Urim and Thummim

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In the Hebrew Bible, the Urim and the Thummim (Hebrew: הָאוּרִים וְהַתֻּמִּים‎, Modern: ha-Urim veha-Tummim Tiberian: hāʾÛrîm wəhatTummîm; meaning uncertain, possibly "Lights and Perfections") are elements of the hoshen, the breastplate worn by the High Priest attached to the ephod. They are connected with divination in general, and cleromancy in particular. 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.[1][2]

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 use in divination.

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.[3] 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).[4] The latter use was defended in modern Catholic interpretations by connecting Urim and Thummim from the roots ירה (to teach) and אׇמַן (be true).[2]

Thummim (תוּמִים‎) is widely considered to be derived from the consonantal root ת.מ.ם‎ (t-m-m), meaning innocent,[1][4][3] 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".[1][3]

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.[4] 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).[2][lower-alpha 1]

Form and function

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.[6] Where the biblical text elsewhere describes an Ephod being used for divination, 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;[4][2] 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.[3] 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";[3] 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.[3]

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.[3] 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;[3] 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.[3] 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.[4] Maimonides[7] 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.[8] The Talmudic rabbis argued that Urim and Thummim were words written on the sacred breastplate.[9] Most of the Talmudic rabbis, and Josephus, following the belief that Urim meant "lights", argued that divination by 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);[10][11][12] 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.[13]

According to Islamic sources, there was a similar form of divination among the Arabs before the beginning of Islam.[3] 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;[3] 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.[3] Sometimes a third, blank, arrow shaft would be used, to represent the refusal of the deity to give an answer.[3] 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;[14] the chronologically earliest passage mentioning them, according to textual scholars, is in the Book of Hosea,[15] 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,[3] in the mid 8th century BC.[4] 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;[16][17][18][19] however, these rabbinical sources did question, or at least tried to justify, why Urim and Thummim would be required when a prophet was also present.[20] 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.[21] To uncover the sin of Achan the sacred Lots were used by Joshua[22]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.[23]

Although Josephus argues that the Urim and Thummim continued to function until the era of the Maccabees,[24] Talmudic sources are unanimous in agreeing that the Urim and Thummim stopped functioning much earlier, when Jerusalem was sacked by the Babylonians.[25][26][27] 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;[28] this would appear to confirm the statements in the Talmud that the Urim and Thummim had by then been lost.[1][4][3] 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,[3] probably as a result of the growing influence of prophets at that time.[4]

Maimonides[29] 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.[8]

Notes and citations

  1. 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.[4] 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,[5] and these scholars suspect that the concept of Urim and Thummim was originally derived from the Tablets of Destiny.[4][2]
  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 A Commentary on the Bible, ed. Arthur Peake, p. 191 etc. (1919).
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 Cite error: Invalid <ref> tag; no text was provided for refs named Muss-Arnolt1900
  3. 3.00 3.01 3.02 3.03 3.04 3.05 3.06 3.07 3.08 3.09 3.10 3.11 3.12 3.13 3.14 3.15 George Foote Moore, "Urim and Thummim", Encyclopedia Biblica, ed. Cheyne & Black, vol. IV (Q−Z), cols. 5235–5237 (1903).
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 4.5 4.6 4.7 4.8 4.9 ' Hirsch, Emil G.; Muss-Arnolt, William; Bacher, Wilhelm; Blau, Ludwig (1906). "Urim and Thummim". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. 12. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 384–385.
  5. Israel Finkelstein, The Bible Unearthed
  6. Exodus 28:13–30
  7. Maimonides. הלכות כלי המקדש והעובדין בו פ"י הי"א  (in עברית) – via Wikisource.
  8. 8.0 8.1 Yitzchok Frankfurter (Feb 21, 2018). "The Uniqueness of the Urim V'tumim". Ami Magazine. No. 356. p. 24.
  9. Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 28:30
  10. Yoma 73a-b
  11. Yoma 44c in the Jerusalem Talmud
  12. Sifre, Numbers 141
  13. Yoma 73b
  14. Exodus 28:30
  15. Hosea 3:4
  16. Sanhedrin 16a
  17. Yoma 41b (Jerusalem Talmud)
  18. Shebbit 2-3, and 16a
  19. Shebbit 33d (Jerusalem Talmud)
  20. Sanhedrin 19b (Jerusalem Talmud)
  21. Yoma 7; Targum Pseudo-Jonathan on Exodus 28:30
  22.  Ginzberg, Louis (1901). "Achan". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls.
  23.  Ginzberg, Louis (1901). "Abiathar". In Singer, Isidore; et al. (eds.). The Jewish Encyclopedia. 1. New York: Funk & Wagnalls. p. 56.
  24. Josephus Antiquities of the Jews (volume 3) 8:9
  25. Sotah 9:12 & 48a-b
  26. Yoma 21b
  27. Jerusalem Talmud Kiddushin 41b
  28. Ezra 2:63, which is also Nehemiah 7:65
  29. Maimonides. הלכות כלי המקדש והעובדין בו פ"י ה"י  (in עברית) – via Wikisource.

External links