word KUR can also mean "country" when refering to countries outside of Sumer. In the sense of mountain, however, it does not represent mountains in the normal sense, for the word for that is HUR.SAG, but rather it usually has a religious connotation and occurs in ritual texts. Some think it represents the realm of the dead as a mountain in which they are buried and from which they cannot escape. Amazingly, the KUR sign provides us with another connection to Egypt at a very early period, for there, in the Gerzean period (before 3000 B.C.), we find the very same configuration of mountains appearing on the flags of ships depicted in drawings of that period. The flags on those ships apparently represent the deity under whose protection the voyage is made, and the flagpole with its streamers eventually became the hieroglyphic symbol for "god". The three mountains are assumed by Margaret Murray to refer to a hill-god, and she notes that in the 24th dynasty there are readable hieroglyphs associated with that symbol that spell out YHW, or Yahweh!
This is most interesting, because there is a symbol that appears to consist of three hills or mountains in the middle of the hypocephalus (Facsimile No. 2) in the Book of Abraham. There, we are told, the symbol represents Kolob and part of the explanation reads: "One day in Kolob is equal to a thousand years according to the measurement of this earth, which is called by the Egyptians Jah-oh-eh."
When one first reads that sentence, one may assume that the antecedent of "which" is "this earth", because that is the phrase that immediately precedes the word "which". That would mean that the Egyptians call the earth on which we live Jah-oh-eh. Perhaps that is not a correct reading, however, for Margaret Murray's information would lead us to believe that the three mountains were called Jah-oh-eh. 58 It would therefore be in accord with this more recent information to believe that the word "which" in the explanation refers back to Kolob, meaning that Kolob was called Jah-oh-eh, or Yahweh, by the Egyptians. Should we wonder that Kolob was associated with Yahweh?
But that is not all. There is another connection between this sign in Egypt and its Mesopotamian counterpart, and that is the fact that in Egyptian it could refer to a foreign country (just as in Sumerian) and even had a connection to the dead (as in Sumerian) because it appeared as a determinative in the word "necropolis". 59
The other "mountain" in the Sumerian religious world was the duku. This was the mountain from which the sun arose in the morning and was also a fixture in Sumerian temples where it may have been associated with a cultic meal, for there is at least one passage which reads: "O temple, duku where pure food is eaten!"
60 !" Still another text associates it with subterranean waters and also with the place of divine judgment.
61 It may therefore be the equivalent of the holy mound
62 in the Egyptian temples which represented the place where the first dry land was seen.