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.


The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

Judaism is based on the direct revelation of the living God. (What's so surprising?).

BobCMU76 said...

Interesting speculation. God's silence tempts us to draw Him out. Bible divination is not uncommon, where someone tries to apply a randomly chosen verse to some situation. And pop astrology is a fixture in most newspapers and many magazines.

I was of the understanding that Hebrew law forbid consulting oracles, though they abound in the different stories. Heck, even the 11 apostles drew lots. And what the heck is a dreidel other than an oracle? I think maybe the prohibition is seeing if other gods might be more forthcoming than YHWH. He IS a jealous God, so he's been reputed to say.

I guess I need not feel so guilty when I cast I Ching.

With so many forms of ancient oracle known to us, it's odd to me that any Jewish version of it wasn't preserved. Of course the whole temple cult thing is kinda quaint compared to ethical Judaism, social justice and responsive government and all that.

What do you speculate about the breastplate and other such emblems of the temple cult?

Jeff said...

This is an interesting post. I have never heard this explanation before. Are there any resources you could point me to in order to learn more about it? Thanks.

Harry H. McCall said...

Lvka stated: “Judaism is based on the direct revelation of the living God. (What's so surprising?”

RE: So is Witch Doctor Voodoomism. Just ask any Root Doctor!

Lvka's response is just another example of the “Pot calling the Kettle black”.

The Blogger Formerly Known As Lvka said...

So is Witch Doctor Voodoomism

LOL :-) So are almost all world religions. What's the problem? :-\

Harry H. McCall said...

This magical form of ancient Israelite religions ended after the period of David (Ezra 2: 63 = Neh. 7:65 is ambiguous).

The story of the crucifixion where the Roman soldiers cast lost for Jesus’ robe (Luke 23: 34) maybe a reference back the throwing of the Urim and Thummim.

“What do you speculate about the breastplate and other such emblems of the temple cult?”

RE: Just some more tools of the magical Priestly fortune telling trade we call Israelite Religion.

Jeff, there was a whole book on the subject: The Urim and Thummim a Means of Revelation in Ancient Israel by Cornelis Van Dam, 1997; but it’s now out of print.

If you recall the Mormon Founder and Prophet Joseph Smith (who himself was into magical gold digging in upstate New York at the time of his conversion) had his imagination fed by the magical elements of the Israelite religion.

In fact, Smith claims the angel Moroni gave him eye glasses mounted with Urim and Thumminm lens which he wore to magically translate the entire Book of Mormon.

Well, all this is base on faith and since I down have religious faith, I rejected it!!

Harry H. McCall said...

Lvka, it's called religion!

Harry H. McCall said...

My post should give new meaning to the statement that “Faith is Gamble!”

We can settle this "God Question" right now…lets just shoot some magical Urim and Thummim dice.

Harry H. McCall said...

I might add that the spring board for this post was planted at the national American Academy of Religion / Society of Biblical Literature held in November 1974 meeting in Washington, DC.

The AAR lecture I attended was entitled “Voodooism in the South Carolina Islands” by Rev. Jose Tiller.

Though they are no longer alive, the late South Carolina Root Doctors: Dr. Buzzard and Dr. Hawk were very colorful characters indeed!

BobCMU76 said...

I briefly volunteered in a South Carolina local history museum where the director was an anthropologist who studied Gullah culture, specifically the different traditions of arcane knowledge transmitted among males and among females. Didn't learn too much from the guy, but he was heavily into the psychological impulse behind belief, and could talk on and on about 12-step culture. I figured he must have had a taste of such once, a bad taste.

Moroni took back the Umim and Thummin and Yankee Doodle Hummin, so I'll just cast some I Ching for Harry's query, "Can I publish an article in an apologists magazine, have it accepted and published, and subsequently reveal it to be a hoax?" (as was famously done in some PoMo lit crit rag).

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The sign cast is wind atop wind, unchanging. That means hot air will go undiscovered. Go for it, Harry. (This is what was actually cast, for what it's worth)

BobCMU76 said...

I take some delight in unschooled, off-the-wall arguments. One of the things I hate most to hear is "I've heard it all before."

But I like hearing that too. It's affirmation in a sense.

In some free time, I've been perusing the apologetics literature, seeing what books to vainly try to mooch in lieu of buying. And one I see looks so compelling that I might even buy it. No One Sees God by Michael Novak, who seems to speak more as a hournalist than an expert. I see in the blurb reference to arguments like I've been putting forward. Have any who have read it give me an idea before I spend from what little I earn.

I might note that in Amazon's Apologitics category, John Loftus' book is in the top 20 and the highest ranking of the counter-apologetic works included in that category.