Tuesday, January 31, 2006

Abraham and the Urim and Thummim

This is an artice posted with permission by John A. Tvedtnes (M.A. in Linguistics and M.A. in Middle East Studies (Hebrew), University of Utah) a senior resident scholar with the Institute for the Study and Preservation of Ancient Religious Texts at Brigham Young University.

The Book of Abraham informs us that Abraham “had the Urim and Thummim,” by means of which he “saw the stars.” “And the Lord said unto me, by the Urim and Thummim, that Kolob was after the manner of the Lord, according to its times and seasons in the revolutions thereof” (Abraham 3:1-4).
The Bible associates the urim and thummim with the Israelite high priest, but never suggests that Abraham possessed this instrument of divine revelation. It is significant, however, that some early nonbiblical Jewish writings concur with the Book of Abraham on this issue.
The latter part of Esther 1:6 speaks of several types of stone, two of which are called dar and socheret. These are rendered “white” and “black” in the King James Bible, but the real meaning is unknown, since this is the only place the two Hebrew words are used in the Bible. Jewish tradition holds that they were precious stones (TB Megillah 12a). The Bahir, an early Jewish kabbalistic work, explains,

This is the measure of all merchandise (Sechorah) in the world. It is also the power of the precious stones that are called Socheret and Dar.
And upon what is the attribute of Dar?
This teaches us that God took a thousandth of its radiance, and from it He constructed a beautiful precious stone. In it He included all the commandments.
Abraham came, and He sought a power to give him. He gave him this precious stone, but he did not want it. (Bahir 190)

From Abraham 1:2, 4, we learn that the power that Abraham sought was the priesthood. It seems that the two stones he received were associated with that power. Bahir 192 continues,

[It is written that Abraham kept], “My commandments, My decrees, and My Torahs.” He said, “Since I do not want [the precious stone], I will keep all the commandments that are included in it.”
What is the meaning of “My Torahs”? This teaches us that he knew and kept even the decisions (Horah) and discussions that are taught on high.

Abraham did, indeed, learn of discussions from “on high.” Abraham 3 records his vision of the heavens and of pre-earth life, revealed via the urim and thummim. Abraham 4-5 records his vision of the creation of the earth, including the discussions and decisions of “the Gods.”
The Talmud supports the idea that Abraham possessed a miraculous stone.

R. Eliezer the Modiite said that Abraham possessed a power of reading the stars for which he was much sought after by the potentates of East and West. R. Simeon b. Yohai said: Abraham had a precious stone hung round his neck which brought immediate healing to any sick person who looked on it, and when Abraham our father departed from this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, suspended it from the orb of the sun. (TB Baba Bathra 16b)

Although the stone in question is said to have been used for healing purposes, it is interesting that it immediately follows a statement about Abraham’s astronomical capabilities which, according to Abraham 3:1, he acquired in part through the stones known as the urim and thummim. In this connection, we note that the translator of the Talmud passage indicated “A variant rendering: ‘He possessed an astrological instrument.’”
Jewish tradition holds that Abraham possessed glowing gems and pearls, reminding us that ancient texts also describe the urim and thummim as glowing stones.
The early Jewish texts that discuss Abraham’s possession of miraculous stones had not yet been translated into English in Joseph Smith’s day, and are hence valuable evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.

[1]Aryeh Kaplan, The Bahir (York Beach, ME: Samuel Weiser, 1989), 75.
[2] Ibid., 77.
[3] Rabbi Dr. I. Epstein, The Babylonian Talmud, 18 vols., (London: Soncino Press, 1961), 83-84.

[4] Ibid., note.

[5] Louis Ginzberg, ed., Legends of the Jews (Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1937), 1:298, 5:265 n. 312.
[6] See the discussion in John A. Tvedtnes, The Book of Mormon and Other Hidden Books: Out of Darkness Unto Light (Provo: FARMS, 2000), 198-208.


Robert C. said...

Interesting post. I put a link to it on our LDS scripture-focused wiki here.

Anonymous said...

D Ethington has sent you a link to a weblog:

I am LDS also, and have been looking for the Journal of Priddy Meeks (the complete journal). Do you have an electronic copy of his journal that you could send to me? It is something very hard to aquire. Thank you so much.

D Ethington

2xmom10xgma said...

WOW! You are big time into the occult.