Bryant G. Wood

The names of many rulers and officials are recorded in the Bible. Many of these individuals are known to us through the discoveries of archaeology. In this column, which we hope to continue in future issues of Bible and Spade, we will explore the extra-Biblical evidence for persons named in the Bible. We will begin with Abraham’s ancestors Serug, Nahor and Terah. First, a few general remarks.

In the early periods of Bible history before the Monarchy, there are very few extra-Biblical sources that bear directly on people and events named in the Old Testament. As a result, nearly all the archaeological references to Biblical personages are from the time of the Monarchy in the first millennium BC. One place we might expect to find allusions to early kings named in the Bible is Egypt, whose history is well documented. Abraham went to Egypt to find relief from famine and, while there, came in contact with the pharaoh (Gn 12:10–20). Likewise, the Israelites came in contact with several pharaohs during the period of the Sojourn (Gn 39-Ex 14).

The difficulty here, however, is that the proper names of the pharaohs in question are not stated in the Old Testament. This is in keeping with Egyptian practice. Until the tenth century BC the title “Pharaoh” was used alone without a proper name. From the tenth century on, “Pharaoh” plus a proper name became the convention (Kitchen 1986). This later usage is also properly reflected in the Bible. The names of Shishak (1 Kgs 14:25, ca. 925 BC), So (2 Kgs 17:4, ca. 725 BC), Tirhakah (2 Kgs 19:9, ca. 688 BC), Neco (2 Kgs 23:29, ca. 609 BC) and Hophra (Jer 44:30, ca. 587 BC) are given for the latter period.

There are, however, a number of indirect references to Bible personages before the Monarchy. Let us first consider Abraham’s forbears. In the genealogical list in Genesis 11, three of the names, Serug, Nahor and Terah, survived as names of towns in south-central Turkey near ancient Haran.

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The ancient Near East in the times of the Patriarchs.

This was the homeland of the Patriarchs, called Aram Naharaim, “Aram of the two rivers” (Gn 24:10), or Paddan Aram, “plain of Aram” (Gn 25:20). When Abraham’s family left Ur of the Chaldees to go to Canaan, they stopped at Haran for a time. From there, Abraham migrated to Canaan. Sixty-five years later (Gn 12:4; 25:20), Abraham sent his chief servant to “my country and my own relatives” (Gn 24:4) to find a wife for his son Isaac. He went to the “town of Nahor” near Haran (Gn 24:10). Still later, Isaac’s son Jacob fled to his uncle Laban in Haran to escape the wrath of his brother Esau (Gn 27:41–45).

The Town of Serug

Serug was Abraham’s great-grand-father. He became the father of Nahor when he was 30 years old and died at the ripe old age of 230 (Gn 11:22–23). The name corresponds to the place name Sarugi in Assyrian inscriptions of the seventh century BC. It lives on as modern Sürüc 56 km northwest of Haran (Cassuto 1984:252; Hess 1992).

The Town of Nahor

Abraham’s grandfather Nahor fathered Terah at age 29 and died when he was 148 (Gn 11:24–25). A town named Nahor is mentioned in Genesis 24:10 as the place where the descendants of Bethuel, another son of Nahor, lived (Gn 24:24). The town is mentioned in texts from Mari and Capadocia from the 19th-18th centuries BC, and Assyrian inscriptions from the 14th century BC. In later Assyrian records from the seventh century BC, it is called Til-Nakhiri, “Mound of

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Nahor.” Although the exact location of the place remains unknown, the numerous references in the ancient texts place it in the Balikh river valley south of Haran (Cassuto 1984:252; Wenham 1987:252).

The Town of Terah

For reasons not revealed to us, Abraham’s father Terah (or possibly his father Nahor) left his traditional homeland in the area of Haran. He and his family moved to Ur of the Chaldees, some 1100 km to the southeast where the Euphrates river flowed into the Persian Gulf. Abraham’s brother Haran was born there, and he died in Ur before the family returned to Haran. Joshua stated that Terah and his father Nahor “worshipped other gods” (Jos 24:2). Since both Ur and Haran were cult centers of the moon god Sin, perhaps Nahor and Terah were involved in the worship of this deity.

After returning to Haran, Abraham remained there until the death of his father Terah at age 205 (Gn 12:4; Acts 7:2–4). When Abraham was 75, with the call of God on his life, Abraham left Haran for Canaan. The Bible does not tell us how long Terah lived in the area of Haran. It must have been long enough for him to become established and well known, however, since a town was named after him. Til Turahi, “Mound of Terah,” is mentioned in ninth-century BC Assyrian texts as being north of Haran on the Balikh river (Westerman 1984:564).

Even though there are no direct references to Abraham’s predecessors outside the Bible, archaeologists have recovered a number of ancient texts that allude to cities named after them. These are days of extreme skepticism in the historical validity of the early portions of the Old Testament. It is refreshing to find scholars that acknowledge this striking evidence for the reality of Serug, Nahor and Terah, forefathers of Abraham, the “father of faith” (Heb 11:8–12).


Cassuto, U.

1984 A Commentary on the Book of Genesis, Part II. Jerusalem: The Magnes Press.

Hess, R.S.

1992 Serug. Pp. 1117–1118 in The Anchor Bible Dictionary, vol. 5, ed. D.N. Freedman. New York: Doubleday.

Kitchen, K.A.

1986 Pharaoh. P. 821 in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, rev. ed., vol. 3, ed. G.W. Bromiley. Grand Rapids MI: Eerdmans.

Wenham, G.J.

1987 Word Biblical Commentary, Vol. 1, Genesis 1–15. Waco TX: Word Books.

Westerman, C.

1984 Genesis 1–11 :A Commentary. Minneapolis: Augsberg Publishing House.