The Book of Genesis says that Abraham was from Ur Kasdim. Usually English translations renders it "Ur of the Chaldees/Chaldeans". It is impossible for Kasdim to mean Chaldeans if the Torah was written by Moses since the Chaldeans only came to Mesopotamia around 8th century BCE. And Abraham cannot be Sumerian (Ur was a Sumerian city) since Sumerians were not semetic people. So what was Abraham's ethnicity?

  • 2
    Sumer was the name of that area. Maybe Abraham was a part of the group who lived there before Sumer? Also, who says that Abraham was of the same ethnicity as his neighbors; perhaps they were Hamitic and Abraham's family was Semitic?
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 16:54
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    @DonielF Sumerian civilization (the 1st civilization) started in the 4th millenia BCE while Abraham lived around 1800 BCE, but that's not an issue. As you said his family may be Semitic (maybe Akkadian? ) living in a Sumerian non Semitic city, but he was definitly not Chaldean.
    – mil
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 16:58
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    Doesn't this beg a definition of "ethnicity"? Are you asking about his geographical label (we talk about Native Americans even though they lived on a continent before it was named "America")? Are you asking about is family culture?
    – rosends
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 17:59
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    It occurred to me that Kesed, the forebear of Chaldea, was Abraham’s nephew (Genesis 22), so he couldn’t have been Chaldean. And @Josh Aram was still a Semite (Genesis 10).
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:40
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    How do you know that?
    – Mordechai
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 20:02

5 Answers 5


This is two questions:

1) How could the Torah describe the city of Ur as being of the Chaldeans if they didn't exist yet?

The Torah clearly describes a city in which Avraham and his father resided as being called "Ur Kasdim", so either

a) The Torah is using a "borrowed" and contemporary-to-a-future-time name (Chaldeans) in place of some proto-Babylonian people (Sumerians?) - see here for a similar example:

b) There were in fact Chaldeans at the time, and the assumption in the question is mistaken.

2) What was Avraham's ethnicity - and were the inhabitants of Ur Semitic?

Avraham was certainly descended on the male line directly from Shem and then Ever - see the details of his descent at the end of parshas Noach - so definitely Semitic in the basic sense. The inhabitants of Shinar/Bavel/Iraq were likely descended from Cham (10:10 - though it's not conclusive - and I don't know if Ur is the same as ancient Shinar). This doesn't contradict Avraham's being Semitic as:

a) His father was an immigrant from "Semite-land" - possibly Syria/Aram/Charan (see Ramban who proves this from Avraham being Semitic and not a Hamitic Chaldean - like the questioner does)

b) There were always descendants of Shem living in Ur- possibly who had never left there (see 10:11).


Some more information on the naming of Ur, and the ancestry of the Kasdim:

I had a look at R' Aryeh Kaplan z"l's Living Torah Chumash (a good source for this kind of thing) and brings the following sources:

1) In a comment on the first mention of Ur Kasdim, Redak writes:

באור כשדים: שהיום נקרא אור כשדים, כי באותו הזמן לא נולד כשד שיקראו בניו כשדים.

That is: The Kasdim/Chaldeans were descended from Avraham's nephew Kesed, and the city was not yet called Ur Kasdim as he wasn't born yet.

2) Josephus and the the apocryphal Book of Jubilees associate Kasdim with Arphachshad - son of Shem.

Jubilees (11:3) writes that Ur son of Kesed (presumably Arpachshad) founded the city around three hundred years before the birth of Avraham. Though this source carries little weight, from both Jewish and academic perspectives, the approach would allow for a Semitic Ur at the time of Avraham.

  • Kesed was Avraham’s nephew, so your proposal that the name is anachronistic must be correct.
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 0:55
  • @DonielF Makes sense - though are we sure that Kesed was the ancestor of the Kasdim?
    – AKA
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 22:24
  • Holds up for every other nation. Why should they be different?
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 22:24
  • Because Kesed is quite far down the chain of generations - all the other "progenitors" are further up closer to Noach (like Ashur, Kush, Cana'an), and the implication of the pesukim is that they were the ancestors of civilization. Avraham's family just seems to be a bunch of ordinary people.
    – AKA
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 22:27
  • What about Edom, Moav, Amon, Yishmael, Midyan, etc.? Plenty of nations come from Avraham’s family.
    – DonielF
    Commented Nov 12, 2019 at 22:28

According to Genesis 14:13, Abraham was a Hebrew (’ivri).

Radak ad loc. explains this as a reference to Abraham’s ancestor Eber.

  • Good answer. What about "my ancestor was a wandering Aramean", though? Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 18:25
  • "Lavan the Arameanian tried to destroy my forefather" (Onkolos, Rashi, Hagada). And that's his nationality, not ethnicity.
    – Mordechai
    Commented Nov 11, 2019 at 19:24

Avraham was a Hebrew. The Torah calls him a Hebrew (Breishis 14:13) and he was a descendent of Eber who founded the Hebrew nation and language. He was born from the Hebrew people in Ur Kasdim and professed beleif in G-d at the age of 3 according to midrash tanchuma.

  • Additionally, we might add that Abraham discovered G-d. The Midrash about Abraham breaking his father's idols is not in the Bible.
    – Turk Hill
    Commented Mar 23, 2021 at 17:50

Scholar feel that the term Chaldees is anachronistic because the Chaldeans did not exist in the days of the patriarchs. It is possible that the term Chaldeans means "Abraham came from where the modern Chaldeans now live" or, it is possible that there was an early group of people who called themselves Chaldeans. Whatever the case, the Bible says that Abraham came from Ur of the Chaldees.

Regarding your second question, Shem was still alive during much of Abraham's lifetime. In fact, some commentaries feel that Shem was Melchizedek. In any case, Abraham was a descendant of Shem, he was a semite. But Abraham was not the first Jew because Judaism did not yet exist.


Rabbi Uri Sherqi suggests that Terah was originally from כנען, which would make it likely that Abraham was born there and/or raised with a Canaanite ethnicity. Why else would they specifically seek to go there?

Alternatively, Abraham is a Shemite as is written explicitly in the Torah. This question could benefit from a precise definition for “ethnicity”.

  • But isn't Canaan a descendant of Ham and Avraham from Shem?
    – mil
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 12:28
  • @mil The fact that Avraham was born in and/or raised with a Canaanite ethnicity does not mean he is of Canaanite lineage. Google “define ethnicity” to see the nuances between ethnicity and race/lineage. Hence the call for clarification at the end of my answer.
    – Lee
    Commented Nov 23, 2019 at 18:33

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