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The Urim and Thummim

This started out with a clue in a crossword puzzle whilst I was visiting my dear old mum on April 12th, 2004. Not many readers of that particular newspaper would have known the answer and I certainly didn't. We needed a four-letter word "(something) and Thummim" [not 'something and nothing'!], objects used by Hebrew High Priests as an oracle".

Through my interest in all things 'psychic', I have accumulated quite some knowledge of oracles and their various methodologies. This meant nothing to me whatsover, so I checked with my dictionary for 'Thummim'. It told me to look under 'Urim' -- and the puzzle was solved.

On checking 'Urim and Thummim' I learned that they were "objects of now unknown nature worn in or on the breastplate of a Jewish high priest (Exodus 28:30) [From Hebrew urim, plural of or, a light, and tummim plural of tom, completeness].

My curiosity being even more aroused, I did a Google search and came up with over 16,600 pages -- other people had heard of these objects but, just as my trusty dictionary had informed me, none of them really knew what they were or exactly how they were used. Not from my random samplings anyway. Oh dear, another quest for Zenner!

It is known from Old Testamant sources that these two objects were kept in a pocket behind the breastplate of the priest. The apparel worn by the priest is clearly described, as is the decoration on the breastplate. Twelve stones, representing the twelve tribes of Israel, are displayed on this breastplate -- these were in full view and were obviously NOT, as some believe, the Urim and the Thummim. These were kept next to the heart BEHIND the breastplate.

Let's do a bit of sleuthing. 'Urim' is the plural of 'or' and 'or' is from the Latin 'aurum' which can mean a light, as in 'aura', but it can also mean 'gold'. So 'urim' could mean 'golden lights'. 'Or' is still the word used in heraldry for 'gold' and I imagine that most people would be 'awestruck' at the sight of something large made out of gold, especially with a beam of light being reflected from it.

The results of using the oracle had to be interpreted by the high priest; so that rules out complete sentences which could be read by anybody. What if symbols were produced, ala those on rune stones, or hieroglyphs, the Hebrew alphabet, or whatever -- just prompters for the priest's utterings? This seems to be most likely, if it were otherwise then anybody could have read the oracle and there would have been no need for the priests.

The Urim was occasionally mentioned on its own, so that was obviously the most important piece of apparatus. The Thummim appears to have been a necessary accessory used in the working of the Urim and without which it couldn't work. To make a light reflect from a shiny surface, light has to be shone onto that surface (Elementary, my dear Watson). So could that have been the extra piece of apparatus known as the 'Thummim'? The translation of the word is given variously as either 'perfect' or 'complete'. To get a good light onto a surface, they would have needed a good mirror, a 'perfect' mirror, to make the trick 'complete'.

Are you ahead of me now? Suppose that the 'Urim' was a 'magic mirror'. These are seen in museums nowadays and usually originate from the Far East. The pattern on the back of a concave mirror is projected onto a wall when the front of the mirror has a light shone on it. It works because the pattern is embossed from the inside and then the inside is highly polished, rendering the pattern invisible except when viewed very closely.

To make a magic mirror work in those days, light would have had to be concentrated onto the mirror with the use of another, plain, concave mirror, in order to make a projectable beam of light. The 'perfect' mirror for that job would have been a highly polished SILVER one. If Thummim means 'perfect' and 'complete' then it could well have been just that -- a highly polished silver mirror which made the most important prop -- the Urim -- operable. Those of you who have visited Egyptian temples, or seen the recent film The Mummy, will know what effective use the people of the Middle East have made of mirrors in projecting light into dark places.

There is no record of what actually happened when the oracle was worked in the Old Testament. Jehovah spoke (only through the oracle, of course) and the High Priests interpreted his words (according to them!) There was only one set of Urim and the Thummim and this was used and passed down until Nebuchadnezzar captured and burned Jerusalem in 587 B.C. The Temple was destroyed and all of the sacred treasures were carted off to Babylon. That seemed to be the last that anybody heard of this Mystic Oracle. But was it?

Babylonia was conquered by the Persians in 538 B.C., so the following event must have taken place between 587 and 538 B.C. As detailed in Daniel, Chapter 5, at some time in that 49 year period --

Belshazzar the king made a great feast to a thousand of his lords, and drank wine before the thousand. Belshazzar, while he tasted the wine, commanded to bring the golden and silver vessels which Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken out of the temple which was in Jerusalem; that the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines, might drink therefrom. Then they brought the golden vessels that were taken out of the temple of the house of God which was at Jerusalem; and the king and his lords, his wives and his concubines, drank from them. They drank wine, and praised the gods of gold, and of silver, of brass, of iron, of wood, and of stone. In the same hour came forth the fingers of a man's hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaster of the wall of the king's palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote.

According to the history of the Urim & Thummim, they weren't in use after the Babylonians sacked the Temple of Solomon and here we are in Babylon and all of the precious artefacts are brought out. What if two of these items were shallow dishes, concave plates, which had a use that was not apparent? The writing on the wall appeared "against the candlestick" AFTER the objects from the Temple had been brought out. What if these objects and the light from said candlestick were an important part of the set-up?

Two dinner-plate sized concave mirrors would have fitted very snugly into a pocket behind a breastplate. Somebody at King Belshazzar's feast recognised the props and decided to try them out. Tadaaaa! The writing appeared on the wall --

MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN

Nobody knew what it meant until --

Then was Daniel brought in before the king. The king spake and said unto Daniel, "Art thou that Daniel, who art of the children of the captivity of Judah, whom the king my father brought out of Judah? I have heard of thee, that the spirit of the gods is in thee, and that light and understanding and excellent wisdom are found in thee. And now the wise men, the enchanters, have been brought in before me, that they should read this writing, and make known unto me the interpretation thereof; but they could not show the interpretation of the thing. But I have heard of thee, that thou canst give interpretations, and dissolve doubts; now if thou canst read the writing, and make known to me the interpretation thereof, thou shalt be clothed with purple, and have a chain of gold about thy neck, and shalt be the third ruler in the kingdom."

Then Daniel answered and said before the king, "Let thy gifts be to thyself, and give thy rewards to another; nevertheless I will read the writing unto the king, and make known to him the interpretation. O thou king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father the kingdom, and greatness, and glory, and majesty and because of the greatness that he gave him, all the peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew, and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he raised up, and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened so that he dealt proudly, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: and he was driven from the sons of men, and his heart was made like the beasts', and his dwelling was with the wild asses; he was fed with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; until he knew that the Most High God ruleth in the kingdom of men, and that he setteth up over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thy heart, though thou knewest all this, but hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven; and they have brought the vessels of his house before thee, and thou and thy lords, thy wives and thy concubines, have drunk wine from them; and thou hast praised the gods of silver and gold, of brass, iron, wood, and stone, which see not, nor hear, nor know; and the God in whose hand thy breath is, and whose are all thy ways, hast thou not glorified."

Then was the part of the hand sent from before him, and this writing was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, UPHARSIN. This kingdom is divided, and given to the Medes and Persians.

Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with purple, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.

Lucky that Daniel happened to be there, wasn't it? Maybe the words that made up the writing on the wall were the only ones that could be produced and the 'interpreter' said whatever he thought apt at the time? Maybe, if the operator angled his 'magic mirror' differently, other words could appear? I like the additional touch of using shadowography to make it seem that a hand is doing the writing -- I bet that wasn't in the original instructions.

None of this sounds far-fetched to me. The treasures (read 'props') taken from the Temple at Jerusalem are brought out at a party in Babylon. Daniel, the ex-patriot "whom the king my father brought out of Judah", agrees to interpret a message that his confederate has beamed onto the wall, and Bob's your uncle!

Unfortunately, when the exiles returned to their homeland in 538 B.C., they were not allowed to take their artefacts with them. In spite of a hunger strike, the Urim and the Thummim stayed behind -- the prophets Ezra and Nehemiah, in their accounts of the exiles' return, cited a declaration against the consumption of holy food until a priest stood before them with the Urim and Thummim (Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65).

Somewhere, in a museum, there will be two shallow dishes from Babylon which were originally taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. These two props appear to have as much significence as the Ark of the Covenant and yet nobody will realise what they are or what they were used for. The Urim and the Thummim were not used after the Second Temple was dedicated in 516 B.C. because they had been stolen, along with the Ark and other items, and nobody knew how to make another set. Damn clever magician, that Moses. It's taken over 2,500 years for someone to work that trick out. Now about that burning bush....

Copyright, April 18th, 2004

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