Urim and Thummin
By Illustrious Companion Benjamin Williams
Submission to the General Grand Council Education Committee
Illustrious Companion Benjamin Williams
The breastplate (hoshen) of the High Priest was covered with 12 jewels, one for each of the twelve tribes of Israel, and, according to some, each sign of the Zodiac. The Urim and Thummim are mentioned in conjunction with the hoshen of the High Priest, and yet little is known about these items, aside from their alleged use in divination.
The word Urim (,yrva) is generally taken to be derived from the root A-U-R (rva) meaning light, and Thummim (,ymvt), from the root, T-M-M (,mvtt), meaning innocence. Thus, one interpretation of the meaning of Urim and Thummim is “the innocent lights”, the “lights of innocence”, or “lights of revelation” – an inference to that “spirit vision”, perhaps, of the prophets. Thus Urim and Thummim have been translated as “lights and perfections”, and “revelation and truth” (Saint Jerome, in the Latin vulgate, opted for the latter interpretation).
However, some scholars maintain that the singular forms of the words – ur and tumm – derive from the Babylonian words urtu and tamitu, meaning oracle and command. There is a clear divinatory meaning connected with the use of the terms Urim and Thummim in the Bible. And some propose the meaning of Urim is more accurately derived from the Hebrew word, Arim (,yrra), which means curses. Thus, according to this interpretation, the words Urim and Thummim mean “curses and innocences”. This interpretation is contextually supported by the alleged use of the Urim and Thummim in casting lots to separate the innocent from the guilty, as, for example, in 1 Samuel 14: 42. Further, in 1 Samuel 28: 3-6 we read that, “And when Saul enquired of the LORD, the LORD answered him not, neither by dreams, nor by Urim, nor by prophets” which clearly references Urim in connection with divination.
It seems very likely that a divinatory application is included among the uses of these mysterious items, items that were a part of the High Priest’s necessary accoutrements. It is also possible that all of the above meanings are associated with the words – it is quite common for such etymological roots to resonate a plurality of meanings around a term in Hebrew to reveal an association of hidden meanings. This is a practice common to Kabbalah, drawing concentric circles that converge upon a central, invisible point. Thus, whatever these magical items were, they seemed to have been believed to employ, as part of their form and function, an ability to demonstrate the will of God.
Whatever the Urim and Thummim were, it is generally agreed by scholars of antiquity that they were lost during the sacking of Jerusalem. (Although Josephus argues their use continued up to the era of the Maccabeean revolt.)
“And the governor said unto them, that they should not eat of the most holy things, till a priest could consult with Urim and Thummim.” Ezra 2: 63