Is the Bible the “Word of God?”

“Chaldeans” Is Anachronistic

Revised: 2018 Jan 24

Moses could not have written the book of Genesis as we know it today because the author refers to “Ur of the Chaldeans” (Heb. כַּשְׂדִּים [kasdim], Gen. 11:28, 31; 15:7, NRSV throughout). The Chaldeans did not rise to prominence until centuries after the time of Moses:

…the rich documentation [relating to Ur] records nothing about Chaldeans in southern Babylonia before about the beginning of the first millennium B.C.E., and this people did not become the ruling caste until the seventh-sixth centuries B.C.E.[1]

Although always called ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ (KJV ‘Chaldees’) in the Bible, the Chaldeans (Kasdim) did not enter Babylonia until ca. 1000 [BCE.].”[2]

The Chaldeans were a group of five tribes who became dominant in Babylonia during the late sixth century BCE. They are not mentioned by name in any source before the ninth century, which makes the biblical phrase ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ relatively late.[3]

‘Chaldeans’ in Genesis probably is an explanatory addition, identifying Abram’s city in the region of Chaldea in southern Babylonia.[4]

The term ‘Chaldeans’ probably dates from the period 1000–500 B.C. and has been added to distinguish this Ur from similarly named cities in northern Mesopotamia…‘Chaldeans’ refers to the Kaldu people who settled in southern Babylonia from about 1200 B.C. onward.[5]

The city came to be known as ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ after the Chaldeans entered southern Babylonia after 1000 B.C. References to ‘Ur of the Chaldeans’ in connection with Abraham are thus examples of later editorial updating.[6]

The phrase of the Chaldeans is a later editorial clarification for the readers, designating the location of Ur. From all evidence there would have been no Chaldeans in existence at this early date; they are known in the time of the neo-Babylonian empire in the first millennium B.C.[7]

Commentaries describe the textual revision as an “explanatory addition,” “editorial updating” and a “later editorial clarification.” All mean essentially the same thing — someone has edited the text. An extra word here and there added for clarification may seem harmless and even helpful. However, this seemingly innocuous revision presents a major problem — as soon as it can be demonstrated scripture has been altered in any way, we are compelled to wonder what else has been changed.

Some have argued Moses was a prophet, and God most certainly could have inspired him to write about events in the future. However, this suggestion does not always solve the problem. For instance, consider the occurrence of “Ur of the Chaldeans” in chapter 15:7 where the text is presented as a direct quotation from God:

I am the LORD who brought you from Ur of the Chaldeans, to give you this land to possess.

If God actually said this, Abraham would have been baffled. He had never heard of the Chaldeans. Why would God say such a thing? Evidently, our Bibles are telling us God said something he simply did not say. Or, should we stubbornly insist God was speaking in anachronistic terms neither Abraham nor Moses could have understood? If the text claimed Abraham used a cell phone and drove a BMW, is there anyone who would not be suspicious someone had been editing the text?

Some might reluctantly concede a well-meaning scribe may have appended “of the Chaldeans” to “Ur” and casually assume the rest of the source text was left intact. Upon discovering additional anachronisms, they might dismiss them as minor and inconsequential. But, are these safe assumptions, or should a seemingly harmless “editorial clarification” alert us to the possibility the text has been extensively revised? Is it possible “Ur of the Chaldeans” is only the tip of the iceberg? Is it possible Moses didn’t write any of the book of Genesis?

[1] Nahum M. Sarna, Genesis in The JPS Torah Commentary, 87 (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989).

[2] Allen C. Myers, The Eerdmans Bible Dictionary, 1031 (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1987).

[3] James H. Platt, “Ur of the Chaldeans” in The Oxford Guide to People & Places in the Bible, 317 (New York: Oxford University Press, 2004).

[4] K. A. Mathews, vol. 1B, Genesis 11:27-50:26, electronic ed., Logos Library System; The New American Commentary, 100 (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 2007).

[5] Crossway Bibles, The ESV Study Bible, 70 (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2008).

[6] Nelson’s New Illustrated Bible Dictionary, ed. Ronald F. Youngblood, F. F. Bruce, R. K. Harrison and Thomas Nelson Publishers (Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson, Inc., 1995).

[7] Biblical Studies Press, The NET Bible First Edition; Bible. English. NET Bible.; The NET Bible (Biblical Studies Press, 2006; 2006).