Is he a collected group of legends and myths “collapsed” into one biblical character? Is he exactly as the Bible portrays? Somewhat like the Bible portrays? What is known of this great Patriarch comes not from the ground, but from the mouth and written word.
Despite archaeology’s inability to prove his existence, three of the world’s most powerful religions all claim the father of many nations as their own. Islam, Judaism, and Christianity all trace their roots back to Abram and his offspring – Ishmael or Isaac.
He was the founder, or at least the earliest and most popular adherent of Monotheism (the belief in one god) history can provide. Monotheism stood in contrast to Polytheism, the belief in many gods – by far the most popular form of worship in antiquity. He was the first missionary, in the sense of serving God in a foreign land. He is listed in the New Testament as a model of faith and obedience to God.
Yet, he is a mystery in the world of archaeology. Little to nothing exists of him in a tradition outside of Islam, Judaism and Christianity. Though it is widely agreed upon that he did exist, the details of his life are still in debate.
It is known that mass migrations did occur, around 2000 – 1880 B.C.E., from Mesopotamia to Canaan, the route Abram is said to have traveled in Genesis. It is also widely agreed upon that, whether he existed as an actual historical figure or a composite of many different stories, him and his family more than likely emerged from a Semitic speaking tribe, located in Mesopotamia, though the exact location is widely debated.
His birth is associated with Ur, of the Chaldeans. This phrase, “of the Chaldeans” was a later addition to add context for the readers of that particular time. The Chaldeans were not in existence during the time of Abraham.
The Chaldeans were a tribe which lived on the shores of the Persian Gulf. They did not arrive in southern Mesopotamia until the end of the second millennium, whereas the time of Terah and Abram was much earlier, closer to the beginning of that time period.
Many scholars claim the intent of the author was to identify Ur to readers of the Bible in the first millennium B.C. However, another theory remains which claims this word, “Chaldeans”, is actually a mistranslation of the Hebrew word Kasdim, which is the Old Testament word for Babylonian.
Regardless, the exact location of Ur depends on what perspective one is looking through. To Jews and Christians, Ur is associated with the capital of ancient Sumer. Muslims, however, associate Ur with Sanliurfa, an area in southern Turkey. Still, others claim the actual location of Ur is unknown. Zechariah Sitchin offered the theory Abraham was born in Nippur, and Terah later moved the family to Ur in Southern Mesopotamia.
The Bible is the most complete account of this extraordinary man’s life. The book of Genesis records his movements from the time of God’s calling him at the age of 75, until his death at 175. Most frame the historical time period of Abraham anywhere from ca. 2200 – 1900 BC.