Christians, Jews, and Moslems all consider Abraham to be part of their religious heritage. The Bible tells us a lot about his life after he left his family to wander in the land of Canaan with his nephew Lot, but it doesn’t say a lot about what his life was like before he left Ur. Have you ever wondered what Abraham’s life was like before God called him, or why God chose him? We can piece a little bit about what Abraham’s life must have been like in Ur, when he was still called Abram, from historical records.
What the Bible Says
The Biblical story of Abraham starts in Genesis 11:27. Abram’s father was Terah; he had two brothers named Nahor and Haran. Haran had a child named Lot, and Abram married Sarai, who was evidently his half-sister. Terah, Abram, Lot, and Sarai left Ur, travelling north along the Euphrates river, until they arrived in Haran. It was from there that Terah died, and Abram was called by God to leave and go to a land that God would show him later. Lot, whose father had died earlier, chose to go with his uncle.
What Ur was Like
Abram lived around 2000 BC. Ur was one of the most important cities of the day. It was one of the main cities of Sumer, which was the dominant kingdom in the world at the time. Sumer was a group of united cities that shared common languages and culture. In the recent past, this area had been ruled by the Akkadians, but the leader was now Sumerian. Many of the people were bilingual, speaking both Sumerian and Akkadian.
The Sumerians invented a form of writing known as cuneiform. As Abram was a wealthy landowner with servants and plenty of animals, chances are that there was someone in his household that could write. Stories such as the Epic of Gilgamesh, which tells the story of a flood and may have been based on the stories of Noah (although non-Christians would probably say it was the other way around), were written down around this time. The Sumerians had the wheel and may have traded with people living as far away as modern-day India.
Sumerians did not worship the God that would later be known as the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Each city in the area was identified with its own god. The god of both Ur and Haran was Nanna, which was the god of the moon, which also was known as “father of the gods” and “creator of all things”. Oddly enough, Moslems trace their religious heritage through Ishmael; some believe that Allah’s origins lie in Hubal, the god of the moon. Whether Allah was derived from the Sumerian Nanna or not is buried in the sands of time.
Josephus says that Abram “began to have higher notions of virtue than others.” Perhaps he was distressed with the wickedness around him, which included human sacrifice. He rejected the notion that there were many gods, and began to tell others that there was one God, and he was the creator of the universe. His neighbors rejected that notion. Perhaps it was for that reason that God called him out of the land of his birth. Rather than compromising his beliefs and living with the Sumerians, he chose to reject what he knew, in favor of the unknown, and the promises that God made to him.
Would it be Easy to Leave?
It probably wasn’t easy for Abram to leave the country of his birth. As a wealthy individual living in the city of Ur, he probably had access to material things there that made his life better. After he left for Canaan, he lived in tents, instead of in a nice house in a walled city. He no longer had the support of his extended family. He had no idea where he was going, and no promises of safety (other than those given by God). It must have taken a good deal of courage to give up what he had, but three religions look up to him as the father of their faith because he did.
Bauer, Susan Wise. The Story of the World Volume 1. Peace Hill Press, 2007. pp. 32-34.
Bible. Genesis 11:27-12:4.
Helstad, Lillian. “Sacrifices in the Sumerian Culture”.
History of Sumer. Wikipedia.
Josephus. The Antiquities of the Jews. Book 1 Chapter 7 section 1.
Roberts, J.M. The Penguin History of the World. Penguin Books, 1992. pp. 49-60.
Sin (Mythology). Wikipedia.