Some Old Testament and Exodus themes in The Silmarillion

In a number of ways The Silmarillion is Tolkien’s retelling of the Old Testament narrative in general and of the Exodus story in particular (Tolkien taught the Old English Exodus throughout the 1930s and 40s). Beginning, as does the Bible, with the creation of the world, The Silmarillion moves on to tell the story of the Elves’ migration out of Middle-earth where they were under constant threat of becoming enslaved to the tyrannical Pharaoh-figure of Melkor, and their journey to the idyllic Valinor, a veritable “promised land” of milk and honey. The Elves entry into Valinor, moreover, is preceded by representatives from each of the heads of the different Elvish lines, an echo of the twelve spies from each of the twelve tribes of Israel who enter the land of Canaan in advance of the rest of the Israelite host. Leading the Elves in their journey, moreover, is the Moses-figure Oromë, messenger of the Valar, yet whom some of the Elves follow somewhat reluctantly. Once in Valinor, the Elves rebel, being persuaded that the hardships endured in Middle-earth were preferable to their current fortunes, much as the Israelites complain that the freedom they enjoyed in the wilderness was incomparable to the luxuries and securities they enjoyed back in Egypt. The Elves’ return to Middle-earth, accordingly, also becomes their “exile,” from which many of them do not return to Valinor except through violent death, comparable to the curse laid on the first generation of Israelites coming out of Egypt that they would all die before seeing the land of Canaan.

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