J.R.R. Tolkien

Biblical Parallels in The Silmarillion

Many literary works throughout history have storylines paralleling the Bible and have allusions to the Bible. Perhaps one of the greatest examples of this type of novel is The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien. Within The Silmarillion there are several different books with characters or stories that parallel stories and characters within the Bible. From the downfall of the Men of Numenor to individual races within the novel such as the elves, orcs, and men, there are allusions to the Bible everywhere in The Silmarillion. Most of the Biblical references attach to the Genesis chapters and Revelations chapters.

In the beginning there was darkness. Both the Bible and The Silmarillion begin with darkness. Then the all powerful god creates something out of nothing. In the Bible, God creates the world in seven days. However, in The Silmarillion, the all powerful god Iluvatar, creates the Ainur who each personify a different portion of his personality. These Ainur then create the world with the Song of Creation. In both this novel and the Bible, the world is created by an all powerful god, whether through his direct power or through other powers that represent its many personalities.

The different races of the characters in the novel all are allusions to different Biblical figures. The most notable comparisons are the elves as the angels in the Bible, the Valar being compared to the Archangels in the Bible, the Ainur who turned against his brothers and sisters Melkor as Lucifer, and the orcs as the demons that follow Lucifer. Lucifer believed that the angels should be more powerful than men on Earth and went against the goals set in place by God, that the angels should assist men and that men were the rulers of Earth. He was cast down from Heaven and then created demons and dark creatures of temptation. Similarly, Melkor wanted more power and decided to leave the other Ainur and fell to Middle Earth where he twisted and warped creatures and races with his power so that he could combat the other Ainur. The elves in Tolkien’s novels represent a perfect race of beings that are only slightly less powerful than the Ainur who shaped the world, evident by the fight between the elven king Fingolfin and the Ainur Melkor. The race of elves had the power of speech which they in turn taught to men when they came west. Adam was the first human given the power of speech, just like the men learned speech from the elves. As men were new to the world, the elves took care of them and were like the angels to the men of the Bible. They acted as guides and teachers to all of humanity. The orcs were created by Melkor after his fall and acted as minions to do as he commanded, just like Lucifer’s creation of demons and creatures of temptation.

One of the most obvious parallel storylines is the downfall of the Men of Numenor paralleling the exile of Adam and Eve from Paradise and the age of men following their exile. The Numenoreans were the Men of the West and lived on their island Elenna between the land of the Valar and the land to the east known as Middle Earth. Elenna was to the Numenoreans what Paradise was to Adam and Eve. The Valar gave them the prosperous land and they lived happily until temptation came. Sauron under the guise of a wise human came to Elenna and quickly turned many of the Numenoreans against the Valar who lived in the Undying Lands. Sauron convinced them that the Valar were afraid of the Numenoreans and that they were holding them back from their true abilities. So they built many ships and sailed to the Undying Lands where the Valar, in anger that the Numenoreans came to the one land they were not allowed, destroyed the fleet of ships and then swallowed the island Elenna in the sea. The few faithful Numenoreans who did not sail to the Undying Lands to attack the Valar managed to escape the destruction and head to Middle Earth under the leadership of Elendil.

The destruction of Elenna and the few remaining Numenoreans escape to Middle Earth parallels the idea of Adam and Eve being tempted by sin to disobey the one rule they had while in Paradise. After Eve ate the apple and she was exiled from Paradise, the lives of men became shorter. The Numenoreans had their lifespan shortened as time went on because they had fallen to the temptation and darkness around them. From generation to generation, the lifespan of Bible characters became shorter and shorter after they left Paradise, just as the lifespan of the Numenoreans became shorter and shorter after they were forced to leave Elenna. The Numenoreans also were forced to travel to Middle Earth where the land was less prosperous and they were less protected from the harshness of the world around them. After their exile, Adam and Eve were no longer provided food and water whenever they wanted because they were no longer in the gardens of Eden.

Both Melkor and Sauron have connections to Lucifer throughout The Silmarillion. Melkor was one of the Ainur, the first creations of Iluvatar. Unlike the other Ainur, Melkor felt the need to gather more and more power so he fell to Middle Earth and darkened the land wherever he went. When Lucifer looked to gather more power, he fell from Heaven to Earth and became wrathful towards the other angels and more importantly, humans. Both Lucifer and Melkor twisted creatures to do their bidding and tempted men into evil deeds, and both were immortal. Sauron, while less powerful than Melkor and the other Ainur, was very similar to Lucifer. Sauron tempted the Numenoreans of Elenna into challenge the one rule the Valar had set before them, just as Lucifer tempted Eve into eating the apple in the Garden of Eden. Sauron twisted and warped people’s minds just like Lucifer did throughout the Bible.

The connections between The Silmarillion by J.R.R. Tolkien and the Bible are everywhere. Characters like Melkor and Sauron parallel the story of Lucifer and his powers while Elendil represents the faithful man who had to leave his homeland because of the fault of others, just like Adam was exiled for the temptation that Eve fell to. Storylines such as that of the Numenoreans parallel the exile of Adam and Eve and the resulting history of mankind from Paradise. The entire creation of the world also follows along the same lines as the creation of the world in the Bible. Tolkien manages to take these Biblical allusions and parallels, and create a masterful fantasy adventure world with plots, heroes, and villains that readers can connect with.
(KO 2015)