From Paulo Coelho's The Alchemist, what is significant about the use of the Urim and Thummim, and how can the stones be used in an essay?

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tinicraw | High School Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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For a book with a lot of magical realism in it, Coelho's The Alchemist also has many religious symbols presented from Christianity, Islam, Judaism, and Paganism. The Urim and Thummim are symbols from the Judeo-Christian history. Coelho presents these stones from Melchizedek (an Old Testament name) to Santiago as wishing stones that can help him to perceive the future. However, historically, these stones were never used as fortune telling tools. In biblical times, these stones were actually used as translators so prophets could translate ancient scripture. That said, Coelho's choice to use the Urim and Thummim in this way for his story is very creative and logical.

A good essay on the use of the Urim and Thummim in The Alchemist would discuss the symbolic nature of how and why Santiago, a lowly shepherd, obtains them from a king. Melchizedek's highest goal is that Santiago discovers his "Personal Legend." Melchizedek offers advice and encouragement to the boy so that Santiago will decide to give up everything that is distracting him from obtaining his full potential in life. Lovingly, Melchizedek answers why he has appeared to Santiago by saying, "Because you are trying to realize your Personal Legend. And you are at the point where you're about to give it all up"(23). With such love and devotion towards a young boy's need to achieve his highest potential, Melchizedek (a god-like archetype) also gives him the Urim and Thummim as a gift to help him along his journey.


The stones are given to Santiago as an emergency guide when situations on his journey might be difficult. Melchizedek directs, "When you are unable to read the omens, they will help you to do so. Always ask an objective question"(30). Santiago is directed to ask only 'yes' or 'no' questions when consulting the stones, though. In this way, as with all religions, it's as if Santiago is directed to pray and ask for help when he finds himself lost or confused during his journey. The Urim and Thummim are really reminders to pray and to realize one's need to ask for help every once in awhile. Throughout the story, though, too, Santiago only consults the stones once because he desires to learn to listen and read the omens that life and the world around him provide on their own. And, he does this quite well by the end of the story when he gets to talk wtih the sand, the moon, and the sun.

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