Chinese Occultism, by Paul Carus, , at sacred-texts.com
The Chinese method of divination may help us to understand the Urim and Thummim of the Hebrews which are so ancient that details of their method are practically forgotten.
We notice first that the Urim and Thummim are two sets of symbols apparently forming a contrast similar to that of yin and
yang. It is not probable that they were a set of twelve gems representing the twelve tribes of Israel. Secondly, like the yin and yang, the two sets must have been a plurality of elements and not only two symbols as is sometimes assumed; and thirdly, they served the purpose of divination, for they are referred to in connection with the ephod which must have had something to do with the determining oracle.
The Urim and Thummim * are translated in the Septuagint † by "manifestation and truth," or, as it has been rendered in English, "light and perfection." It appears that the vowel in the first word is wrong, and we ought to read Orim, which is the plural form of Or, "light," and might be translated by "the shining things." If Thummim is to be derived from the root THaMaM, its vocalisation ought to be thamim (not thummim) and would mean "the completed things."
We cannot doubt that the Urim and Thummim form a contrast, and if the Urim represent "light" or yang, the Thummim would represent "darkness" or yin, the former being compared to the rise of the sun, the latter to the consummation of the day.
Sometimes the answer of the Urim and Thummim is between two alternatives (as in 1 Sam. xiv. 36 ff), some times a definite reply is given which would presuppose a more or less complicated system similar to the answers recorded in the Yih King. In the history of Saul (1 Sam. x. 22) the answer comes out, "Behold, he hath hid himself among the stuff," and in the time of the Judges (Judges xx. 28) the question is asked about the advisability of a raid against the tribe of Benjamin, and the oracle declares, "Go up; for to-morrow I will deliver them into thine hand." On other occasions the oracle does not answer at all, ‡ and its silence is interpreted as due to the wrath of God.
The answer received by consulting the Urim and Thummim was regarded as the decision of God, and was actually called the voice of God. This view seems to have led in later times, when the process of divination was no longer understood, to the assumption
that Yahveh's voice could be heard in the Holy of Holies, a misinterpretation which is plainly recognisable in the story of the high priest Eleazar (Num. vii. 89).
The Urim and Thummim are frequently mentioned in close connection with the ephod which has been the subject of much discussion. It is commonly assumed that the word is used in two senses, first as an article of apparel and secondly as a receptacle for Urim and Thummim. Unless we can find an interpretation which shows a connection between the two, we can be sure not to have rightly understood the original significance of this mysterious article. The description of the ephod in Exodus ii. 28, (an unquestionably postexilic passage) is irreconcilable with the appearance, use or function which this curious object must have possessed according to our historical sources, and the latter alone can be regarded as reliable. After considering all the passages in which the ephod is mentioned we have come to the conclusion that it was a pouch worn by the diviner who hung it around his loins using the string as a girdle.
The original meaning of ephod is "girdle" and the verb aphad means "to put on, to gird." David, a strong believer in the Urim and Thummim, danced before the Lord "girded with an ephod," and we must assume that according to the primitive fashion the diviner was otherwise naked. Hence he incurred the contempt of his wife Michal whose piety did not go so far as the king's in worshiping Yahveh in this antiquated manner.
The main significance of the ephod in connection with the Urim and Thummim was to serve as a receptacle for the lots, and so it may very well have become customary to make it of a more costly and enduring material in the form of a vase. This will explain those passages in which the ephod is spoken of as being made of gold and standing on the altar, as where we are informed that the sword of Goliath had been deposited as a trophy wrapped in a mantle "behind the ephod."
There are other passages in which "ephod" seems to be identical with an idol, but if our interpretation be accepted there is no
difficulty in this, for the receptacle of the Urim and Thummim may very well have come to be regarded as an object of worship.
It is difficult to say whether the ephod is identical with the khoshen, the breastplate of the high priest, which in later postexilic usage was ornamented with twelve precious stones representing the twelve tribes of Israel. It is sure, however, that the Urim and Thummim cannot be identified with the twelve jewels, and the Hebrew words plainly indicate that they were placed inside as into a pouch. In Lev. xiii. 8 the verb nathan el, "to put into," is used and not nathan ‘al, "to put upon."
The breastplate of the high priest seems to be the same as what is called in Babylonian history the "tables of judgment," which also were worn on the breast. But the identification does not seem convincing. We would have to assume that the ephod was first worn around the loins after the fashion of a loin cloth and that later in a more civilised age when the priests were dressed in sacerdotal robes, it was suspended from the shoulders and hung upon the breast.
After Solomon's time there is no longer any historical record of the use of the Urim and Thummim. It seems certain that in the post-exilic age the rabbis knew no more about it than we do to-day and regretted the loss of this special evidence of grace. They supposed their high priests must be no longer fit to consult the oracle (Esdras ii. 63; Neh. vii. 65) and Josephus states (Antiq. iii. 8–9) that two hundred years before his time, it had ceased. According to common tradition, however, it was never reintroduced into the temple service after the exile.
While Josephus identified the Urim and Thummim with the twelve jewels in the breastplate of the high priest, Philo * claims that they were pictures exhibited in the embroidery of the breastplate representing the symbols of light and truth. His conception is untenable, but it is noteworthy because his view seems to be influenced by his knowledge of the sacerdotal vestments of Egypt. We are told that the high priest in his capacity as judge used to wear a breastplate bearing the image of truth or justice. One such
shield has been found, upon which were two figures recognisable by the emblems on their heads: one with a solar disk as Ra, the sun-god or light, the other with a feather, as Maat or truth. If the Urim and Thummim were not plural and were not contrasts, and if we did not know too well that they were placed in an ephod, Philo's interpretation would have much to recommend itself. Perhaps he and also the Septuagint were under Egyptian influence.
While we do not believe that the Urim and Thummim were exactly like the yang and yin we are fully convinced that the Chinese method of divination throws some light upon the analogous Hebrew practice and will help us to understand the meaning of the terms. If the two systems are historically connected, which is not quite impossible, we must assume that they were differentiated while yet in their most primitive forms.
37:* הָאוּרִים וְהַתֻּמִּים.
37:† δήλωσις καὶ ἀλήθεια.
37:‡ See Sam. xiv. 37 and xxviii. 6.
39:* De vita Mosis, p. 670 C; 671, D.E.; De Monarchia, p. 824, A.