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Urim and Thummim

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(Heb. Urim ve-Thummim, אוּרַים וְתֻמַּי ), the Anglicized form of two Hebrew words used (always together [except in Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6, where the former occurs alone; in Deuteronomy 33:8, they are in the reverse order] and with the article [except in Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65]) with reference to some obscure mode of divination in connection with the sacerdotal regalia (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8), but concerning which both ancient and modern interpreters have greatly differed. The latest elucidation of the subject may be found in Strong's Tabernacle in the Wilderness (Providence, 1888), p. 69,95.

I. Etymological Import. These words are Hebrew plurals, not proper names, but appellatives of frequent occurrence in the singular. They are generally considered to be plurales excellentiae, denoting by a metonymy the things or modes whereby the revelation was given and truth declared.

1. In Uzim, Hebrew scholars, with hardly an exception, have seen the plural of אוּר (Ur, light or fire). The Sept., however, appears to have had reasons which led its authors to another rendering than that of φῶς or its cognates. They give δήλωσις (Exodus 28:30; Sirach 45:10), and δῆλοι (Numbers 27:21; Deuteronomy 23:8; 1 Samuel 28:6); while in Ezra 2:63, and Nehemiah 7:65, we have respectively plural and singular participles of φωτίζω. In Aquila and Theodotion we find the more literal φωτισμοί . The Vulg., following the, lead, of the Sept., but going further astray, gives doctrina in Exodus 28:30 and Deuteronomy 33:8 omits the word; in Numbers 27:21, paraphrases it by per sacerdotes in 1 Samuel 28:6, and gives judicium in Sirach 45:10, as the rendering of δήλωσις . Luther gives Licht. The literal English equivalent would of course be "lights;" but the renderings in the Sept. and Vulg. indicate, at least, a traditional belief among the Jews that the plural form, as in Elbhim and other like words, did not involve numerical plurality. Bellarmine, wishing to defend the Vulg. translation, suggested the derivation of Urim from יָרָה, "to teach" (Buxtorf, Diss. de Ur. et Th.)

2. Thummim. Here also there is almost a consensus as to the derivation from תֹּם (Tm, perfection, completeness); but the Sept., as before, uses the closer Greek equivalent τέλειος once (Ezra 2:63) and adheres elsewhere to ἀλήθεια; and the Vulg., giving perfectus there, in like manner gives veritas in all other passages. Aquila more accurately chooses τελειώσεις . Luther, in his first edition, gave Volligkeit, but afterwards rested in Recht.

What has been said as to the plural of Urims applies here also. Bellarmine (ut sup.) derives Thummim from אָמִן, to be true. By others it has been derived from תְּאֹ, contr. תֹּם = "a twin," on the theory that the two groups of gems, six on each side the breastplate, were, what constituted the Urim and Thummim (R. Azarias, in Buxtorf loc. cit.). "Light and perfection" would probably be the best English equivalents. The assumption of a hendiadys, so that the two words = "perfect illumination" (Carpzov, App. Crif. 1, 5; Bahr, Symbolik, 2, 135), is unnecessary, and, it is believed, unsound. The mere phrase, as such, leaves it therefore uncertain whether each word by itself denoted many things of a given kind, or whether the two taken together might be referred to two distinct objects, or to one and the same object. The presence of the article ה, and yet more of the demonstrative אֵת before each, is rather in favor of distinctness. Thummim never occurs by itself, unless with Zü llig we find it in Psalms 16:5.

II. Scriptural Statements.

1. The mysterious words meet us for the first time, as if they needed no explanation, in the description of the, high-priest's apparel. Over the ephod there is to be a "breastplate of judgment" (חשֵׁן הִמַּשְׁפָּט, Sept. λογεῖον κρίσεως , Vulg. rationale judicii), of gold, scarlet, purple, and fine linen, folded square and doubled, a "span" in length and width. In it are to be set four rows of precious stones, each stone with the name of a tribe of Israel engraved on it, that Aaron may "bear them upon his heart." (See EPHOD).

Then comes a further order. Inside the breastplate, as the tables of the covenant were placed inside the ark (the preposition אֵל is used in both cases, Exodus 25:16; Exodus 28:30), are to be placed "the Urim and the Thummim," the light and the perfection; and they, too, are to be on Aaron's heart when he goes in before the Lord (Exodus 28:15-30). Not a word describes them; they are mentioned as things already familiar both to Moses and the people, connected naturally with the functions of the high- priest, as mediating between Jehovah and his people. The command is fulfilled (Leviticus 8:8). They pass from Aaron to Eleazar: with the sacred ephod and other pontificalia (Numbers 20:28). When Joshua is solemnly appointed, to succeed the great hero law giver, he is bidden to stand before. Eleazar, the priest, "who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of [the] Urim," and this counsel is to determine the movements of the host of Israel. (Numbers 27:21). In the blessings of Moses, they appear as the crowning glory of the tribe of Levi ("thy Thummim and thy Urim are with, thy Holy One"), the reward of the zeal which led them to close their eyes to everything but "the law and the covenant" (Deuteronomy 33:8-9). Once, and once only, are they mentioned by name, in the history of the Judges and the monarchy. Saul, left to his self- chosen darkness, is answered "neither by dreams, nor by [the] Urim, nor by prophet" (1 Samuel 28:6). There is no longer a priest with Urim and Thummim (Sept. τοῖς φωτίζουσι καὶ τοῖς τελείοις, Ezra 2:63; φωτίσων, Nehemiah 7:65) to answer hard questions. When will one appear again? The son of Sirach copies the Greek names (δῆλοι . ἀλήθεια ) in his description of Aaron's garments, butt throws, no light upon their meaning or their use (Sirach 45, 10).

2. Besides these direct statements, there are others in which we may, without violence, trace a reference, if not to both, at least to the Urim. When questions precisely of the nature of those described in Numbers 27:21 are asked by the leader of the people, and answered by Jehovah (Judges 1:1; Judges 20:18) when like questions are asked by Saul of the high- priest Ahiah, "wearing an ephod" (1 Samuel 14:3; 1 Samuel 14:18) by David, as soon as he has with him the presence of a high-priest with his ephod (1 Samuel 23:2; 1 Samuel 23:12; 1 Samuel 30:7-8), we may legitimately infer that the treasures which the ephod contained were the conditions and media of his answer. The questions are in almost all cases strategical, "Who shall go up for us against the Canaanites first?" (Judges 1:1; so Judges 20:18), "Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" (1 Samuel 23:12), or, at least, national (2 Samuel 21:1). The answer is, in all cases, very brief; but more in forma than a simple yes or no. One question only is answered at a. time.

3. It deserves notice, before we pass beyond the range. of scriptural data, that, in some cases of deflection from the established religious order, we find the ephod connected not with the Urim, but with the Teraphim, which, in the days of Laban, if not earlier, had been conspicuous in Aramaic worship. Micah, first consecrating one of his own sons, and then getting a Levite as his priest, makes for him "al ephod and teraphim" (Judges 17:5; Judges 18:14; Judges 18:20). Throughout the history of the northern kingdom, their presence at Dan made it a sacred place (Judges 18:30), and apparently determined Jeroboam's choice of it as a sanctuary. When the prophet Hosea foretells the entire sweeping-away of the system, which the ten tribes had cherished; the point of extremest destitution is that "they shall be many days . . . without an ephod, and without teraphim" (Hosea 3:4), deprived of all counterfeit oracles, in order that they may in the end." return and seek the Lord." It seems natural to infer that the teraphim were, in these instances, the unauthorized substitutes for the Urim. The inference is strengthened by the fact that the Sept. uses here, instead of teraphim, the same word (δήλων ) which it usually gives for Urim. That the teraphim were thus used through the whole history of Israel may be inferred from their frequent occurrence in conjunction with other forms of divination. Thus we have in 1 Samuel 15:23 "witchcraft" and "teraphim" (A.V. "idolatry"), in 2 Kings 23:24 "familiar spirits," "wizards, and teraphim" (A.V. "images"). The king of Babylon, when he uses divination, consults them (Ezekiel 21:21). They speak vanity (Zechariah 10:2). (See TERAPHIM).

III. Theories of Interpreters. When the Jewish exiles were met on their return from, Babylon by a question which they had no data for answering, they agreed to postpone the settlement of the difficulty till there should rise up a priest with Urim and Thummim" (Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65). The inquiry what those Urim and Thummim themselves were seems likely to wait as long for a final and satisfying answer. On every side we meet with confessions of ignorance: "Nonconstat" (Kimchi), "Nescimus" (Aben-Ezra), "Difficile est invenire" (Augustine), varied only by wild and conflicting conjectures.

1. Among these may be noticed the notion that, as Moses is not directed to make the Urim and Thummim, they must have had a supernatural origin, specially created, unlike anything upon earth (R. ben-Nachman and Hottinger in Buxtorf, Diss. de Ur. et Th. in Ugolino, 12). It would be profitless to discuss so arbitrary an hypothesis.

2. A favorite view of Jewish and of some Christian writers has been that the Urim and Thummim were identical with the twelve stones on which the names of the tribes of Israel were engraved, and the mode in which, an oracle was given was by the illumination, simultaneous or successive, of the letters which were to make up the answer (Jalkut Sifie, Zohar in Exodus. 105; Maimonides, R. ben-Nachmaln, in Buxtorf, loc. cit.; Drusius, in Crit. Sac. oni Exodus 28; Chrysostom, Grotius, et al.). Josephus (Ant. 3, 7,5) adopts another form of the same story, and, apparently identifying the Urim and Thummim with the sardonyxes on the shoulders of the ephod, says that they were bright before a victory, or when the sacrifice was acceptable, dark when any disaster was impending. Epiphanius (De X.I Gemm.) and the writer quoted by Suidas (s.v. Ε᾿φούδ ) present the same thought in yet another form. A single diamond (ἀδάμας ) placed in the center of the breastplate prognosticated peace when it was bright, war when it was red, death when it was dusky. It is conclusive against such views (1) that, without any evidence, without even an analogy, they make unauthorized additions to the miracles of Scripture; (2) that the former identify two things which in Exodus 28 are clearly distinguished; (3) that the latter makes no distinction between the Urini and the Thummim, such as the repeated article leads us to infer.

3. A theory involving fewer gratuitous assumptions is that in the middle of the ephod within its folds, there was a stone or plate of gold on which was engraved the sacred name of Jehovah, the Shem-hammephorash (q.v.) of Jewish Cabalists; and that by virtue of this, fixing his gaze on it, or reading an invocation which was also engraved with the name, or standing in his ephod before the mercy-seat, or at least before the vail of the sanctuary, he became capable of prophesying, hearing the divine voice within, or listening to it as it proceeded, in articulate sounds, from the glory of the Shechinah (Buxtorf, loc. cit. 7; Lightfoot, 6:278; Braunius, De Vestitu Hebrews 3, Saalschü tz, Archeology 2; 363). A wilder form of this belief is found in the Cabalistic book Zohar. "There the Urim is said to have had the divine name in forty-two, the Thummim in seventy two letters. The notion was probably derived from the Jewish invocations of books like the Cilavicula Salomonis. (See SOLOMON).

Another form of the same thought is found in the statement of Jewish writers that the Holy Spirit spake sometimes by Urim, sometimes by prophecy, sometimes by the Bath-Kol (Seder Olam, c. 14 in Braunius, loc. cit.), or that the whole purpose of the unknown symbols was "ad excitandam prophetiam" (R. Levi beniGershon, in Buxtorf, loc. cit.; Kimchi, in Spencer, it inf). A more eccentric form of the "Writing" theory was propounded by the elder Carpzov, who maintained that the Urim and Thummim were two confessions of faith in the Messiah and the Holy Spirit (Carpzov, App. Crit. 1, 5,).

4. Spencer (De Ur. et Th.) presents a singular union of acuteness and extravagance. He rightly recognizes the distinctness of the two things which others had confounded. Whatever the Urim and Thummim were, they were not the twelve stones, and they were distinguishable one from the other. They were placed inside the folds of the doubled Ahoshen. Resting on the facts referred to, he inferred the identity of the Urim and the Teraphim. This was an instance in which the divine wisdom accommodated itself to man's weakness, and allowed the debased superstitious Israelites to retain a fragment of the idolatrous system of their fathers, in order to wean them gradually from the system as a whole. The obnoxious name of Teraphim was dropped. The thing itself was retained. The very name Urim was he argued, identical in meaning with Teraphim (Urim = "lights, fires;" Seraphim = the burning, or fiery ones;" and Teraphim is but the same word, with an Aramaic substitution of ת for שׂ ). It was therefore a small image probably in human form. So far, the hypothesis has, at least, the merit of being inductive and historical; butt when he comes to the question how it was instrumental oracularly, he passes into the most extravagant of all assumptions. The image, when the high-priest questioned it, spoke by the mediation of an angel, with an articulate human voice, just as the Teraphim spoke, in like manner, by the intervention of a daemon! In dealing with the Thummim, which he excludes altogether from the oracular functions of the Urim, Spencer adopts the notion of an Egyptian archetype, which will be noticed further on.

5. Michaelis (Actus of Moses, 5, 52) gives his own opinion that the Urim and Thummim were three stones, on one of which was written Yes, on another No, while the third was left blank or neutral. The three were used as lots, and the high-priest decided according as the one or the other was drawn out. He does not think it worth while to give one iota of evidence; and the notion does not appear to have been more than a passing caprice. It obviously fails to meet the phenomena. Lots were familiar enough among the Israelites (Numbers 26:55; Joshua 13:6 sq.; 1 Samuel 14:41; Proverbs 16:33), but the Urim was something solemn and peculiar. In the cases where the Urim was consulted, the answers were always more than a mere negative or affirmative.

6. The conjecture of Zullig (Comm. in Apoc. Exc.2); though adopted by Winer (Realw.) can hardly be looked on as more satisfying. With him the Urim are bright, i.e. cut and polished, diamonds, in form like dice; the Thummim perfect, i.e. whole, rough uncut ones; each class with inscriptions of some kind engraved on it. He supposes a handful of these to have been carried in 4the pouch of the high-priest's choshen and When he wished for an oracle, to have been taken out by him and thrown on a table, or, more probably, on the ark of the covenant. As they fell, their position, according to traditional rules known only to the high-priestly families, indicated the, answer. He compares it with fortune-telling by cards or coffee-grounds. The whole scheme, it need hardly be said is one of pure invention, at once arbitrary and offensive. It is at least questionable whether the Egyptians had access to diamonds, or knew the art of polishing, or engraving them. (See DIAMOND). A handful of diamond cubes large enough to have words or monograms engraved on them, is a thing which has no parallel in Egyptian archaeology, nor, indeed, anywhere else.

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Bibliography Information
McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Urim and Thummim'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​u/urim-and-thummim.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.
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