Born: 1883 BC
Also Known As: Térach
Born Country: Iraq
Born in: Ur of the Chaldees
Famous as: Abraham's Father
Spiritual & Religious Leaders
Spouse/Ex-: Amathlaah, Edna
children: Abraham, Haran, Ibrahim, Nahor, Sarah
Died on: 1678 BC
place of death: Haran
Terah or Térach is an Abrahamic religious figure who prominently features in the Bible’s Book of Genesis. His father was Nahor, whose own father was Serug. Terah is distinguished in the scriptures as the father of the Patriarch Abraham. Their family had descended from Shem's son Arpachshad. Terah appears in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Terah, like many of his ancestors, was an adherent of polytheism and idol worshipper. He sired two other sons besides Abraham: Haran, and Nahor II. The family resided in Ur of the Chaldees. Terah, along with his family, set out for the land of Canaan. However, during their stay in the city of Haran, Terah passed away, and his family was forced to continue towards Canaan without him. The scriptures offer contradictory information on certain aspects of his life and death. The Jewish tradition states that when he died, he was 205 years old, while the Samaritan tradition maintains that his death occurred at the age of 145.
Biography According to the Bible
Terah is prominently featured in Genesis 11:26–28. He was the son of Nahor, who in turn, was the son of Serug. The family had descended from Shem and his son Arpachshad. They were polytheistic and idol worshippers. Terah begot three sons: Abram (more popular by his later name Abraham), Haran, and Nahor II.
The family resided in Ur of the Chaldees. One of his sons, Haran, passed away while the family was still in Ur. Terah’s grandson through Haran was Lot, who was also an important patriarch in the Book of Genesis.
Deciding to relocate to the land of Canaan, Terah gathered his family and departed from Ur. During their travel, the family stopped for a period in the city of Haran, where Terah passed away.
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According to Genesis 11:26, Terah was 70 years old when he fathered Abram, Nachor, and Haran. The Talmud notes that Abraham’s age was 52 in 2000 AM (Anno Mundi). This marks the year 1948 AM as his birth year. Medieval French Rabbi Rashi offers this explanation by believing the notion that Abraham was born when Terah was 70.
Although it has become accepted in the Jewish tradition that Genesis reveals that Terah fathered Abram at the age of 70, which has served as one of the founding facts of the current Jewish year, a question still remains on whether Abram was the eldest child as the list suggests, or he was placed at the beginning of the list because he was the wisest.
The rabbinical tradition dubs Terah a wicked (Numbers Rabbah 19:1; 19:33), idolatrous priest (Midrash HaGadol on Genesis 11:28) whose job was to make idols (Eliyahu Rabbah 6, and Eliyahu Zuta 25). Abram did not like what his father’s livelihood was, so he broke Terah’s idols and turned the customers away with his unruly behaviour.
Incensed by his son’s actions, Terah took him to the court of King Nimrod of Shinar (Mesopotamia), who ordered him to be burned in a furnace. However, Abram miraculously survived (Genesis Rabba 38:13).
According to the Zohar, seeing his son rescued from the furnace by God, Terah became ashamed of his actions. Rabbi Abba B. Kahana stated that God promised Abram that his father had a section of his own in the world to come (Genesis Rabbah 30:4; 30:12).
The Jewish tradition recognizes Terah as the instigator as well as the leader of his family’s immigration to the land of Canaan. The reason for this journey and its abrupt, premature conclusion still remains a mystery to the Jewish scholars. Some believe that Terah embarked on the journey to discover a greater truth in Canaan, a land with which he was familiar. After Terah was unable to complete his journey, Abram inherited his father’s quest to reach Canaan.
According to the Jewish tradition, Terah passed away at the age of 205. At the time, Abram’s age was 135. This has led many scholars to conclude that when he departed from Haran at the age of 75, it was well before his father’s demise. However, the Torah contradicts this.
The Torah insinuates that Abram only left Haran for Canaan after Terah passed away by stating that Abram was not negligent in the Mitzvah of respecting a parent by deserting his ancient father behind.
Terah’s inability to reach Canaan serves as a metaphor for his character, as he could not go the distance. Although he was indeed on the correct path, he did not arrive at the divine destination.
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Abram, on the other hand, completed his journey and earned his divine reward. He was not shackled by his father’s idolatrous past, and by choosing to abide by God’s instruction to desert his father, he was relieved from the Mitzvah of respecting his parents. Abram would later establish a new lineage, completely separate from that of his ancestors.
The Christian tradition states that Abram departed from Haran after Terah’s passing. The Christian perception of the Terah’s timeline is derived from what Stephen divulged in the New Testament at Acts 7:2–4. These views refute what the Jewish rabbis consider to be true.
Stephen stated that God came before Abraham in Mesopotamia, and instructed him to depart from the Chaldeans, whereas most rabbinical traditions hold the view that it was Terah who arranged the family’s journey out of Ur Kasdim (Genesis 11:31).
Some Islamic sects adhere to the notion that Terah was a disbelieving man, as he was unwilling to heed the advice of his son. Indeed, the first story in the Quran regarding Abraham is about his interaction with his father, whom the Quran calls “Azar”. However, Arabic genealogists state that Abraham’s father’s name was Tarah.
Being his father, Azar needed Abraham’s most earnest consultation. Following his revelations from Allah, Abraham urged his father to embrace the teachings of Islam and abandon idolatry. He added that if his father did so, he would earn great rewards both in this life and the hereafter. Furthermore, he cautioned his father of serious divine punishment if he rejected his advice.
Azar refused, warning his son that he would get stoned to death if he kept saying such things. Nevertheless, Abraham offered a prayer to God, seeking forgiveness for his father. Ultimately, when Abraham realised that his father would always maintain his unrepentant dislike for monotheism, he severed all his ties with him.
The Quran describes Abraham’s people as idol worshippers. When he was young, Abraham often spoke about it. One time, during the absence of other members of the community, Abraham broke all idols save the largest one.
After they came back, they were troubled by the wreckage and soon realised that Abraham could be behind this. When he was confronted, he asked them why their biggest idol did not do anything, despite the people’s claim that they could hear and speak. Humiliated, the people agreed that their idols could not do anything. However, they still placed Abraham in a fire, but he was protected by God.
According to the Twelver Shi'ite website Al-Islam.org, Azar was not the biological father of Ibrahim, but his uncle. To support this notion, it points out a passage from the Quran in which it is revealed that the sons of Yaʿqūb (Jacob) called his uncle Ismāʿīl (Ishmael), father Is-ḥāq (Isaac) and grandfather Ibrāhīm (Abraham) as his ābā. The singular word “ab” does not necessarily always translate to progenitor. It can also mean an adopter, uncle, step-father, or caretaker.
The Samaritan tradition relates that Terah passed away when he was 145 years old. After his passing, Abraham departed from Haran.