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Urim and Thummim

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The Oxford Companion to the Bible What is This? Provides authoritative interpretive entries on Biblical people, places, beliefs, events, and secular influences.

    Urim and Thummim

    These two words usually occur together (Exod. 28.30; Lev. 8.8; Deut. 33.8; Ezra 2.63; Neh. 7.65; 1 Esd. 5.40; Sir. 45.10; and the LXX of 1 Sam. 14.41); in Numbers 27.21 and 1 Samuel 28.6 only the word Urim occurs. The meaning of the words is not certain. Although both are plural in form, they seem to refer to single objects that functioned as sacred lots and may have had the form of dice, pebbles, or sticks. Another possibility is that they were two stones, one white and the other black. According to the texts in Exodus and Leviticus Moses put the Urim and Thummim into Aaron's breastpiece, a small square pocket attached to the ephod, an outer covering. Uncertainty about the meaning and function of the ephod complicates the matter further. What is clear is that they were associated with the priestly office and were used when people came to seek divine consultation. Apparently, therefore, it was thought possible for the high priest and the Levites to give a divine oracle with the help of the Urim and Thummim. From 1 Samuel 14.41 we may conclude that these sacred lots provided a “yes” or “no” answer. Saul's inquiry of the Lord in 1 Samuel 28.6 shows that a positive or negative answer was not guaranteed, and it may mean that the procedure followed was not as simple as our “heads or tails” method.

    The contexts where the Urim and Thummim are mentioned seem to indicate that these lots fell into disuse when the monarchy was established. The parallel texts in Ezra 2.63, Nehemiah 7.65, and 1 Esdras 5.40 may imply that a return to the use of the Urim and Thummim was not expected.

    In Hebrew letters the words are the motto of Yale University.

    See Magic and Divination

    .

    Hendrik C. Spykerboer

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