The Bible: Translated into…Elvish??

J.R.R. Tolkien stands as a towering figure in English literature. His books The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings are among the most popular fantasy books ever written, and indeed have defined that genre ever since.

Part of Tolkien’s genius as a writer was in making the setting of his books come alive. Reading his books, one feels like they are peering through a window into an ancient land with a deep culture and long history.

What is sometimes overlooked is that Tolkien was a linguist before he became a writer. He was one of history’s most notable conlangers (those who invent languages). He once called it his “secret vice.” Since his childhood, he was developing languages. And his writing of the Middle-Earth epics was, in one sense, an effort to give a context and mythology to the languages he developed. In other words, to Tolkien, the story served the languages, and not the other way around.

Among his many languages was a family of “Elvish” tongues, derived from a mother tongue called “Quenya.” Tolkien, a devoted Catholic (try looking for Catholic ideas and themes in his books sometime!) actually translated prayers, such as the Lord’s Prayer and Hail Mary (RTF download), into Quenya. His voluminous writings contain many Quenya renderings of biblical and religious terms.

Given Tolkien’s devoted fan following, I suppose it isn’t a surprise to find that many biblical texts have now been rendered in Elvish, including Genesis 1 and 2, Luke 2, the Gospel of Mark, Matthew 1-5, and the entire Johannine corpus! Some of the work shows not only considerable linguistic skill but also notable artistry.

What to make of all this? I’m torn on this, honestly. On the one hand, my brother Mike was right to point out, when I mentioned this to him, that all this effort translating the Word into invented languages would be far better spent on translating it into real languages for people who don’t have the Bible. There are hundreds of language groups that do not possess any of the Scriptures at all, and thousands that lack the whole Bible. In that light, all the Elvish Scriptures of the world look like a frivolous waste of time. I’m sure Elrond and Legolas could use the Gospel, and having these works would certainly help, except for the minor issue that they are fictional characters only!

On the other hand, from looking through the commentary on these sites, many of these people aren’t believers anyway. So I’m at least glad they’re working in the Bible, even if it’s for the wrong reasons; perhaps God will use this to draw some to himself. In another important sense, they are in a narrow and unwitting way “preaching Christ” to their community, and so, in a Philippians 1:15-18 sort of way, I have to see that as something positive.

Anyway, I found that interesting, though a little strange…

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One response to “The Bible: Translated into…Elvish??

  1. Anon

    These people aren’t necessarily knowledgeable nor interested in learning one of these other languages that lack bible translations either. It’s much like saying that, instead of reading that one (amusing) book for enjoyment, it would be much better to read that other book (serious and difficult subject) for knowledge, without regards to what the reader is inclined to do at the moment. If you press the issue, the reader may decide, because they don’t feel like reading the difficult subject, and they’ve been made to feel bad for wanting to enjoy the other book, to simply not read altogether and find something else to do.

    For another example, it’s almost like those people who decry that someone gave to this local charity, but not this international charity. Pound for pound, the international charity might do more good for the global community, but these people live and have a greater invested interest in their local community. They want to see it prosper too.