Ur was the native home of the Abraham family (Gen. 11:28). Before his father, Terah, passed away, his brother Haran died there and left his son, Lot, in the charge of his father and his brother, Abram. Terah also had another son named Nahor. Nahor evidently, for some reason, stayed behind in Mesopotamia while Abram and Terah and Lot left on a journey to the promised land. Terah also had a daughter named Sarai, but by a woman other than Abraham’s mother (Gen. 20:12) and Sarai became Abram’s wife (Gen. 11:28).
Ur was an ancient city whose establishment dates back into the years following the flood. The name Ur means light or flame. The exact location of this city has long been debated. Some place it in the north near Haran in what would be modern day Turkey and others place it in the south near the gulf at Tell el-Muqayyar. The view of the southern Ur gained prominence after Sir Leonard Wooley excavated the site and declared it was “worthy of Abraham.” His truly sensational discoveries at this site captivated the public imagination through the influence of popular media and it has since been commonly accepted as Abraham’s home.
However, even before Wooley made his discoveries, the northern location was one that was widely accepted. Cyrus H. Gordon, who excavated the southern Ur with Wooley, did not share Wooley’s belief that this was Abraham’s home, the Ur of the Chaldees mentioned in the Bible. He maintained on other grounds that the northen site was a better fit with the biblical evidence. But because of the popular media’s acceptance of Wooley’s sensational finds, Gordon’s views were largely ignored.
The site in the north, Ura, now known as Urfa (officially Sanliurfa), has many arguments in its favor. First, Joshua says that Ur was on the other side of the river (i.e., the Euphrates – Josh. 24:2, 15). This is true of Ura, but it is not true of Tell el-Muqayyar which was on the west side of the Eurphrates river.
Second, if Tell el-Muqayyar was Abraham’s home, when God called him to go into the land of Canaan, why did he go out of his way into Haran, when there were shorter routes to the promised land? He could have crossed over at the Mari trade route to Palmyra and then over to the king’s Highway and made it to the promised land much more quickly? Why go to Haran, which was very much out of the way to his destination? He would have “had to make a sharp right turn at the Balik River and travel many miles upstream to reach Haran. That makes little sense” (Have we erred on Ur? by Tony W. Cartledge, Jan 6, 2020).
Third, when Abraham was intent on finding a bride for Isaac, he sent his servant to “my country, and to my kindred” (Gen. 24:4). Abraham explained to his servant that God had called him from his father’s house and from the land of his kindred (Gen. 24:7). Where did he go? He went to the city of Nahor in Mesopotamia (Gen. 24:10), or literally, Aram-Naharaim, Aram of the two rivers. The city of Nahor is understood to be Haran (Gen. 11:31, 27:43, 29:1, 4, 5). While Nahor stayed behind when Abraham and Terah left Ur, he apparently either went with them to Haran or followed later to that site, perhaps when Terah died because Haran is from that time forward denominated the city of Nahor.
The word Mesopotamia generally refers to the northern area between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers. Wickipedia states “Mesopotamia is a historical region of Western Asia situated within the Tigris–Euphrates river system, in the northern part of the Fertile Crescent.” Notice, it is in the northern part, not in the south. Britannica states “In the narrow sense, Mesopotamia is the area between the Euphrates and Tigris rivers, north or northwest of the bottleneck at Baghdad, in modern Iraq; it is Al-Jazirah (“The Island”) of the Arabs. South of this lies Babylonia, named after the city of Babylon.” Barnes states, “Aram was an extensive area, embracing not only the country west of the Frat and north of Palestine, but the northern part of Mesopotamia, or the country between the Frat and the Dijlah. The latter region is for the sake of distinction called Aram of the two rivers. It did not include the southern part of Mesopotamia, which was called Shinar Gen. 11:2, and probably extended only to the Chaboras, Khabour [a tributary to the Euphrates-ELP].” So, Mesopotamia is in the north; in the south is the land of Shinar and Babylonia. As noted earlier, Tell el-Muqayyar lies west of the Euphrates and is neither between the rivers or on the “other side”.
When Stephen gave his defense before the Council, he said, “Men, brethren, and fathers, hearken; The God of glory appeared unto our father Abraham, when he was in Mesopotamia, before he dwelt in Charran” (Acts 7:2). As we have seen, Tell el-Muqayyar, is not technically in Mesopotamia, between the rivers nor on the other side of them. But God, according to Stephen, called Abraham while he was in Mesopotamia, that is in Ur of the Chaldees. That places Ur north of Shinar and east of the Euphrates.
Fourth, it turns out that the inhabitants of the area have for centuries called this Abraham’s native home. There is a cave that is purported to be Abraham’s birthplace that is a tourist attraction. Furthermore, several cities in the area have names that are the same as those in Abraham’s family, such as Peleg, Serug, Nahor and Terah.
Commentator George Bush made the following remarks on the location of Ur:
As to the city here mentioned, some difficulty has been experienced by commentators in fixing its site, but in the East it is generally identified with the present town of Orfah in Upper Mesopotamia Two days’ journey east of the Euphrates, sixty-seven miles north-east of Beer. The Jews, according to Mr. Wolff, still call the place by the name in the text, אור כשדים Oor Kasdim, or Ur of the Chaldees, and it is a place of pilgrimage as the birth-place of Abraham, in whose honour the Moslems have a fine mosque in the court of which is a lake teeming with fish which are held sacred to the patriarch’ and not permitted to be caught.
Fifth, is it a coincidence that one of Terah’s sons was named “Haran,” the same name of the city in the north that was a merchant outpost in Abraham’s day? From tablets found in Ebla, it is known that this city was well established by Abraham’s time. Cities were very often founded by individuals and their names often borne by the city they founded (cf. Gen. 4:17). This is not to say that Haran, the city, was named after Haran, Terah’s son, or vice versa, but it does show that this name was common in the region, a name which Terah chose to call one of his sons.
Finally, there is a passage in Deuteronomy 26:5 which states that when a Jew offered the basket of first fruits he was to say “A Syrian ready to perish was my father…” describing the origins of his people in the journey of Abraham to the promised land. Notice, that he was not to describe himself as a Sumerian ready to perish, or a Babylonian or a Shinarian (from the land of Shinar), but a Syrian. Syria was undeniably in the northern region of Mesopotamia, very close to where modern Syria is today. Young’s Literal translation renders this “A perishing Aramaean is my father!…” The word translated Syrian in the KJV is אֲרַמִּי ʾarammî, or Aram. Aram was a son of Shem (Gen. 10:21). This places the home of Abraham in the north near Haran not in the south in Shinar.
Many commentators refer this to Jacob and say, though he was born in Canaan, that he spent many years in Syria under Laban. But it just seems a little odd that Jacob would be considered a “wandering” Syrian when he was born in Canaan and stayed in Syria for a length of time. But Abraham did “wander” from his homeland and went into the land of Canaan where he made his home. This is the description given of him in the Book of Hebrews:
8 By faith Abraham, when he was called to go out into a place which he should after receive for an inheritance, obeyed; and he went out, not knowing whither he went. 9 By faith he sojourned in the land of promise, as in a strange country, dwelling in tabernacles with Isaac and Jacob, the heirs with him of the same promise: 10 For he looked for a city which hath foundations, whose builder and maker is God (Hebrews 11:8-10).
Jewish commentators differ as to who the “wandering Syrian” is. Some say Jacob but others say Abraham. Biblical commentator and Talmudist, Samuel ben Meir, also known as Rashbam (c. 1085-1174)…“argues that the verse more appropriately applies to Abraham, who can correctly be identified as an Aramean.” Pett’s commentary states “Their father was ‘an Aramaean (Arami)’. That is, he had come originally from Aram. Both Abraham, and then Jacob on his return to Canaan, had come from Aram to the north of Canaan.” The JFB commentary states “The ancestors of the Hebrews were nomad shepherds, either Syrians by birth as Abraham, or by long residence as Jacob.”
So it is very possible that the “wandering Syrian” refers to Abraham specifically, or at the very lest to his family in general. Either way, it is to the north that Abraham’s homeland is ascribed.
There are other evidences which could be offered but I think you can see that these make a very strong case for the northern placement of Ur.
Eric L. Padgett