Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 1

It might be best to begin by saying that Şanlıurfa (Glorious Urfa), often shortened to Urfa, is located in southeastern Turkey about 25 miles north of Haran, the home of Abraham before he went to the land of Canaan (Genesis 11:31). Some writers associate Urfa with Ur, the original home of Abraham. Prior to the 19th century scholars generally were unsure of the location of Ur, whether in the north or south of Mesopotamia.

Since Leonard Wooley identified a site in southern Mesopotamia (modern Iraq) in the 20th century with Ur of the Chaldeans, that site generally been accepted by most scholars. There have been those, however, who argue that the Biblical Ur should be identified with Urfa, or the general area in northern Mesopotamia. This is a site in modern Turkey, and a region we know as biblical Paddan-Aram (Genesis 25:30, et al. Cyrus H. Gordon argued for this position, and Barry Beitzel places Ur in the north in The Moody Atlas of Bible Lands. Others, such as Rasmussen in Zondervan Atlas of the Bible, acknowledge that some place Ur in the north. I leave this discussion for your further study.

Muslim tradition reveres Urfa as the birthplace and early home of Abraham. Abraham is identified prominently among the 28 prophets of the Muslim faith. Much of what is said in the Quran (Koran) about various Old Testament-period characters of the Bible (including Jesus, John the Baptist, and Mary) is taken from the Jewish Talmud and Christian apocrypha — books not accepted as part of the biblical canon. Geisler and Saleeb cite W. St. Clair-Tisdall’s The Sources of Islam to show the direct dependence of some of these stories.

The influence of the Jewish  apocrypha can be seen on the Qur’anic stories of Cain and Abel, Abraham and the idols, and the Queen of Sheba. [see pages 11-30 and 39-45] The direct influence of Christian apocrypha can be seen in the story of seven sleepers and the childhood miracles of Jesus. (Geisler, Norman L., and Abdul Saleeb. Answering Islam: The Crescent in Light of the Cross. 2nd ed. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 2002.)

Clair-Tisdall’s book is available at Google books. The story of Abraham and the idols is found in Sura 21 of the Quran, but it does not include the legendary story about the fish that we will recount below.

The Lonely Planet volume on Turkey (13th edition) succinctly explains the story. [For a number of years I have recommended the Lonely Planet guide books to my tour members. I find them very helpful, especially for the independent traveler.]

Legend had it that Abraham (Ibrahim), a great Islamic prophet, was in old Urfa destroying pagan gods one day when Nimrod, the local Assyrian king, took offence at this rash behaviour. Nimrod had Abraham immolated on a funeral pyre, but God turned the fire into water and the burning coals into fish. Abraham himself was hurled into the air from the hill where the fortress stands, but landed safely in a bed of roses.

The picturesque Gölbaşhi area of Urfa is a symbolic re-creation of this story. Two rectangular pools of water (Bahkll Göl and Ayn-i Zeliha) are filled with supposedly sacred carp, while the area west of the Hasan Padisah Camii is a gorgeous rose garden. Local legend has it that anyone catching the carp will go blind. Consequently, these appear to be the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey. (p. 565).

As with many “Jewish” and  “Christian” sites we speak of the traditional location of this or that. Sometimes, when there is little evidence to suggest the historical nature of such, we refer to something as a legendary account. Such would be the case with this story of Abraham and Nimrod.

Şanlıurfa is a beautiful small city and a pleasure to visit. I have had the opportunity to do so three times. The Gölbaşhi park in the historic area is easy to visit. Our photo below shows a plan of the area on one side and the aforementioned story of Abraham on the other.

The legend of Abraham's association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The legend of Abraham’s association with Urfa. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Pool in the Gölbaşhi area of Urfa. My friend Gene, wearing the Florida State shirt and holding the camera at ready, bought extra bowls of food for the little boy so we could get photos of him feeding the fish.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Children enjoy feeding the sacred carp in the pool. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A look at some of these fish illustrate why the Lonely Planet writer said they appear to be “the most pampered, portly fish in Turkey.”

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

The sacred carp of Urfa rush to get the food. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A word of explanation is in order. I had never met a Muslim until my first trip to the Bible lands in 1967. In Cairo, Egypt, we sat on the floor of the Mohammad Ali mosque and listened as our guide explained about the mosque and the Muslim religion. He then answered as many questions as we wanted to ask. Through the past half century I have made many friends among the Muslims, including visiting in some homes, and I have had the opportunity to travel widely in the Middle East. I have good Muslim neighbors.

In Part 2 we will visit the cave identified as the birthplace of Abraham.

One response to “Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 1

  1. Pingback: Traditions about Abraham at Şanliurfa, Turkey – Part 2 | Ferrell's Travel Blog

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