Did Second Temple High Priests Possess the Urim and Thummim?

  • Lisbeth S. Fried


According to TB Yoma 21b, the urim and the thummim and the spirit of prophecy were among the things missing from the Second Temple. According to Ezra 2:61-63 (Neh.7:63-65), they were missing from the time of the return. Josephus suggests, however, that the urim and thummim stopped shining, that is they ceased to function, only around 104 BCE, about the time of John Hyrcanus’ death. According to Josephus, then, second temple high priests consulted urim and thummim. To decide between these two claims, we examine second temple texts dated to the period before Hyrcanus’ death. These texts confirm Josephus and suggest that the contemporary high priest may have used urim and thummim as an oracular device.