The Hidden Manna in The Lord of the Rings

Did you know The Lord of the Rings has its own Exodus and Moses? You need to understand this before you can begin to grasp the full meaning of the Tolkien’s writings. 



In the last post, we talked about the basic connection between the Lembas Bread and the Eucharist and J. R. R. Tolkien’s devotion to the Eucharist. Now, let’s follow Tolkien down the path a bit further: “it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

Where did the Lembas bread come from?

Tolkien provides us with some of the bread’s history elsewhere in his writing. It is interesting that Tolkien should dedicate so much time to writing about bread if he was not hinting at a greater significance to the bread.

It is said by the Eldar that the art of preparing the Lembas came from the Vala Yavanna. Yavanna was one of the Ainu or the “Holy Ones.” These were the first and mightiest of the beings created by Eru Ilúvatar, “the One” who is basically “God the Father,” before the creation of the world. All growing things and fruits were attributed to Yavanna. In the Elvish language, Yavanna’s name means “Giver of Fruits.”

The art of preparing the lembas bread is said to have originated as far back as the Elves’ Great Journey to Aman, when Yavanna brought to them a special corn grown on her own fields. These traditions were passed on throughout the long ages from house to house of the High Elves.

This is very interesting. For what might Tolkien’s “Great Journey” be an allegory?

The Great Journey was the march of the elves, the Eldar, from Cuiviénen, the place of their awakening, to Valinor. Valinor is elsewhere called the Undying Lands. Only immortals such as the elves and ringbearers are permitted to live in the Undying Lands. Valinor is, therefore, the equivalent of Heaven or the Promised Land.

When in salvation history was there a “great journey,” or “Exodus”, to the Promised Land? The Great Journey of the Eldar is an allegory for the Exodus of the Israelites out of Egypt. The Great Journey is the equivalent of the Wilderness Wanderings, the forty years the Israelites spent wandering in the desert and wilderness of the Sinai Peninsula.

But wait, what did the Israelites eat during those forty years spent wandering in the desert? Wasn’t it some kind of bread?

The Manna

The Manna was the miraculous bread that fed the Israelites for forty years in the desert, cf. Exodus 16; Numbers 11:6-9. It was bread from heaven. It fell during the night in small white flakes or grains which covered the ground and presented the appearance of hoar frost. These grains are described as resembling coriander seed and bdellium, with a taste like "flour with honey" or "bread tempered with oil" (Exodus 16:31; Numbers 11:7-8).

The manna formed on the ground as flakes or wafers. Does that sound familiar? Bread in the shape of wafers? The manna is clearly a prefigurement of the Eucharist, the bread from heaven which becomes the flesh of Christ during the consecration during the Catholic Mass.

Jesus’ followers actually ask him about the manna at the beginning of the Bread of Life discourse, John 6:30-31:

Then what sign do you do, that we may see, and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’

This marks the beginning of Jesus’ Bread of Life discourse. He declares that he, himself, is the “Bread of Life.” Jesus’ own flesh is the new Manna. The Eucharist is the fulfillment of the Manna.

If the origin of lembas bread wasn’t enough, Tolkien makes even more connections between the lembas bread and the Eucharist. For example, he describes the lembas bread as a “wafer”:

'Praised be the bow of Galadriel, and the hand and eye of Legolas! ' said Gimli, as he munched a wafer of lembas. 'That was a mighty shot in the dark, my friend!'[1]

In the History of Middle-Earth, Tolkien also describes how, during the First Age, lembas was wrapped in "leaves of silver [...] a wafer of white wax shaped as a single flower of Telperion."[2] Again, the lembas bread is described as a wafer, but also a white wafer. Just like the Eucharist. But there’s more, where did these “leaves of silver” come from and what is “Telperion”?

For the answer to this last riddle of “Telperion”, please stay tuned for the next post. Hint: The next post will be about The Two Trees of The Lord of the Rings

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[1] The Fellowship of the Ring, Book Two, Chapter IX, "The Great River"
[2] The History of Middle Earth, Vol. XII: The Peoples of Middle-earth, chapter XV: "Of Lembas"

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