The Valar & The biblical Divine Council. Thoughts inspired by "Tolkien and the Great War"

Croaker

Member
I've been thinking about why the Valar are as disengaged as they seem to be in the travails of Middle Earth, going back to the First Age, as discussed in the episode about why they won't take the Ring and how they are corruptible.

I just finished Tolkien and the Great War, which had me thinking more closely about other (particularly Northern Europe) conceptions of the gods in pre-Christian worldview and the "problem of evil" that World War 1 unveiled, which shattered many people's faith in a good divine being.

I have also been trying to relate the Valar to the biblical pantheon expressed in Deuteronomy (especially 32), Psalm 82 and other places, as explored among many biblical scholars, and popularized to a wider audience by Dr. Michael S. Heiser's Unseen Realm: The Supernatural Worldview of the Bible. (Many readers of Unseen Realm have commented how the divine council of the Bible reminds them of the Valar in The Silmarillion).

I want to bring these various threads together. Maybe this isn't the right forum for this. I've been thinking of trying to prepare a paper for Mythmoot sometime on this topic.

The Divine Council in the Bible is the assembly of heavenly creatures through which God administers the cosmos: a pantheon of sorts. Biblical authors variably call these creatures sons of God, the heavenly host, gods, watchers, principalities, powers, cosmic forces, etc. The author of Deuteronomy 32 posits that after the Tower of Babel event, God disinherited the nations, placing them under members of the divine council, and these divine beings became the gods of the nations. The author of Psalms 82 suggests these gods became corrupted. A New Testament writer suggests that these gods were meant to image God, but they became corrupt and failed. God initially tried to image himself in ancient Israel, but it failed also. Therefore God imaged himself in Jesus, and New Testament writers suggest turning from these other gods and turning to God through following Jesus, and thus becoming the new sons (and daughters) of God, more perfectly administering the cosmos, according to God's will. Biblical eschatology then is the onset of this new kingdom where God's new family administers the cosmos.

Other non-biblical pantheons reflect a similar motif as the Bible's pantheon that the gods were corrupted and imperfectly administered their charges, thus requiring the personal intervention of God through Jesus.

Applying this thinking to the Valar helps me understand why they are so dis-involved in the affairs of Middle Earth in the first three ages. They are not good at their jobs to administer the will of Eru, just like the pre-Christian pantheons are not good in administering their affairs. The Valar are so un-involved, they don't even have prophets or temples with priests to try and reach out to them to see what their will is. The only divine beings who clearly communicate their will are the evil ones.

All the good spiritual beings do is occasionally nudge this person this way or that person that way, such as giving vague dreams to Frodo in Tom Bombadil's house that he completely misinterprets, or dreams to Faramir that are so misunderstood, they send the wrong son. They so misunderstand the Valar that they just take Saruman's word for it regarding the Ring: none of them have a "personal relationship" with a divine being to ask about the Ring (or anything else) themselves. They are left to wait and see what the tides of history reveal, and while they wait and see, untold evil is being done (most of the continent has fallen to and actually worship Sauron before divine forces seem to intervene on some level).

It takes multiple and dramatic divine interventions to move Frodo and Sam along: Elbereth seizes control of Frodo to have him (essentially) speak in tongues to thwart spiritual attacks that would otherwise overwhelm him on Weathertop. Sam is prompted to remove the Ring when he enters Mordor (by whom?), and other ideas and words come unbidden. Prophetic insight (foretelling and forthtelling) come to Aragorn and others (by whom?), although their understanding of the gods or Eru is so cloudy, they don't necessarily understand what they are saying or by what spirit they are speaking.

It's frustrating to read when we consider how powerful the Valar are, just like it must have been frustrating to the followers of other pre-Christian pantheons to try and discern what the gods want.

But then, the frustration is the point of Christianity. Of course it's impossible to understand the corruptible gods or the distant Eru: that's why Christ and the Spirit had to come.

For whatever reason, God has delegated to divine and mortal beings to administer the cosmos according to his will. And God has chosen to continue to work through mortal beings, empowered by his spirit (if Christian theology is to believed). God plays the long game, I suppose, so I shouldn't wonder if a few more thousand years have to pass before we can see how it all works out. Maybe that's why the Elves "wait and see", because they have thousands of years.

And no, I'm not explaining my thoughts very well. I still need to work these ideas out...
 
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Forodan

Member
I think it's pretty clear even in the published Silmarillion, which is really the effort of Christopher Tolkien to finish his father's work according to his expressed wishes rather than his own, that direct intervention was a mistake, and the Valar themselves realized that after a while. Mandos makes a dark comment about the decision to call the Quendi to join the Valar in their 'home' on the other side of the created world from where they appeared. Maybe there was a good reason that they were place where they were? And of course when the long, difficult tale of that interference had played out, they destroyed an entire region of that world fighting the rebel of their own number whom the Quendi, or at least the Noldor, had gotten into conflict with. So as far as being 'good at their jobs' they are at least learning from their mistakes by not intervening directly again and making the messes bigger. Sending the Istari was a much smarter way to deal with the problem of the lingering influences and minions that Morgoth had left behind after the previous catastrophic war.
 

Odola

Active Member
I think it's pretty clear even in the published Silmarillion, which is really the effort of Christopher Tolkien to finish his father's work according to his expressed wishes rather than his own, that direct intervention was a mistake, and the Valar themselves realized that after a while. Mandos makes a dark comment about the decision to call the Quendi to join the Valar in their 'home' on the other side of the created world from where they appeared. Maybe there was a good reason that they were place where they were? And of course when the long, difficult tale of that interference had played out, they destroyed an entire region of that world fighting the rebel of their own number whom the Quendi, or at least the Noldor, had gotten into conflict with. So as far as being 'good at their jobs' they are at least learning from their mistakes by not intervening directly again and making the messes bigger. Sending the Istari was a much smarter way to deal with the problem of the lingering influences and minions that Morgoth had left behind after the previous catastrophic war.
The issue is not that they called the Eldar to themselves. The issue is thet they did not move to be with the Eldar. Or that they were not with them from the beginning. Thay have fenced themselves out for their own protection and left the rest of Arda to Morgoth. Which resulted e.g. in the Avari never getting to know them really, and they were their guardians. What kind of guardianship is that?
 
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Forodan

Member
I would not be so sure that the 'right' course of action was for them to be literally and openly present with the Quendi at Cuivienen. The warning about the effects of physically visiting Valinor on mortal Men cannot be completely irrelevant to the Quendi.
For it is not the land of Manwë that makes its people deathless, but the Deathless that dwell therein have hallowed the land; and there you would but wither and grow weary the sooner, as moths in a light too strong and steadfast.”
(from the Akallabeth in the Silmarillion)
The Quendi might not be 'burned out' by their direct interaction with Valar and Maiar, but they sure do seem to be supercharged or maybe 'over-wrougth' by it. Feanor especially seems to be far too much the drama-queen. Would he have been like that if he hadn't grown up in the presence of the awesome power of the assembled Valar and their attendants?
 

Odola

Active Member
I would not be so sure that the 'right' course of action was for them to be literally and openly present with the Quendi at Cuivienen. The warning about the effects of physically visiting Valinor on mortal Men cannot be completely irrelevant to the Quendi.


The Quendi might not be 'burned out' by their direct interaction with Valar and Maiar, but they sure do seem to be supercharged or maybe 'over-wrougth' by it. Feanor especially seems to be far too much the drama-queen. Would he have been like that if he hadn't grown up in the presence of the awesome power of the assembled Valar and their attendants?
The Valar were explicitly told to tend to Arda for the children. They were badly needed at Cuivenen. they were badly needed when the Hunter came down upon the Quendi. Morgoth and his Maiar were involved with the elves while the Valar were not.. Which let to the Elvish distrust in the Powers. And where this leads to we saw in the sun-hating Eol.
 

Forodan

Member
And it was somehow necessary for them to be standing guard like literal sentries in order to prevent that? Allowing Morgoth to run free was certainly a mistake, but I don't think it follows that they should have been directly involved with the Quendi.
 

Odola

Active Member
And it was somehow necessary for them to be standing guard like literal sentries in order to prevent that? Allowing Morgoth to run free was certainly a mistake, but I don't think it follows that they should have been directly involved with the Quendi.
They are their guardian spirits and teachers. They should be doing their job and not partying on their plaesure island. Elves are contained in and commited to the Arda and Arda is the domain of the Valar. Elves are not humans who are made for other things, communicate directly with Eru and have one foot in the Timeless Halls already.
 
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