Amid the Biblical interpretation debate lie innumerable theories as to the proper method of Biblical interpretation, and revealing the secrets and meanings contained in the Scriptures. Some believe that the only real means to digest the Bible is by literalism, or taking everything that the Bible says in its exact, verbatim meanings. Others believe in self-interpretation; in their way of thinking, God will reveal the Scriptures to each person who reads them, and that he will guide them to understand the Bible the way that they see fit. Still others believe in a “Scripture interprets Scripture” method. The latter method seems logical enough, but when individuals take liberties with their interpretation of “Scripture interpreting Scripture,” is the end result one that will reveal accurate Biblical truths?
J. R. R. Tolkien is perhaps one of the most popular writers of the 20th century. One of his lesser known, but perhaps intense works is The Silmarillion. Originally I wrote that The Silmarillion was written in 1977, but I was mistaken--it was, in reality, a compilation of his best and most complete manuscripts written over his entire life and published by George Allen & Urwin (Publishers) Ltd, in Great Britain. The novel has been published from the manuscript that Christopher Tolkien found in the late J. R. R. Tolkien's estate. The Silmarillion picks up the myths and legends of Middle Earth, the fantasy world of elves and men, hobbits, goblins and trolls, kings, and good and evil. Though as a work of literature Silmarillion is valued as a specimen of a fantasy novel, its contents, namely AINULINDALË, VALAQUENTA, and Chapter I of the Quenta Silmarillion, called “Of the Beginning of Days,” are strangely reminiscent of another famous and beloved work of literature: The Bible.
AINULINDALË is a relatively complex and verbose section, under which the heading, “The Music of the Ainur,” has been given. This portion of Silmarillion deals with the beginnings of the world. Eru, “The One,” or in the language of earth (called Arda) called Illúvatar, saw a vision of a “New World” in the void that was the universe. He “went out into the Void and it was void.” Eru raises up his right hand and makes “Holy Ones,” the “Offspring of his thought,” and calls them Ainur. In these beings, he places the Flame Imperishable, and the Ainur make a beautiful song with harps, lutes, pipes, trumpets, viols, organs, and countless choirs. Illúvatar places the Ainur into a hierarchy. Manwë, also called Sūlimo, is the head of all Holy Ones. Also, there are the Valar, which are the Holy Ones that have been charged with the care of Middle Earth. Next come the Aratar, lords over the waters. Then come the Aulë and the Ulmo. The weakest of the Ainur are the Mayar. Yet “none but himself has Illúvatar revealed all that he has in store. Then Illúvatar makes the place where beings of flesh will live, Middle Earth, or Arda. He then makes the “children of Illúvatar:” elves and men, into which Illúvatar “subdues his will” and places it into his children. He separates them into male and female, gives them power and knowledge, and they call him “Lord,” master over all other wills. Arda becomes the dominion of Manwë, the head of the Ainur. And for a time, all is good. Then one of the heavenly beings, called Melkor, desires the power that Illúvatar possesses, and seeks to be as great as his creator. Instead, he falls out of favor with The One and is no longer one of the blessed Ainur, but becomes a fallen one. There is a great battle between Melkor and the Valar for the domination of Arda, in order to prepare it for the coming of the Firstborn.
There is symbolism to be found in AINULINDALË, though to those unfamiliar with Biblical the books of the Bible, much would go unnoted. Eru, or Illúvatar, is a representation of God, and the events detailed in this portion of The Silmarillion closely mirror those detailed in the book of Genesis. The Ainur represent angels. Surely the music and instruments associated with them in the passage are not coincidental with those used in celebration and for praise in the Scriptures: “Praise him with the sounding of the trumpet, praise him with the harp and lyre, praise him with tambourine and dancing, praise him with the strings and flute, praise him with the clash of cymbals, praise him with resounding cymbals,” Psalms 150:3-5 NIV. The void spoken of in the AINULINDALË as existing before Illúvatar creates the universe is akin to the darkness and shapelessness before God created form, as described in Genesis. “Now the earth was formless and empty, darkness was over the surface of the deep, and the Spirit of God was hovering over the waters,” Genesis 1:2 NIV. Other obvious parallels between The Silmarillion and the Bible are in the characters of Melkor and Manwë; Melkor is Lucifer, the fallen angel that is Satan, and Manwë is Michael the Archangel. Also, the reference to preparing the earth for the “Firstborn” can be none other than the coming of the Messiah, Jesus Christ of Nazareth.
The VALAQUENTA precedes AINULINDALË, and deals with the Holy Beings and their leaders, the kings of the Mayar, called the Valar, and their queens, the Valier. There are seven queens and seven kings, although not all of the seven males are wed to all of the seven females. Each Valar and Valier have a gift or passion, and not unlike the deities of Greek mythology and/or Roman mythology. After discussing each of the lord- and ladyships of the rulers of the Mayar, the section deals with the servants of the rulers, after which the VALAQUENTA discusses the fate of Melkor after his fall.
Chapter I, “Of the Beginning of Days,” unlike its predecessor, has more obvious parallels to canonical literature. It discusses the fruition of creation of the earth, discussing such additions as plants, beasts, and “two mighty lamps for lighting” Middle Earth—the sun and the moon. Then comes the ultimate symbolism: The Two Trees of Valinor. This is a direct representation of the two trees in the Garden of Eden. “Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed. And the LORD God made all kinds of trees grow out of the ground-trees that were pleasing to the eye and good for food. In the middle of the garden were the tree of life and the tree of the knowledge of good and evil,” Genesis 2:8-9 NIV.
I felt that what I read of The Silmarillion, however eloquent, seemed to be unoriginal. Its ideas seemed to be gleaned from the Bible, ancient civilizations’ mythologies, and the ideas already expressed in Tolkien’s previous works. The subject matter is heavy; while, to a non-Christian, the origins of the world as Tolkien describes them are interesting, one who has studied the Bible extensively might find this repetition of thought stale.