Tolkien Gateway

Hebrew

Hebrew is a Semitic language. The Old Testament, the first half of the Bible, was originally written in Hebrew.

While working on The Jerusalem Bible as a translator in the 1960s, Tolkien prepared himself learning a great amount of Hebrew.[1] He explained to his grandson Michael George: "I am at present immersed in Hebrew. If you want a beautiful but idiotic alphabet, and a language so difficult that it makes Latin (or even Greek) seem footling but also glimpses into a past that makes Homer seem recent - that is the stuff! (I am hoping when I retire to get included in a new Bible-translation team that is brewing. I have passed the test: with a version of the Book of Jonah. Not from Hebrew direct!)".[2]

Among the books in his library, J.R.R. Tolkien had some Semitic-related publications, including The Babylonian Story of the Deluge and the Epic of Gilgamish and Babylonisch-Assyrische Grammatik mit Übungsbuch. Babylonian and Assyrian were classical Semitic languages, distantly related to Hebrew.

[edit] In Tolkien's works

In his legendarium, Tolkien compared his Dwarves to the history of the Jewish people,[3] and despite their Norse connections (using Germanic names and Runes) their original language, Khuzdul, displays Hebrew-like structure.

The same happens with the unrelated Adûnaic language.[4]

References

  1. Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and The Silmarillion, "4. Tolkien as a Christian writer", p. 54
  2. Letter to Michael George Tolkien (24 April 1957), British Library, MS Add. 71657. Cited in Christina Scull and Wayne G. Hammond, The J.R.R. Tolkien Companion and Guide: Reader's Guide (Revised and expanded edition, 2017), p. 622
  3. J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 176, (dated 8 December 1955)
  4. Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and The Silmarillion, "2. Summer with Tolkien", p. 24

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