VATICAN CITY (ChurchMilitant.com) - Pope Francis' proposed interreligious prayer service for Muslims, Yazidis, Mandaean-Sabean and other religions at the site of Ur during his Iraq visit is being slammed as more evocative of the "Tower of Babel" than the "House of Abraham."
The Vatican has confirmed that Francis will fly to Nāṣiriya for a March 6 service titled "Prayer for the sons and daughters of Abraham" at the Plain of Ur after meeting the Shia Grand Ayatollah Ali al-Sistani in Najaf.
"The Holy Father is holding the interreligious meeting near the house of Ibrahim the prophet," which has a religious meaning for Christians and Muslims and for all," Fr. Albert Hisham, the Iraqi priest organizing the event, told Church Militant.
The archaeological site of the pope's event comprises a pyramid-style ziggurat and a residential complex the size of a football field and may have been an administrative center for the ancient Sumerian city of Ur.
Iraq's tourism industry is hoping that the papal visit would lure both tourists and pilgrims to the site being promoted as the "House of Abraham."
But Nottingham University's Hebrew Bible scholar Gavin Fernandes told Church Militant that "there are several reasons why this is a bad choice of venue for such an event."
What is being hyped as "Abraham's house" is "widely acknowledged to not really be the patriarch's dwelling but a large public building that the Manchester University excavators thought was an administrative or religious complex because of its sheer size and the findings therein," Dr. Fernandes said.
"This has not stopped naïve zealots from spouting claims of finding Abraham's boyhood home, even though pinpointing Abraham's historical person is an extremely difficult task even for those historians who want to support his existence," Fernandes lamented.
The biblical scholar also explained how "scholars are not even sure this is Abraham's Ur," since "while a southern location for Abraham's homeland was claimed at the start of the 20th century, it took the somewhat sensationalized claims of Leonard Wooley published from 1927 to cement the current location as the birthplace of Abraham."
"The biblical geography of Abraham's travels in Genesis and the biblical descriptions of his home country don't actually point to Wooley's Ur but to a northern location, nearer to Terah's city of Harran that was discovered some years after the wool had already been pulled over everyone's eyes by Sir Leonard," Fernandes remarked.
The academic also expressed surprise that the interreligious meeting was being held in the shadow of a ziggurat explicitly evocative of the Tower of Babel in the book of Genesis — a structure representing totalitarian humanism and flagrant defiance of God.
A ziggurat is a representation carved in stone of nirvanic-like ascension to a pagan pantheon of gods. It is the Mesopotamian counterpart to the ancient Aztec and Egyptian "pyramidical faiths," all of which ought to be an affront to those attending as devout representatives from the world's major religions.
The ziggurat very strongly evokes the Tower of Babel story in Genesis 11, which itself becomes a symbol of rebelliousness and recalcitrance based on a call of unity for contumacy against God and which swiftly provoked his anger. Experts agree that the Tower of Babel, according to the biblical narrative, would have been a ziggurat of some kind.
Meanwhile, the conservative website Not the Bee (part of the popular satirical Christian Babylon Bee media) is deriding the "woke pope" for preaching on harmony between the children of Abraham "instead of preaching Christ crucified."
"It's funny, because I don't remember Peter telling the Pharisees that Abraham was the name under Heaven by which people could be saved," author Joel Abbott quips.
Noting that the interfaith prayer is "to be held on the site of the ancient Babylonian temple dedicated to the moon god Nanna," Abbott excoriates: "I look forward to Francis doing an 'ancient gods' tour where he offers alms and prayers at the temples of Baal, Asherah, Dagon, and Molech!"
Pope Francis also "skipped those days in pope school" where he would have learned that "God's covenantal promises — including the atonement of Christ — would come only through Abraham's son Isaac," Abbott stresses.
Muslims believe Ishmael to be the heir of God's promise.
Fernandes concludes that putting Abraham spiritually back in Ur may not be "the most fitting memorial to our great forefather" because "in Genesis 24, the patriarch is himself at pains to distance himself and his progeny from the land of his origins."
"God, he emphatically states, has called him away and says (in a manner of speaking), should he allow his progeny to return to that country, it would be 'over his dead body,'" Fernandes observes.
"One wonders whether Abraham's words to his servant, 'See to it that you do not take my son back there' might not also apply to any son of Abraham living today," the scholar asks.