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. 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!)".
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.
In Tolkien's works[edit | edit source]
In his legendarium, Tolkien compared his Dwarves to the history of the Jewish people, and despite their Norse connections (using Germanic names and Runes) their original language, Khuzdul, displays Hebrew-like structure.
- Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and The Silmarillion, "4. Tolkien as a Christian writer", p. 54
- 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
- J.R.R. Tolkien; Humphrey Carpenter, Christopher Tolkien (eds.), The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, Letter 176, (dated 8 December 1955)
- Clyde S. Kilby, Tolkien and The Silmarillion, "2. Summer with Tolkien", p. 24