Throughout our previous classes, we have discussed how Tolkien intended his world to be not a fictional place but a fictional time. The history of Arda was meant to match the history of our world so it would be much easier for Tolkien to suspend our belief in the lore of his world. According to this logic, Tolkien would model how Ëa was created after how Earth was created. Since Tolkien was a Catholic, the resemblance between the creation of Ëa, also known as the Ainulindalë, and the Biblical account of the creation of Earth is more than just a coincidence. In fact, the Ainulindalë and the Bible tell the same story from different perspectives.
Tolkien clarifies that the Ainulindalë is told from a perspective different from what humans are normally used to through how he frames the Ainulindalë. The frame format of the C through D versions of the Ainulindalë highlight how far removed we as readers are from the original account of the creation of Arda, especially in the D version, which inserts Pengoloð between Rúmil and Ælfwine as a story-teller and interpreter. This D version of the Ainulindalë shows a progression of how the story is told, beginning with the Elves still living in Valinor before being passed on to the Noldor, then to the Anglo-Saxons, and finally to modern human beings. This progression emphasizes how the Ainulindalë does not belong to men but to the Elves. The Bible, on the other hand, does belong to men. Because the Bible does not have a framework, it feels more as if it belongs to us. Likewise, the Silmarillion version of the Ainulindalë does not have the framing that later drafts of the Ainulindalë do, making it seem more like the Bible and deemphasizing the fact that it is a story that does not actually come from mankind.
The content of the Ainulindalë compared to the Bible is much more similar than its format. In both stories, for instance, the universe comes into being through speech. In the Ainulindalë, Eru takes the world that the Ainur sang of and brings it into existence, saying in Ainulindalë A, “Ëa! Let these things Be!” (Silmarillion 10). Similarly, in Ainulindalë D, Eru calls the world into being by saying simply, “Let these things Be!” (Morgoth’s Ring 13). In the Biblical account of creation, although how God creates the heavens and the earth is unspecified, the first thing He is described as bringing into existence is light, which he makes by saying, “Let there be light” (Genesis 1:3). The fact that Eru and God both need to speak their creations into existence is an obvious enough similarity, but that their word choice should be nearly identical shows just how closely Tolkien was following the Genesis creation story.
Beyond the actual moment of creation, the Ainulindalë continues to parallel the Bible. The creation of man to have free will beyond the music is comparable to how God created mankind in His image. The importance of light throughout the Ainulindalë and the Silmarillion brings to mind the fact that light is the first thing God is described as creating. The Ainur are powerful beings that are much like the angels of the Bible.
However, the role of the Ainur in the creation of Tolkien’s world seems to contradict the role of the angels in the Bible. In Genesis, the world is described as having been created by God alone. John 1 seems to refer to a being other than God who helped create the world, saying, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made” (John 1:1-3), but it is widely accepted among Christians that here “the Word” refers to Jesus, who is one with God in the Trinity. Moreover, the passage explicitly states that “the Word was God” (and not that “the Word was a god” from the New World Translation of the Holy Scriptures, which is a translation of the Bible that the Catholic Church does not accept).
Nevertheless, the angels in the Bible clearly existed before the Earth was created, like how the Ainur dwelt in the Halls of Ilúvatar before the creation of Arda. As God says when he reprimands Job, “Where were you when I laid the earth’s foundation? Tell me if you understand. Who marked off its dimensions? Surely you know! Who stretched a measuring line across it? On what were its footings set, or who laid its cornerstone—while the morning stars sang together and all the angels shouted for joy?” (Job 38:4-7). Therefore, while the angels did not participate in the creation of the world, they, like the Ainur, were certainly present when it was formed.
When an examination of the Bible is extended into Jubilees, though, the connection between Ainur and angels becomes much clearer. While the book of Jubilees, also known as Little Genesis, is considered by the Catholic Church to be an apocryphal book, it was widely known among ancient Christians, and Tolkien, as a medievalist, must have been familiar with its content. In Jubilees, the angels are given different roles, much like how the Ainur or, more specifically, the Valar each have their own domains. The angels of the spirit of wind, for instance, seem a lot like Manwë, the Valar of the wind and air. While God is still the sole creator of the universe in Jubilees, the fact that control over certain aspects of creation are distributed among the angels aligns much more closely with the Ainulindalë than what is presented in the canonical Bible.
Because of the number of similar factors between the Ainulindalë and the Bible, it is logical to conclude that Tolkien intended the Ainulindalë to be another account of the Biblical creation story. But the Ainulindalë is more than just another creation story—it is the creation story that belongs to the Elves, just as the Bible is the creation story that belonged to the Christian Anglo-Saxons of Ælfwine’s time.