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In the Hebrew Bible, the Urim (Hebrew: אוּרִים ʾŪrīm, "lights") and the Thummim (Hebrew: תֻּמִּים Tummīm, meaning uncertain, possibly "perfections") are elements of the hoshen, the breastplate worn by the High Priest attached to the ephod. They are connected with cleromancy (with divination by casting lots). Most scholars suspect that the phrase refers to a set of two objects used by the high priest to answer a question or reveal the will of God.
The Urim and the Thummim first appear in Exodus 28:30, where they are named for inclusion on the breastplate to be worn by Aaron in the holy place. Other books, especially 1 Samuel, describe their uses.
Name and meaning
Urim (אוּרִים) traditionally has been taken to derive from a root meaning lights; these derivations are reflected in the Neqqudot of the Masoretic Text. In consequence, Urim and Thummim has traditionally been translated as "lights and perfections" (by Theodotion, for example), or, by taking the phrase allegorically, as meaning "revelation and truth", or "doctrine and truth" (it appears in this form in the Vulgate, in the writing of St. Jerome, and in the Hexapla). The latter use was defended in modern Catholic interpretations by connecting Urim and Thummim from the roots ירה (to teach) and אׇמַן (be true).
Thummim (תוּמִים) is widely considered to be derived from the consonantal root ת.מ.ם (t-m-m), meaning innocent, Many scholars now believe that Urim (אוּרִים) simply derives from the Hebrew term אּרּרִים (Arrim), meaning "curses", and thus that Urim and Thummim essentially means "cursed or faultless", in reference to the deity's judgment of an accused person; in other words, Urim and Thummim were used to answer the question "innocent or guilty".
Assyriologist William Muss-Arnolt connected the singular forms—ur and tumm—with the Babylonian terms ūrtu and tamītu, meaning "oracle" and "command", respectively. According to his theory the Hebrew words use a pluralis intensivus to enhance their apparent majesty, not to indicate the presence of more than one. Along these lines the urim and thummim are hypothesized to derive from the Tablets of Destiny (worn by Marduk on his breast according to Babylonian religion).[a]
Form and function
1 Samuel 14:41 is regarded by biblical scholars as key to understanding the Urim and Thummim; the passage describes an attempt to identify a sinner by repeatedly splitting the people into two groups and identifying which group contains the sinner. In the version of this passage in the Masoretic Text, it describes Saul and Jonathan being separated from the rest of the people, and lots being cast between them; the Septuagint version, however, states that Urim would indicate Saul and Jonathan, while Thummim would indicate the people. In the Septuagint, a previous verse uses a phrase which is usually translated as "inquired of God", which is significant as the grammatical form of the Hebrew implies that the inquiry was performed by objects being manipulated; scholars view it as evident from these verses and versions that cleromancy was involved, and that Urim and Thummim were the names of the objects being cast.[disputed ]
The description of the clothing of the Hebrew high priest in the Book of Exodus portrays the Urim and Thummim as being put into the sacred breastplate, worn by the high priest over the Ephod. Where the biblical text elsewhere describes an Ephod being used, scholars presume that it is referring to use of the Urim and Thummim in conjunction with the Ephod, as this seems to be intimately connected with it; similarly where non-prophets are portrayed as asking God for guidance, and the advice is not described as given by visions, scholars think that Urim and Thummim were the medium implied. In all but two cases (1 Samuel 10:22 and 2 Samuel 5:23), the question is one which is effectively answered by a simple "yes" or "no"; a number of scholars[who?] believe that the two exceptions to this pattern, which give more complex answers, were originally also just sequences of "yes" or "no" questions, but became corrupted by later editing.
There is no description of the form of the Urim and Thummim in the passage describing the high priest's vestments, and a number of scholars[who?] believe that the author of the passage, which textual scholars attribute to the priestly source, was not actually entirely aware of what they were either. Nevertheless, the passage does describe them as being put into the breastplate, which scholars think implies they were objects put into some sort of pouch within it, and then, while out of view, one (or one side, if the Urim and Thummim was a single object) was chosen by touch and withdrawn or thrown out; since the Urim and Thummim were put inside this pouch, they were presumably small and fairly flat, and were possibly tablets of wood or of bone. Considering the scholars' conclusion that Urim essentially means "guilty" and Thummim essentially means "innocent", this would imply that the purpose of the Urim and Thummim was an ordeal to confirm or refute suspected guilt; if the Urim was selected it meant guilt, while selection of the Thummim would mean innocence.
According to classical rabbinical literature, in order for the Urim and Thummim to give an answer, it was first necessary for the individual to stand facing the fully dressed high priest, and vocalise the question briefly and in a simple way, though it was not necessary for it to be loud enough for anyone else to hear it. Maimonides explains that the High Priest would stand facing the Ark of the Covenant with the inquirer behind him, facing the Priest's back. After the inquirer asked his question, the Holy Spirit would immediately overcome the Priest and he would see the letters protruding in a prophetic vision. The Talmudic rabbis argued that Urim and Thummim were words written on the sacred breastplate. Most of the Talmudic rabbis, and Josephus, following the belief that Urim meant "lights", argued that the rituals involving Urim and Thummim involved questions being answered by great rays of light shining out of certain jewels on the breastplate; each jewel was taken to represent different letters, and the sequence of lighting thus would spell out an answer (though there were 22 letters in the Hebrew alphabet, and only 12 jewels on the breastplate); two Talmudic rabbis, however, argued that the jewels themselves moved in a way that made them stand out from the rest, or even moved themselves into groups to form words.
According to Islamic sources, there was a similar form of divination among the Arabs before the beginning of Islam. There, two arrow shafts (without heads or feathers), on one of which was written "command" and the other "prohibition" or similar, were kept in a container, and stored in the Kaaba at Mecca; whenever someone wished to know whether to get married, go on a journey, or to make some other similar decision, one of the Kaaba's guardians would randomly pull one of the arrow shafts out of the container, and the word written upon it was said to indicate the will of the god concerning the matter in question. Sometimes a third, blank, arrow shaft would be used, to represent the refusal of the deity to give an answer. This practice is called rhabdomancy, after the Greek roots rhabd- "rod" and -mancy ("divination").
History of use
The first reference to Urim and Thummim in the Bible is the description in the Book of Exodus concerning the high priest's vestments; the chronologically earliest passage mentioning them, according to textual scholars, is in the Book of Hosea, where it is implied, by reference to the Ephod, that the Urim and Thummim were fundamental elements in the popular form of the Israelite religion, in the mid 8th century BC. Consulting the Urim and Thummim was said to be permitted for determining territorial boundaries, and was said to be required, in addition to permission from the king or a prophet, if there was an intention to expand Jerusalem or the Temple in Jerusalem; however, these rabbinical sources questioned, or at least tried to justify, why Urim and Thummim would be required when a prophet was also present. The classical rabbinical writers argued that the Urim and Thummim were only permitted to be consulted by very prominent figures such as army generals, the most senior of court figures, and kings, and the only questions which could be raised were those which were asked for the benefit of the people as a whole. To uncover the sin of Achan the sacred Lots were used by Joshua. Abiathar joined David, who was then in the cave of Adullam (1 Sam. 22:20–23; 23:6). He remained with David, and became priest of the party of which he was the leader (1 Sam. 30:7). When David ascended the throne of Judah, Abiathar was appointed High Priest (1 Chr. 15:11; 1 Kings 2:26) and the "king's counselor" (1 Chr. 27:33–34). Meanwhile, Zadok, of the house of Eleazar, had been made High Priest. According to the Jewish Encyclopedia Abiathar was deposed from office when he was deserted by the Holy Spirit without which the Urim and Thummin could not be consulted.
Although Josephus argues that the Urim and Thummim continued to function until the era of the Maccabees, Talmudic sources are unanimous in agreeing that the Urim and Thummim stopped functioning much earlier, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians. In a passage from the part of the Book of Ezra which overlaps with the Book of Nehemiah, it is mentioned that individuals who were unable to prove, after the Babylonian captivity had ended, that they were descended from the priesthood before the captivity began, were required to wait until priests in possession of Urim and Thummim were discovered; this would appear to confirm the statements in the Talmud that the Urim and Thummim had by then been lost. Indeed, since the priestly source, which textual scholars date to a couple of centuries prior to the captivity, does not appear to know what the Urim and Thummim looked like, and there is no mention of the Urim and Thummim in the deuteronomic history beyond the death of David, scholars suspect that use of them decayed some time before the Babylonian conquest, probably as a result of the growing influence of prophets at that time.
Maimonides states that in the Second Temple the Urim and Thummim actually existed but no longer functioned in the practical sense since the priests no longer possessed the Holy Spirit. Rabbi Abraham ben David disagrees and maintains that during that era, the Urim and Thummim were completely absent.
Latter Day Saint movement
Joseph Smith, founder of the Latter Day Saint movement, said that he used interpreters in order to translate the Book of Mormon from the golden plates. In early accounts, Smith described the interpreters as "spectacles", described as two transparent stones set in silver bows. The earliest association of the spectacles with the biblical term "Urim and Thummim" occurred in 1833 and Smith appears to have adopted the term in subsequent descriptions. The Urim and Thummim were said to have been found with the golden plates, a breastplate (to which the silver bows were attached in some descriptions), and the Sword of Laban. Smith's mother, Lucy Mack Smith, described these Urim and Thummim as being like "two smooth three-cornered diamonds." Smith and others also referred to individual seer stones also associated with Smith's dictation of the Book of Mormon as Urim and Thummim, although his wife, Emma Smith, in her later accounts distinguished between the seer stones and the Urim and Thummim.
Smith also said he used the Urim and Thummim to assist him in receiving other divine revelations, including some of the sections of the Doctrine and Covenants and portions of the Joseph Smith Translation of the Bible. Only Oliver Cowdery is claimed to have attempted to use them to receive his own revelation. Latter Day Saints believe that Smith's Urim and Thummim were functionally identical to the biblical Urim and Thummim.
In popular culture
In accordance with the belief that Urim and Thummim translates to "Light and Truth", the Latin equivalent Lux et Veritas has been used for several university mottoes. For example, Lux et Veritas is the motto of Indiana University and the University of Montana. Similarly, Northeastern University's motto is Lux, Veritas, Virtus ("Light, Truth, Virtue"). Urim and Thummim itself is emblazoned in Hebrew across the open book pictured on the Yale University coat of arms, and the translation Lux et Veritas appears below on a banner.
The Urim and Thummim are also mentioned in some modern fiction:
- Urim and Thummim were the names given to two objects of mystical technology in the Prosopopeia transmedia series, culminating in the International Emmy Award-winning participatory drama series The Truth About Marika by SVT and The company P.
- In the television series Dig, the breastplate that is a part of the mystery is said to be the breastplate of the High Priest of the Temple in Jerusalem and used to communicate with God.
- In Paulo Coelho's 1988 novel The Alchemist, Urim and Thummim are black and white fortune-telling stones that Melchizedek gives to Santiago, with their colors representing “yes” and “no” answers to questions.
- In John Bellairs’ young adult novel The Revenge of the Wizard’s Ghost, the two main characters go in search of the Urim and Thummim, imagined as stones with healing powers.
- In The Object – The Urim and Thummim (2007), a documentary directed by Jacob Young, "The story of a musician's fascinating discovery of an ancient relic, as he attempts to seek its mysterious significance and share the artifact with the world."
- Cleromancy: the drawing of lots for the purpose of divination
- Divination: ascertaining information by supernatural means
- Dice: polyhedral objects used to randomize decisions
- Oracle: person or object used to obtain information via prophecy or clairvoyance
- Scrying: obtaining supernatural knowledge by means of an object
Notes and citations
- 1 Samuel 28:3–6 mentions three methods of divine communication – dreams, prophets, and the Urim and Thummim; the first two of these are also mentioned copiously in Assyrian and Babylonian literature, and such literature also mentions Tablets of Destiny, which are similar in some ways to the Urim and Thummim. The Tablets of Destiny had to rest on the breast of deities mediating between the other gods and mankind in order to function, while the Urim and Thummim had to rest within the breastplate of the priest mediating between God and mankind. Marduk was said to have put his seal on the Tablets of Destiny, while the Israelite breastplate had a jewelled stone upon it for each of the Israelite tribes, which may derive from the same principle. Like the Urim and Thummim, the Tablets of Destiny came into use when the fate of king and nation was concerned. According to some archaeologists, the Israelites emerged as a subculture from within Canaanite society, and not as an invading force from outside, and therefore it would be natural for them to have used similar religious practices to other Semitic nations, and these scholars suspect that the concept of Urim and Thummim was originally derived from the Tablets of Destiny.
- Peake, Arthur S. (Arthur Samuel); Grieve, Alexander James (1920). A commentary on the Bible. Princeton Theological Seminary Library. London, England: T. C. & E. C. Jack. p. 191.
- William Muss-Arnolt, "The Urim and Thummim: A Suggestion as to their Original Nature and Significance", American Journal of Semitic Languages and Literatures (continuing Hebraica), Vol. XVI, No. 4, July 1900.
- George Foote Moore, "Urim and Thummim", Encyclopedia Biblica, ed. Cheyne & Black, vol. IV (Q−Z), cols. 5235–5237 (1903).
- ' Hirsch, Emil G.; Muss-Arnolt, William; Bacher, Wilhelm; Blau, Ludwig (1906). "Urim and Thummim". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 12. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 384–385.
- Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed
- 1 Samuel 14:37
- Exodus 28:13–30
- Maimonides. Wikisource. (in Hebrew) – via
- Frankfurter, Yitzchok (Feb 21, 2018). "The Uniqueness of the Urim V'tumim". Ami Magazine. No. 356. p. 24.
- Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 28:30
- Yoma 73a-b
- Yoma 44c in the Jerusalem Talmud
- Sifre, Numbers 141
- Yoma 73b
- Exodus 28:30
- Hosea 3:4
- Sanhedrin 16a
- Yoma 41b (Jerusalem Talmud)
- Shebbit 2–3, and 16a
- Shebbit 33d (Jerusalem Talmud)
- Sanhedrin 19b (Jerusalem Talmud)
- Yoma 7; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 28:30
- Ginzberg, Louis (1901). "Achan". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
- Ginzberg, Louis (1901). "Abiathar". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 56.
- Josephus Antiquities of the Jews (volume 3) 8:9
- Sotah 9:12 & 48a-b
- "Yoma 21b:7". www.sefaria.org.
- "Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 41b". www.sefaria.org.
- Ezra 2:63, which is also Nehemiah 7:65
- Maimonides. Wikisource. (in Hebrew) – via
- Morgan, Dale (2014). Dale Morgan on the Mormons: Collected Works, Part 2, 1949–1970. University of Oklahoma Press. p. 199.
- "Joseph Smith—History 1". www.churchofjesuschrist.org. Retrieved 2023-10-28.
- "Joseph Smith Documents Dating through June 1831". The Joseph Smith Papers.
- Smith, Lucy Mack (1853). "Biographical sketches of Joseph Smith the prophet, and his progenitors for many generations". Brigham Young University Religious Education Archive. p. 101. Retrieved 2006-02-02.
It [Joseph's Urim and Thummim]; also at EMD, 1: 328–329.
- Section 9
- Doctrine and Covenants 130:8–10.
- "How Hebrew Came to Yale". www.jewishvirtuallibrary.org. Retrieved 2018-04-16.
- "The symbol of Urim and Thummim in The Alchemist". LitCharts. Retrieved 2020-01-28.
- O'Driscoll, Bill (7 June 2007). "A man's obsession with a 'sacred' object is the latest focus for 'Dancing Outlaw' filmmaker Jacob Young". Pittsburgh City Paper. Archived from the original on 13 August 2007. Retrieved 29 April 2010.
- The Urim and Thummim by Reb Chaim HaQoton
- Mormon views of Urim and Thummim and Seer Stones
- Commentary on Exodus 28:30 by John Wesley
- Commentary on Exodus 28:30 by Cyrus Scofield
- The Urim V'tumim: The History of Yale's Insignia and Jewish Thought Today at westvilleshul.org, by Beth Hamedrosh Hagodol – B'nai Israel, the Westville Synagogue, New Haven, Connecticut