Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Urim and Thummim

Let me start by saying that I have no particular religious axe to grind.  I was raised a Catholic but consider all religions to be equally nonsensical.  The very thought that human beings can possibly understand creation, the universe and (most of all) the afterlife is laughable. As such, the purpose of this section of the blog will be to shine some light on the particularly ludicrous aspects of some of the world's major religions.  Hopefully I can do this without ending up with a death threat hanging over my head!

I'll begin with the  "Urim and Thummim" for two reasons:
  1. Probably less than .01% of Americans have any idea what this phrase refers to. I, myself, had no idea of it's true origin until I began researching this blog entry.
  2. The candidacy of Mitt Romney for President of the United States has put the Mormon religion (officially known as The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) into the spotlight.  Its sacred text, the Book of Mormon, was revealed to Joseph Smith, the founder of this religion, using a device he called a "Urim and Thummim".  To understand any religion it's probably worthwhile to take a glimpse at what it's based upon.
As background, the phrase "Urim and Thummin" appears a number of times in the Old Testament (Exodus 28:30; Leviticus 8:8; Ezra 2:63; Nehemiah 7:65; Deuteronomy 33:8; Numbers 27:21; 1 Samuel 28:6) and refers to an object that allowed Jewish high priests to communicate with God in order to obtain a "yes/no" answer to a particular question.  It's unclear what the biblical "Urim and Thummin" looked like, but many scholars believe that they were two stones or dice of some kind that were carried within the high priest's breastplate.  If you're interested in greater detail, this site provides what appears to be a fairly scholarly analysis. 

By all objective accounts, the Book of Mormon was translated by Joseph Smith from a set of golden plates that were loaned to him by the Angel Moroni.  The Angel also provided Smith with an object that he called the "Urim and Thummim".  This provided Smith with much more than a "yes/no" answer to a question:  it allowed him to actually translate the otherwise undecipherable contents of the golden plates.  The following quote from Joseph Smith's mother, Lucy Smith, describes what these objects looked like:  

"I have myself seen and handled the golden plates; they are about eight inches long, and six wide; some of them are sealed together and are not to be opened, and some of them are loose ... I have seen and felt also the Urim and Thummim.  They resemble two large bright diamonds set in a bow like a pair of spectacles. My son puts these over his eyes when he reads unknown languages, and they enable him to interpret them in English."

Additional accounts indicate that these spectacles were attached to a golden breastplate which Joseph would wear when translating the golden tablets. Later, for a variety of reasons best described in "The Mormon People" by Matthew Bowman or "Under the Banner of Heaven" by Jon Krakauer, Smith stopped using the "Urim and Thummim" to translate the golden plates.  Instead, he began using something called a "seer stone", a rock which he had found years earlier and had been using to search for silver or to help his neighbors find lost objects.  His use of this seer stone in the translation process is best described by David Whitmer, one of the Three Witnesses of the Mormon movement:

"[He] put the seer stone into a hat, and put his face in the hat, drawing it closely around his face to exclude the light; and in the darkness the spiritual light would shine. A piece of something resembling parchment would appear, and on that appeared the writing. One character at a time would appear, and under it was the interpretation in English. Brother Joseph would read off the English to Oliver Cowdery, who was his principal scribe, and when it was written down and repeated to Brother Joseph to see if it was correct, then it would disappear, and another character with the interpretation would appear. Thus the Book of Mormon was translated by the gift and power of God, and not by any power of man."

The resulting translation is the most sacred text of the Mormon religion, containing what they believe to be the writings of ancient prophets who lived on the American continent from approximately 2200BC to 421AD.  Per Church teaching regarding this text, "a man would get nearer to God by abiding by its precepts, than any other book.

Although all of this may appear laughable, there are now approximately 14 million Mormons in the world today, almost half of whom reside in the United States.  Some of the more notable personalities identified as Mormons include Jack Anderson (Pulitzer Prize winning columnist), Orson Scott Card (novelist), Glenn Beck (TV personality), Gladys Knight (singer), Harry Reid (Senate Majority Leader), Eldridge Cleaver (political activist), Stephanie Meyer (author of the "Twilight" series), and Bill Marriott (Chairman of the Board of Marriott International).  If I had a chance to speak with any one of these people (indeed, if I had the chance to question Mitt Romney at a Town Hall debate!) I would ask, "Do you actually believe that the Book of Mormon is the divine word of God as translated by Joseph Smith?"  There is only one possible answer to that question if you claim to have the intelligence and common sense necessary to be President of the United States.  Consult your "Urim and Thummim" if you wish, but reply "No!".