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Bible Dictionaries
Urim and Thummim

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

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URIM AND THUMMIM . These denote the two essential parts of the sacred oracle by which in early times the Hebrews sought to ascertain the will of God. Our OT Revisers give as their meaning ‘the Lights and the Perfections’ ( Exodus 28:36 RVm [Note: Revised Version margin.] ). This rendering or rather, taking the words as abstract plurals, ‘Light and Perfection’ seems to reflect the views of the late Jewish scholars to whom we owe the present vocalization of the OT text; but the oldest reference to the sacred lot suggests that the words express two sharply contrasted ideas. Hence if Thummim , as most believe, denotes ‘innocence,’ Urim should denote ‘guilt’ a sense which some would give it by connecting it with the verb meaning ‘to curse.’ Winckler and his followers, on the other hand, start from ‘light’ as the meaning of Urim , and interpret Thummim as ‘darkness’ (the completion of the sun’s course). ‘Urim and Thummim are life and death, yes and no, light and darkness’ (A. Jeremias, Das AT [Note: Altes Testament.] im Lichte d. alt. Orient 8:2, 450; cf. Benzinger, Heb. Arch . 2 459 f.). There is thus a wide divergence among scholars as to the original signification of the words.

As to the precise nature of these mysterious objects there also exists a considerable, though less marked, divergence of opinion, notwithstanding the numerous recent investigations by British, American, and Continental scholars, of which the two latest are those by Kautzsch in Hauck’s PRE [Note: RE Real-Encykl. für protest. Theol. und Kirche] 3xx. 328 336 [1907], with literature to date, and M’Neile, The Book of Exodus [1908], 181 184. The most instructive, as it is historically the oldest, passage dealing with Urim and Thummim is 1 Samuel 14:41 f., as preserved in the fuller Greek text. The latter runs thus: ‘And Saul said, O J″ [Note: Jahweh.] God of Israel, why hast thou not answered thy servant this day? If the iniquity be in me or in my son Jonathan, J″ [Note: Jahweh.] God of Israel, give Urim; but if thou sayest thus. The Iniquity is in thy people Israel, give Thummim. And Saul and Jonathan were taken, but the people escaped,’ etc. Now, if this passage be compared with several others in the older narratives of Samuel, e.g . 1 Samuel 23:2-4; 1 Samuel 30:7-8 , 2 Samuel 2:1 , where mention is made of ‘enquiring of the Lord’ by means of the sacred lot associated with the ephod, the following points emerge: (1) There is good reason, as most scholars admit, for believing that the Urim and Thummim were two lots closely connected in some way, no longer intelligible, with the equally mysterious ephod. (2) As the lots were only two in number, only one question could be put at a time, capable of being answered by a simple ‘yes’ or ‘no,’ according to the lot which ‘came out.’ (3) When, as was the case in 1 Samuel 14:1-52 , the situation was more complicated, it was necessary to agree beforehand as to the significance to be attached to the two lots.

As to the material, shape, etc., of the two lots and the precise method of their manipulation, we are left to conjecture. It seems, on the whole, the most probable view that they were two small stones, either in the shape of dice or in tablet form, perhaps also of different colours. Others, including Kautzsch ( op. cit .), favour the view that they were arrows, on the analogy of a well-known Babylonian and Arabian method of divination (cf. Ezekiel 21:21 ). In addition to the two alternatives above considered, it may be inferred from 1 Samuel 28:6 that neither lot might be cast. Were they contained within the hollow ephod-image, which was provided with a narrow aperture, so that it was possible to shake the image and yet neither lot ‘come out’? (The lot is technically said ‘to fall or come out,’ the latter Joshua 16:1 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , Joshua 19:1 , etc.) The early narratives above cited show that the manipulation of the sacred lot was a special prerogative of the priests, as is expressly stated in Deuteronomy 33:8 (cf. LXX [Note: Septuagint.] ), where the Divine Urim and Thummim are assigned to the priestly tribe of Levi, and confirmed by Ezra 2:63 = Nehemiah 7:65 .

In the Priests’ Code the Urim and Thummim are introduced in Exodus 28:30 , Leviticus 8:8 , Numbers 27:21 , but without the slightest clue as to their nature beyond the inference as to their small size, to be drawn from the fact that they were to be inserted in the high priest’s ‘ breastplate of judgment ’ (see Breastplate). But this is merely an attempt on the part of the Priestly writer to divest these ‘old-world mysteries’ of their association with ideas of divination now outgrown, and, moreover, forbidden by the Law. It is, besides, doubtful if P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] was acquainted, any more than ourselves, with the Urim and Thummim of the Books of Samuel, for the passage above cited from Ezr.-Neh. shows that they were unknown in the post-exilic period. In specially placing them within ‘the breastplate of judgment,’ it is not impossible that P [Note: Priestly Narrative.] was influenced by the analogy of the Babylonian ‘tablets of destiny’ worn by Marduk on his breast, but the further position that these ‘and the Urim and Thummim were originally one and the same’ (Muss-Arnoit, Urim and Thummim , 213 and passim ), as has been recently maintained, has yet to be proved.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Urim and Thummim'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/​dictionaries/​eng/​hdb/​u/urim-and-thummim.html. 1909.
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