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According to midrash Pirkei De Rabbi Eliezer.26.2

"The second trial was when he was put into prison for ten years—three years in Kuthi, seven years in Budri. After ten years they sent and brought him forth and cast him into the furnace of fire, and the King of Glory put forth His right hand and delivered him from the furnace of fire, as it is said, "And he said to him, I am the Lord who brought thee out of the furnace of the Chaldees" (Gen. 15:7). Another verse (says), "Thou art the Lord the God, who didst choose Abram, and broughtest him forth out of the furnace of the Chaldees" (Neh. 9:7)."

but in the context of The Tanakh, the word "Ur of the Chaldeans" is never used to mean "furnace" but it means "land"

Genesis 11.28 Haran died in the lifetime of his father Terah, in his native land, Ur of the Chaldeans. Genesis 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.

Genesis 15:7 And he said unto him, I am the LORD that brought thee out of Ur of the Chaldees, to give thee this land to inherit it.

It is granted that אור can mean “light” that in Aramaic means “fire.”

but Why would the The Midrashic author misinterprets its meaning in context in Tanakh “Ur or land of the Chaldeans” to mean “fire of the Chaldeans”?

Some says that such midrash is intended for moral edification, teachings lessons, etc. It is not intended to augment historical statement or fact about the events discussed.

any hints?

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  • Welcome to MiYodeya Ariel and thanks for this first question. Since MY is different from other sites you might be used to, see here for a guide which might help understand the site. Great to have you learn with us!
    – mbloch
    Feb 27, 2023 at 4:14
  • The Targum Yonasan also translates it as: And He said to him, I am the L-rd who brought thee out of the fiery furnace of the Kasdai, to give thee this land to inherit. Besides that, as you write, Ohr can also mean fire.
    – Shmuel
    Feb 27, 2023 at 12:43
  • "but in the context of The Tanakh, the word 'Ur of the Chaldeans' is never used to mean 'furnace' but it means 'land'" If 'Ur' in the context of "Ur of the Chaldeans" only means 'land', why doesn't the text use the more common 'Eretz Kasdim' (ארץ כשדים, land of the Chaldeans)?
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 7, 2023 at 9:04

2 Answers 2

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Why would the The Midrashic author misinterprets its meaning in context in Tanakh “Ur or land of the Chaldeans” to mean “fire of the Chaldeans”?

We do not actually know that אוּר כַּשְׂדִּים properly translates to "Land of the Chaldeans". So it isn't quite accurate to deem it a "misinterpretation" when Hazal deem it the furnace of the Kasdim (or fiery furnace of the Kasdim,אתון נורא דכשדאי, as found in Targum Yonathan Gen. 15:7 as pointed out by @Shmuel in the comments).

Throughout the ages, various interpretations have arisen. For example, the (non-canonical) Book of Jubilees 11:3 writes:

And 'Ûr, the son of Kesed, built the city of 'Ara of the Kasdim, and called its name after his own name and the name of his father. And they made for themselves molten images, and they worshipped each the idol, the molten image which they had made for themselves, and they began to make graven images and unclean simulacra, and malignant spirits assisted and seduced (them) into committing transgression and uncleanness.

According to this, אוּר כַּשְׂדִּים is a compound name referring to its eponymous founder (אור) and his father (כשד).

Don Isaac Abarbanel (Gen. 11:27) suggests the basis for the common translation (i.e. Land of the Chaldees) but also introduces additional possibilities:

היותה מתישב בעניני אור כשדים שאינו ארץ כשדים אלא שם מקום בעבר הנהר ... והנה נקרא כן אור כשדים אם מפני ... שכבשוהו כשדיים כמו שכתב הר"ן וכבר כתב הראב"ע שפי' אור בקעה ...ויהיה ענין השם בקעת הכשדים שנתפשטו עדיו לשלול שלל ולבוז בז. ואם לסבת האש שנוסה בו אברהם במצות מלך כשדים. והיותר נכון הוא מה שכתבו חכמי האומות שהיו הכשדים במקום ההוא עובדים את האש ואת השמש המולך עליו ולכן קראוהו אור כשדים

Concerning reconciling the fact that Ur Kasdim is not actually in the land of the Kasdim [Chaldeans], rather it is the name of a place in Transeuphratia [‘ever ha-nahar]… it is called “Ur Kasdim” since the Chaldeans conquered it, as the Ran and Ibn Ezra explain, “ur” as region… and so the crux of naming it the region of the Chaldeans is that it was intended to disgrace and shame [the original inhabitants]. An additional reason may be because of the fire by which Abraham was tested by the king of the Chaldees. And what is more correct, is that which is written by the nations [i.e. gentile scholars], that the Chaldees in that place worshiped the Fire and the Sun which ruled over them, and they accordingly called it Ur Kasdim.

A later interpretation that seems to synthesize the previous suggestions came from Isaac b. Menasseh (Conciliator, p. 57):

The sons of those from whom Abram was descended inherited other territories; but what is more probable this Ur of the Chaldees (or Kasdim) was a city of Aram Naharaim, and derived its name from כשד Kesed, one of Nahor's sons, a descendant of Shem ; and although he was not then born, yet the Scripture, anticipating the future, gave it that name from the beginning, as speaking of the Hiddekel it states, " that is it which goeth to the east of Assyria,", at a time when the appellations of Assyrians and Assyria were unknown. אור " Ur" meaning in Hebrew fire ; it may likewise be said that Nimrod, the king of the Chaldeans, being the chief priest of fire worship, decreed that whoever would not serve it should be consumed by it ; and as Abram was thrown into it by virtue of this edict, it was called the Fire of the Chaldees,

To this day, scholars debate where אוּר כַּשְׂדִּים is and whether it corresponds to a known place. And there has been no settled conclusion as to the interpretation/translation of the name. So when the Midrash offers its own basis, that the place is known by the furnace from which Abraham our Patriarch escaped, there is nothing that inherently contradicts that. It is another voice, asserting its place.

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  • thanx for the helpful answer
    – Ariel55
    Mar 6, 2023 at 20:13
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Welcome! There are four times on tnach that אור כשדים – Ohr Kasdim is mentioned.

  1. Bereshit 11 Haran died before his father Terach, in the land of his birth, in Ur Kasdim.
  2. Bereshit 11 Terach took his son, Avram, and his grandson, Lot, the son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law, Sarai, the wife of Avram. And they set out with them from Ur Kasdim to go to the land of Canaan, and they came to Charan and dwelled there.
  3. Bereshit 15 He said to him, "I am Hashem who brought you out of Ur Kasdim to give you this land to inherit."
  4. Nechemyah 9 You are Hashem the God, who chose Abram, and brought him forth out of Ur of the Chaldees, and gave him the name of Abraham,

The verse in source 3 and 4 are referring to the first two verses. So we will not delve into them. The Torah did not need to write the birth place and ur kasdim, it could have written one or neither. In source 2 we need not to know where they were coming from as it is obvious from the previous verses where they were coming from. The words ur kasdim seems extra. The Rabbinic explanation to these extra words is by understanding the extra story about Abrahm being thrown into a fire. Piriki Dr`Eliezer is a Mirdashic work and will understand the verses in a metaphysical way. Hence it will not even suggest that it is primarily referring to the physical place of Ur Cassdim.

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