Reading about Khuzdul I found the following information very interesting :

The Dwarvish language sounds much like Hebrew, and indeed Tolkien noted some similarities between Dwarves and Jews: both were "at once natives and aliens in their habitations, speaking the languages of the country, but with an accent due to their own private tongue" (Letters, 176)

So Khuzdul was based on Hebrew because there were similarities between Dwarves and Jews, but were these similarities intentional?

Did Tolkien write The Hobbit and then after the fact notice these similarities, or did he purposefully mirror the story of the Jews with his Dwarves?

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    @EricLippert analogues? What?
    – Daft
    Jun 11, 2015 at 20:30
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    +1 for an awesome question. There's also a religious parallel: the Jews claimed protection from a god distinct from that of their community (or at least a differently-interpreted god after the rise of Christianity), and the Dwarves were created by Aule while Elves and Men were created by Iluvatar.
    – Nerrolken
    Jun 11, 2015 at 21:46
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    Tolkien deliberately modeled the movements of the Hobbits on those of the anglo-saxons. For example, the hobbit leaders were Marcho and Blancho; the anglo-saxons were led by Hengist and Horsa. The riders of the mark are horsemen. The leaders are hobbit Marcho analogous to real person Horsa, you see how it goes? There are all kinds of little puns and jokes and references hidden by Tolkien in the backstories. "The Road To Middle Earth" discusses them in more detail. Jun 11, 2015 at 22:33
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    @Nerrolken the Jewish, Christian and Muslim God are all one and the same. The only difference of interpretation is that Christians are Jews who accepted Jesus of Nazareth as the messiah.
    – terdon
    Jun 12, 2015 at 12:18
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    @Nerrolken so you did. And I still managed to misunderstand it. My bad, sorry.
    – terdon
    Jun 12, 2015 at 22:29

3 Answers 3


I believe that the truth lies somewhere in the middle: While Tolkien stated his dislike for allegory many times (as Cearon O'Flynn stated), it is a known fact that he did borrow much from European medieval folklore into the lore of Middle Earth — Elves, Odin (Gandalf), Ring of the Nibelungs, the Arthurian legends, and more. The Jews, while being a real people, are still part of that folklore — in the eyes of an average simple person from those times, the difference between myth and reality wasn't nearly as clear as it is for us today, if at all.

Now, the similarities between Jews and Dwarves are too many to be labeled as coincidental and dismissed as an afterthought of Tolkien: The language, the craftsmanship, the search for a long-lost homeland, greed for gold (again, as depicted by European medieval folklore) and more — many of which appeared in Tolkien's early works.

So while not being a pure allegory, the bottom line is that those similarities were made knowingly from the very beginning. I'll finish with another quote of Tolkien about the subject, from an Interview taken not long before his death, where he hints that the similarity was indeed intentional:

The dwarves of course are quite obviously, wouldn't you say that in many ways they remind you of the Jews? Their words are Semitic, obviously, constructed to be Semitic.

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    This is a great answer, thanks. And of course +1 for Minsc.
    – Daft
    Jun 11, 2015 at 11:16
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    The language is based on Semitic languages while their names explicitly come from norse mythology see here (sacred-texts.com/neu/poe/poe03.htm) 10 to 16 and the dwarves as craftsman trope also comes from norse mythology (viking-mythology.com/dwarfs.php)
    – Murphy
    Jun 11, 2015 at 13:39
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    Tom Shippey explores this idea of Tolkien's dislike of allegory in some depth in his books. As a linguist, Tolkien was very aware of the precise meaning of words and used them carefully. While we use "allegory" to mean "extended metaphor", it in fact means a representation of something symbolic or abstract. So his dislike of allegory should not rule out metaphorical interpretations of his works - merely abstract ones.
    – Bob Tway
    Jun 11, 2015 at 15:36
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    How I wish I never used the word allegory in my original title...
    – Daft
    Jun 11, 2015 at 16:13
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    @Daft Don't be Daft, you know your +1 is for Boo.
    – talrnu
    Jun 11, 2015 at 19:18

Tolkien stated many times in his letters that he hated allegory, so I would say no, not deliberately. Any allegory is being attributed by the reader.

That said in the Silmarillion the dwarves were made from clay and life breathed into them, mirroring the Jewish story of the Golem.

Tolkien's dwarves always seemed to me to be very similar to the dwarves from Das Nibelungenlied, with their greed for gold etc. This does further muddy the waters as the Wagner adaptation IS widely accepted to use negative Jewish stereotypes, so it could indeed be an allegory by virtue of it being based on an earlier allegorical interpretation.

Adding further information as requested:

Tolkien's hate of allegory is from the foreword of The Fellowship of the Ring:

“I cordially dislike allegory in all its manifestations, and always have done so since I grew old and wary enough to detect its presence. I much prefer history – true or feigned – with its varied applicability to the thought and experience of readers. I think that many confuse applicability with allegory, but the one resides in the freedom of the reader, and the other in the purposed domination of the author.”

Tolkien is basically saying if a reader sees any resemblance in his work to something in the real world then he has not done it deliberately and the link is being made by the reader. He is giving freedom to see what you wish from his stories, not trying to lead you down a path of his own devising.

The similarities between the Lord of the Rings / Hobbit and Das Nibelungenlied are not just tied to the dwarves, there is also a ring and a dragon on a bed of gold. Das Nibelungenlied is widely attributed as a source for Tolkien along with the Volsungasaga

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    Considering that Christian creation myths claim that Adam was likewise created from earth, and that Wagner based Der Ring des Niebelung (he wasnot the author of the Nibelungenlied), on earlier accounts, the earliest of which was probably the Volsungasaga, I find it more likely that Tolkien based his dwarves on the ones in that, which were likewise hungry for gold. David Day explores some of these origins in his book Tolkien's Ring.
    – eirikdaude
    Jun 11, 2015 at 9:07
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    @bilbo_pingouin obviously the word allegory has grabbed your attention. But I'm not asking specifically about allegories... More any connection between Tolkien's Dwarves and Jews.
    – Daft
    Jun 11, 2015 at 11:20
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    Had I not used the word allegory in the title, would this answer address the question at all?
    – Daft
    Jun 11, 2015 at 11:21
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    @Daft: If you didn't care about allegories, maybe you shouldn't have given that word a prominent place in the title of your question. Yes, this answer does directly address the source material for Tolkien's dwarves. Jun 11, 2015 at 11:42
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    @Daft, if you read the links that I provided, you can realise that Tolkien did not intentionally have similarities between his world and any part of ours. Allegory is not just a word, but if you imply having similarities on purpose to illustrate a point, THAT is an allegory. You seem to have deleted that comment, but you wrote earlier yourself that the answer was good, but lacking references. Jun 11, 2015 at 11:51

First question: ARE there in fact any great similarities between Dwarves and Jews? In my opinion, not really, and what few there are are purely coincidental. OTOH Tolkien's Dwarves are drawn pretty directly from the Dwarves of Norse mythology. All their important characteristics are shared: superior craftsmanship, dwelling underground by preference, the shapes of runes (though admittedly that might be due to both being suited to carving into stone). The correspondence is even more obvious from the fact that pretty much all of Tolkien's Dwarvish names are drawn directly from the Elder Eddas.

Second, did Tolkien ever really develop the Dwarvish language? He explicitly states in LOTR that nothing is known of it other than the few place names and battle cries used by Gimli, and that would hardly be enough to determine whether there's any similarity to Hebrew.

Perhaps it might be thought that a similarity is found between Khuzdul as the private, secret language of the Dwarves, and the use of Hebrew among the Jews. But this really isn't the case: Hebrew was known to many non-Jewish scholars, and not spoken by many Jews. Modern Hebrew as used in Israel is really a reconstruction or re-adoption, not a continuation of a language in general use.

PS: Just to mention a few of the many ways in which Tolkien's Dwarves differ from European Jews, either in reality or in stereotype.

Dwarves are "a tough, thrawn race for the most part", and have a reputation as fearsome warriors. Jews are, or were when Tolkien was writing LOTR (mostly prior to the founding of Israel), the perennial scapegoats who never fought back.

Jews were exiles from their homeland. Dwarves had homes in many places: Moria and later Erebor were not their only homes, just particularly prosperous dwellings among many.

Jews were, particularly in stereotype, primarily moneylenders, pawnbrokers, small traders, and so on, and were regarded with suspicion & contempt. Dwarves were miners and craftspeople. and were respected. Consider the relationships between the Dwarves of Erebor and the Men of Dale, with Dain fighting alongside King Brand in common defense against Sauron's forces, or the way Dwarves travel freely through Bree, and Thorin has no hesitation in addressing Gandalf, and inviting him to his home...


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