Urim and Thummim

Urim and Thummim (Heb. Urim ve-Thummim, אוּרַים ותֻמַּי), the Anglicized form of two Hebrew words used (always together [except in Nu 27:21; 1Sa 28:6, where the former occurs alone; in De 33:8, they are in the reverse order] and with the article [except in Ezr 2:63; Ne 7:65]) with reference to some obscure mode of divination in connection with the sacerdotal regalia (Ex 28:30; Le 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 ἡ δήλωσις (Ex 28:30; Ecclus 45, 10), and δῆλοι (Nu 27:21; De 23:8; 1Sa 28:6); while in Ezr 2:63, and Ne 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 Ex 28:30 and De 33:8 omits the word; in Nu 27:21, paraphrases it by per sacerdotes in 1Sa 28:6, and gives judicium in Ecclus. 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.)

"Urim and Thummim." topical outline.

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 (Ezr 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 תּאֹ, 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 Züllig we find it in Ps 16:5.

Bible concordance for URIM AND THUMMIM.

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 הִמַּשׁפָּט, 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, Ex 25:16; Ex 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 (ver. 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 (Le 8:8). They pass from Aaron to Eleazar: with the sacred ephod and other pontificalia (Nu 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. (Nu 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" (De 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" (1Sa 28:6). There is no longer a priest with Urim and Thummim (Sept. τοῖς φωτίζουσι καὶ τοῖς τελείοις, Ezr 2:63; ὁ φωτίσων, Ne 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 (Ecclus. 45, 10).

See also the International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

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 Nu 27:21 are asked by the leader of the people, and answered by Jehovah (Jg 1:1; Jg 20:18) when like questions are asked by Saul of the high- priest Ahiah, "wearing an ephod" (1Sa 14:3,18) by David, as soon as he has with him the presence of a high-priest with his ephod (1Sa 23:2,12; 1Sa 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?" (Jg 1:1; so 20:18), "Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?" (1Sa 23:12), or, at least, national (2Sa 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" (Jg 17:5; Jg 18:14,20). Throughout the history of the northern kingdom, their presence at Dan made it a sacred place (ver. 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" (Ho 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 1Sa 15:23 "witchcraft" and "teraphim" (A.V. "idolatry"), in 2Ki 23:24 "familiar spirits," "wizards, and teraphim" (A.V. "images"). The king of Babylon, when he uses divination, consults them (Eze 21:21). They speak vanity (Zec 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" (Ezr 2:63; Ne 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 Hebr. 3, Saalschütz, 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 (Nu 26:55; Jos 13:6 sq.; 1Sa 14:41; Pr 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.

7. The latest Jewish interpreter of eminence (Kalisch. on Exodus 28:31), combining parts of the views (2) and (3), identifies the Urim and Thummim with the twelve tribal gems, looks on the name as one to be explained by a hendiadys (light and perfection = perfect illumination), and believes the high-priest, by concentrating his thoughts on the attributes they represented, to have divested himself of all selfishness and prejudice, and so to have passed into a true prophetic state. In what he says on this point there is much that is both beautiful and true. Lightfoot, it may he added, had taken the same view (2, 407; 6:278), and that given above in (3) converges to the same result. SEE TRANCE.

8. Philo, the learned contemporary of Josephus, represents the Urim and Thummim as two images of the two virtues or powers— δήλωσίν τε καὶ ἀλήθειαν. The full quotation is: Τὸ δὲ λογεῖον (the pectoral, or breastplate); τετράγωνον. διπλοῦν κατεσκευάζετο, ὡσανεὶ βάσις ἵνα δύο ἀρετὰς ἀγαλματοφορῇ (that they might carry the image of the two powers); δήλωσίν τε καὶ ἀλήθειαν (De Vita Mosis, lib. 3, p. 152, t. 2, ed. Mangey). He also uses the following words (De Monarch. lib. 2, p. 824; 1 Opp. 2, 226): Ε᾿πὶ τοῦ λογείου διττὰ ὑφάσματα καταποικίλλει, προσαγορεύων τὸ μὲν δήλωσιν, τὸ δ᾿ ἀλήθειαν. This statement of Philo...has been thought by many recent interpreters to be supported-by certain external evidence. It had been noticed by all the old commentators that a remarkable resemblance existed between the Urim and Thummim of the Jewish high-priest and the custom recorded by Elian (Var. Hist. 14, 347) of the Egyptian arch judge, who was always a priest venerable for age, learning, and probity, and who opened judicial proceedings by suspending, by a gold chain hung round his neck (comp. Ge 41:42), an image made of a sapphire stone, which was called Α᾿λήθεια, i.e. "truth," and with which Diodorus Siculus (1, 48,75) says he touched (προσθεῖτο) the party who had gained the cause. Certain traces of a similar custom among the Romans had also been adverted to — namely, that among the Vestal Virgins, at least she that was called Maxima, and who sat in judgment and tried causes as the Pontifex Maximus did, wore a similar antepectorale (Lipsius, De Vesta et Vtstalibus Syntagima [Antv. 1603, ap. Plant.]; cap. ult.). But these resemblances among the Egyptians were considered to have been derived by them from the Jews, in: consequence of their correspondence with them after Solomon's marriage with Pharaoh's daughter (Patrick, on Exodus 28:30). Subsequent discoveries, however, among the antiquities of Egypt lead to the conclusion that these resemblances belong to a much earlier period. Sir G. Wilkinson says the figure of Truth which the Egyptian arch judge suspended from his necks was in fact, a representation of the goddess who was worshipped under the dual, or double, character of Truth and Justice, and whose name, Thmei, the Egyptian or Coptic name of Justice or Truth (comp. the Greek θέμις), appears to have been the origin of the Hebrew Thummim a word," he remarks, "according to the Sept. translation, implying truth, and bearing a further analogy in its plural termination." He also remarks that the word Thummim, being a plural or dual word, corresponds to the Egyptian notion of the "two Truths." or the double capacity of this goddess. "This goddess," he says," frequently occurs in the sculptures in this double capacity, represented by two figures exactly similar," as in the above cut. "It is," he adds, "further observable that the chief priest of the Jews, who, before the election of a king, was also the judge of the nation, was alone entitled to wear 'this honorary badge. Does the touch of the successful litigant with the figure, by the Egyptian arch judge, afford any illustration of such passages as Isa 6:7; Jer 1:9; Es 5:2, or of those numerous instances in which touching is represented as the emblem or means of miraculous virtue?" Our authority for these Egyptian antiquities adds that the ancient (Sept.) interpretation of the Urim and Thummim, as signifying "light and truth." presents a striking analogy to the two figures of Re, the sun, and Thmei, truth, in the breastplate worn by the Egyptians. Here Thmei is represented, as she frequently is, by a single figure wearing two ostrich feathers, her emblem, because all the wing feathers of this bird were considered of equal length, and hence meant true or correct" (Anc. Egypt. [Lond. 1842], 2, 27, etc.; 5, 28, etc. See also other remarks on the dual offices of Thmei, in Gallery oaf Antiquities, selected from the British Museum by F. Arundale and J. Bonomi). Upon a view of the preceding facts, even so orthodox an antiquarian as Hengstenberg (Egypt and the Book of Moses, ch. 6) adopts Mr. Mede's opinion, that the Urim and Thummim were "things well known to the patriarchs," as divinely appointed means of inquiring of the Lord (Ge 25:22-23), suited to an infantine state of religion; that the originals were preserved, or the real use at least, among the Abrahamidae, and, at the reformation under Moses, were simply recognized; that the resemblances to them among the Egyptians were but imitations of this primeval mode of divine communication, as' were the heathen auspices of similar means originally connected with the sacrifice of animals.

In opposition to this view of a direct Egyptian origin of the objects in question, it has been forcibly urged

(1) that the words Urim and Thumminm do not, in fact, mean Truth and Justice;

(2) that, with the exception of the single and undistinctive use of the term "judgment" (מַשׁפָּט) in connection with the choshen, or pontifical pectorale, there is no magisterial function of the high priest in the cases of consultation, like that of the Egyptian arch judge; and

(3) that, if such an image were intended, it is strange that no description is given to identify it, nor any prescription made as to its form or structure in the Mosaic account, as there is of all the other articles of the priestly regalia (see Keil, Commentarii, ad loc.).

IV. Oracular Use. — The process of consulting the Lord by Urim and Thummim, and the form in which the answer was returned, are not explained in Scripture, and all we can say on the subject is from Rabbinical tradition. The rabbins say that the manner of inquiring was as follows the priest put on his robes, and went (not into the sanctuary, where he could go but once a year), but into the sanctum, or holy place, and stood before the curtain or vail that divided the sanctuary from the sanctum. There he stood upright, facing towards the ark of the covenant, and behind him stood the person for whom he inquired, in a right line with the priest, facing the back of the latter, but outside the sanctum. Then the priest inquired of God concerning the matter required, in a low voice, like one praying half audibly, and; keeping his eyes upon the breastplate, he received by Urim and Thummim 'the answer to his question. Maimonides says it was not lawful to inquire by this mode for private individuals, but only for the king, or for him on whom the affairs of the congregation lay.

With respect to the mode in which the answer was returned, Prideaux, and some other Christian commentators, think that when the high-priest inquired of the Lord, standing in his robes before the vail, that an audible answer was returned from within. But the rabbins say that the answer was given by certain letters engraven on the stones in the breastplate becoming peculiarly; prominently lustrous, in proper order, so as to be read by the high-priest into words. For instance, when David inquired of God whether he should go up to one of the cities of Judah (2Sa 2:1), the answer was, Go up, עלה, alah; the letters ל ע, and ִח became in order prominently lustrous, and thus formed the word. These explanations evidently depend upon the Talmudic theories above recited as to the form and nature of the objects themselves. SEE DIVINATION.

V. Typical Significance. — The office of the high-priest and his dress, as well as the tabernacle and its furniture and service, were all typical of the Christian dispensation, or of the office and person of Christ; in whom, also, the Urim and Thummim, as well as the other types and foreshadowing's, were fulfilled. He was Light, Perfection, Manifestation, and Truth. He was the "true Light, that lighteth every man that cometh into the world" (Joh 1:9). Being made: perfect, he became the Author of salvation to all that obey him" (Heb 5:9). He was "God manifest in the flesh" (1Ti 3:16). He was "the Way, the Truth, and the Life" (Joh 14:6), and he "came to bear witness to the Truth" (Joh 18:37). By Urim and Thummim a measure of the Holy Ghost was granted to the Jewish high-priest; Christ is a high-priest in whom are all the gifts of the Holy Ghost without measure (3:34). "He put on righteousness as a breastplate" (Isa 59:19); and by his merits and intercession as our continual High-priest, he has given to us to "put on the breastplate of faith and love" (1Th 5:8). Some have seen the Urim and Thummim the object alluded to by John as" the white stone" (ψῆφος λευκή) of the Christian mysteries (Re 2:17). SEE TYPE.

VI. Literature. — In addition to the works cited above, and those. referred to by Winer (Realwörterb. s.v.) and by Darling (Cyclop. Bibliograph. col. 231 sq.), there are monographs on this subject in Latin by Calov (Viteb. 1675), Wolf (Lips. 1740); Schroder. (Marb. 1741), and Stiebriz (Hal. 1753); and in German by Bellermann (Berl. 1824) and Saalschütz (Königsb. 1849). SEE HIGH PRIEST.

Topical Outlines Nave's Bible Topics International Standard Bible Encyclopedia Online King James Bible King James Dictionary

Verse reference tagging and popups powered by VerseClick™.