Evidence is building that there might be a connection, or common origin between Judaism and the Hindu/Buddhist philosophies of India. Some claim that Abraham and his followers came west from India into the Middle East. I personally believe that the evidence is greater for a common origin for ideas present in both faiths from the homeland of both peoples in northern Iran and the Caucuses regions. This is the original home of the ancient Hurrians, who migrated from there to northern Mesopotamia in the 3rd millenium B.C.
The Hurrians came to be the dominant ethnic group in southern Anatolia, northern Mesopatamia and northeastern Syria from the mid-3rd millenium to the mid-2nd millenium B.C. Their capital and largest city was Urkesh at the base of the Taurus Mountains. Recent excavations reveal it to be a cosmopolitan city with great temples, palaces and even plumbing! From there the Hurrians controlled a small trading empire that spread their cultural influence throughout the Middle East. Nearby, in the heart of Hurrian territory was the Biblical city of Haran. Could Urkesh be Abraham’s birth city, Ur of the Chaldees? When one realizes that in Hebrew it is called Ur Kasdim, or with Hebrew consonants U-R-K-E-S, the possibility becomes more obvious. But a name alone is not enough. So, is there more evidence that Abraham and his followers came from Hurrian origins?
Normally, Ur of the Chaldees has been thought to be the Sumerian city of Ur in southern Mesopatamia. This has been based on the similar sounding name, the fact that the Chaldeans later came to rule this area and similar mythologies between the two cultures. But Josephus, Maimonides and other early Jewish sages claimed that Abraham’s birthplace was in northern Mesopatamia right where we find Urkesh! There are also strong cultural connections between the ancient Hebrews and Hurrians. Lets look at a few highlights:
1) The prophet Jeremiah claimed the Hebrews descended from a Hittite mother and an Aramean father. The Hurrians were the largest ethnic group of the Hittite Empire with an Indo-European ruling aristocracy.
2) Around the time of Abraham’s life, there was an Amorite governor of Urkesh named Terru, who was appointed by the king of Mari, who’d recently conquered Urkesh. The name is very similar to that of Abraham’s father, Terah, and could explain the family’s move to Haran, as Terru was very unpopular with the Hurrian locals he ruled over.
3) Haran was a predominantly Hurrian city and we see many of their cultural influences in the patriarchal stories of Abraham and Sarah, Isaac and Rebekkah and Jacob and Leah/Rachel. These include:
a. Property ownership was held by family clans and the “household gods.” It’s use was leased to individual members. Control of the household gods and thus the family property was held by the “senior” father which explains the importance of the Biblical story of Rebekkah’s stealing them.
b. A cultural custom unique to the Hurrians was the practice of adopting a wife as one’s sister. This had to do with property and marriage laws and helps to explain the odd occurences where Abraham claims Sarah as his sister in Egypt and with the Philistine king of Gerar.
c. Jacob’s stealing of the “birthright” from Esau finds a context in the Hurrian customs of passing down the “household gods” in a dying utterance to the eldest son, or sometimes the wife’s brother. If you remember, it was Rebekkah from Haran who instructed Jacob to deceive his father, Isaac, by dressing as his older brother, Esau.
d. Monogamy is thought to have originated with the Hurrians, where a wife could specify that her husband have no other wife during the term of the marriage contract. This became a staple of later Judeo-Christian thought.
e. Hurrian customs also explain the story of Abraham sending his servant, Eliezar, to seek a wife for his son, Isaac. According to Hurrian practice, if Isaac had gone himself, he would not have been able to return to Canaan, as he’d have been required to visit his wife and children at his mother-in-law’s home. Rebekkah had to consent to leave Haran to meet up with Isaac.
Another connection of Abraham to the Hurrians is with the story of his seeking a burial chamber from the Hittites. We’ve already discussed the close connection between the Hittites and the Hurrians. In Genesis 23:4, we read that the Hittites tell Abraham “thou art a prince among us: in the choice of our sepulchers bury thy dead; none shall withhold from thee.” So, was Abraham considered a part of Hittite/Hurrian royalty? Possibly through his father, or his marriage to Sarah? Even today, traditional Jews trace their faith and culture through the mother. In Hurrian culture, women held a much more prominent role and were represented in almost all areas of commerce and civil society.
An interesting fact is that Hittite records show that the dominant ethnic group represented in the Habiru’s who served as mercenaries to the Hittite king were the Hurrians with a small Semitic contingent. Many historians see the Habiru and the Hebrews as likely representing the same group of people.
In 2001, teams of Israeli, Indian and German scientists discovered that the majority of Jews are more closely related to the Kurds of northern Iraq, Iran, northeastern Syria and southeastern Turkey than to any other ethnic group including their Semitic Arab neighbors. Scholars believe the Kurds to be the descendants of the ancient Hurrians (Nov 2001, The American Journal of Human Genetics by Arriella Oppenheim).
Other than for historical accuracy, why is this important? How can it inspire us as Jews today? I feel it gives a context for greater understanding of the culture that Judaism developed within and reveals a common origin for Jewish and Indian spiritual philosophies. The Hurrians were not ethnic Semites, but came from the same area as the Aryan tribes that were invading India about the same time as Abraham’s journey to Canaan. For parts of their history, the Hurrians were also ruled by an Indo-European (Aryan) aristocracy in both the Hittite Empire and also later in the kingdom of Mitanni. The rulers of Mitanni give praise to many of the Vedic gods of India in their treaties with neighboring cities.
Also, the Hurrian faith shows much more shamanistic influence than that of Mesopotamia with their gods communicating directly to rulers and priests from deep underground chambers know as “abi” that were thought to be entrances to the underworld.
Today, Jews are rediscovering a heritage of meditation and reincarnation within their faith that is bringing renewal to a religion that many thought void of personal spirituality. Perhaps we are finally understanding the nature of the faith that inspired Abraham and his followers with it’s Eastern philosophy and lofty, spiritual concepts of union with God.
Samuel Griswold is the author of the bold new historic thriller, True Identity, featuring an Israeli Mossad agent who discovers he was a Hebrew follower of the Biblical Abraham in a previous life. True Identity is available in both print and Kindle versions on Amazon.com.