a Jewish view on the Sermon on the Mount

Odola

Well-Known Member
In a couple of his letters he does mention his admiration for Jews but my impression is that he didn’t know many. The Jewish linguists of his time would not have been Germanic philologists (let along Anglo Saxon) - more Slavic or Semitic languages. So I don’t know what he knew about Jewish thinking.
He reportedly based Khuzdûl (the secret language of the Dwarves) on Hebrew. So he for sure had a basic understanding of Semitic languages. If you study a language - even briefly - usually you have some example text fragments to "learn on". From there it is not far to check the rest of a text in the library, if one want to know the context.

Actually knowing of the mystic background of the divine light vessels makes me take the Silmarils more seriously as a literaly concept. Untill now I kind of dismissed them as "pretty jewels everybody is crazy about for no apparent reason". Now I kind off start to get the point of them a little better, thank you very much!
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
The story of creation you give is from one mystical tradition in Judaism, Kabbala. It's a story created by Isaac Luria, so it's specifically Lurian Kabbala. Luria lived in the 16th century in the Middle East (Jerusalem, Damascus). His idea of the sparks is that every time a Jew does a mitzvah (observes a commandment) a spark is freed to return to the Godhead. That is not the way we interpret it now, which is more like the modern tikkun olam. The general idea is that God needs partners in creation, needs all of us to help perfect the world. It's lovely and full of meaning, but not what Luria meant.

A man is supposed to be 40 before studying Kabbala; he should be grounded with a family and a profession, so that he doesn't get carried away by the mystical ideas and lose touch with the world around him. Not all Jews study Kabbala.

As for Tolkien and Jews - antisemitism was in the air at the time; it was structural. It was part of his Catholic education that the Jews killed Jes us. As for Oxford, Jews only were allowed in at all in the 19th century, and were subject to attacks and other outrages. In 1930 there were 5 Jews teaching there. There weren't many Jewish students, and they couldn't be counted because most hid the fact that they were Jewish. Jews were not really part of his world. He wrote something in 1930 about dwarves that was full of the stereotypes of Jews and wouldn't have been out of place in a Nazi pamphlet.

I don't think he hated Jews, but that was the world he lived in.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
I
The story of creation you give is from one mystical tradition in Judaism, Kabbala. It's a story created by Isaac Luria, so it's specifically Lurian Kabbala. Luria lived in the 16th century in the Middle East (Jerusalem, Damascus). His idea of the sparks is that every time a Jew does a mitzvah (observes a commandment) a spark is freed to return to the Godhead. That is not the way we interpret it now, which is more like the modern tikkun olam. The general idea is that God needs partners in creation, needs all of us to help perfect the world. It's lovely and full of meaning, but not what Luria meant.

A man is supposed to be 40 before studying Kabbala; he should be grounded with a family and a profession, so that he doesn't get carried away by the mystical ideas and lose touch with the world around him. Not all Jews study Kabbala.

As for Tolkien and Jews - antisemitism was in the air at the time; it was structural. It was part of his Catholic education that the Jews killed Jes us. As for Oxford, Jews only were allowed in at all in the 19th century, and were subject to attacks and other outrages. In 1930 there were 5 Jews teaching there. There weren't many Jewish students, and they couldn't be counted because most hid the fact that they were Jewish. Jews were not really part of his world. He wrote something in 1930 about dwarves that was full of the stereotypes of Jews and wouldn't have been out of place in a Nazi pamphlet.

I don't think he hated Jews, but that was the world he lived in.
He was vehemently anti-Facist so that probably shaped his views on dwarves after 1930 - like when he was writing the Hobbit). Dwarves are quite different from the Hobbit on from the early Book of Lost Tales/Silmarillion stuff.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
He reportedly based Khuzdûl (the secret language of the Dwarves) on Hebrew. So he for sure had a basic understanding of Semitic languages. If you study a language - even briefly - usually you have some example text fragments to "learn on". From there it is not far to check the rest of a text in the library, if one want to know the context.

Actually knowing of the mystic background of the divine light vessels makes me take the Silmarils more seriously as a literaly concept. Untill now I kind of dismissed them as "pretty jewels everybody is crazy about for no apparent reason". Now I kind off start to get the point of them a little better, thank you very much!
I agree with Rachel not to make too much of that kind of mystical Kabbalistic thinking. I seriously doubt Tolkien would have known about it - most Jews don’t. As for understanding Semitic languages - he was a professional linguistic scholar. While I’m not a scholar of the Bible, I can speak with authority here as I’m a professor of Linguistics as a day job - We know all kinds of things about all kinds of languages even if we don’t know much about the people who speak them.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I agree with Rachel not to make too much of that kind of mystical Kabbalistic thinking. I seriously doubt Tolkien would have known about it - most Jews don’t. As for understanding Semitic languages - he was a professional linguistic scholar. While I’m not a scholar of the Bible, I can speak with authority here as I’m a professor of Linguistics as a day job - We know all kinds of things about all kinds of languages even if we don’t know much about the people who speak them.
I acually think he migh, maybe not much, but at least some. As some of the ideas therein where not irrelevant to the European Middle Ages. And Tolkien thought it to be important to know at least something about the people who speak a given language. He invented his world and its peoples exactly to have somebody to speak his inwented languages so he could inspect them better. As such Arda is actually a big linguistic laboratory for him to have his languages tried-and-tested therein.

@Rob Harding I can give you a recent example why I find the assumtion of universality of values and their expressions dangerous.
Mybe you know we have a migrant crisis at our Easterm border currenlty. Some of migrants end in hospitals. After WWII and the communistic times Poland has a hugely homogenous culture. As such the ability to live in a multicultural context is not very developed. A middle-aged migrant mother and her two teenaged sons were taken to the hospital. There the mother was aksed to go to a separate room for a medical check-up alone. When she came back, one of her teenage sons slapped her publicly in the face. All the medical and other staff in the hospital was scandalised.

In Poland the current rules are:
1. you do not slap a woman
2. you do not raise your hand at your own parent
3. you do not slapp anybody publicly - the only exception being women who have been sexually harassed

1st rule follows from an ancient princple - that is actually being hard questioned and in process of being discredited right nowadays by modern ideas - that a woman is - at least publicly - to be respected as being the "live-giver" in the society and hitting her is akin to disrespecting life itself
2nd rule follows one of the 10th commandments
3rd rule follows spirit of the SotM

(That does not mean we do not have domestic violence. We do. But still it would be hard to find any Pole who would slapp his mother in public.)

The hospital staff assumes those values to be universal. But they aren't.

They are not aware that the migrants follow different rules. For them a sign of their filial piety, love and care for their mother is to protect her "honour". The slapp served to remind her of it. They will have a hard way to learn that in Poland you can disregard your mothers wished as to who you do marry, what profession do you choose or if you have tatoos or not, but you cannot slapp her. Because in their culture you show your respect to your mother by listening to her regarding who you do marry, what profession do you choose or if you have tatoos, but there are situation which do warrant you hitting her (which I find mingboggling myself, but still, so it is).
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
Perhaps I shouldn’t have said universal but I was thinking more in marketing terms where ‘universal indicator’ is a term used to describe a theme or desire that crosses demographics. That’s what I find. I still don’t find real value or evidence of Christianity in the text as it’s fantasy and non allegorical. It simply isn’t there except perhaps by authorial intent which I have no interest in viewing or ascribing in a lit-fic way
 

Rachel Port

Well-Known Member
Hebrew was a canonical language at Oxford. I forget when this changed, but even after there were Jews teaching there, only ordained CoE clergy were allowed to teach it. Remember, it was a dead language at the time, and hadn't been revived yet except by a very few Jews who had moved to Palestine.

If you want to hear the class where the early writings on dwarves were discussed, it's in the class on The Shaping of Middle-earth, session 3 (or 4, but I think it's 3). It's very interesting. But whatever Tolkien thought in 1930, by the time he creates Gimli, it's obviously very different.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
Perhaps I shouldn’t have said universal but I was thinking more in marketing terms where ‘universal indicator’ is a term used to describe a theme or desire that crosses demographics. That’s what I find. I still don’t find real value or evidence of Christianity in the text as it’s fantasy and non allegorical. It simply isn’t there except perhaps by authorial intent which I have no interest in viewing or ascribing in a lit-fic way
I - to the contrary - find the pattern of values and that in both those that are present like in those missing in/from the hobbit culture typical for 18th-19th rural England and as such basically Christian. I am of the opinion that value sets are quite characteristic and recognisable for given cultural and historical contexts. And I do not find this was authorial intent at all but an unintentional artifact which created many problems for the author which he ultimately lived not long enough to resolve.
 
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Rob Harding

Active Member
I - to the contrary - find the pattern of values and that in both those that are present like in those missing in/from the hobbit culture typical for 18th-19th rural England and as such basically Christian. I am of the opinion that value sets are quite characteristic and recognisable for given cultural and historical contexts. And I do not find this was authorial intent at all but an unintentional artifact which created many problems for the author which he ultimately lived not long enough to resolve.
It’s the focus on author I don’t enjoy in my reading. To it is typical for 18th-19th century rural England has no bearing on my ‘text only’ reading. There is no such thing as the 18th century nor an England. Intent or influence or otherwise I don’t find helpful for viewing the text on its own merits. What an English rural perspective or Tolkien’s own perspective might be only clouds my understanding of a Hobbit perspective. Which we know little of to begin with due to Tolkien himself in building unreliable narrators

Any discussion of the author or their reality I find to be super interesting but not helpful in assessing what the text says and how and how much impact it makes I doing so
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
It’s the focus on author I don’t enjoy in my reading. To it is typical for 18th-19th century rural England has no bearing on my ‘text only’ reading. There is no such thing as the 18th century nor an England. Intent or influence or otherwise I don’t find helpful for viewing the text on its own merits. What an English rural perspective or Tolkien’s own perspective might be only clouds my understanding of a Hobbit perspective. Which we know little of to begin with due to Tolkien himself in building unreliable narrators

Any discussion of the author or their reality I find to be super interesting but not helpful in assessing what the text says and how and how much impact it makes I doing so
But this problem is relevant for why the world of TLOTR is at its basis not completely coherant - it has a moral base that is completely out of place and lacking any backup in-story - and why there seems to an apparent orcs problem (I do not have any orc problem myself, as I have stated at other places). And why the Silmarillion was never finished by Tolkien himself. And this is relevant as the TLOTR itself promises the Silmarillion to be published (in the appendicies).

The core of the problem is:
Values do not float ramdomly around in ether to be adopted by random cultures at a random basis. They do go back into prehistory and are intrically connected to history, social order and belief systems.
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
That is also my point. Im interested in what history and social orders those cultures stem from. Which exist within Middle Earth and, in my Death of the Author-esque enjoyment of fantasy set in separate realities, real world history and culture has no bearing on ‘present day’ fictional events.

The inconsistencies and incoherences exist in text as we know Hobbits wrote these tales, that by their own admission they are largely isolated and that wider world history is generally no concern of theirs. And we know from discussions that Bilbo lied in his own telling of his take and so takes told by Hobbits should not as a rule be considered inerrant.

By no means do I think you can’t read it with an interest in real world culture and considering authorial influence. I just personally don’t find value in it for enjoying the story. I’m not trying to convince you it must be read my way, but I want it be accepted that it could be read that way. I think maybe I’m not explaining myself well which is on me.
 
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Odola

Well-Known Member
I hate also my point. Im interested in what history and social orders those cultures stem from. Which exist within Middle Earth and, in my Death of the Author-esque enjoyment of fantasy set in separate realities, real world history and culture has no bearing on ‘present day’ fictional events.

The inconsistencies and incoherences exist in text as we know Hobbits wrote these tales, that by their own admission they are largely isolated and that wider world history is generally no concern of theirs. And we know from discussions that Bilbo lied in his own telling of his take and so takes told by Hobbits should not as a rule be considered inerrant.

By no means do I think you can’t read it with an interest in real world culture and considering authorial influence. I just personally don’t find value in it for enjoying the story. I’m not trying to convince you it must be read my way, but I want it be accepted that it could be read that way. I think maybe I’m not explaining myself well which is on me.
I am interested in Tolkien's experiment with playing and thinking over the problem of evil and how it works in a human psyche and what ways to approach it work and which do not and why. Imho this is what sets his work apart from others. It is like looking a scientist over the shoulder while he conducts a scientifical experiment the result of which does have real applicability to my own life. But I do admit this lessens the originality of the story itself. But I do not mind. There is plenty of stories out there. There is but one ME and it is nice I can feel at home within. ;-)
 

Rob Harding

Active Member
I am interested in Tolkien's experiment with playing and thinking over the problem of evil and how it works in a human psyche and what ways to approach it work and which do not and why. Imho this is what sets his work apart from others. It is like looking a scientist over the shoulder while he conducts a scientifical experiment the result of which does have real applicability to my own life. But I do admit this lessens the originality of the story itself. But I do not mind. There is plenty of stories out there. There is but one ME and it is nice I can feel at home within. ;-)
I find this very helpful to know what you’re personal locus of enjoyment is when reading. I think this helps bridge the discussion. For me I’m also interested in the topic of evil within the story. Just because it’s not original doesn’t mean to isn’t fun!
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
For me thi
I hate also my point. Im interested in what history and social orders those cultures stem from. Which exist within Middle Earth and, in my Death of the Author-esque enjoyment of fantasy set in separate realities, real world history and culture has no bearing on ‘present day’ fictional events.

The inconsistencies and incoherences exist in text as we know Hobbits wrote these tales, that by their own admission they are largely isolated and that wider world history is generally no concern of theirs. And we know from discussions that Bilbo lied in his own telling of his take and so takes told by Hobbits should not as a rule be considered inerrant.

By no means do I think you can’t read it with an interest in real world culture and considering authorial influence. I just personally don’t find value in it for enjoying the story. I’m not trying to convince you it must be read my way, but I want it be accepted that it could be read that way. I think maybe I’m not explaining myself well which is on me.
For me this is the brilliance of Tolkien’s achievement.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
Ilana Mushin I do still hope on your commentary on SotM form a Jewish pespective though ;) Fell free to treat as any other literary text. We can take it ;) Really. We survived 200 years of biblical criticism. ;)
I’m not sure I can give you satisfaction. I’m a working academic and like Tolkien himself, have many calls on my time related to my ‘day job’ at the moment so I won’t have the headspace for thinking this through.
 

Odola

Well-Known Member
I’m not sure I can give you satisfaction. I’m a working academic and like Tolkien himself, have many calls on my time related to my ‘day job’ at the moment so I won’t have the headspace for thinking this through.
Understood, for me literatury discussions are some nice change after work which is sufficiently different in kind. But I do know such a feeling from my time at university.
 

Ilana Mushin

Active Member
It must be interesting reading Tolkien as a linguist.
Yes, I wonder sometimes about people who read the linguistic writings (eg. In the History of ME series) and how they make sense of it without a linguistics background. Of course the field has changed considerably since Tolkien was doing his scholarship. I sometimes wonder what he would make of the kind of technological/computational and statistical advances in historical linguistics that allows for a much greater time depth to be explored in the history of languages - even without a long literary tradition, like European languages had to draw on.
 

Haerangil

Well-Known Member
Hebrew was a canonical language at Oxford. I forget when this changed, but even after there were Jews teaching there, only ordained CoE clergy were allowed to teach it. Remember, it was a dead language at the time, and hadn't been revived yet except by a very few Jews who had moved to Palestine.

If you want to hear the class where the early writings on dwarves were discussed, it's in the class on The Shaping of Middle-earth, session 3 (or 4, but I think it's 3). It's very interesting. But whatever Tolkien thought in 1930, by the time he creates Gimli, it's obviously very different.
I just wanna point out that Tolkien connecting dwarves and jews in is mind is from a much later period. In his early writings the Dwarves are very norse, right out of the Eddas, they are a shady, untrustworthy, unfriendly folk, great artists and craftsmen no doubt, but also of very questionable character.cruel,warlike, treacherous.

His only few writings where he likens dwarves and jews are from the later period, and that is the time he had invented khuzdul and adunaic and based both on semitic languages, and it is the time he had invented the dwarven diaspora and the name "Moria".Analogies between numenorean religion and Judaism would interest me alot personally.

Just my 2 cents...
 
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