The first mention of these two objects occurs in Exo. 28:30, in which it is written,

30 And thou shalt put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim; and they shall be upon Aaron's heart, when he goeth in before the LORD: and Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the LORD continually. KJV, 1769

ל וְנָתַתָּ אֶל חֹשֶׁן הַמִּשְׁפָּט אֶת הָאוּרִים וְאֶת הַתֻּמִּים וְהָיוּ עַל לֵב אַהֲרֹן בְּבֹאוֹ לִפְנֵי יַהְוֶה וְנָשָׂא אַהֲרֹן אֶת מִשְׁפַּט בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל עַל לִבּוֹ לִפְנֵי יַהְוֶה תָּמִיד

  1. In English, how would one describe the objects referred to in Hebrew as הָאוּרִים and הַתֻּמִּים? What were they composed of? How were they made, and who made them?
  2. How did Jerome manage the words הָאוּרִים and הַתֻּמִּים in Latin in the Vulgate? Did he translate or transliterate?
  3. How did the 70/72 manage those words in Greek in the Septuagint? Did they translate or transliterate?
  4. Is there an idea of what the Hebrew words actually mean (since the KJV chose to transliterate rather than translate them)?
  • Notice that both nouns are, grammatically speaking, plurals, so they might ultimately refer to two groups of objects, rather than merely two specific items. Then again, it is not uncommon for grammatical plurals to actually denote singular elements, Elohim and Adonai being classical examples of this.
    – Lucian
    Commented Aug 23, 2017 at 22:24

5 Answers 5


Very little is known of the Urim and Thummim. The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1999; a.k.a. ISBE, originally published 1915) gives a good overview of the issues in its article on "Urim and Thummim" that relate to your four specific questions:

  1. The items are "not specifically described," nor is it clear even what the exact relation of the two have to the breastplate, other than that there is a relation and they are in some way distinct from the breastplate itself (Exo 28:30; Lev 8:8); yet even the term translated as "breastplate" (חֹשֶׁן; ḥōšěn) is uncertain in meaning, translated as such based on the description and where it was to lay in relation to the priest's heart (Exo 28:29-30). So the Urim and Thummim were ʾěl (אֶל) in their relation to the ḥōšěn, which could be:

    • placed "in" (if the ḥōšěn was a pouch as some think)
    • attached "on" (in some relation to the stones of the tribes, Exo 28:17-21)

    So your questions in the first part largely have no clear answer, only speculations. What were they composed of?—no one knows for sure. How were they made?—no one knows. Who made them?—this, at least, seems answered in that if they were made by men (as opposed to simply given to Moses by God), then it was done by those appointed: Bezalel (Exo 31:2) and Aholiab (Exo 31:6a) made "all that [YHWH] commanded" (Exo 31:6b), even those things related to the priestly garments (Exo 31:10).

    ISBE notes one speculation (emphasis added):

    Both Josephus and the Talmud identify the Urim and Thummim with the stones of the breastplate.

    If correct, one then has to read Exo 28:30 as an additional reference to what was already described of the setting of stones in v.17-21, only in v.30 God is then naming this setting as Urim and Thummim. Additionally, that setting of stones would actually be a distinct piece of jewelry from the ḥōšěn, for it is clear that when Moses is dressing Aaron, the Urim and Thummim are distinctly added afterwards in relation to the ḥōšěn (Lev 8:8). Under this view, the stones themselves illuminated (or the letters upon the names on the stones) allowing for God to communicate to Israel.

    Another speculation is from Philo (who ISBE notes as leaning toward the above identification with the 12 stones view). That other speculation held that they were (emphasis added):

    two small symbols representing Light and Truth embroidered on the cloth of the choshen or hung round the neck of the high priest

    Again, because of Lev 8:8, it would have to be the latter: "hung" in some fashion, not embroidered, for Moses to separately place them. And then also ISBE notes (emphasis added):

    Another very old view is that the Urim and Thummim consisted of a writing containing the Ineffable Name

    Such a writing would have to itself be carved and separate. More recently (emphasis added):

    the Urim and Thummim were two sacred lots, one indicating an affirmative or favorable answer, the other a negative or unfavorable answer

    Whether such an indication was by color or otherwise is unclear. But as ISBE notes, this is largely a speculation based upon:

    analogous customs among other peoples

    And that many a times "lots" were cast by Israel. But whether such lots were in fact a use of Urim and Thummim is an argument of silence.

    As ISBE notes, one factor from the Bible indicates that it likely is not a form of lots. A "yes" or "no" type answer from the drawing of a lot does not explain how the Lord would not have then answered Saul by Urim (1 Sam 28:6), since some answer would be assured if it were simply a "luck of the draw" of one or the other. Some other indication than mere drawing of one or the other is needed to explain that, even if only a yes/no answer were the purpose.

    That only a yes/no is the purpose is unclear. It seems that Joshua's directing of Israel's conquering of Canaan related to the consulting of Urim and Thummim by the priest (Num 27:20-21). If so, and if that consultation continued after Joshua, then likely the Urim and Thummim were involved in other inquiries (at least of conquest), and so the answer given in Judges 1:1-2 would be an answer by those items; that answer included more detail than merely a yes/no reply.

    ISBE notes the Talmud indicates the Urim and Thummim were:

    among the things lacking in the second Temple (Sotah 9 10; Yoma’ 21b; Yeru Qid. 65b

    Which matches the testimony of Ezra (2:63) and Nehemiah (7:65) where the two items needed to be regained before approval of those that had doubtful Israelite heritage (Ezra 2:59, 62; Neh 7:60-64) could partake of "the most holy things."

    So to summarize, Urim and Thummim (unless they do name the setting of 12 stones) are unknown in material and form and unclear in exact relation to the breastplate. Even if they are the 12 stones, it is unclear exactly how God communicated through them.

  2. ISBE notes of the Vulgate (and thus Jerome):

    Symmachus in one place (Dt 33:8), who is followed by the Vulgate, connects Urim with the word Torah and understands it to mean “doctrine”

    This is then a translation, which in Latin is "Doctrinam et Veritatem" (doctrine and truth) in Exo 28:30.

    Such a translation does not explain how Urim and Thummim would have then been placed "on" or "in" the breastplate, for the truth of Torah (i.e., the whole Law) would not have fit in such a small place and been readable; and indeed, it would not have been easily consulted for the questions that seemed asked of it.

  3. ISBE notes the following of the LXX (Greek), brackets added by me:

    It is generally admitted, however, that, as pointed in the Massoretic Text, the words mean “light [Urim]” and “perfection [Thummim],” on the basis of which the Talmud (Yoma’ 73b) as well as most of the Greek versions translated them (delosis kai aletheia; photismoi kai teleiotetes)

    However, the Greek of the LXX is τὴν δήλωσιν καὶ τὴν ἀλήθειαν (Exo 28:30), and is more literally "revelation" and "truth" respectively (rather than "light" and "perfection"). Such a translation appears to indicate more the function of the the items, rather than be names of the items themselves, for they were to reveal God's judgment and ways. But still, it answers that "the 70/72" chose to translate.

  4. The ISBE entry, as noted above, mentions:

    as pointed in the Massoretic Text, the words mean “light” and “perfection”

    From the HALOT entries, these translations are based on the fact that אור is used to refer to brightness, light, dawn, etc. (e.g., Gen 1:3, Isa 50:11, et al.); then מם (that is, תמם) is an adjective that refers to complete, perfect, full, etc. (e.g., Job 21:23, 1 Kg 9:4, et al.).

    But considering the text was originally unpointed, Nathan Isaacs (who wrote the ISBE article) speculates (brackets original to Isaacs):

    Though loth to add to the already overburdened list of conjectures about these words, it appears to the present writer that if Urim and Thummim are antonyms, and Urim means “light,” it is by no means difficult to connect Thummim with darkness, inasmuch as there is a host of Hebrew stems based on the root [-tm], all indicating concealing, closing up, and even darkness (compareאטם , חטם ,חתם ,עתם ,טמה ,טמן [...] (see Job 40:13), סתם [...] and even תמם and cognate Arabic words in BDB). This explanation would make Urim and Thummim mean “illuminated” and “dark” (compare Caster in Hastings, ERE, IV, 813).

    The idea of the light is what fueled the speculations on the stones (or names of them) illuminating to answer the questions. Yet still, nothing is illuminated regarding the truth of that speculation or not.


Little is certain regarding answers for any of the questions you ask. The objects, whatever they be, were used for inquiring with God by the priest. In that sense, your main title question "What were the 'Urim and Thummim' (KJV)?" can be answered with confidence.


1) I will look around for the article, but I recall reading that they were similar to the idea of 'bones' used in soothsaying. They would have been cast on the ground or into a vessel and 'read' or interpreted by their position relative to one another to judge the will of God or the gods, we can point to Numbers 27:21 and 1 Samuel 28:6 for that indication.
They could have been made of stone, bone, or wood. It seems likely that they would have had different colors or words written on them, and it's not definite that there were only two items. It also doesn't seem obvious who would have been responsible for making them, whether it was someone of the priestly class, the high priest himself, or a designated artisan.

2) From Jerome's Vulgate: Exodus - Chapter 28

pones autem in rationali iudicii doctrinam et veritatem quae erunt in pectore Aaron quando ingreditur coram Domino et gestabit iudicium filiorum Israhel in pectore suo in conspectu Domini semper

Doctrinam et veritatem translate literally to doctrine and truth, so it would seem that Jerome took a stab at translation, and in fact might give us some insight into understanding the Hebrew meaning.

3) LXX usage and translation:

LXT Exodus 28:30 καὶ ἐπιθήσεις ἐπὶ τὸ λογεῖον τῆς κρίσεως τὴν δήλωσιν καὶ τὴν ἀλήθειαν καὶ ἔσται ἐπὶ τοῦ στήθους Ααρων ὅταν εἰσπορεύηται εἰς τὸ ἅγιον ἐναντίον κυρίου καὶ οἴσει Ααρων τὰς κρίσεις τῶν υἱῶν Ισραηλ ἐπὶ τοῦ στήθους ἐναντίον κυρίου διὰ παντός (Exo 28:30 LXT)

There are a few words in the LXX version that I'm not familiar with which are in bold. From cross referencing other usage, I believe the first, τὸ λογεῖον, refers to the breastplate itself, whereas the second, τὴν δήλωσιν, is our guy for Urim and Thummim. The words appear to mean "point out" or "manifest" (δήλωσιν) and of course "truth" (ἀλήθειαν).

The same terms appear in Leviticus 8:8 together, whereas τὸ λογεῖον appears elsewhere and is rendered as 'breastplate' in English.

4) Hebrew: As CodeONE mentioned, the Hebrew can be rendered as light (Urim) and perfection (Thummim).

My speculation might be that the light and perfection meaning could be referring to the Word of God as delivered to the Israelites. That Aaron is meant to wear them over his heart while before God's presence in the sanctuary could mean that he is not meant to use them but to listen to the will of God by some other means.


John Parkhurst, in his Hebrew lexicon titled "A Hebrew and English Lexicon Without Points", argues that the Urim and Thummim were the same as the 12 stones on the breastplate. I have quoted most of his lexicon entry below. Note that I have made some minor changes for easier reading, such as changing his abbreviated Scripture references to full references, and Roman numeral chapter numbers to Arabic numerals (e.g. "Exod. xxviii" to "Exodus 28"). I have also inserted Scripture quotations directly within his lexicon entry for quick reference to most of his mentioned passages. Text within brackets [ ] are also mine.

John Parkhurst's entry IV under אר:

IV. As a noun masculine plural אורים.
את האורים ואת התמים URIM and THUMMIM, lights and perfections, mentioned Exodus 28:30. Leviticus 8:8,

Exodus 28:30 (NKJV)
And you shall put in the breastplate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be over Aaron’s heart when he goes in before the Lord. So Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel over his heart before the Lord continually.

Leviticus 8:8 (NKJV)
Then he put the breastplate on him, and he put the Urim and the Thummim in the breastplate.

as some things that were put into the breast-plate of the high-priest. That these did in some manner or other give prophetical or oracular answers from Jehovah is disputed by none, who pretend to believe the authority of the Scriptures, being evidently proved from Numbers 27:21. 1 Samuel 28:6, & al.

Numbers 27:21 (NKJV)
He [Joshua the son of Nun] shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall inquire before the Lord for him by the judgment of the Urim. At his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in, he and all the children of Israel with him—all the congregation.

1 Samuel 28:6 (NKJV)
And when Saul inquired of the Lord, the Lord did not answer him, either by dreams or by Urim or by the prophets.

But the two great questions relating to them are,

1st. Of what form and substance were these Urim and Thummim?

2ndly. How or in what manner prophetic answers were delivered by them? --Not to trouble the reader with rabbinical dreams [Parkhurst might be referring to things such as Yoma 73b in the Talmud, where Resh Lakish says the letters engraved on the 12 stones physically moved: "...the letters composing the words came near each other."], or what seem to me erroneous opinions on this subject, I shall endeavour to clear both these points from the Scriptures themselves.

1st. As to their form and substance, it seems highly probable that they were no other than the twelve precious stones inserted into the high-priest's breast-plate, (Exodus 28:17, &c.) on which were engraven the names of the twelve tribes of Israel; for,

1st. It is written, Exodus 28:29 [KJV], Aaron shall bear the names of the children of Israel (namely, those engraven on the stones) in the breast-plate of judgment upon his heart, when he goeth into the holy place, for a memorial before the Lord continually. And to enjoin this the more strongly, the same thing is expressed, ver. 30, and thou shalt put in the breast-plate of judgment the Urim and the Thummim, and they shall be upon Aaron's heart when he goeth before the Lord: and (or so) Aaron shall bear the judgment of the children of Israel upon his heart before the Lord continually. Who that compares these two verses attentively together, but must see that the Urim and Thummim are the substance or matter upon which the names were engraven?

2ndly. In the description of the high-priest's breast-plate, given Exodus 39:8, & seq. the Urim and Thummim are not mentioned, but the rows of stones are; and vice versa in the description, Leviticus 8:8, the Urim and Thummim are mentioned by name, and the stones not; therefore it is probable that the Urim and Thummim and the precious stones are only different names for the same thing.

3rdly. If the Urim and Thummim be not the same with precious stones, then we must say that Moses, who hath so particularly described the most minute things relating to the high-priest's dress, hath given us no description at all of this most stupendous part of it, which seems highly improbable.

As to the 2nd question, how, or in what manner prophetic answers were delivered by Urim and Thummim? It seems determined, beyond dispute, that it was by an audible voice, as at other times; (Numbers 7:89.) for when David consulted Jehovah by the ephod of Abiathar, we read 1 Samuel 23:11, Jehovah אמר said, he will come down. So again verse 12.

1 Samuel 23:11-12 (NKJV)
11 Will the men of Keilah deliver me [David] into his [Saul's] hand? Will Saul come down, as Your servant has heard? O Lord God of Israel, I pray, tell Your servant.”

And the Lord said, “He will come down.”

12 Then David said, “Will the men of Keilah deliver me and my men into the hand of Saul?”

And the Lord said, “They will deliver you.”

Compare also 1 Samuel 30:7, 8. 2 Samuel 2:1; 5:23, 24. Judges 1:1, 2; 20:18.

1 Samuel 30:7, 8 (NKJV)
7 Then David said to Abiathar the priest, Ahimelech’s son, “Please bring the ephod here to me.” And Abiathar brought the ephod to David. 8 So David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I pursue this troop? Shall I overtake them?”

And He answered him, “Pursue, for you shall surely overtake them and without fail recover all.”

2 Samuel 2:1 (NKJV)
1 It happened after this that David inquired of the Lord, saying, “Shall I go up to any of the cities of Judah?”

And the Lord said to him, “Go up.”

David said, “Where shall I go up?”

And He said, “To Hebron.”

2 Samuel 5:23, 24 (NKJV)
23 Therefore David inquired of the Lord, and He said, “You shall not go up; circle around behind them, and come upon them in front of the mulberry trees. 24 And it shall be, when you hear the sound of marching in the tops of the mulberry trees, then you shall advance quickly. For then the Lord will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.”

Judges 1:1, 2 (NKJV)
1 Now after the death of Joshua it came to pass that the children of Israel asked the Lord, saying, “Who shall be first to go up for us against the Canaanites to fight against them?”

2 And the Lord said, “Judah shall go up. Indeed I have delivered the land into his hand.”

Judges 20:18 (NKJV)
Then the children of Israel arose and went up to the house of God [Or Bethel] to inquire of God. They said, “Which of us shall go up first to battle against the children of Benjamin?”

The Lord said, “Judah first!”

Thus then it was Jehovah who returned an answer by an audible voice, when the priest presented himself before him with the Urim and Thummim.

Who can doubt but the typical high-priest's appearing continually before Jehovah with the names of the children of Israel upon his heart prefigured the appearing of the real High-priest in the presence of God, as intercessor for ever, in behalf of the true Israel, even of all those who come unto God by him? Who can doubt but that Jehovah's being sometimes (see 1 Samuel 28:6) pleased to answer by Urim and Thummim, was a shadow of that spirit of truth and prophecy which was to be inherent in Jehovah incarnate? See Deuteronomy 33:8.

Deuteronomy 33:8 (NKJV)
And of Levi he said:

“Let Your Thummim and Your Urim be with Your holy one,
Whom You tested at Massah,
And with whom You contended at the waters of Meribah,

There was a remarkable imitation of this sacred ornament among the Egyptians, for we learn from Diodorus, lib. i. p. 68, Rhod. and from Ælian, Var. Hist. lib. xix. cap. 34, that "their chief-priest, who was also their supreme judge in civil matters, wore about his neck, by a golden chain, an ornament of precious stones called Truth (Αληθεια, the very word by which the LXX render תמים [Thummim] Exodus 28:33. Leviticus 8:8.) and that a cause was not opened till the supreme judge had put on this ornament."

I think Parkhurst has adequately proved that the manner in which prophetic answers were given was indeed by an audible voice, and as such rules out any kind of sacred lot.

Josephus mentions that the 12 stones on the breastplate shined brightly before the Israelite army began to march, which assured the people that they would be victorious:

...God declared beforehand, by those twelve stones which the high priest bare on his breast, and which were inserted into his breastplate, when they should be victorious in battle; for so great a splendor shone forth from them before the army began to march, that all the people were sensible of God's being present for their assistance.
-Antiquities of the Jews, Book 3, Chapter 8, Section 9

This would be fitting for the term URIM (lights). The stones themselves were unique and separate, but when engraved they became a special divine instrument. If this indeed be the case then ScottS' explanation about Exodus 28:30 is correct, that God gave the name Urim and Thummim to the 12 engraved stones. The stones themselves, once engraved, were now the Urim and Thummim.

Parkhurst mentions the Egyption amulet Truth. Adam Clarke speaks about this in slightly more detail in his commentary for Exodus 28:30, where he says:

Among the Egyptians, a breastplate something like that of the Jewish high-priest was worn by the president of the courts of justice. Diodorus Siculus has these words: Εφορει δ ' οὑτος περι τον τραχηλον εκ χρυσης ἁλυσεως ηρτημενον ζωδιον των πολυτελων λιθων ὁ προσηγορευον ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑΝ . "He bore about his neck a golden chain, at which hung an image set about with or composed of precious stones, which was called Truth." - Bib. Hist., lib. i., chap. 75, p. 225. And he farther adds, "that as soon as the president put this gold chain about his neck, the legal proceedings commenced, but not before. And that when the case of the plaintiff and defendant had been fully and fairly heard, the president turned the image of truth, which was hung to the golden chain round his neck, toward the person whose cause was found to be just," by which he seemed to intimate that truth was on his side.

Aelian, in his Hist. Var., lib. xxxiv., gives the same account. "The chief justice or president," he says, "was always a priest, of a venerable age and acknowledged probity. Ειχε δε και αγαλμα περι τον αυχενα εκ σαπφειρου λιθου, και εκαλειτο αγαλμα ΑΛΗΘΕΙΑ . And he had an image which was called Truth engraved on a sapphire, and hung about his neck with a gold chain."

Note how the Egyptian amulet was made up of multiple precious stones, yet it's name was called Truth. In a similar manner the 12 stones in the breastplate of the high-priest might have been called Urim and Thummim.

However there is one main obstacle still remaining, namely that

  • Exodus 39:9-14 has the artisans already setting the stones in the breastplate, and
  • Leviticus 8:8 has Moses putting the breastplate on Aaron and then putting the Urim and Thummim in the breastplate.

Unfortunately, while Parkhurst does make note of the aforementioned passages, he does not address this particular issue to my satisfaction.


While there is some evidence that "Urim and Thummim" was the name for the precious stones in the breastplate of the high-priest, there is also evidence against it. So unfortunately we cannot know for certain that "Urim and Thummim" was just the name/title for the 12 stones that were mounted in the breastplate.

However there is enough evidence to show that when inquiring by means of the Urim and Thummim, prophetic answers were given by an audible voice. This rules out that they were used as a kind of sacred lot, and that only 'yes' or 'no' answers were given.


They were stones kept in a pouch on the high-priest's breastplate, used in determining God's decision in certain questions and issues. The Hebrew word Urim means Iights which is derived from the plural of the primitive root that means flame or light of fire. Thummim means perfection in Hebrew and is also the plural of a primitive root meaning completeness. The Urim and Thummim were kept in the breastplate which was made of gold and symbolized righteousness. Its use to determine God will in certain questions and issues were symbolic of the judgements of righteousness which Isaiah speaks of in Isaiah 11:4 about Christ our high priest "But with righteousness shall he judge...". These judgments were made by light ( Urim ) which symbolizes the Word and by perfection ( Thummim ). The Hebrew word meaning perfection points to a perfection that derives from a finished work which we know is that which Christ did on the cross.

  • How did you conclude they were composed of stone?
    – user862
    Commented Nov 5, 2016 at 1:13

the Urim Vtummin was a parchment with the Tetragrammaton, the YHWH , written upon it. It was inserted into a fold in the Breastplate, worn by the High Priest. The Breastplate contained 12 stones correlating to the 12 Tribes, as well as the name Abraham , Isaac and Jacob. The High Priest could ask questions to God , and the letters on the Breastplate would light up giving an answer. Some Rabbinic opinions hold that the Breastplate could only give a yes or no answer.


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