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CHAPTER I.

ABRAM'S BIRTHPLACE.

Ur; Chaldæa : its aspect ; Former fertility ; Religion of its inhabitants ;

Population ; Civilization-Abram born - His family-Selection of a centre of true religion-Legends of Abram's early life—Truth under

lying such myths. SOME five thousand years ago, when civilization first visited the alluvial plain of Babylon, and the Babylonian monarchy came into existence, the Persian Gulf extended inward far beyond its present limits, and sites now more than a hundred miles distant from the sea were then close to the coast, and enjoyed all the advantages and participated in all the dangers of such proximity. The alluvium brought down by the two great rivers, the Tigris and Euphrates, encroaches on the gulf with marvellous rapidity. The present rate of increase is estimated at one mile every seventy years, and it is upon grounds satisfactory to geologists considered that the average growth during the historic period has been as much as a mile in every thirty years. We must take this fact into account in estimating the extent of the country called Chaldæa and the position of many of its towns. Among the cities which were thus placed was that which is called in the Bible “Ur of the Chaldees,” now known as Mugheir, situated on the right bank of the Euphrates, some six miles distant from the stream, and nearly opposite the point where the river Shat-el-Hie, which comes from the Tigris,

· Prof. Rawlinson, “Ancient Monarchies," i. 4.

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joins the Euphrates.' The name Ur, or Uru, is the Semitic form of the Accadian eri, meaning "city," ? and was probably given ,

; to this place as being the most important in the locality or as the first settled dwelling of its once roving inhabitants. It was, in fact, the capital of one of the oldest of the pre-Semitic dynasties, though it had probably passed into the hands of the Semitic Casdim(Chaldees) before this time. Of course, this adjunct, Casdim, does not appertain to the original name, but is an explanation added by the Hebrew narrator. The modern name of this place means “the bitumined,” and is appropriate owing to the quantity of bitumen which is found in the neighbourhood. If it was not actually on the coast, it was placed so low down the Euphrates as to be practically a maritime town and to serve as the port of Babylonia. The native inscriptions constantly speak of the ships of Ur and of the brisk commerce carried on by its inhabitants.3 It was a city of great importance, and B.C. 2000 was the capital of a powerful monarch called Urukh, or Lig-Bagas (for the reading is uncertain),+ who founded the great temple dedicated to the moon-god, Hurki, the remains of which are still to be seen. This monarch was an independent sovereign, and exercised a sway over a tract of country extending as far north as Niffer, the ancient Calneh. The magnificence of his buildings and the extent of his constructive operations prove him to have possessed large resources and high conceptions. A mistaken tradition, followed by many commentators ancient and modern, identified Ur with the Greek Edessa, the modern Orfa, which seems to have had the name Orrha at one time. This city, situated in Upper Mesopotamia, which became famous in Christian times as the capital of that king Abgarus who is supposed to have written a letter to Christ, still retains some traditions of Abraham in the names of its mosque and lake. But all the most probable notices that have come down to us place Ur in Chaldæa proper, the alluvial country on the Persian Gulf; and there can be no reasonable doubt that Mug

? This identification, which we owe to late researches, removes the necessity for discussing at length the claims of other cities to be the birthplace of Abram.

; Prof. Sayce, "Fresh Light from the Monuments," p. 46; Rawlinson, “ Ancient Monarchies," i. 6.

3 Prof. Rawlinson, “ Monthly Interpreter," ii. 331. * See Prof. Sayce's note in G. Smith's “ History of Babylonia," p. 72.

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