Thanks to recent archaeological discoveries, not only has the city where Abraham is said to have been born been located, but a good deal of information is also available about the condition of the people of that area during the Abrahamic period. We reproduce below a summary of the conclusions which Sir Leonard Wooley arrived at as a result of the researches embodied in his work, Abraham (London, 1935).
It is estimated that around 2100 B.C., which is now generally accepted by scholars as the time of the advent of Abraham, the population of the city of Ur was at least two hundred and fifty thousand, maybe even five hundred thousand. The city was a large industrial and commercial metropolis. Merchandise was brought to Ur from places as far away as Palmir and Nilgiri in one direction, and in the other it had developed trade relations with Anatolia. The state, of which this city was the capital, extended a little beyond the boundaries of modern Iraq in the north, and exceeded its present borders further to the west. The great majority of the population were traders and craftsmen. The inscriptions of that period, which have been discovered in the course of archaeological research, make it clear that those people had a purely materialistic outlook on life. Their greatest concern was to earn the maximum amount of wealth and enjoy the highest degree of comfort and luxury. Interest was rampant among them and their devotion to money-making seemed all-absorbing. They looked at one another with suspicion and often resorted to litigation. In their prayers to their gods, too, they generally asked for longer life, prosperity and greater commercial success, rather than for spiritual growth, God's pardon and reward in the Hereafter.
The population comprised three classes of people:
(1) amelu, the priests, the government and military officers;
(2) mushkinu, the craftsmen and farmers; and
(3) the slaves.
The people of the first class mentioned, i.e. amelu, enjoyed special privileges. In both criminaI and civil matters, their rights were greater than those of the others, and their lives and property were deemed to be of higher value. It was in such a city and in such a society that Abraham first saw the light of day. Whatever information we possess with regard to him and his family through the Talmud shows that he belonged to the amelu class and that his father was the highest functionary of the state.
In the inscriptions of Ur there are references to about five thousand deities. Each city had its own deity. Each city had a chief deity which it considered its chief protector and, therefore, that deity was considered worthy of greater reverence than all the others. 'The chief deity of Ur was Nannar (the moon god), and it is for this reason that the city later became known as Kamarina. (*Qamar is the Arabic word for 'moon')
The other major city was Larsa, which replaced Ur as the capital of the kingdom. Its chief deity was Shamash (the sun god). Under these major deities there was a myriad of minor deities which had generally been chosen from among the heavenly bodies - stars and planets. People considered them responsible for granting their innumerable minor prayers. Idols had been carved in the image of these celestial and terrestrial gods and goddesses and were made objects of ritual worship.
The idol of Nannar had been placed in a magnificent building on the top of the highest hill. Close to it was the temple of Nin-Gal, the wife of Nannar. The temple of Nannar resembled a royal palace. Every night a female worshipper went to its bedroom, adorned as a bride. A great number of women had been consecrated in the name of this deity and their position was virtually that of religious prostitutes. The woman who would sacrifice her virginity for the sake of her 'god' was held in great esteem. For a woman to give herself to some unrelated person 'for the sake of God' was considered a means to salvation. Needless to say, it was generally the priests who made most use of this institution. Nannar was not merely a deity, but the biggest landlord, the biggest trader, the biggest industrialist and the most powerful ruler. Many orchards, buildings and huge estates had been consecrated to his temple. In addition to this, cereals, milk, gold, cloth, etc., were brought as offerings to the temple by peasants, landlords and merchants, and there was a large staff in the temple to receive the offerings. Many a factory had been established on behalf of the temple. Large-scale trading was also carried out on its behalf. All these activities were conducted by the priests in the name of the deity. Moreover, the country's main court was also located in the temple. The priests functioned as judges and their judgements were equated with those of God. The authority of the royal family was derived from Nannar. The concept was that Nannar was the true sovereign and that the ruler of the country governed merely on his behalf. Because of this relationship, the king himself was raised to the rank of a deity and was worshipped.
The founder of the dynasty which ruled over Ur at the time of Abraham was Ur-Nammu. In 2300 B.C. he had established an extensive kingdom, stretching from Susa in the east to Lebanon in the west. Hence the dynasty acquired the name 'Nammu', which became Nimrud in Arabic. After the emigration of Abraham, both the ruling dynasty and the nation of Ur were subjected to a succession of disasters. Firstly, the Elamites sacked Ur and captured Nimrud along with the idols of Nannar. Later on, an Elamite state was established in Larsa which governed Ur as well. Later still, Babylon prospered under a dynasty of Arabian origin and both Larsa and Ur came under its hegemony. These disasters shook the people of Ur's faith in Nannar, for he had failed to protect them.
It is difficult to say much, with certainty, about the extent of the subsequent impact of the teachings of Abraham on these people. The laws which were codified by the Babylonian King Hammurabi in 1910 B.C. show the impress of the prophetic influence, whether direct or indirect. An inscription of this code was discovered in 1902 by a French archaeologist and its English translation by C. H. W. John was published in 1903 under the title The Oldest Code of Law. Many articles of this code, both fundamental principles and substantive laws, bear some resemblance to the Mosaic Law.
If the conclusions of these archaeological researchers are correct, it becomes quite evident that polytheism did not consist merely of a set of religious beliefs and polytheistic rites, it rather provided the foundation on which the entire order of economic, cultural, political and social life rested. Likewise, the monotheistic mission which was undertaken by Abraham was not merely directed against the practice of idol-worship. It had far wider implications, so much so that it affected the position of the royal family both as rulers and deities. It also affected the social, economic and, political status and interests of the priestly class, and the aristocracy in general, and in fact the entire fabric of the social life of the kingdom. To accept the teachings of Abraham meant that the entire edifice of the existing society should be pulled down and raised anew on the basis of belief in the One God. Hence, as soon as Abraham launched his mission, ordinary people as well as the privileged classes, ordinary devotees as well as Nimrud rose at once to oppose and suppress it. (Tafheemul Quran)