Divining the Will of God: The Israelite Priest as Voodoo Root Doctor

Those of us who grew up in the Gullah-Geese coastal area of the southeastern United States in the 1950’s - 60’s are familiar with Voodooism in the former African slave population that inhabited the coastal islands around Beaufort, S.C. on such isolated sea islands as Daufuskie Island just across from Hilton Head.

On these remote coastal islands the local population incorporated their native African religions mixed in with Christianity to create a way to know the will of God via divination. One of the ways to discern the will of God was for the Root Doctor to “Cast the Bones” and read the answer God gave him.

In early Israelite religion in the Bible, it only appears that Yahweh is talking directly to his chosen priestly leadership made up of the Aaronide priests and the Levites (two clans of Tabernacle holy men often at odds with each other for power in this ancient theocracy as in Numbers 16 were a descendant of Levi named Korah rebelled against Moses and Aaron), but apart from Moses, the only communication these Tabernacle priest had to determine the will of God was by some dice shaped oracular objects carried in a multicolored pocket carried on the heart above the ephod (Exodus 28: 16, 29 - 30; 29:5; Lev. 8:8).

Like the coastal island Voodoo Root Doctors, these Yahwistic holy men would cast these dice to determine either a “Yes” or “No” answer to an oracle question directed to God, but only as understood by the priest himself.

Although references to the ephod, the ark (in this case a small oracular dice carried by Abiathar I Kings 2:26), or the Urim and Thummim are mentioned in a number of texts, the religious term “to inquired of the Lord (Yahweh)” was understood to be determined by casting of these holy dice like objects just like the Voodoo Root Doctor cast and read his bones.

In Numbers 27: 21, Joshua directed his questions to the priest Eleazar , who “shall inquire for him by the judgment of the Urim before the Lord; at his word they shall go out, and at his word they shall come in…”

In the case of Achan in Joshua 7: 16 - 18 (though not mentioned directly) these dice were cast four time until the guilty person was found.

In later times, both King Saul (I Samuel 14: 36 -37; 41); and King David (I Samuel 23:9 - 12; 30: 7 - 8) determined the will of God’s by shooting these dice symbols just as the bones are read to know the will God by the Gullah-Geese Voodoo Root Doctor.