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. - Exodus 28:30
And he shall stand before Eleazar the priest, who shall ask counsel for him after the judgment of Urim before the LORD: at his word shall they go out, and at his word they shall come in, both he, and all the children of Israel with him, even all the congregation. - Numbers 27:20-22
Nobody knows what the Urim and Thummim were physically. They were hidden under the breastplate of the High Priest, with its array of twelve inlaid precious and semi-precious stones, inscribed with the names of the twelve tribes of Israel. The Urim and Thummim served as an oracle through which the nation got direction and specific answers to their queries. This, along with the Ark of the Covenant, its contents, and the Shekinah, or manifest glory of God, which had hovered between the gilded wings of the carved cherubim above the Ark, disappeared after the destruction of the First Temple by the Babylonians.
Some commentators believe that the Urim and Thummim consisted of the inscribed ineffable name of God (forbidden to be uttered but once a year by the High Priest). Whatever it was may have been inserted within the breastplate. Others believe that the Urim and Thummim had no physical form at all but was integral to the breastplate itself. How the oracle operated is also a mystery. The word Urim can be translated as “lights."
This project was first presented as an exhibition at the Khan Museum in the city of Ashkelon, Israel. The museum itself is located in a historic, restored mosque. The project was titled “Urim and Thummim” because it is based upon a series of polyptychs (multi-image panels) laid out in twelve’s.
Eighteen years after completing this project, we revisited the subject of the twelve tribes in our first three-dimensional collaboration. Here is the link to Bowls of Blessing.
CLICK ON EACH IMAGE TO ENLARGE AND FOR A DESCRIPTION AND TRANSLATION