The Alchemist

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Urim and Thummim Symbol Analysis

Urim and Thummim Symbol Icon

Urim and Thummim are fortune-telling stones that Melchizedek gives to Santiago. The stones are black and white, with their colors representing “yes” and “no” answers to questions—so Melchizedek tells Santiago that he must only ask objective questions of the stones. Because of this, Urim and Thummim symbolize certainty and objective knowledge. This type of certainty, however, is ultimately presented as less valuable than the opportunity to learn from the world and to make one’s own choices. Santiago carries the stones with him throughout the novel, but never uses them, having promised to “make his own decisions.” The constant presence of Urim and Thummim thus also represents the human desire to give up control and decision-making ability. The greatest lie in the world, as stated by Melchizedek, is that humans don’t control their fates. Although Melchizedek is the one who offers the stones to Santiago, they also symbolize the very thing that he says Santiago should avoid: trusting in anything other than himself to make a decision.

Urim and Thummim Quotes in The Alchemist

The The Alchemist quotes below all refer to the symbol of Urim and Thummim. For each quote, you can also see the other characters and themes related to it (each theme is indicated by its own dot and icon, like this one:
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
). Note: all page and citation info for the quotes below refers to the Harper One edition of The Alchemist published in 2014.
Part One Quotes

He didn’t consider mending the hole—the stones could fall through any time they wanted. He had learned that there were certain things one shouldn't ask about, so as not to flee from one's own destiny. “I promised that I would make my own decisions,” he said to himself.

Related Characters: Santiago (speaker)
Related Symbols: Urim and Thummim
Page Number: 44
Explanation and Analysis:

Santiago is alone in Tangier after a man, whom he thought was going to help him, robs him. Some of Santiago’s remaining possessions include Urim and Thummin, the fortune-telling stones. He decides to ask the stones for advice about what to do next. As he begins using the stones, however, one of them falls through a hole in his pocket. This seemingly chance event cause Santiago to pause and reflect on his actions. He remembers promising Melchizedek that he would make his own decisions. Because of this promise, he decides in this passage that he is okay with losing the stones, and that he won't use them to tell him what to do. In addition to keeping his promise, Santiago is here motivated by a new realization: that sometimes too much information isn’t a good thing.

The idea that knowing too much can be a bad thing is further developed with the character of the camel driver, who tells Santiago about seeking information about the future from many fortune-tellers. From these experiences and from his hardships, the camel driver learned to live in the present without fear about the future. Some things are meant to be, and fear won’t change the future. Santiago's choice to not use Urim and Thummin shows a similar type of thinking. Santiago doesn't want to shy away from his future if he learns that it will be difficult. He sees the value of ignorance here. If Santiago doesn’t ask too much about the future, it is because he trusts God to guide him and values making his own decisions.

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Urim and Thummim Symbol Timeline in The Alchemist

The timeline below shows where the symbol Urim and Thummim appears in The Alchemist. The colored dots and icons indicate which themes are associated with that appearance.
Part One
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...and a black stone from the breastplate. He tells him that the stones are called Urim and Thummim . The black stone signifies “yes,” and the white stone “no.” These fortune-telling stones will... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...his possessions are left. All he has are his book, his jacket, and the stones Urim and Thummim . He looks at the stones and feels relieved, because perhaps he could sell them... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...if he is going to find his treasure, but when he reaches into his pouch, Urim and Thummim fall through a hole in the pouch. He realizes that this may be an omen.... (full context)
Part Two
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...find his old shepherd’s pouch. As he removes his jacket from the pouch, the stones Urim and Thummim fall to the ground, The stones make Santiago remember Melchizedek, and he is startled by... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Unimportance of Death and Fear Theme Icon
...to Mecca, or to go through life trying to realize one’s dream, but failing. But Umin and Thummim have now reminded him of the old king, and Santiago convinces himself that he should... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
...a crystal salesman again. He seeks out a caravan crossing the desert and he holds Urim and Thummim in his hand as he does so. He remembers the old king telling him that... (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
Santiago puts away his book and takes out Urim and Thummim . The Englishman recognizes the stones, and Santiago immediately returns them into his pocket. “They're... (full context)
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...in the Bible, and that the Bible is the same book that taught him about Urim and Thummim . In the Bible, priests would carry these stones embedded in their golden breastplates. (full context)
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Alchemy and the Value of Simplicity Theme Icon
...luck omen. He feels it was no coincidence that he met Santiago, who also had Urim and Thummim with him. Santiago tells the Englishman that he is looking for a treasure. The Englishman... (full context)
Epilogue
The Pursuit of Your Personal Legend Theme Icon
Maktub and What is Meant to Be Theme Icon
The Interconnectedness of All Things Theme Icon
Santiago takes Urim and Thummim out of his bag and adds them to the chest. They are also part of... (full context)