Abraham's Path Terra Incognita

I am happy to report that in the war between reality and romance, reality is not the stronger

—John Steinbeck

A beautiful term for places still unexplored is terra incognita. This online guidebook is a work in progress, and our terra incognita applies to the absence of documented walking trail in certain areas but also, more broadly, to the absence of written information or visuals of an area within this online guidebook. The Abraham Path project literally moves step by step and there remains a long range of places, paths, and people which are to be covered. The humble fact is that the cultural memory of Abraham is strongly alive in so many places that the 400 km covered so far are just the very beginning.

In addition to the regions above, here we cover some of the geography that is very closely associated with the journey of Abraham and his family, but has not yet been covered extensively on this site. We welcome your feedback and assistance to cover more ground.

Here were aforetime the tower which the children of Adam built, and Ur of the Chaldees, and the furnace into which was thrown our father Abraham, of blessed memory. 

—Elijah of Ferrara, 15th century AD

Like UrfaUr in south-eastern Iraq is one of the places of origin where Abraham is remembered. The Bible refers to Abraham as coming from Ur of the Chaldeans and though the Quran does not mention a specific place, many Muslims also believe it was Ur. As in Urfa, a shrine commemorating Abraham is present in Ur and Muslims also believe this is the place where Abraham was  cast into the fire by King Nimrod because of his revolt against idolatry and his adherence to monotheism, the belief in one God.  A place not too far from Ur, and where according to local tradition Abraham originated from, is Ahfaz in Iran. Damascus (below) is another place with a long tradition of honoring Abraham’s Birth Cave.

She lies, as God has related in His glorious Book, ‘in a valley bare of corn’, but the blessed prayer of Abraham has anticipated her needs, so that every delicacy is brought to her, and fruits of every kind are gathered for her.

—Ibn Battutah on his visit to Mecca, 14th century AD

Mecca is the most important Abrahamic place in the Islamic tradition and is often called the City of Ibrahim by Muslims. It was in Mecca, according to Islamic beliefs, that Abraham offered his son to God. Abraham’s second wife Hagar was left in the desert with their son Ishmael but through God’s intervention they found water at the Holy Zamzam spring in Mecca. Abraham eventually came back to Mecca and reconstructed the Kaaba there with Ishmael.The rites of the Hajj pilgrimage, one of Islam’s five pillars, originate from Abraham’s time in Mecca.

In the Biblical tradition, Abraham and Sarah flee a famine in Canaan, causing them to move through the Negev towards Egypt and, according to most scholars, to the ancient city of Memphis specifically. The Pharaoh takes Sarah into his harem but God punishes Egypt by severe plagues, leading to the eventual deportation of Abraham and Sarah back to the Negev and Canaan.

Why is it called Haleb? Because on the mountain was the flock of Abraham our father. Steps led down from the mountain, whence he was accustomed to hand milk to the poor

—Petachia of Ratisbon,  12th century AD

The city and region of Aleppo (Halab in Arabic) is named after the word milk based on a story about Abraham’s solidarity to the poor. According to legend,  Abraham camped his flock near Aleppo during a time of famine and, with God’s help, he fed the area’s population with milk from his livestock.

Damascus is the city which surpasses all other cities in beauty and takes precedence of them in loveliness

—Ibn Battutah, 14th century AD

The birthplace of Abraham —may God bless him and our venerated Prophet— is on the slopes of Mount Qasiyun

—Ibn Jubayr, 12th century AD

Damascus, one of the oldest cities in the world, is the scene of many events within the traditions of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. The steep slopes of Mt. Qasiyun lie just north of the city and hold centuries of veneration of various saints and mystical places, including the Birth Cave of Abraham.  It is also through Abraham’s story that Damascus is first mentioned in the Bible: after the combined forces of four kings defeat and capture Abraham’s nephew Lot in Canaan, Abraham organizes a small army and chases them up to Damascus, liberating Lot and his possessions from the hands of king Kedorlaomer. Abraham’s close companion Eliezer the Damascene came from the city. Up to the start of the Syrian uprising in 2011, a walking trail was accessible connecting the monastic heritage north of Damascus: Ma’loula, Saidnaya and Mar Musa.