Theology

Terah: The Father of Abraham and The Protector of the Moon | Joshua 24:2 | The Rev. Nicole Foster

Who is Terah and why is he important? And what does he have to do with the Moon? Let’s take a look.

Joshua 24:2 reads,

And Joshua said to all the people, “Thus says the Lord, the God of Israel: Long ago your ancestors—Terah and his sons Abraham and Nahor—lived beyond the Euphrates and served other gods.

Terah first appears in the genealogy of the Shemites in Genesis 11: 24. The following verses in the chapter deal with Terah’s immediate family.

When Nahor had lived twenty-nine years, he became the father of Terah; and Nahor lived after the birth of Terah one hundred nineteen years, and had other sons and daughters.

When Terah had lived seventy years, he became the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran.

Descendants of Terah

Now these are the descendants of Terah. Terah was the father of Abram, Nahor, and Haran; and Haran was the father of Lot. Haran died before his father Terah in the land of his birth, in Ur of the Chaldeans. Abram and Nahor took wives; the name of Abram’s wife was Sarai, and the name of Nahor’s wife was Milcah. She was the daughter of Haran the father of Milcah and Iscah. Now Sarai was barren; she had no child.

Terah took his son Abram and his grandson Lot son of Haran, and his daughter-in-law Sarai, his son Abram’s wife, and they went out together from Ur of the Chaldeans to go into the land of Canaan; but when they came to Haran, they settled there. The days of Terah were two hundred five years; and Terah died in Haran.

Genealogy_Terah

Terah’s Name

Terah name is associated with the moon. His name may be connected with the word yare’ah, “moon” and yerah “lunar month,” if substantiated, would suggest that Abram’s (Abraham) family and ancestors were worshippers of the moon. One suggestion is that Terah means “Ter (the divine) brother (or protector, Heb. ah), Ter being a dialectal variant of shr, a South Arabic term for the moon” (Hamilton 363).

Others in his family also have names that are etymologically associated with the moon. “Sarai (Sarah) is the equivalent of sarratu“queen” an Akkadian translation of a Ningal, the female partner of the moon-god Sin. Laban means “the white one”, a poetic term for the full moon”(Key 21). And the places where Terah’s family originate and settle, Ur and Haran, (most likely a northern Ur in northern Mesopotamia, near Haran)  were both major theological centers of moon worship. Thus it is most likely that the family’s religious heritage was focused on moon adoration.

Terah moved his family from Ur to Haran and from there, Abram (Abraham) would venture out in obedience, not to Sin the moon god but to El Shaddai to the land of Canaan. And as we see many generations later in Joshua 24, his descendants will re-enter in divine conquest.

Sources:
1. Hamilton Victor, The Book of Genesis, Chapters 1-17: The New International Commentary on the Old Testament, William B. Eerdman’s Publishing Company, Grand Rapids, MI. 1990.
2. Ke, A.F., “Traces of the Worship of the Moon God Sin Among the Early Israelites,” JBL 84 (1965).

The Rev. Dr. Nicole Foster the T.V. Host and founding minister of The Hippie Theologian. She holds a Doctor of Ministry from Trinity Episcopal School for Ministry, a Master of Divinity from Redeemer Theological Seminary and a B.A. in History from Southern Methodist University. She’s an ordained Anglican minister and teaches Old Testament for various organizations. She loves to hike, camp, make organic soap, and be a beach bum as often as possible.

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