10. Discover Abraham’s Birthplace of the Ancient City of Ur

Art of Ancient Ur, c. 2600-2400 B.C. (Post: Abraham of Ur)

Let us now leave 5th century B.C. Athens, Greece and take a trip back in time 1600 years to the city of Ur in Mesopotamia. A distance of 1400 miles separates the two cities. We leave the mild Mediterranean climate and the sophisticated life of the Athenians with their stately marble temples and travel to a semiarid climate in a much more rugged part of the world. As you can see from the map below, Ur was located in what is today southern Iraq. 

Abraham of Ur

By the time that Abraham appeared on the scene in 2000 B.C., Ur had already been in existence for 1800 years.1 It would continue to be inhabited until 450 B.C., fifty years after the death of Socrates. Ur was a significant and bustling port city in Mesopotamia. Because of its location near the junction of the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, it was a central point for trade that welcomed ships as far away as India. As you can imagine, it was very wealthy. In fact, it was the wealthiest city in Mesopotamia. And, the city was lead by a Priest-King which was typical in that part of the world where the two functions were usually combined.

We will see this later in the the story of Abraham and Melchizedek.  The city’s focal point was the Ziggurat, which was the center of religious ritual.  It was home to about 12,000 people and if you walked through the narrow, crowded streets, you would smell and see cattle and donkeys as well as encounter merchants and artisans selling their goods. The fields surrounding the city produced dates, onions, garlic, lentils, and barley. Ur was at the height of its prosperity when Abraham lived there. 

This is a map of Abraham's Journey from Ur to Canaan.
Ancient Mesopotamia, courtesy of pintrest.com

The Houses of Ur

Compared to what we are used to today, Ur’s streets were laid out randomly.2 Streets looped around in a seemingly haphazard manner, with some streets coming to a dead end for no apparent reason. The sized and styles of homes varied correspondingly, as you can imagine, based on wealth. Most houses were two stories tall. A single door that entered off the street on the first level led into a small lobby. The lobby, in turn, opened onto a courtyard that other rooms were arranged around. The rooms on the first level were used for guests and as workrooms. A staircase led to the second floor that had a balcony and more rooms that were used for sleeping and leisure. Centuries later, we find Roman villas that had a similar design.

The homes in Ur were rather sophisticated and even attractive.3 The walls consisted of mud bricks onto which plaster and whitewash were applied, giving the appearance of modern stucco. Just like Roman villas centuries later, there was a drain at the center of the courtyard that channeled rainwater into a storage cistern. However, Archaeological evidence shows that some of the wealthier homes had indoor plumbing. Windows were small, but the central courtyard created an open an airy feeling as well a good source of light during the day. At night torches or oil lamps provided light. Also, some omens or charms have been found that were used to provide protection against a snake or scorpion crawling into people’s beds at night!

Abraham of Ur
Courtyard of a typical home in Ancient Ur

The People of Ur

Furthermore, in modern culture, we are used to clothing styles that change quickly. It was quite the opposite in ancient Ur.4 Evidence also shows that clothing, with minor variations, stayed the same for over 350 years. Men had an outer garment that resembled a Roman toga. There was a plain version and a version with a decorative fringe. Most men had beards, but some were clean shaven. Women used jewelry for variety Women had a variety of hairstyles, where men’s hairstyles were more limited. Both men and woman used sandals and simple hats.

As mentioned above, Ur’s location in Mesopotamia yielded a bounty of foods. Along with fruits and vegetables, the people of Ur enjoyed a varied diet of meats, including beef, duck, fish, goat, oxen, and pork. In addition, they enjoyed beer and wine. They also drank milk and juice. As is true in most cultures, the wealthier enjoyed more variety as well as a healthy diet of meat, whereas the poorer citizens had a simpler diet as well as little opportunity to eat meat.

Polytheism in Ur

The citizens of Ur were polytheists and, like all of Mesopotamia, worshipped many gods.5 Some gods had a higher ranking than others, and each city-state had its chief protector god. Moreover, the chief protector god of Ur was Nanna. Nanna, the Sumerian name for the moon god (likely referencing the full moon), held a special place in the people’s hearts. Furthermore, the cult of Nanna originated in the marshes of the lower Euphrates River, where it became deeply intertwined with the cattle herds – the very lifeblood of the region’s inhabitants.

Nanna’s emblem was a crescent, sometimes represented by a great bull’s horns.7 Most gods were connected to fertility of humans and animals and crops’ success. Of course, this makes sense for without the success of those things, then all else is for naught. According to Britannica online, “Nanna bestowed fertility and prosperity on the cowherds, governing the rise of the waters, the growth of reeds, the increase of the herd, and therefore the quantity of dairy products produced.”

Furthermore, ancient cities in that time period had three key components – a temple or altar, a market, and a city wall for protection. As mentioned above, the Ziggurat was the focal point of religious life. It towered over the city as if to leave no doubt of what was most important. When approaching any ancient Mesopotamian city, the first and most conspicuous thing observed would be the Ziggurat. In the same manner today as our skyscrapers dominate the skyline of large cities. Rather than establishing the supremacy of the deity though, ours rather testify to the primacy of the large secular corporation, very appropriate for a philosophically materialistic culture. The deity will not save you but the insurance company or bank.

As time went on, the pantheon of pagan deities continued to grow. By some estimates, there were probably over 4,000 deities by the time of Abraham. This ever-expanding number of gods encompassed every aspect of life: there were cattle gods, fertility gods (particularly childbirth), gods of the trees, gods of the sun, and gods of wars. One could find a god for anything and everything. For example, Pasag, a protector of travelers, served as just one deity amongst this vast and evolving pantheon. This complexity undoubtedly kept the theologians working overtime. Can you imagine trying to keep track of all those gods? Consequently, the society mandated worship of the deities, deeming devotion and worship the ultimate purpose in life. Theology in Ur, however, focused more on guiding the practice of worship than the systematic type of theology that developed in modern times.

Abraham of Ur
Ziggurat in Ur

Daily Life in Ur

Abraham was born in Ur’s 3rd dynasty, founded around 2040 B.C. by King Ur-Nammu.8 He also wrote a law code, the fragments of which survive today, making it the oldest known law code in existence.9 It preceded Hammurabi’s law code by 300 years. A highly sophisticated culture thrived here. At the top were the priests and scribes. Then there were the artisans, physicians, merchants, and farmers. Society was strictly divided. At the very bottom were slaves, comprised of captured foreigners. In stark contrast, lavish tombs marked the final resting places of the royal elite. Ur was a part of the Sumer civilization, and the Sumerians were technologically astute people.

Some of their inventions included the plow, the chariot, hydraulic engineering, textile mills, mass-produced pottery and bricks, metallurgy, and advancements in mathematics.10 They invented a mathematical system based on the number 60 which is still with us today in the form of how we keep time. The two biggest gifts that Sumerians gave the world were the invention of the wheel and the invention of writing in cuneiform. Both of these inventions spread throughout the entire world. This wealthy and highly sophisticated city-state of Ur was the setting in which Abram (Abram was his name before God changed it to Abraham) found himself around 2000 B.C. Below is an example of what Abram’s house would have looked like:

Now that I have described the setting in which Abram lived, in the next post I will discuss the circumstances surrounding his call from God.

Abraham of Ur
Sir Leonard Woolley’s Excavation at Ur, 1922

References to Abraham in Mesopotamian Tablets

The following are references to a man named Abraham on cuneiform tablets. While probably not the Abraham of Genesis, they give us a glimpse into the daily life that Abraham experienced.12

“Abraham Leased a Farm To the patrician speak, Saying, Gimil-Marduk whishes that Shamash and Marduk may give thee health!”

“Concerning the 400 shars of land, the field of Sin-idinam, Which to Abamrama To lease, thou hast sent; The land-steward the scribe Appeared and on behalf of Sin-idinam I took that up. The 400 shars of land of Abamrama as thou hast directed I have leased.”

“Abraham Hired an Ox: One ox broken to the yoke, An ox from Ibri-sin, son of Sin-imgurani, From Ibni-sin through the agency of Kishti-Nabium, son of Eteru, Abamrama, son of Awel-Ishtar, for one month has hired. For one month one shekel of silver he will pay.”

Ancient Love Poem

Finally, I leave you with some erotic poetry. Shu-Sin was a king of Ur who some scholars date to around the time of Abraham.13 A collection of recently discovered sensual love poems featured him as the protagonist. Here’s a snippet from a poem titled “The Love Song of Shu-Sin”:

“Bridegroom, dear to my heart, Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet, Lion, dear to my heart, Goodly is your beauty, honeysweet.”

“You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you. Bridegroom, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber, You have captivated me, let me stand trembling before you. Lion, I would be taken by you to the bedchamber.”

“Bridegroom, let me caress you, My precious caress is more savory than honey, In the bedchamber, honey-filled, Let me enjoy you goodly beauty, Lion, let me caress you, My precious caress is more savory than honey.”14


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Abraham of Ur

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  1. Woolley, Leonard. “Ur”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 24 Feb. 2021, https://www.britannica.com/place/Ur
  2. Hoerth, Alfred J., Archaeology of the Old Testament, pp. 60-61, Baker Books, 1998
  3. Ibid.
  4. Ibid., pp. 61-62
  5. Woolley, Leonard. “Ur”. Encyclopedia Britannica
  6. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopaedia. “Sin”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 22 Apr. 2009, https://www.britannica.com/topic/Sin-Mesopotamian-god
  7. Ibid.
  8. Boylan, Patrick Canon. “Ur and Abraham.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 18, no. 69, 1929, p. 16, JSTOR 
  9. Britannica, The Editors of Encyclopedia. “Cuneiform law”. Encyclopedia Britannica, 21 Jan. 2011, https://www.britannica.com/topic/cuneiform-law
  10. Kijer, Patrick J., “9 Ancient Sumerian Inventions That Changed the World” https://www.history.com/news/sumerians-inventions-mesopotamia
  11. https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Sumerian_proverbs
  12. Barton, George, Archaeology and the Bible, pp. 344-345, The (Classic Reprint) Hardcover – August 24, 2018, Forgotten Books
  13. Mark, Joshua J., “The World’s Oldest Love Poem,” World History Encyclopedia, August 13, 2014
  14. Kramer, Samuel Noah, History Begins at Sumer, pp. 246-247, University of Pennsylvania Press; 3rd edition (April 1, 1988) as referenced in Ibid.

Bibliography and Resources:

Barton, George, Archaeology and the Bible, (Classic Reprint) Hardcover – August 24, 2018, Forgotten Books

Boylan, Patrick Canon. “Ur and Abraham.” Studies: An Irish Quarterly Review, vol. 18, no. 69, 1929, pp. 1–19. JSTOR 

Crawford, Harriet, author and Harrison, Thomas, series editor, Ur: The City of the Moon God, Archaeological History Series, Bloomsbury Academic, New York, 2015

De Mieroop, Van, A History of the Ancient Near East, ca. 3000-323 BC, 3rd Edition (Blackwell History of the Ancient World), Wiley-Blackwell, Hoboken, N.J., 2015

Hoerth, Alfred J., Archaeology of the Old Testament, Baker Books, 1998

Kramer, Samuel Noah, History Begins at Sumer, University of Pennsylvania Press; 3rd edition (April 1, 1988)

Kramer, Samuel Noah, The Sumerians: Their History, Culture, and Character Revised ed. Edition, University of Chicago Press, Chicago, 1971

Time-Life Books, editor, Sumer: Cities of Eden, Lost Civilization Series, Time Life Education, 1993

Voegelin, Eric, Order and History, Vol. 1: Israel and Revelation, classic reprint hardcover, Forgotten Books Publishers, London, 2018

Zainab, Bahrani, Mesopotamia: Ancient Art and Architecture, Thomas Hudson publisher, High Holborn, U.K., 2017

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  1. Most conservative Biblical scholars give the year for the birth of Abraham around 2166 B.C. so that would put the year of his death at around 1990 B.C. Abraham’s forefathers even lived longer if you look at the genealogies. One explanation for why this is has to do with genetics. As the generations go on, there is a certain degradation of the DNA genetic code due to mutations, etc. So the code is more pure the closer to the beginning we get and becomes more degraded the further down the time line we get. Therefore as mutations entered into the picture, this provided the opportunity for more diseases to arise and thus a shorter lifespan. Abraham continues to be a person that still facinates us 4,000 years later which is pretty amazing. I hope this helped.

  2. Great article. Is it possible to know somewhat exact date of birth and death of Abraham. Its said that lived for 175 years, which seems unrealistic.