Gog and Magog

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Dhul-Qarnayn with the help of some jinn, building the Iron Wall to keep the barbarian Gog and Magog from civilized peoples. (16th century Persian miniature).
This article deals with the Biblical and Qur'anic figures Gog and Magog; for the Gogmagog of British folklore, see Gogmagog (folklore); for the range of hills in Cambridgeshire, see Gog Magog Downs; for other uses, see Gog and Magog.

Gog and Magog (/ɡɒɡ/; /ˈmɡɒɡ/; Hebrew: גּוֹג וּמָגוֹג Gog u-Magog; Arabic: يَأْجُوج وَمَأْجُوجYaʾjūj wa-Maʾjūj) are names that appear in the Old Testament and in numerous subsequent works, including the Book of Revelation and the Qur'an, sometimes indicating individuals and sometimes lands and peoples. Sometimes, but not always, they are connected with the "end times", and the passages from the book of Ezekiel and Revelation in particular have attracted attention for this reason.

From ancient times to the late Middle Ages Gog and Magog were identified with Eurasian nomads such as the Huns and Mongols (this was true also for Islam, where they were identified first with Turkic tribes of Central Asia and later with the Mongols). Throughout this period they were conflated with various other legends, notably those concerning Alexander the Great, the Amazons, and the Lost Tribes of Israel, and became the subject of much fanciful literature. In modern times they remain associated with apocalyptic thinking, especially in the United States and the Muslim world.

The names Gog and Magog[edit]

In the Book of Ezekiel Gog is the name of an individual and Magog the name of his land, in Genesis 10 Magog is a person, and in Revelation both Gog and Magog are nations ("the hostile nations of the world").[1][2] There are a few other examples of Gog beyond these well-known ones – for example, the Septuagint, a Greek translation of the Bible made in Egypt in the last few centuries before Christ, and the Samaritan Torah both replace the name of Agag at Numbers 24:7 with Gog, and Chronicles 1 Chronicles 5:4 features a descendant of Reuben who is called Gog or Goug.[3]

The meaning of the name Gog remains uncertain, and in any case the author of the Ezekiel prophecy seems to attach no particular importance to it.[4] Efforts have been made to identify Gog with various individuals known to history, notably Gyges, a king of Lydia in the early 7th century, but there are serious objections to this and many scholars do not believe he is related to a historical person.[4] The name Magog is equally obscure, but may come from the Assyrian mat-Gugu, "Land of Gyges", i.e., Lydia.[5] Alternatively, if Gog is derived from Magog rather than the other way round,"Magog" might refer to Babylon, by turning BBL ("Babylon" in Hebrew script, which originally had no vowel-signs) into MGG (Magog).[6]

Judeo-Christian texts[edit]

For more details on this topic, see Magog (Bible).
Ezekiel by Peter Paul Rubens (1609-1610), in the Louvre

Ezekiel and the Old Testament[edit]

The Book of Ezekiel records a series of visions received between 593 to 571 BC by the prophet Ezekiel, a former priest of the Temple, in exile in Babylon. The exile, he tells his fellow captives, is God's punishment on Israel for turning away from him, but God will restore them to Jerusalem when they return to him.[7] After this message of reassurance, chapters 38–39, the Gog oracle, tell how Gog of Magog and his hordes will threaten the restored Israel but will be destroyed, after which God will establish a new Temple and dwell forever with his people (chapters 40-48).[8]

Son of man, direct your face against Gog, of the land of Magog, the prince, leader of Meshech and Tubal, and prophesy concerning him. Say: Thus said the Lord: Behold, I am against you, Gog, the prince, leader of Meshech and Tubal...Persia, Cush and Put will be with you...also Gomer with all its troops, and Beth Togarmah from the far north with all its troops—the many nations with you.[9]

In all the books of the Old Testament Gog appears only in these chapters.[10] (The Gog son of Reuben in I Chronicles 5:4 is an Israelite, and can hardly be the same as the Gog of Ezekiel).[11] Of Gog's allies, Meshech and Tubal were 7th-century kingdoms in central Anatolia to the north of Israel, Persia is located to Israel's east, and Cush (Ethiopia) and Put (Libya) to the south; Gomer is the Cimmerians, a nomadic people north of the Black Sea, and Beth-Togarmah was on the border of Tubal.[12] The confederation thus represents a world-wide alliance against Israel.[13] "Why the prophet's gaze should have focused on these particular nations is unclear," but possibly their remoteness and reputation for violence and mystery "made Gog and his confederates perfect symbols of the archetypal enemy, rising against God and his people."[14] The theological message of the Gog oracle is that even Gog is under God's will, and its placement before the Utopian future of chapters 40-48 (the restoration the Temple and God's eternal presence with his people) emphasises the eschatological character of that event.[15]

Internal evidence indicates that the Gog oracle is substantially later than the chapters around it and was composed between the 4th and 2nd centuries BC.[16] The author has created his list of Gog's allies by blending names from Genesis 10, the "Table of Nations"–Magog, Meshek, Tubal, Cush, Put, and Gomer–with the names of Tyre's trading partners in Ezekiel 27, which includes all these names except Magog, plus Persia–and has decided they are the end-time enemies of Israel by means of Isaiah 66:19, which has several of the names and, like the Gog prophecy, addresses an eschatological future.[17]

Revelation and the intertestamental period[edit]

The Book of Revelation dates probably from the end of the 1st century CE.[18] Chapters 19:11-21:8 recount a vision in which Satan is released from the abyss and rallies "the nations in the four corners of the Earth, Gog and Magog," to a final battle with Christ and his saints:[2]

When the thousand years are over, Satan will be released from his prison and will go out to deceive the nations in the four corners of the Earth—Gog and Magog—and to gather them for battle. In number they are like the sand on the seashore.[19]

By this time Jewish tradition had long since changed Ezekiel's Gog from Magog into Gog and Magog.[20] The process, and the shifting geography of Gog and Magog, can be traced through the literature of the preceding few centuries between Ezekiel and Revelation. The 3rd book of the Sibylline Oracles, for example, which originated in Egyptian Judaism in the middle of the 2nd century BCE,[21] changes Ezekiel's "Gog from Magog" to "Gog and Magog" and places them "in the midst of Aethiopian rivers"; this seems a strange location, but ancient geography did sometimes place Ethiopia next to Persia or even India.[22] A second mention, with a very uncertain text, links them with the "Marsians and Dacians", in eastern Europe.[23] The Book of Jubilees, known from about the same time, makes three references to either Gog or Magog: in the first, is a descendant of Noah, as in Genesis 10; in the second, Gog, is a region next to Japheth's borders; and in the third, a portion of Japtheth's land is assigned to Magog. [24] The Book of Enoch tells how God stirs up the Medes and Parthians (instead of Gog and Magog) to attack Jerusalem, where they are destroyed.[25] The 1st-century Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, which retells Biblical history from the Adam to Saul, is notable for listing and naming seven of Magog's sons, and mentions his "thousands" of descendants.[26] The Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, made during this period, occasionally introduces the name of Gog where the Hebrew original has something else, or uses Magog where the Hebrew has Gog, indicating that the names were interchangeable.[27]

Judeo-Christian tradition from antiquity to the early modern period[edit]

The Caspian Gates in Derbent, Russia, often identified with the Gates of Alexander

By the 1st century BCE Jewish circles had identified Gog and Magog with the Scythians, horse-riding barbarians from around the Don and the Sea of Azov, who were supposed to have been locked up behind iron gates in the Caucasus Mountains by Alexander the Great. This story can be traced in a fragmentary form in the works of the 1st century Jewish historian Josephus, and was vastly elaborated in later versions such as the Alexander Romance and the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius.[28]

After the failure of the anti-Roman Bar Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century CE, which looked to a human leader as the promised messiah, Jews began to conceive of the messianic age in supernatural terms: first would come a forerunner, the messiah of Joseph, who would defeat Israel's enemies, Gog and Magog, to prepare the way for the messiah of David; then the dead would rise, divine judgement would be handed out, and the righteous would be rewarded.[29] The aggadah, homiletic and non-legalistic exegetical texts in the classical rabbinic literature of Judaism, treat Gog and Magog as two names for the same nation who will come against Israel in the final war.[30] The rabbis associated no specific nation or territory with them beyond a location to the north of Israel,[31] but the great Jewish scholar Rashi identified the Christians as their allies and said God would thwart their plan to kill all Israel.[32] Much later, in the early 19th century, some Chasidic rabbis identified Napoleon's invasion of Russia as "The War of Gog and Magog."[33]

Early Christian writers (e.g. Eusebius) frequently identified Gog and Magog with the Romans and their emperor.[34] After the Empire became Christian this was no longer possible, and attention switched to Rome's northern barbarian enemies. Ambrose (d.397) identified Gog with the Goths, Jerome (d.420) with the Scythians, and Jordanes (died c.555) said that Goths, Scythians and Amazons were all the same; he also cited Alexander's gates in the Caucasus.[35] (The idea that Gog and Magog were connected with the Goths was longstanding; in the mid-16th century, Archbishop of Uppsala Johannes Magnus traced the royal family of Sweden back to Magog son of Japheth, via Suenno, progenitor of the Swedes, and Gog, ancestor of the Goths).[36] The Byzantine writer Procopius said it was the Huns Alexander had locked out, and a Western monk named Fredegar seems to have Gog and Magog in mind in his description of savage hordes from beyond Alexander's gates who had assisted the Byzantine emperor Heraclius (610-641) against the Saracens.[37]

As one nomadic people followed another on the Eurasian steppes, so the identification of Gog and Magog shifted. In the 9th and 10th centuries they became identified with the Khazars, a Turkic people who had converted to Judaism and whose empire dominated Central Asia–the 9th-century monk monk Christian of Stavelot referred to them as descendants of Gog and Magog and noted that they were "circumcised and observing all [the laws of] Judaism".[38] According to the famous Khazar Correspondence (c. 960), King Joseph of Khazaria claimed that his people were the descendants of "Kozar", the seventh son of Togarmah.[39] After the Khazars came the Mongols, a mysterious and invincible horde from the east that destroyed Muslim empires and kingdoms in the early 13th century; kings and popes took them for the legendary Prester John, marching to save Christians from the Saracens, but when they entered Poland and Hungary and annihilated Christian armies a terrified Europe concluded that they were "Magogoli", the offspring of Gog and Magog, released from the prison Alexander had constructed for them and heralding Armageddon.[40] Marco Polo travelled in the Mongol empire when the initial terror had subsided: he at first dismisses any connection between the Mongols and the hordes of Gog and Magog locked up by Alexander and guarded by the Queen of the Amazons, but then claims that the names Gog and Magog are translations of the place-names Ung and Mungul, inhabited by the Ung and Mongols respectively.[41]

Some time before the 12th century the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel became identified with Gog and Magog.[42] The Franciscan traveller William of Rubruck reported that he had seen Alexander's wall in Derbent on the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1254, and that there were other walls holding back Jews that he been unable to visit; William shared his information with Roger Bacon, who urged the study of geography to discover where the Antichrist and Gog and Magog might be found.[43] The author of the Travels of Sir John Mandeville, a 14th-century best-seller, said he had found these Jews in Central Asia where as Gog and Magog they had been imprisoned by Alexander, plotting to escape and join with the Jews of Europe to destroy Christians.[44]

Yajuj and Majuj: Gog and Magog in the Qur'an and in Muslim tradition[edit]

The Monster of Gog and Magog, by Zakariya al-Qazwini (1203–1283).

The conflation of Gog and Magog with the legend of Alexander and the Iron Gates was disseminated throughout the Near East in the early centuries of the Christian era, finding its way eventually into Surahs 18 and 21 of the Qu'ran via a Syrian version.[45] In Islam Alexander is known as Dhul-Qarnayn, "the two-horned one"– the name is taken from the Syrian legend and describes his journeys from one extremity ("horn") of the world to the other.[46]

In Surah 18:83-98 (Surat al-Kahf, "The Cave"), Dhul-Qarnayn (Alexander), having journeyed to the ends of the world, meets "a people who scarcely understood a word". They seek his help in building a barrier that will separate them from the people of Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog) who "do great mischief on earth" and live across the mountain. He agrees to build it for them, and warns that when the time comes (Last Age), Allah remove the barrier and the people of Yajuj and Majuj will breach through it. In Surah 21:95-96 (Surat al-Anbiya, "The Prophets"), God warns of "prohibition upon [the people of] a city which We have destroyed, that they shall not return until Gog and Magog are let through (their barrier), and they swiftly swarm from every hill."[47]

The early traditions were summarised by al-Qazwini (d. 1283) in two popular works called the Cosmography and the Geography. Gog and Magog are a people who can be counted only by God, only half the height of a normal man, with claws instead of nails and a hairy tail. They have huge hairy ears, which they use as mattress and cover for sleeping. Their land was explored by "The Two-Horned One," who found them living near to the sea that encircles the Earth.[48] They scratch at their wall each day until they almost break through, but each night God restores it; but when they do break through, they will be so numerous that "their vanguard is in Syria and their rear in Khorasan."[49] Tradition normally placed the mountains of this barrier "towards Armenia and Azerbaijan,"[50] but the 14th-century traveller Ibn Battuta reported that it was sixty days' travel from the city of Zeitun, which is on the coast of China; the translator notes that Ibn Battuta has confused the Great Wall of China with that built by Dhul-Qarnayn.[51] When Classical writers identified Yajuj an Majuj with real peoples it was the Turks, who threatened Baghdad and the Muslims in northern Iran: "He (Magog) will be followed by people who have rough and broad faces."[52] Later, when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258, it was they who were Gog and Magog.[53]

Modern apocalypticism[edit]

Ronald and Nancy Reagan, 1964. Reagan was one of many highly placed U.S. statesmen and political figures who have believed in the Gog and Magog prophecy.

In Europe expectations of the end-times have receded with the advance of a secular worldview during the 19th century.[54] This has not been the case in the U.S., where a 2002 poll indicated that 59% of Americans believed the events predicted in the Book of Revelation would come to pass.[55] During the Cold War the idea that Russia had the role of Gog gained popularity, since Ezekiel's words describing him as "prince of Meshek"—rosh meshek in Hebrew—sounded suspiciously like Russia and Moscow.[7] Even some Russians took up the idea, apparently unconcerned by the implications: "Ancestors were found in the Bible, and that was enough."[56] Ronald Reagan, then Governor of California, told state legislators in 1971:

"Ezekiel tells us that Gog, the nation that will lead all of the other powers of darkness against Israel, will come out of the north. Biblical scholars have been saying for generations that Gog must be Russia. What other powerful nation is to the north of Israel? None. But it didn’t seem to make sense before the Russian revolution, when Russia was a Christian country. Now it does, now that Russia has become Communistic and atheistic, now that Russia has set itself against God. Now it fits the description of Gog perfectly."[57]

Post Cold War-millenarians still identify Gog with Russia, but they now tend to stress his allies among Islamic nations, especially Iran.[58] For the most fervent, the countdown to Armageddon began with the return of the Jews to Israel, followed quickly by further signs pointing to the nearness of the final battle–nuclear weapons, European integration, Israel's seizure of Jerusalem, and America's wars in Afghanistan and the Gulf.[59] In the prelude to the 2003 Invasion of Iraq, President George W. Bush told Jacques Chirac that Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East: "This confrontation is willed by God," he told the French leader, "who wants us to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins."[60] Chirac consulted a professor at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) to explain Bush's reference.[61]

In the Islamic apocalyptic tradition the end of the world would be preceded by the release of Gog and Magog, whose destruction by God in a single night would usher in the Day of Resurrection.[62] Reinterpretation did not generally continue after Classical times, but the needs of the modern world have produced a new body of apocalyptic literature,[63] although the print runs of Muslim authors fall far short of those of their American counterparts.[64] In contemporary works Gog and Magog are identified as the Jews and Israel or the Ten Lost Tribes, or sometimes as Communist Russia and China.[65] One problem these writers have had to confront is the barrier holding Gog and Magog back, which is not to be found in the modern world: the answer varies, some writers saying that Gog and Magog were the Mongols and that the wall is now gone, others that both the wall and Gog and Magog are invisible.[66]

See also[edit]



  1. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 89-90.
  2. ^ a b Mounce 1998, p. 372.
  3. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 1.
  4. ^ a b Lust 1999b, p. 373-374.
  5. ^ Gmirkin 2006, p. 148.
  6. ^ Lust 1999a, p. 536.
  7. ^ a b Blenkinsopp 1996, p. 178.
  8. ^ Bullock 1986, p. 301.
  9. ^ Ezekiel 38
  10. ^ Block 1998, p. 432.
  11. ^ Tooman 1998, p. 140.
  12. ^ Block 1998, p. 72-73,439-440.
  13. ^ Hays, Duval & Pate 2009, p. no pagination.
  14. ^ Block 1998, p. 436.
  15. ^ Petersen 2002, p. 158.
  16. ^ Tooman 2011, p. 271.
  17. ^ Tooman 2011, p. 147-148.
  18. ^ Stuckenbruck 2003, p. 1535-1536.
  19. ^ Revelation 20:7-10
  20. ^ Boring 1989, p. 209.
  21. ^ Wardle 2010, p. 89.
  22. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 142-144.
  23. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 145-146.
  24. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 153.
  25. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 178.
  26. ^ Bøe 2001, p. 186-189.
  27. ^ Lust 1999a, p. 536-537.
  28. ^ Bietenholz 1994, p. 122-125.
  29. ^ Schreiber, Schiff & Klenicki 2003, p. 180.
  30. ^ Skolnik & Berenbaum 2007, p. 684.
  31. ^ Mikraot Gedolot HaMeor p.400
  32. ^ Grossman 2012, p. 54.
  33. ^ Wessels 2013, p. 205.
  34. ^ Lust 1998b, p. 375.
  35. ^ Bietenholz, p. 125.
  36. ^ Derry 1979, p. 129 (fn).
  37. ^ Bietenholz, p. 125-126.
  38. ^ Brook 2006, p. 7-8,96.
  39. ^ Brook 2006, p. 9.
  40. ^ Marshall 1993, p. 12,120–122,144.
  41. ^ Strickland 2008, p. 38.
  42. ^ Gow 1995, p. 23-24.
  43. ^ Westrem 1998, p. 66.
  44. ^ Westrem 1998, p. 68-69.
  45. ^ Bietenholz 1994, p. 123.
  46. ^ Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 57 and fn.3.
  47. ^ Hughes 1895, p. 148.
  48. ^ Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 65-68.
  49. ^ Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 74.
  50. ^ Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 82.
  51. ^ Gibb & Beckingham 1994, p. 896 and footnote 30.
  52. ^ Van Donzel & Schmidt 2010, p. 82-84.
  53. ^ Filiu, p. 30.
  54. ^ Kyle, p. 34-35.
  55. ^ Filiu, p. 196.
  56. ^ Marsh 2011, p. 254.
  57. ^ Boyer 1992, p. 162.
  58. ^ Kyle 2012, p. 171.
  59. ^ Kyle 2012, p. 4.
  60. ^ Block 2012, p. 151.
  61. ^ Wessels 2013, p. 193, footnote 6.
  62. ^ Cook 2005, p. 8,10.
  63. ^ Cook 2005, p. 12.
  64. ^ Filiu 2011, p. 196.
  65. ^ Cook 2005, p. 47,206.
  66. ^ Cook 2005, p. 205-206.