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Genesis 11:31 states: וַיִּקַּ֨ח תֶּ֜רַח אֶת־אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֗וֹ וְאֶת־ל֤וֹט בֶּן־הָרָן֙ בֶּן־בְּנ֔וֹ וְאֵת֙ שָׂרַ֣י כַּלָּת֔וֹ אֵ֖שֶׁת אַבְרָ֣ם בְּנ֑וֹ וַיֵּצְא֨וּ אִתָּ֜ם מֵא֣וּר כַּשְׂדִּ֗ים לָלֶ֙כֶת֙ אַ֣רְצָה כְּנַ֔עַן וַיָּבֹ֥אוּ עַד־חָרָ֖ן וַיֵּ֥שְׁבוּ שָֽׁם׃: "And Terah took Abram his son, and Lot the son of Haran his grandson, and Sarai his daughter-in-law the wife of Abram his son; and they left together from Ur Kasdim to travel to the land of Canaan and they came until Charan and they dwelled there."

My question is why was Terah heading towards Canaan? There had not yet been any commandment for Abram to go to Canaan and Canaan was not yet the "holy land." Nor was Canaan their home country or a place where they had relatives.

I can think of an answer to this question based the Jewish Oral Tradition. Is there a way to explain Terach's attempt to travel to Canaan based solely on the text?

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The text intends to show that the Israelites have a respectable and reputable lineage, because they become after all, Egyptian slaves for nearly 400 years, which is not something you would want your mother to know about.

So the text presents Abraham as a direct descendant of Noah's righteous son Shem, through Arpachshad and Serug to another well-known and respected figure of the ancient world, Terach.

Now the problem is that Terach was known have lived in Ur Casdim, far to the east of the Promised Land. So we somehow have to move him west.

The connection is Deut 26:5 that presents Terah and his descendants as nomads. This is an important, in order to show that such respected figures could also be nomads, who don't usually get much respect from people living in agricultural settlements, and the Israelites were of course nomads to begin with. The nomadic assertion is in fact made even earlier, in Gen 9:27 which presents that Shem a tent dweller. (Other references to nomadic righteousness are to Jethro the Kenite in Exodus 18, Rahab in Joshua 2, Johonadab in II Kings 10:15-16, and Jaazaniah in Jeremiah 35.)

So we don't really need to ask the question. Of course Terach travelled to Canaan, that was the Fertile Crescent trade route and that's what nomads did.

Terach stops in Haran, in order to associate him with Laban, another Israelite family member, and from there Abraham moves further south to Canaan.

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  • Just a few problems: 1) Deut 26:5 is in reference to Jacob/Israel, not Terah (he went down into Egypt and came out populous). 2) Ur of the Chaldeans is given as the place of Haran's birth and death, and inbetween those times he had at least two children, so you have the family remaining in Ur for at least 15 years, probably much longer. 3) If Abraham was already a Nomad, then his 'call' in Genesis 12 is nonsense - "Go from your country and your kindred and your father's house to the land that I will show you." Again, the text neither tells us why Terah left nor why he stayed.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 8 '16 at 8:19
  • The language of the masoretic text of Deut 26:5 is "my father". This isn't necessarily a specific ref only to Jaacob. It is a general ref to patrimony as shown by the intent that every pilgrim in every generation should make the declaration. A long stay in a single place does not negate nomadic ethnic identification as we know from such groups as the Roma today. Abraham's call is exactly the call of nomad, similar to the when God calls the Israelites in the desert to pull up stakes and move, although they are already nomadic. Terach moved from place to place because that was his way of life.
    – user17080
    Nov 8 '16 at 8:59
  • Dt 26:5 doesn't just say "my father" was a wandering Aramean though, it also says he went down into Egypt and became a great nation, which makes it an obvious reference to Jacob. There's no scriptural evidence that Terach actually moved more than once in his life: so it's okay if you want to declare these things as part of a tradition, but I'm not seeing an exegetical case for your claims. Abraham's call is not the call of a nomad, it was a call to "leave your country/kindred/father's house" and go to a specific land. That's not a nomadic call, that's a one-time migration.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 8 '16 at 9:06
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    My interpretation and method follows that of Yair Zakovitz and the Tel Aviv school regarding Gen 9:27 and Deut 26:5 as being part of the polemic between settled agriculture and nomadic culture in early Israelite thinking. There is no need to find evidence of more than one movement for Terach because the identification through Shem has already been made. Terach's movement to Haran is just a mechanism to associate him with Laban and the Aramean ancestry. It is made plausible by the type of person that the text asserts he was. Terach was also an idol worshiper, so God has to get Abraham out.
    – user17080
    Nov 8 '16 at 9:49
  • Okay, on those grounds your interpretation is fair, and you are absolutely entitled to maintain your traditional interpretation of the text. Personally I still don't think we should draw conclusions from a single verse which says somebody will dwell in the tents of Shem, nor take from one move that Terah or Abram were from nomadic peoples. The text doesn't teach it explicitly, and so I maintain that there isn't a clear answer from hermeneutics alone.
    – Steve Taylor
    Nov 8 '16 at 10:00
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Answer based on the text

There's no motive given or hinted at in the text or elsewhere, so I'm afraid the only answer I can perceive is 'no' - there is no way to explain Terach's attempt to travel to Canaan based on the text.

Other Thoughts

As pointed out by Abu in the comments to his answer, Canaan was the heart of the 'fertile crescent' linking Eurasia with Africa, and so it's a very natural trading link. For somebody such as Terach who was relocating for any number of reasons, Canaan would be one of the most natural directions to move - it wasn't a known region to their family, but it was still a highly 'significant' area for the ancient world. It's no co-incidence that when Abram moves there he encounters ten or more kings already settled in the region (Genesis 14).

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Very simple. They were never in Sumer. Ur refers to Urfa north of Haran. It will never make any sense if you believe Abraham was from Ur III. This is a tired old belief that was

Abram was semetic and he lived in the land of the Semitics which was Aram. The ancient cities all bear the names of Abraham's family. Naḫur (Til-Naḫiri), mentioned in the Cappadocian tablets (1800-1750). Harran named after Haran. This was how all ancient cities were named at the beginning of the dispersal after the flood and these cities are all in northern Aram.

Do you really think they would have cities named after them and just get up and move to a foreign land for no reason at all? That's not how the ancient world worked, especially so close to the patriarchs when God commanded people to spread out, and separated them by nation by language by family. It's an insult to think Tereh and Abram ended up in Summer.

Also "Ur of the Chaldeans" did not exist until the 9th century BC, long after Genesis was written. There is not one single good reason why Abraham was from Ur in Sumer, but there are dozens of reasons he was from Aram, in the land of Shinar. (al-Jazira).

The association of Ur Kasdim with Muqayyar, Sumerian Urim, mostly stems from the excavations carried out by the British Museum in ther late 19th and early 20th centuries, in particular the archeologist Leonard Wooley, but rests on no hard evidence.

God bless.

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    This doesn't answer why Terach was heading towards Canaan. Canaan wasn't the land of the Semitics. Nov 30 '16 at 21:27
  • Haran and Harran are entirely unrelated in the Hebrew. The difference in the initial sounds is obscured by our Latin alphabet, but it would be like finding a gorge and wondering if it was named after King George. Nov 21 '18 at 12:53
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Interesting question. Abram received the command to leave for Canaan while he was still in Ur so Terah's trip to Canaan was actually Abram obeying God's command to leave Ur for Canaan. Read Acts 7:2 onwards.

Hope this helps.

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    Welcome to BH.SE! Please take the tour to get a feel for how the site functions. Your answer hasn't addressed the question that was asked, "*Why was Terah heading towards Canaan?". Please edit your answer to do so, or delete it and start again.
    – enegue
    Jul 16 '17 at 23:58
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The language is confused, each group on heir own. Were they confused according to their family lines or just whomever could understand each other went together?

The list we have in Genesis 10, even in genesis 11 after the language confusion, does not point out how the people were regrouped according to their understanding of each other. Seemingly, every family line was preserved: understanding each other.

I most of comments, Cush is identified with emphasis: Son of Ham. But for Nimrod, there is deviation of thoughts. Why? It sounds deceptive!

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    Welcome to BHSX. Thanks for your contribution. Please take the tour (link below) to better understand how this site works. This answer lacks evidence and references for its assertions.
    – Dottard
    Feb 3 at 10:21

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