Means of determining chances. Primitive peoples, and occasionally those on a higher plane of culture, resort to lots for the purposes of augury. They spin a coconut or entangle strips of leather in order to obtain an omen. Thieves especially are detected by the casting of lots, etc. (Tylor, "Primitive Culture," German ed., i. 78-82). The pagans on a ship with Jonah under stress of a storm cast lots in order to find out who among them had incurred the Divine anger (Jonah i. 7). Haman resorted to the lot when he intended to destroy the Jews (Esth. iii. 7). The Greek heroes cast their lots into Agamemnon's helmet in order to ascertain who should fight with Hector ("Iliad," vii. 171). In ancient Italy oracles with carved lots were used.

In Ancient Israel.

The ancient Israelites likewise resorted to the lot for the most varied purposes. Rhabdomancy was known as late as Hosea (Hos. iv. 12); and Ezekiel (Ezek. xxi. 26 et seq.) mentions the arrow-oracle of the King of Babylon, which was still used a thousand years later among the pagan Arabians (Wellhausen, "Reste Arabischen Heidenthums," 2d ed., pp. 126 et seq.; comp. Sprenger, "Leben und Lehre des Mohammed," i. 259 et seq.; Huber, "Ueber das Meiser-Spiel der Heidnischen Araber," Leipsic, 1883). As the priestly lot-oracles are discussed under Ephod, Urim and Thummim, and Teraphim, the present article deals merely with the lot in secular life. Joshua discovers the thief, and Saul the guilty one, by means of the lot (Josh. vii. 16 et seq.; I Sam. xiv. 42; comp. I Sam. x. 20 et seq.). Primitive peoples divide land and other common property by means of the lot. In Hebrew the word for "lot" ("goral") has retained the meaning of "share"; it has also acquired the more general meaning of "fate" (Isa. xvii. 14, lvii. 6; Jer. xiii. 25; Ps. xvi. 5; Dan. xii.). The land west of the Jordan is divided among the several tribes by lot (Num. xxvi. 55 et seq., xxxiii. 54, xxxiv. 13, xxxvi. 2; Josh. xiii. 6, xiv. 2, xv. 1, xvii. 1, xviii. 6-10, xix. 51, xxiii. 4; Ps. lxxviii. 55, cv. 11; comp. Ezek. xlv. 1, xlvii. 22). Jewish tradition, finding offense in this kind of allotment, declared that the land was really divided under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, the lot being merely the visible means of confirming the division for the people (Sifre, Num. 132; B. B. 122a). Prov. xvi. 33 and xviii. 18 indicate that lots were cast in legal controversies. The wicked "part my garments among them, and cast lots upon my vesture" (Ps. xxii. 19; comp. Matt. xxvii. 35; John xxix. 24). Booty of war is divided by lot (Joel iv. 3; Nahum iii. 10; Ob. 11; see also Judges xx. 9; Neh. x. 35, xi. 1; I Chron. xxiv. 5, xxv. 8, xxvi. 13 (see Herzog-Hauck, "Real-Encyc." 3d ed., xi. 643 et seq.).

In Talmud and Midrash.

According to the etymology of the word "goral," the lots were probably small stones, or sticks, as Hos. iv. 12 indicates. They were thrown, or possibly shaken (Prov. xvi. 33, "into the lap"), so that one fell out, whereby the case in question was decided. It can not be ascertained whether a tablet with writing on it is meant in Lev. xvi. 8, as the Mishnah assumes (Yoma iii. 9, iv. 1). At the time of the Second Temple the lot was prominent in the Temple cult, and customs were developed, after Biblical example, whereby the several offices were apportioned by lot. The priests drew lots in all cases where differences might arise (Yoma 37a, 39a-41a, 62a-63b, 65b; Zeb. 113b; Men. 59b; Ker. 28a). In Tamid i. 2 the overseer of the Temple calls for the lot; and Yoma 24b records a discussion whether the priests shall draw lots in holy or in secular garments. Lots were cast four times in succession (Yoma iv. 1). The Prophets increased the four classes of priests that returned from the Diaspora to twenty-four; they mixed up the names of the additional ones and placed them in an urn (κάλπη) and then let each of the four original classes of priests draw five names (Tosef., Ta'an. ii. 1, and parallel passages). The urn was originally made of cypresswood; but the high priest Ben Gamala had one which was made of gold (Yoma iii. 9); hence drawing lots from it created a sensation (Yer. Yoma 41b, below). In the sanctuary the lots were taken out by hand (Yoma 39b, 40a). The lot was either a black or a white pebble (Yer. Yoma iv., beginning), or was made of olive-, nut-, or cypress-wood (Yoma 37a). A third kind, consisting of pieces of paper with writing on them (πιττάκιον), is frequently mentioned.

Many facts seem to indicate that choosing by lot was common in post-Biblical times. Moses chose the seventy elders (Num. xi. 26) by selecting six men from each of the twelve tribes, and then placing seventy-two pieces of paper (πιττάκιον), of which two were blank, into an urn, one being drawn by each man. He proceeded similarly in determining the 273 first-born who were to pay each five shekels ransom, 22,273 tickets in all being drawn (Yer. Sanh. 19c, below, and parallel passages). Eldad and Medad were, according to Targ. Yer. to Num. xi. 26, among the elders who drew lots. Jacob's sons also drew lots to decide who should take Joseph's coat to their father (Gen. R. lxxxiv.). Achan attempted to bring the casting of lots into discredit when he said to Joshua: "If I order you and the high priest Eleazar to draw lots, one of you will certainly be pronounced guilty" (Sanh. 43b). Nebuchadnezzar's casting of lots (Ezek. xxi. 25 et seq.) is mentioned; but, according to the vernacular of the time, the Greek word κλῆρος is used, which occurs also inActs i. 26 (Lam. R., Preface, No. 5; Midr. Teh. x. 6; comp. ib. x. 5 on casting of lots among the Romans, and Krauss, "Lehnwörter," ii. 545b).

In Palestine brothers divided their patrimony by lot as late as, and probably much later than, the second century (B. B. 106b). Apparently the lot was also occasionally used in ordaining teachers (Yer. Bik. 65d, l. 24). Under Grecian influence the drawing of lots degenerated into dice-playing. "No one is accepted as witness who plays with little stones [ψῆφος]," i.e., gambles professionally (Yer. Sanh. iii. 6 and parallel passages). The same regulation applies to the dice-player (κυβευτής and κυβεία), who is frequently referred to (see passages in Krauss, l.c. ii. 501).

In the Middle Ages and in Folk-Lore.

The drawing of lots and its companion practise, the throwing of dice, were common in the Middle Ages; and they are even in vogue at the present time. Moses of Coucy (c. 1250) mentions xylomancy. Splinters of wood the rind of which had been removed on one side, were tossed up, and according as they fell on the peeled or the unpeeled side, augured favorably or unfavorably (Güdemann, "Gesch." i. 82). An Italian teacher denounced the casting of lots (ib. ii. 221). Dice-playing was especially in vogue among the Italian Jews of the Middle Ages, and was, as well as other games of hazard, frequently forbidden (ib. ii. 210). In Germany there was a game of chance, called "Rück oder Schneid," in which a knife was used (Berliner, p. 22). Many books on games of chance originated in the later Middle Ages (see bibliography below). The present writer has in his possession a Bokhara manuscript containing a "Lot-Book of Daniel." It mentions also means ("segullot") for detecting a thief. The Jews of the present day, likewise, are not unacquainted with the various modes of casting lots found among all peoples and used for various and generally harmless purposes; but among these remnants of ancient superstition customs that are Jewish in origin are probably to be found only in Ḥasidic circles and in the East.

  • T. W. Davies, Magic, Divination, and Demonology, pp. 74 et seq., London and Leipsic, 1898;
  • Hastings, Dict. Bible, iii. 152 et seq.;
  • Thomas Gataker, Von der Natur und dem Gebrauche der Loose, 1619;
  • H. Guthe, Kurzes Bibelwörterb. p. 397, Tübingen and Leipsic, 1903;
  • Hamburger, R. B. T. i. 723;
  • A. Lehmann, Aberglaube und Zauberei, p. 40, Stuttgart, 1898;
  • Lenormant, Magie und Wahrsagekunst, etc., Jena, 1878;
  • Herzog-Hauck, Real-Encyc. 3d ed., xi. 643 et seq.;
  • B. Stade, Gesch. Israels, i. 471 et seq.;
  • E. B. Tylor, Primitive Culture, Index; Germ. ed., i. 78 et seq., Leipsic, 1873;
  • I. Wellhausen, Reste Arabischen Heidenthums, 2d ed., pp. 132 et seq.;
  • Winer, B. R. ii. 31.
  • On medieval and modern lot-books: Benjacob, Oẓar ha-Sefarim, pp. 90 et seq.;
  • A. Berliner, Aus dem Leben der Deutschen Juden im Mittelalter, Berlin, 1900;
  • M. Grunwald, Mittheilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, v. 12;
  • M. Güdemann, Gesch. i., ii.;
  • Steinschneider, Loosbücher, in Hebr. Bibl. vi. 120;
  • idem, Jüdische Literatur, ch. xxii., end.
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