Monday, January 17, 2011

Mission to Ur, The Biblical Home of Abraham & The Ziggurat

Unless you are on an assigned mission soldiers are never allowed at any times to go "outside the wire" of the base. Today we were taken to one of the most well known archeological sites in all of Iraq "The Ziggurat of Ur". (Ur is the ancient name for this area.)

This trip was actually the only bit of sightseeing I ever even had a chance of doing and since I'll be leaving soon I was quite relieved that I was able to go.

The area of Iraq know as Mesopitamia, which means "the land between two rivers" and it is called the "cradle of civilization" because ancient people were able to use the availability of water from The Tigris & Euphrates River to develop irrigation and ultimately enough agriculture that they could form communities. The Ziggurat, with it's unique architecture and massive size was a religious temple.  There were many Ziggurats built in the area that is now Iraq and Iran and several of their ruins have been discovered but the one outside of Adder is the largest and most preserved of them. This Ziggurat which was built around 6,000 years ago was actually buried in the desert sands for many centuries.  Excavations by British archeologists were first started around 1850 and continued on and off for decades.  About 75 years ago most of the work was completed making the structure visible again after thousands of years being buried.

You are actually able to see it from inside the army base and originally it was inside the camp's perimeter. Several years ago the military decided that it was bad public relations to have these archeological ruins inside a military base so they shortened the perimeter to keep it outside of the base's perimeter.  I looked at the Ziggurat everyday from the base and I wondered if I would ever get to see it so I was very happy that I was able to go.

Parts of modern day Iraq are actually mentioned several times in the bible and Abraham ( the oldest of the three Patriarchs of Abraham, Isaac & Jacob) was from Ur and a prominent area of ruins alongside the Ziggurat are identified as being Abraham's home.  Abraham is a vey respected Prophet in Islamic religion and apparently not only Moslems but Jews and Christians also recognize these ruins as being Abrahams home.  Abraham's family worshipped idols and quite possibly participated in religious practices at the Ziggurat.  Later Abraham left Ur and moved with his family to the Land of Canaan.  In addition to being the first Jew he is credited with being the first spiritual leader to express belief in monotheism and is respected by Jews, Moslems & Christians & Moslems.

Several other biblical events took place in modern day Iraq including Jonah who was swallowed by the whale, Daniel in the Lion's Den & The Handwriting on the Wall.  Additonally, the Jewish Nation was exiled in Babylonia, which was a mighty empire in modern day Iraq.  Queen Esther and the story of the Jewish holiday of Purim took place in ancient Persia which is nearby in modern day Iran.

Although we were actually going to be sightseeing this was an army mission.  We had to assemble for our briefing in full battle dress at 5:30am which meant IOTV (body armor), battle helmets, weapons & ammunition, first aid supplies, water supplies, armored cars plus additional security escorts.  We moved out in complete darkness on one of the coldest days yet.  It occasionally rains in the winter and it was also raining this day.

Typical army mission: we leave in the dark and arrive at our destination in the dark. The 2nd picture includes our Iraqi guide who spoke to us in English.

None of this mattered to me because, as I already said, I was thrilled that I was going and the closer we got to the structure the more impressed I became with it.  The military tours/missions to the Ziggurat of Ur are done on a very limited basis and only offered to soldiers who are based here.  Although there are many disadvantages to being at this base (as well as some advantages) I consider myself very fortunate that I was able to see the Ziggurat at Ur.

Arriving at the Ziggurat as dawn is breaking. We decide to go to the surrounding ruins first and we'll then return to the Ziggurat.

For more information:

Entering the ruins which surround the Ziggurat.
This is one of the oldest surviving arches in the world.

After exploring the ruins we now return to the Ziggurat:

Ascending the Ziggurat:

Top of the Ziggurat:

We now leave the Ziggurat and we head to "Abraham's House".  This site is accepted by Jews, Christians & Moslems as the remnants of the home where the first Patriarch was born & lived.  He later clashed with his family & the community because of his unwillingness to accept their beliefs in many gods and his belief in one god.

Colonel Rabbi Joel Goldstein, who is a brother in-law of Rabbi Noah Kosofsky of Yeshiva Academy in Longmeadow, is from the New York National Guard and is the highest ranking Jewish Chaplain in the army. Colonel Rabbi Goldstein wrote to me after Rabbi Kosofsky told him that I was going to be in Iraq. Colonel Goldstein stated that Ur indeed is where Abraham was born, lived and developed his belief that there is but one god and became the first Jew.  He urged me, if it was at all possible to visit the site.

We now approach Abraham's house. This is SGT Candedo who is a "Chaplain's Asssistant".  Since he is not an actual Chaplain he carries a weapon.

As we view Abraham's house Sgt Candedo read's to us the biblical account of Abraham.

Exploring the ruins of Abrahams House.  Our Iraqi Guide is seen below:

Exploring Abraham's house while standing on the roof.  NOTE THE VIEW OF THE ZIGGURAT IN THE DISTANCE.

Arabic sign describing Abraham's house.  This was the only printed marker seen at the entire site.  Our guide and his family infrequently lead tours with armed guards but the area is otherwise neglected.

When we finished the trip and returned to base it wasn't even 10:00am. We had been through some of the most well preserved archeological remnants of Mesopitamia & the accepted birthplace and home of Abraham, sacred to Jews, Christians & Moslems.  This is a closed military area and I was able to see this because I was part of the US Army which conquered this area in 2003 and has occupied it since. When these trips are allowed it is only with the highest degree of security.  There are some signs that the region is becoming more secure and stable and our guide claims that more than one group from China has managed to tour the ruins.   He says he is somewhat confident that tourist may start to come in the future.

When I returned I went straight to my Level 1 clinic and began seeing soldiers immediately. We started one hour later that day. There are no days off during deployments.

Major Martin Lesser
Sunday, January 16, 2010


Exploring the Ruins:


ROBERT said...

.And the Lord said to MARTIN "LECH LCHO GET UP FROM THIS LAND OF UR AND GO TO LONGMEADOW THE LAND I HAVE CHOSEN FOR YOU" Genesis 12;1 as interpreted by Rabbi Miller of Newton.......Martin have you been getting my comments?

Anonymous said...

Nice blog !! I am part of the security escorts myself ! I love going and taking u guys out ! This is an awesome place !

Anonymous said...

Hey sir have you ever heard of OPSEC! Taking pictures of our vehicles, uniforms, and security operations and posting them on the internet! You're ignorant and retarded

Anonymous said...

Troop movement is sensitive...yet you name names and days and locations and post phots of air defense weapons and transport vehicles...please think before you do this. I know you're a Major and all but you seem to know less about military bearing and OPSEC than many E-1's. Please be less descriptive...I admire your dedication...but less is more sometimes.

Former Navy E-6 and wife to Soldier currently deployed to Iraq.

Anonymous said...

Great pictures, I remember visiting in 08 while assigned to Tallil AB. At that time we were allowed to take a regular vehicle (Dodge Dakota) out to the site. There were 4 of us. We ran into the tour guide on the way up feeding his camels. We asked if we could peruse the area and gave him a case of bottled water. He actually gave us our own private tour. That is one of my best memories of such a sometimes miserable place.

Anonymous said...

Hey I agree with :
Former Navy E-6 and wife to Soldier currently deployed to Iraq.
Serious OPSEC violations

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