Biblical Archaeology Review 26:1, January/February 2000

Abraham’s Ur: Is the Pope Going to the Wrong Place?

By Hershel Shanks

Pope John Paul II is planning a millennium pilgrimage in 2000 that will take him to Bethlehem, Jerusalem, Sinai—and Iraq! Why Iraq? Because that is where the patriarch Abraham was born—at Ur.

But wait a minute. The Pope may be going to the wrong Ur. Perhaps he should be going to Turkey.

More than 40 years ago, Cyrus Gordon, an eminent Biblical scholar and Near Eastern polymath who recently celebrated his 91st birthday, argued that the commonly designated Ur, on the west bank of the Euphrates River in southern Iraq, is not the Ur where Abraham was born.1

I talked to the still-very-much-with-it scholar in a telephone interview at his Massachusetts home. Gordon told me that before the middle of the 19th century, everyone located Ur in the north, based on the only evidence then available, the Biblical text. With the decipherment of cuneiform, a southern Ur was identified in Iraq, an Ur that ultimately produced fabulous finds. As a result, scholars changed their focus to the southern Ur (see map).

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