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Illustration of Terah in Latin from "Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum"
Bornc. 2200–2170 BCE
Ur Kaśdim, Kaldea, Sumer
(present-day Southern Iraq)
Parent(s)Nahor ben Serug (father)

Terah or Terach (Hebrew: תֶּרַחTeraḥ) is a biblical figure in the Book of Genesis. He is listed as the son of Nahor and father of the patriarch Abraham. As such, he is a descendant of Shem's son Arpachshad. Terah is mentioned in Genesis 11:26–27, Joshua 24:2, and 1 Chronicles 1:17–27 of the Hebrew Bible and Luke 3:34–36 in the New Testament.

Biblical narrative[edit]

Terah is mentioned in Genesis 11:26–27, Joshua 24:2, and 1 Chronicles 1:17–27 of the Hebrew Bible and Luke 3:34–36 in the New Testament. Terah is mentioned in Genesis 11:26–32 as a son of Nahor, the son of Serug, descendants of Shem.[1] He is said to have had three sons: Abram (better known by his later name Abraham), Haran, and Nahor II. The family lived in Ur of the Chaldees. One of his grandchildren was Lot, whose father, Haran, had died at Ur.[1]

In the Book of Joshua, in his final speech to the Israelite leaders assembled at Shechem, Joshua recounts the history of God's formation of the Israelite nation, beginning with "Terah the father of Abraham and Nahor, [who] lived beyond the Euphrates River and worshiped other gods."[1] Terah is also mentioned in a biblical genealogy given in 1 Chronicles.

In the Genesis narrative, Terah took his family and left Ur to move to the land of Canaan. Terah set out for Canaan but stopped in the city of Haran along the way, where he died.[2]

Family tree[edit]

Ishmaelites7 sons[4]Bethuel1st daughter2nd daughter
1. Reuben
2. Simeon
3. Levi
4. Judah
9. Issachar
10. Zebulun
Dinah (daughter)
7. Gad
8. Asher
5. Dan
6. Naphtali
11. Joseph
12. Benjamin

Jewish tradition[edit]

When Terah begat Abram[edit]

Genesis 11:26 states that Terah lived 70 years, and he begat Abram, Nachor, and Haran. Rashi[5] comments on the subsequent elaboration on the story of Abraham that Abraham was the gem of the chronology of Genesis 11 which the Torah wanted to focus on. In the Jewish tradition, Genesis (11:26) teaches that Terah was 70 years old when he begat Abram. The Talmud[6] says that Abraham was 52 years old at year 2000 AM (Anno Mundi), which means that he was born in the year 1948 AM.

Rashi[7] explains this based on Abram being born when Terah was 70. While it is a given in Jewish tradition that Genesis (11:26) relates that Abram was born when Terach was 70, which is the basis of the current Jewish year,[clarification needed] there is yet a question whether Abram was born first as listed, or perhaps he is listed first because he was the wisest similar to Shem, Ham, and Jafeth where Shem was not the oldest, but was the wisest. Seder Olam Rabbah holds that Abram was the eldest,[8] but the Talmud[9] leaves the above question open.

Terah's occupation[edit]

According to rabbinical tradition Terah was a wicked (Numbers Rabbah 19:1; 19:33), idolatrous priest (Midrash HaGadol on Genesis 11:28) who manufactured idols (Eliyahu Rabbah 6, and Eliyahu Zuta 25). Abram, in opposition to his father's idol shop, smashed his father's idols and chased customers away. Terah then brought his unruly son before Nimrod, who threw him into a fiery furnace, yet Abram miraculously escaped (Genesis Rabba 38:13). The Zohar says that when God saved Abram from the furnace, Terah repented (Zohar Genesis 1:77b) and Rabbi Abba B. Kahana said that God assured Abram that his father Terah had a portion in the World to Come (Genesis Rabbah 30:4; 30:12).

Rabbi Hiyya relates this account in Genesis Rabba:

Terah left Abram to mind the store while he departed. A woman came with a plateful of flour and asked Abram to offer it to the idols. Abram then took a stick, broke the idols, and put the stick in the largest idol’s hand. When Terah returned, he demanded that Abram explain what he'd done. Abram told his father that the idols fought among themselves and the largest broke the others with the stick. "Why do you make sport of me?" Terah cried, "Do they have any knowledge?" Abram replied, "Listen to what you are saying!"

Leader of the journey[edit]

Terah is identified as the person who arranged and led the family to embark on a mysterious journey to Canaan. It is shrouded in mystery to Jewish scholars as to why Terah began the journey and as to why the journey ended prematurely. It is suggested that he was a man in search of a greater truth that could possibly be found in the familiar[10] land of Canaan, and that it was Abram who picked up the torch to continue his father's quest, that Terah himself was unable to achieve.[11]

When Abram leaves Haran[edit]

In Jewish tradition, when Terah died at age 205, Abraham (70 years younger) was already 135 years old. Abram thus left Haran at age 75, well before Terah died. The Torah, however, relates Terah's death in Haran before Abram continues the journey to Canaan as an expression that he was not remiss in the Mitzvah of honoring a parent by leaving his aging father behind.[12] The significance of Terah not reaching Canaan was a reflection of his character, a man who was unable to go "all the way". Although on a journey in the right direction, Terah fell short at arriving to the divine destination—in contrast to Abram, who did follow through and achieved the divine goal, and was not bound by his father's idolatrous past. Abram's following God's command to leave his father, thus absolved him from the mitzvah of honoring parents, and as Abraham, he would go on to create a new lineage distinct from his ancestors.[13]

Samaritan tradition[edit]

In the Samaritan Pentateuch Terah dies aged 135 years and Abram leaves Haran after his death.[14]

Christian tradition[edit]

In the Christian tradition Abram left Haran after Terah died. The Christian views of the time of Terah come from a passage in the New Testament at Acts 7:2–4 where Stephen said some things that contrast with Jewish rabbinical views. He said that God appeared to Abraham in Mesopotamia, and directed him to leave the Chaldeans—whereas most rabbinical commentators see Terah as being the one who directed the family to leave Ur Kasdim from Genesis 11:31: "Terah took his son Abram, his daughter-in-law Sarai (his son Abram's wife), and his grandson Lot (his son Haran's child) and left Ur of the Chaldeans to go to the land of Canaan." Stephen asserts that Abram left Haran after Terah died.[15]

Islamic tradition[edit]

In Islam, Abraham's father is believed to have been a disbelieving man,[16] due to his refusal to listen to the constant advice of his son. In fact, the earliest story involving Abraham in the Quran is his discussion with his ab (Arabic: أَب‎, lit. 'father' or possibly 'uncle'[citation needed]). The name given for this man in Quran 6:74[17] is 'Āzar' (Arabic: آزر‎)

As a father, Azar required his son's most sincere advice. Ibrahim, after receiving his first revelations from God, invited his father to the way of Islam. Abraham explained to him the faults of idolatry,[18] and why he was wrong to worship objects which could neither hear nor see.[19] From the Quran 74/6, "And [mention, O Muhammad], when Abraham said to his aḇ Azar: Do you take idols as deities? Indeed, I see you and your people to be in manifest error."

Abraham told his father that he had indeed received revelations from God, knowledge which his father did not possess,[20] and told him that belief in God would grant him immense rewards in both this life and the hereafter. Abraham concluded his preaching by warning Azar of the grave punishment he would face if he did not mend his ways.[21] When Abraham offered his father the guidance and advice of God, he rejected it, and threatened to stone him to death.[22] Abraham prayed for his father[23] to be forgiven by God, and although he continued to seek forgiveness, it was only because of a promise that he had made earlier to him. When it became clear that Azar's unrelenting hatred towards monotheism would never be fought, Abraham dissociated himself from him.[24]

The Quran states that the people of Abraham were idolaters. When Abraham was a young boy, he decided to finally teach his community a lesson. He said to himself that he had a plan for their idols, whilst they would be gone away.[25] The Qur'an goes on to narrate that Abraham subsequently broke the idols, all except the largest, which he kept intact.[26] When the people returned, they began questioning each other over the wreckage, until some of the people remembered that the youth, Abraham, had spoken of the idols earlier.[27] When Abraham arrived, the people immediately began to question him, asking him whether he had anything to do with the broken idols. Abraham then, in a clever taunt, asked the people as to why they do not ask the largest of the idols, which, they believed, could indeed hear and speak.[28] The people of Abraham were then confounded with shame, and admitted that the idols were incapable of anything.[29]

After the incident of the idol wreckage, the people of Abraham, while having admitted their fault, are said to have ignored Abraham's warning and instead retaliated by throwing him into a fire and exclaiming "protect your gods".[30] Although the natural nature of fire is one of intense heat, God commanded the flame to be cool and peaceful for Abraham.[31] Abraham, as a result, remained unhurt both physically and spiritually, having survived the fire of persecution. The people continued to taunt and persecute him, but to no avail, as the Qur'an says that it was they "that lost most".[32] This means that Abraham came out unharmed and outstanded people.

Shi'ite views[edit]

Terah as Abraham's father[edit]

The Twelver Shi'ite website Al-Islam.org treats Azar as being Abraham's uncle, not his biological father.[33] To justify this view, it references a passage of the Quran, which mentions that the sons of Yaʿqūb (Jacob) referred to his uncle Ismāʿīl (Ishmael), father Is-ḥāq (Isaac) and grandfather Ibrāhīm (Abraham) as his ābāʾ (Arabic: آبَـاء‎):[34]

Were you there to see when death came upon Ya'qub? When he said to his sons, "What will you worship after I am gone?" they replied, "We shall worship your God and the God of your abaʾ, Ibrahim, Isma'il, and Is-haq, one single God: we devote ourselves to Him."

— Qur'an, 2:133[34]

Therefore, the singular word ab does not always mean progenitor, and can be used for an adopter, uncle, step-father, or caretaker, unlike the word wālid (Arabic: وَالِـد‎, progenitor). Thus, Al-Islam.org denies that Abraham's biological father was 'Azar', and instead agreed with Ibn Kathir that he was the biblical figure 'Terah',[33] who nevertheless treated him as a polytheist.[16] In Dua Umme Dawood, a supplication recited by Shi'ite Muslims cited to be from the Imam Ja'far al-Sadiq, the supplicant sends blessings on a person by the name of 'Taurakh'.[35][36]

As Abraham's uncle[edit]

In contrast to Al-Islam.org,[33] Shi'ite scholar and jurist Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi believed[when?] Terah to be the uncle of Abraham, not his father.[37]: 15 


  1. ^ a b c Berman, Ari. "The Role of Terah in the Foundational Stories of the Patriarchal Family", Jewish Bible Quarterly, 44:4 October - December 2016
  2. ^ The Masoretic Text gives his age at death as 205. The corresponding passage in the Septuagint does not give Terah's age at death. See Larsson, Gerhard. "The Chronology of the Pentateuch: A Comparison of the MT and LXX." Journal of Biblical Literature, vol. 102, no. 3, 1983, pp. 401–409. www.jstor.org/stable/3261014. See also the New English Translation of the Septuagint, Genesis 11:32.
  3. ^ Sarah was the half–sister of Abraham (Genesis 20:12). An alternative tradition holds that she was Abraham's niece (see Sarah#In rabbinic literature).
  4. ^ Genesis 22:21-22: Uz, Buz, Kemuel, Chesed, Hazo, Pildash, and Jidlaph
  5. ^ on Genesis (37:1)
  6. ^ Avodah Zara 9A
  7. ^ ad loc
  8. ^ Seder Olam Rabbah, Chapter 2
  9. ^ Sanhedrin 69B
  10. ^ Sforno, Bereishit 12:5
  11. ^ Goldin, Shmuel. Unlocking the Torah Text Bereishit, Vol. 1, (ISBN 9652294128, ISBN 978-965-229-412-8), 2010, p. 59, 60
  12. ^ Compare Rashi, Bereishis 11:32 with Bereishis Rabbah 39:7
  13. ^ (Haggadah shel Pesach) – Levene, Osher C. People of the Book, (ISBN 1568714467, ISBN 978-1-56871-446-2), 2004, p. 79–80
  14. ^ "Google Sites". sites.google.com.
  15. ^ "Bible Gateway passage: Acts 7:4 - King James Version". Bible Gateway.
  16. ^ a b Stories of the Prophets, Ibn Kathir, Abraham and his father
  17. ^ (6:74)
  18. ^ Quran 19:44
  19. ^ Quran 19:42
  20. ^ Quran 19:43
  21. ^ Quran 19:45
  22. ^ Quran 19:46
  23. ^ Quran 19:47
  24. ^ Quran 9:114
  25. ^ Quran 21:57
  26. ^ Quran 21:58
  27. ^ Quran 21:60
  28. ^ Quran 21:63
  29. ^ Quran 21:65
  30. ^ Quran 21:68
  31. ^ Quran 21:69
  32. ^ Quran 21:70
  33. ^ a b c "Was Azar the Father of Prophet Abraham?". Al-Islam.org. Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project. Retrieved 2017-09-12.
  34. ^ a b Quran 2:124–141
  35. ^ Duas.org
  36. ^ Wilayat Mission
  37. ^ Mohammad Taqi al-Modarresi (26 March 2016). The Laws of Islam (PDF). Enlight Press. ISBN 978-0-9942-4098-9. Retrieved 22 December 2017.