Turkish Government Funds Documentary Claiming Göbekli Tepe Was Built by Abraham’s Father and Destroyed by Abraham
Remember how fringe writers including Andrew Collins and Graham Hancock have heavily implied that the ancient Turkish site of Göbekli Tepe had been constructed by a lost civilization related to or identical with the Nephilim and/or Atlantis? Well, it turns out that the Turkish government has done them one better by funding a documentary that claims the ancient temple site to be the work of the patriarch Abraham’s idol-worshiping father Telah, according to an account from the Turkish Hürriyet Daily News newspaper, the country’s oldest and most respected English-language news source.
Göbekli Tepe dates back at least 12,000 years, which would, by most religious chronologies, make it far too old be associated with Abraham, who is usually placed around 1800 BCE. Of course, if you are a religious fundamentalist, you probably don’t accept modern dating techniques.
The documentary was produced and funded by the Diyarbakir provincial governor’s office, the Turkish Development Ministry, and the Turkish Radio and Television Corporation, the nation’s public broadcaster.
According to a translation produced by Hürriyet Daily News, the narrator of the program describes the site and says the following: “Who can tell us that it was not Aser [Terah], father of Prophet Abraham, who built the statues in Göbeklitepe? Or can we claim that the temple where the idols that Prophet Abraham broke was not Göbeklitepe?” The documentary identified one broken pillar, featuring a sculpture of a fox, as the specific idol broken by the hand of Abraham himself.
The claim refers back to an Islamic tale, found in the Qur’an (21:51-71), and based on earlier Jewish folklore that Abraham’s father made idols which the young patriarch smashed in his zeal for monotheism. In the Qur’anic account, Abraham has a conflict with the people of Ur, in which they vouch for the efficacy of their idols. To prove them wrong, “in the people’s absence he went into the temple where the idols stood, and he brake them all in pieces, except the biggest of them; that they might lay the blame upon that” (21:58, trans. George Sale). The people of Ur then try to burn Abraham alive for his desecration, but God saves him from the flames.
An earlier version of the story, set in a store rather than a temple, appears in the Jewish Genesis Rabbah, which I quote from an unsigned 1917 translation:
Terah, the father of Abraham and Haran, was a dealer in images as well as a worshiper of them. Once when he was away he gave Abraham his stock of graven images to sell in his absence. In the course of the day an elderly man came to make a purchase. Abraham asked him his age, and the man gave it as between fifty and sixty years. Abraham taunted him with want of sound sense in calling the work of another man's hand, produced perhaps in a few hours, his god; the man laid the words of Abraham to heart and gave up idol-worship. Again, a woman came with a handful of fine flour to offer to Terah’s idols, which were now in charge of Abraham. He took a stick and broke all the images except the largest one, in the hand of which he placed the stick which had worked this wholesale destruction. When his father returned and saw the havoc committed on his “gods” and property he demanded an explanation from his son whom he had left in charge. Abraham mockingly explained that when an offering of fine flour was brought to these divinities they quarreled with one another as to who should be the recipient, when at last the biggest of them, being angry at the altercation, took up a stick to chastise the offenders, and in so doing broke them all up. Terah, so far from being satisfied with this explanation, understood it as a piece of mockery, and when he learned also of the customers whom Abraham had lost him during his management he became very incensed, and drove Abraham out of his house and handed him over to Nimrod.
This story, like the one in the Qur’an, is implied to have taken place in the Ur of the Chaldees.
So how did the city of Ur become Göbekli Tepe? That also goes back to medieval Jewish and Muslim lore. While today many would identify the Ur of the Chaldees with the Mesopotamian city of Ur, in Late Antiquity and the early Middle Ages, the Mesopotamian city had been forgotten or downgraded. As a result, the birthplace of Abraham became identified with the Turkish city of Edessa (since 1984 named Şanlıurfa), likely because of its Armenian name, Uṙha, and Syriac name, Urhai, which sound similar to Ur. This was not a universal identification, though; Eusebius, quoting Alexander Polyhistor quoting Pseudo-Eupolemus, identified Ur of the Chaldees with Camarina, the ancient Mesopotamian city of Ur (Praeparatio Evangelica 9.17). To complicate things further, other sources identified Edessa with Erech (Uruk), the Biblical city of Nimrod. Jacob of Edessa, who died in 708 CE, knew nothing of the Ur connection. The fourth century St. Ephrem, also a resident of Edessa, said that Edessa was Nimrod’s Erech, but he also sometimes used the name Urhoe for Edessa, which connects back to Ur rather than Uruk. The sequence of the jumble of identifications is not entirely clear. The long and short of it is that the events of Abraham’s life were visited on the region around Edessa for two reasons: First, because Late Antique writers assumed that the family of Noah stayed close to where the Ark was believed to have landed, on Mt. Judi, and second, because the prestige of the star-worshiping people of nearby Harran made for a reasonable location for a city of astrologers, such as folklore had said Abraham had studied under and from whom he later taught astrology to the Egyptians (Eusebius, Praeparatio Evangelica 9.17).
The close proximity of Edessa to Harran and the nearness of both to several important Neolithic sites led Andrew Collins to declare that the whole of the area was the Biblical playground of Seth and Cain, with Göbekli Tepe the famed twin Pillars of Wisdom set up by Enoch (or Seth, etc.) to preserve the antediluvian wisdom of the Watchers from the prophesied destruction by fire or flood, a prophecy dating back to Babylon (Seneca, Natural Questions 3.29). He imagines that the story of the twin pillars reflects an ideology of twindom in ancient times. “The central pillars at Göbekli Tepe,” he wrote, “are perhaps allusions to this twin tradition…” The claim about the importance of twins comes from J. Rendel Harris’s 1913 book Boanerges, but I don’t really have space to get into that book. Collins assumed that the reflection of Biblical stories in local place names indicated that they were the inspiration for Biblical events, though one might just as easily argue that Biblical legends were localized at the sites for ideological reasons. Collins, writing in Göbekli Tepe: Genesis of the Gods, ends up relating the Pillars of Wisdom to the Jewish legend of the tomb of Adam and the prophecy of destruction by fire and flood, and ties it all together with Immanuel Velikovsky’s catastrophism. Collins, mind you, is still sore at Graham Hancock for “stealing” his idea that a comet destroyed the antediluvian world.
Meanwhile, back in Turkey, the claims are a bit less baroque, and certainly less apocalyptic. It appears that the Turkish government and television producers were simply going for some old-fashioned Qur’anic literalism coupled with a dash of Turkish nationalism that happily accepted medieval legends that give Turkey pride of place in Qur’anic events.
Archaeologists in Turkey were not happy.
“Within the framework of results that were obtained through scientific methods, Göbeklitepe dates back to 11,800-8,600 BCE. Here we see that there is a gap of around seven to eight thousand years between the date that scientific research has proved and the dates of religious references. Therefore, from this perspective, there are many problems in depicting Göbeklitepe as a communal site related to Prophet Abraham,” archaeologist Nezih Başgelen told the Hürriyet Daily News. “Showing the statues as idols that were broken is dangerous targeting,” he said.
The Turkish government has not been shy about embracing convenient fringe history claims. In 2014, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan famously endorsed the fringe history claim that Christopher Columbus saw a Muslim mosque upon arriving in Cuba because it was convenient for Turkish-Cuban relations at the time.
I am an author and researcher focusing on pop culture, science, and history. Bylines: New Republic, Esquire, Slate, etc. There's more about me in the About Jason tab.
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