Urim and Thummim
Biblical references to the Urim and Thummim describe them as part of the ceremonial temple clothing attached to a breastplate. It was handed down through the generations starting with Aaron, but the Bible does not tell of their use in as much detail as Latter-day Saint scripture. In the book of Ether, two stones are given by the Lord for the purpose of translating the record made in an unknown language. This is the earliest mention of the Urim and Thummim chronologically, being at the time of the tower of Babel. The Book of Abraham tells of Abraham receiving a vision by means of the Urim and Thummim, although it would be a different device than the one Joseph Smith used. It is unknown whether the one used by Abraham was passed down to Aaron, but the Urim and Thummim of the Book of Mormon is the same one buried with the golden plates, which Joseph Smith used for translation. The Urim and Thummim of the Book of Mormon is again mentioned in the days of Mosiah, when he used them to translate the plates of Ether. It is here that the Urim and Thummim is defined as being "interpreters." The Book of Mormon also tells that only one who is a seer is able to use the Urim and Thummim (Mosiah 8:13). Hiram Page is an example in Church history of someone attempting to use Seer Stones without the permission of the Lord (Doctrine and Covenants 28:11–12).
When Joseph Smith was led to the hiding place of the golden plates by the Angel Moroni, the Urim and Thummim was buried with them. Joseph described it as two stones set in a silver bow and fastened to a breastplate. In the restored gospel of Jesus Christ when the Urim and Thummim is referred to, it usually means this specific object. However, there are several references in Latter-day Saint scripture to other objects which are called an Urim and Thummim. Joseph Smith had a seer stone in addition to the device buried with the plates and used it for much of the translation of the Book of Mormon. This seer stone has also been called an Urim and Thummim in Church history. One of the revelations of Joseph Smith describes the dwelling place of God as an Urim and Thummim (see Doctrine and Covenants 130:8). That same revelation describes the earth as becoming an Urim and Thummim to all those who live upon it when it is sanctified after the Last Judgment (Doctrine and Covenants 130:9), and a white stone (Revelation 2:17) will be given to the faithful which will function as an Urim and Thummim to each individual that receives it.
Use of the Urim and Thummim
According to the Jewish traditional definition of the Urim and Thummim, one of the stones conveyed the translation of the foreign word and the other stone, its meaning.
Although the only information left from Joseph Smith is on how the Urim and Thummim were used— "Through the medium of the Urim and Thummim I translated the record by the gift and power of God"— he also indicated that he received revelations after inquiring of the Lord via the Urim and Thummim.
Behold, you have not understood you have supposed that I would give unto you, when you took no thought, save it was to ask me. But, behold, I say unto you that you must study it out in your mind; then you must ask me if it be right, and if it is right I will cause that your bosom shall burn within you; therefore, you shall feel that it is right. But if it be not right you shall have no such feelings, but you shall have a stupor of thought that shall cause you to forget the thing which is wrong; therefore. you cannot write that which is sacred save it be given you from me.
This can lead us to believe that the translation of the golden plates was not a letter for letter translation, rather it is more likely that feelings or ideas were conveyed, pondered upon, and then confirmed to be correct by the Holy Spirit.
This would be necessary to avoid confusion in both semantics and symbolism unknown to us. For example the name of Jesus probably would not have been used by Israelites; however, if the idea of Christ was conveyed (rather than Joshua, which he would have been called), to Joseph Smith—he would know who was being mentioned in the text. Therefore it is not a letter for letter translation, rather a miraculous translation meant to not only convey the text, but more importantly the messages within it.
Further insight into the use of the Urim and Thummim was given by Joseph Knight Sr., who was present when Joseph brought the plates home.
- When Joseph returned, Knight said he gave a description of the plates, mentioning “the length and width and thickness of the plates.” But, Knight remembered, Joseph “seemed to think more of the glasses or the Urim and Thummim than he did the plates.” Joseph told Knight, “I can see anything; they are marvelous.”
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