Abraham and the Urim and Thummim
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 it 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 because Esther is the only place where 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).1
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."2 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).3
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.'"4
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 thus are valuable evidences for the authenticity of the Book of Abraham.
By John A. Tvedtnes