Abraham's Early Life and Travels to Canaan

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20120502-737px-Schnorr_von_Carolsfeld_Bibel_in_Bildern_1860_027.pngAbraham was born under the name Abram in the Sumer city of Ur in Mesopotamia (in present day Iraq). According to Genesis, Abraham was the great, great, great, great, great, great, great, great grandson of Noah and was married to Sarah. Genesis 11:17-28 reads, “Terah Begot Abram, Nahor, and Haran, and Haran begot Lot. And Haran died in the lifetime of Terah his Father in the land of his birth, Ur of Chaldees.” The name Abraham later was given to Abram by God. The name means “ancestor of a multitude.”

A number of other places claim to be Abraham’s birthplace. In Urfa (Şanliurfa) — a very old town in Turkey near the Syrian border — people say Abraham was born in a cave and smashed figures of local deities at the time of his first birthday at age 12. For this a local king ordered him burned. Just as the flames were set a pool of water miraculously appeared to douse the flames. Today, the water that sits at the site where this reportedly took place is called the Pools of the Sacred Carp.

According to Muslim tradition, his father Terah sold idols. In the Koran young Abraham smashes the idols in his father shop, an early sign of his fealty to one God. Late Abraham asks for God’s forgiveness. In another episode in the Koran Abraham escaped from a fiery furnace to which he been sent for expressing his devotion to Allah.

Websites and Resources: Bible and Biblical History: Bible Gateway and the New International Version (NIV) of The Bible biblegateway.com ; King James Version of the Bible gutenberg.org/ebooks ; Bible History Online bible-history.com ; Biblical Archaeology Society biblicalarchaeology.org ; Judaism Virtual Jewish Library jewishvirtuallibrary.org/index ; Judaism101 jewfaq.org ; torah.org torah.org ; Chabad,org chabad.org/library/bible ; Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu Christianity: BBC on Christianity bbc.co.uk/religion/religions/christianity ; Christian Classics Ethereal Library www.ccel.org ; Sacred Texts website sacred-texts.com ; Internet Ancient History Sourcebook: Christian Origins sourcebooks.fordham.edu ; Biblical Images: Bible in Pictures creationism.org/books ; Bible Blue Letter Images blueletterbible.org/images ; Biblical Images preceptaustin.org

Abraham’s Story in the Old Testament

Abraham's journey

Genesis 11:26 And Terah lived seventy years, and begat Abram, Nahor, and Haran. 11:27 Now these are the generations of Terah: Terah begat Abram [Abraham], Nahor, and Haran; and Haran begat Lot. 11:28 And Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his nativity, in Ur of the Chaldees. 11:29 And Abram and Nahor took them wives: the name of Abram's wife was Sarai; and the name of Nahor's wife, Milcah, the daughter of Haran, the father of Milcah, and the father of Iscah. 11:30 But Sarai was barren; she had no child. 11:31 And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his son's son, and Sarai his daughter in law, his son Abram's wife; and they went forth with them from Ur of the Chaldees, to go into the land of Canaan; and they came unto Haran, and dwelt there. 11:32 And the days of Terah were two hundred and five years: and Terah died in Haran.

12:1 Now the LORD had said unto Abram, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father's house, unto a land that I will shew thee: 12:2 And I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: 12:3 And I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all families of the earth be blessed.

12:4 So Abram departed, as the LORD had spoken unto him; and Lot went with him: and Abram was seventy and five years old when he departed out of Haran. 12:5 And Abram took Sarai his wife, and Lot his brother's son, and all their substance that they had gathered, and the souls that they had gotten in Haran; and they went forth to go into the land of Canaan; and into the land of Canaan they came.

12:6 And Abram passed through the land unto the place of Sichem, unto the plain of Moreh. And the Canaanite was then in the land. 12:7 And the LORD appeared unto Abram, and said, Unto thy seed will I give this land: and there builded he an altar unto the LORD, who appeared unto him. 12:8 And he removed from thence unto a mountain on the east of Bethel, and pitched his tent, having Bethel on the west, and Hai on the east: and there he builded an altar unto the LORD, and called upon the name of the LORD. 12:9 And Abram journeyed, going on still toward the south.

Abraham in Harran


According to Genesis Abraham, his father Terah, his wife Sara and his orphaned nephew Lot moved from Ur to Harran, 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) away in present-day Turkey. The journey probably took months.

The Koran and Jewish tradition suggest the following reason for Abraham’s departure from Ur: King Nimrod of Ur (or Babylon) tried to have young Abraham burned alive for refusing to worship local gods. Divine forces intervened to protect him. According to a Jewish story King Nimrod was told a prophet that a man would rise up against him and his pagan religion and Nimrod believed that Abraham might be this man and forced him to flee.

Terah led the family to Haran but it was Abraham that received the call from God in Ur. “Acts 7:2-3-2 reads: And 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, 3 And said unto him, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and come into the land which I shall shew thee. “Before Abraham ever went to Haran...God had already spoke to him about the land to come. Harran served as a kind of layover and was not the place that God had for him...God reminds him in Gen. 12 of the place that he has for him and his family, and Abraham trusts God by Faith.

In Haran Abraham’s father died and God spoke to Abraham. According to Genesis 12:1 God speaks to 75-year-old Abraham and commands him: “Go forth from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house to the land that I will show you. And I make you a great nation and I will bless those who bless you. And curse him that curses you. And all of the families of the earth shall bless themselves by you.” Abraham obeyed God and left Haran.

Haran was abandoned shortly after Abraham's time and reoccupied around the 7th century B.C. Archaeologist Barry Beitzel told U.S. News and World Report, "It's highly improbable" that someone inventing the story later "would have chosen Haran as a key location when the town hadn't existed for hundreds of years."

References to Abraham of Ur in Mesopotamian Tablets

Abraham hired an ox, Abraham leased a farm, Abraham paid part of his rent, how Abraham — Abraham of Ur of Chaldees — might have moved to Canaan are all texts derived from Mesopotamian cuneiform tablets. The Abraham referred to here is probably not of the Biblical Abraham but the texts on the tablets offers some insight into life during Abraham’s time. The Biblical Abraham had a different father and worshipped only one god. [Source: Fertile Crescent Travel, George Barton, Archaeology and the Bible 7th edition, American Sunday-School Union. p. 344-345]

Abraham weighs silver

Abraham Leased a Farm
To the patrician speak,
Saying, Gimil-Marduk (wishes that)
Shamash and Marduk may give thee health!
Mayest thou have peace, mayest thou have health!
May the god who protects thee thy head in luck
(To enquire) concerning thy health I am sending.
May thy welfare before Shamash and Marduk
be eternal!

Abraham of Ur Buys an Oxen and Travels to Palestine
Abraham Hired an Ox:
One ox broken to the yoke,
An ox from Ibri-sin, son of Sin-imgurani,
From Ibni-sin
through the agency of Kishti-Nabium,
son of Eteru,
Abarama, son of Awel-Ishtar,
for one month has hired.
For one month
one shekel of silver
he will pay.
Of it 1/2 shekel of silver
from the hand of

Abraham’s Travels to Canaan

Abraham spent much of his life wandering. From Haran he went to Damascus in present-day Syria, and Dan (where he freed a captured nephew) and Shechem and Jerusalem in Canaan (present-day Israel) before being driven by famine into Egypt in search of food.

20120502-Abraham_Goes_to_the_Land_of_Canaan.jpg Abraham may have used donkeys as pack animals and traveled with them in a caravan. The Bible said he used camels but they were not used as domesticated pack animals at the time when Abraham most likely made his journey.

The Bible described Canaan as a Promised Land, “flowing with milk and honey.” At that time Canaan more or less coincided with modern Israel and the West Bank, minus the Negev desert. It was known as “the land of purple” because people there made a unique purple dye from a local shellfish.

In Canaan, God appeared to Abraham and told him: “To your seed I will give this land.” To show his appreciation Abraham built an altar to the Lord in Shechem. (present-day Nablus in the West Bank). Archaeologists working in Nablus have unearthed some very old altars in the Nablus area but there is no evidence that any of them are linked to Abraham in any way. From Shechem, Abraham and his group went to the “high country east of Bethel” and raised another altar. From there they went south into the Negev desert and suffered. For info on the Canaanites See FIRST HEBREWS, CANAANITES AND PHILISTINES

Abraham in Egypt

Abraham and his family crossed the Sinai into Egypt. During the trip Abraham began to worry that Sarah’s great beauty might cause some trouble with the Egyptians so she pretended to be his sister.Abraham said, “They will kill me while they will let you live. Say, please, that you are my sister...and I shall stay alive because of you.”

The ploy resulted in Sarah being taken into the Pharaoh’s harem: “Pharaoh’s courtiers saw her and praised here to Pharaoh, and the woman was taken into the Pharaoh’s house.” God punished the Pharaoh by inflicting plagues on the his kingdom.

The Pharaoh was understandably angry. He said, “What is this you have done to me? Why did you not tell me she was your wife? Why did you say, “She’s my sister,” so that I took her to me as wife? Now, here is your wife. Take her and get out!” There is no mention of Abraham in the long and detailed Egyptian historical record.

20120502-Abraham and tree men.jpg Genesis 12:10 And there was a famine in the land: and Abram went down into Egypt to sojourn there; for the famine was grievous in the land. 12:11 And it came to pass, when he was come near to enter into Egypt, that he said unto Sarai his wife, Behold now, I know that thou art a fair woman to look upon: 12:12 Therefore it shall come to pass, when the Egyptians shall see thee, that they shall say, This is his wife: and they will kill me, but they will save thee alive. 12:13 Say, I pray thee, thou art my sister: that it may be well with me for thy sake; and my soul shall live because of thee. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

12:14 And it came to pass, that, when Abram was come into Egypt, the Egyptians beheld the woman that she was very fair. 12:15 The princes also of Pharaoh saw her, and commended her before Pharaoh: and the woman was taken into Pharaoh's house. 12:16 And he entreated Abram well for her sake: and he had sheep, and oxen, and he asses, and menservants, and maidservants, and she asses, and camels.

12:17 And the LORD plagued Pharaoh and his house with great plagues because of Sarai Abram's wife. 12:18 And Pharaoh called Abram and said, What is this that thou hast done unto me? why didst thou not tell me that she was thy wife? 12:19 Why saidst thou, She is my sister? so I might have taken her to me to wife: now therefore behold thy wife, take her, and go thy way. 12:20 And Pharaoh commanded his men concerning him: and they sent him away, and his wife, and all that he had.

Abraham Leaves Egypt and Settles in Canaan

Abraham returned to Canaan from Egypt rich with silver, gold and cattle. God appeared and told him “raise your eyes and look out from the place where you are to the north and the south and east and the west, for all the land you see. All the land you see will give it and to your seed forever.” To express his thanks Abraham built an altar in Hebron.

Genesis 13:1 And Abram went up out of Egypt, he, and his wife, and all that he had, and Lot with him, into the south. 13:2 And Abram was very rich in cattle, in silver, and in gold. 13:3 And he went on his journeys from the south even to Bethel, unto the place where his tent had been at the beginning, between Bethel and Hai; 13:4 Unto the place of the altar, which he had make there at the first: and there Abram called on the name of the LORD. [Source: King James Version of the Bible, gutenberg.org]

13:5 And Lot also, which went with Abram, had flocks, and herds, and tents. 13:6 And the land was not able to bear them, that they might dwell together: for their substance was great, so that they could not dwell together. 13:7 And there was a strife between the herdmen of Abram's cattle and the herdmen of Lot's cattle: and the Canaanite and the Perizzite dwelled then in the land. 13:8 And Abram said unto Lot, Let there be no strife, I pray thee, between me and thee, and between my herdmen and thy herdmen; for we be 13:9 Is not the whole land before thee? separate thyself, I pray thee, from me: if thou wilt take the left hand, then I will go to the right; or if thou depart to the right hand, then I will go to the left.

13:14 And the LORD said unto Abram, after that Lot was separated from him, Lift up now thine eyes, and look from the place where thou art northward, and southward, and eastward, and westward: 13:15 For all the land which thou seest, to thee will I give it, and to thy seed for ever. 13:16 And I will make thy seed as the dust of the earth: so that if a man can number the dust of the earth, then shall thy seed also be numbered. 13:17 Arise, walk through the land in the length of it and in the breadth of it; for I will give it unto thee. 13:18 Then Abram removed his tent, and came and dwelt in the plain of Mamre, which is in Hebron, and built there an altar unto the LORD.

Abraham and Lot

Abraham and his men and Lot quarreled over grazing rights. A compromise was worked out in which Abraham told Lot, “Let is part company. If you take the left hand, then I shall go right, and if you take the right hand, I shall go left. Lot headed with his animals to Sodom and Abraham settled in Canaan.” In Chapter 13, Lot heads off for the "the whole plain of Jordan" in which "all of it is well-watered." Archaeologists have discovered evidence of an extensive irrigation system in Jordan that dates back to Abraham's time.

20120502-abraham_lot1 blueletterbible.org.jpg
Abraham and Lot
Abraham wandered in the desert with his animals but in time became wealthy, and distinguished himself as a war king and diplomat. After Lot was captured by enemies of the kings of Sodom and Gomorrah, Abraham and his men rescued him during a night time raid.

In Chapter 19, Lot rests at a gateway of Canaanite city with a large chamber where people gathered to hang out, gossip and do business. Many Canaanite cities did possess such a chamber.

After the rescue of Lot, the high priest and king of Canaan gave Abraham wine and bread and declared: “Blessed be Abraham by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth, and blessed he God Most High who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”


Image Sources: Wikimedia, Commons, Schnorr von Carolsfeld Bible in Bildern, 1860

Text Sources: Internet Jewish History Sourcebook sourcebooks.fordham.edu “World Religions” edited by Geoffrey Parrinder (Facts on File Publications, New York); “ Encyclopedia of the World’s Religions” edited by R.C. Zaehner (Barnes & Noble Books, 1959); “Old Testament Life and Literature” by Gerald A. Larue, New International Version (NIV) of The Bible, biblegateway.com; Wikipedia, National Geographic, BBC, New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Smithsonian magazine, Times of London, The New Yorker, Reuters, AP, AFP, Lonely Planet Guides, and various books and other publications.

Last updated March 2024

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