Let’s fast forward about 1,000 years from Babel. After the tower was abandoned, it appears that a group of Sumerians traveled by sea around the Arabian peninsula, and then overland across the wadis extending west from the Red Sea to found the 1st dynasty of Egypt.
This isn’t as crazy as it sounds. Early Egyptologist William Matthew Flinders Petrie noted a sharp difference between two groups of people buried at a large site near the village of Nakada in Upper (southern) Egypt. One group had been interred with very basic grave goods in simple pits covered with palm branches. The second group had been ritually dismembered, buried in pits lined with brick along with objects of value, such as lapis lazuli jewelry, and then covered with palm logs.
Petrie eventually theorized that the second group, which he dubbed the Falcon Tribe, had invaded and conquered the native inhabitants with superior technology, such as the pear-shaped mace found buried with some in the second group. Make no mistake, in the 4th millennium BC, the pear-shaped mace was a weapon of mass destruction.
Other evidence, from artwork to architecture—for example, Egypt’s first pyramid, for the pharaoh Djoser, is clearly modeled on the Sumerian ziggurat—linked the so-called Dynastic Race with Mesopotamia. This theory was widely accepted until World War II. After Hitler, however, the Dynastic Race concept was a little too much like the Nazis’ ideas about genetics and bloodlines for comfort.
But then in 1995, Egyptologist David Rohl published his first book, A Test of Time. Rohl makes a strong case for the Dynastic Race theory, even documenting ancient graffiti in Egypt that appeared to show the Falcon Tribe carrying their boats overland from the Red Sea toward the Nile.
Now, is it a coincidence that the name of the first king of the first Egyptian dynasty, Narmer, is awfully close to that of Nimrod, the would-be emperor of Uruk? Scholars have to guess at vocalization in many cases. It’s not too much of a stretch to suggest that the names Narmer and Enmerkar (the Sumerian king who, like Nimrod, was a king of Uruk born in the second generation after the flood) were the same.
Peter D. Goodgame explored this idea in greater depth in his book Second Coming of the Antichrist. I bring it up here only to suggest one possible explanation for the decline of Uruk as a regional power at just about the time of the Tower of Babel on the timeline of history. After the humiliation at Babel, Nimrod/Enmerkar may have decided to head for new lands and a fresh start. Since his father, Cush, was apparently the founder of Ethiopia, nearby Egypt, which had been settled by Cush’s brother, Mizraim, may have been a logical place to start over.
Think about that. Did Cush throw his brother and his brother’s family under the bus to give his son, Nimrod, a new start?
By the way, the Sumerian King List mentions that the first city to receive the kingship after the flood was Kish. Remember, there are no vowels in ancient Hebrew. Could Kish have been named for Cush? And Enmerkar’s father, Mesh-ki-ang-gasher, is said to have “entered the sea and disappeared.” Maybe that’s how Sumerian scribes remembered King Cush, who sailed off into the Persian Gulf to establish a new colony with his brothers Mizraim (Egypt) and Put (Libya) in Africa.
Now, that’s all speculation. Nothing so far in this article can be established for certain. And to be honest, the Sumerian King List has way too many names between the founding of the Kish dynasty and Enmerkar for the Kish/Cush theory to work.
As the first dynasties in Egypt established themselves and began to build monuments that would surpass those left behind in Sumer, empires rose and fell between the great rivers Euphrates and Tigris. Akkad, under Sargon the Great, established a kingdom around 2350 BC that stretched from the Persian Gulf almost all the way to the Mediterranean, but it collapsed less than two hundred years later under the weight of invasions from the barbaric Guti, who swept onto the plains of Sumer from the Zagros Mountains in northwest Iran.
The Guti, who we don’t know much about because they didn’t write, controlled Mesopotamia for about fifty years. They were finally thrown out by Utu-hengal, a king of Uruk, which set off a struggle for dominance between the city-states of the region. Ur finally emerged supreme, and what scholars call the Third Dynasty of Ur gave the region its last native Sumerian kings for a brief period, until about 2000 BC. Then Ur was sacked by its ancient rival, the Elamites, who occupied what is now the far west and southwest of Iran, the region along the east side of the Persian Gulf.
Into that power vacuum moved a group of Semitic-speaking people called the Amorites. Scholars think the Amorites originated in central Syria, around a mountain called Jebel Bishri, which is on the west side of the Euphrates between Deir ez-Zor and Raqqa. However, scholars still debate that point more than a century after the first scholarly books were published about the Amorites.
Academics aren’t even sure the Amorites conquered the various existing Akkadian and Sumerian city-states. They may have been part of Mesopotamian culture all along and just somehow came out of the confusion around the turn of the millennium in control of the political machinery. What we do know is that around the beginning of the 20th century BC, Amorite kingdoms emerged in what had formerly been Subartu (Assyria), Akkad, and Sumer, and, along with Amorite kingdoms in the Levant, they dominated the Fertile Crescent for the next four centuries.
That was the world of Abram of Ur. We’ll have more to say about the Amorites, but know this: Their influence on history is much greater than you’ve been told.
Here’s another bit of inaccurate history we’ve been taught: Abram, later Abraham, didn’t come from the Ur in southeastern Iraq, the one that was in imminent danger of being torched by the Elamites. Although it seems to make sense that he might have been a refugee from the collapse of Ur, it’s far more likely that Abraham was born and raised in a part of the world that was close to the Amorite heartland, near the border between modern-day Syria and Turkey.
This was the belief of most scholars for many years until famed archaeologist Sir Leonard Woolley made his spectacular discoveries at Ur in Iraq. That Ur, with its magnificent ziggurat and stunning “royal tombs,” seemed much more appropriate as the ancestral home of the patriarch of the world’s great monotheistic religions than some place in Turkey that hasn’t been found yet.
A recent discovery about some of the remains found by Woolley at Ur gives us a glimpse into the world of Abram. It also illustrates a tendency among scholars to view the ancient world through rose-colored glasses. Woolley and his team, who worked at Ur in the ‘20s and early ‘30s, found 1,850 burials dated to the second half of the third millennium BC. Seventeen were so elaborate that Woolley, displaying a flair for marketing, dubbed them the Royal Tombs of Ur.
One tomb in particular is worth our attention. It was the tomb of a noblewoman by the name of Pu’abi, an Akkadian name that means “commander of the father.” She’s believed to have died around 2600 BC. Pu’abi was buried wearing a fabulous golden headdress adorned with carnelian and lapis lazuli. Lapis lazuli wasn’t easy to get back in the day; it was only found in Afghanistan and shipped to Sumer by way of Meluhha, a civilization on the west coast of India.
Among the other treasures buried with Pu’abi, Woolley found the famous Golden Lyre of Ur, one of a dozen stringed instruments in the tomb when it was opened in 1929. Sadly, the Golden Lyre of Ur is one of the priceless treasures of antiquity that was lost when the Baghdad Museum was looted in 2003. It was found in pieces in the museum’s car park.
To the point: Also buried with Pu’abi were fifty-two other people arranged in rows inside her tomb. These were apparently servants sent to the afterlife with her to ensure that Pu’abi had everything she needed for eternity. How nice for her. Woolley, interpreting the scene with a romantic bias, decided that the servants had gone to their eternal rest willingly, drinking some toxic elixir and then peacefully lying down to await whatever came next.
But in 2011, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania used CT scanners to examine six skulls from different royal tombs. They reached a much darker conclusion: The cause of death in all six cases was blunt force trauma. Instead of quietly drifting off to their eternal rest, the victims had been bashed in the back of the head with the business end of a battle-axe.
That dumped a large bucket of ice water onto Woolley’s vision of an idyllic death scene. Keep that in mind the next time you get really aggravated at the sense of entitlement displayed by politicians, pop divas, and first-round draft choices. At least when they die, they don’t take dozens of people with them.
Well, because of Woolley’s truly incredible discoveries, Jews and Christians revised the standard map of Abraham’s journeys to show a long trek from southeast Iraq to southeast Turkey, and then on to Canaan.
We’ll pin down Abraham’s real home town in our next article.