Gog and Magog
Gog and Magog (//; //; Hebrew: גּוֹג וּמָגוֹג Gog u-Magog) appear in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) as individual persons, or as peoples, or as lands. The Book of Ezekiel paints them as the enemies of God at the end time, an eschatological view taken up in the Book of Revelation, but no such connection is made in the other scriptural passages where they appear.
In Classical and medieval sources Gog and Magog were peoples dwelling in territories beyond the Gates of Alexander, a legendary barrier erected by Alexander the Great: Josephus, writing in the 1st century A.D., regarded them as Scythians, and throughout the Middle Ages they were variously identified as Eurasian nomads including the Huns, Khazars, and Mongols, conflated with various other legends concerning the Amazons, Red Jews, and the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel.
Their names as appear in the Quran as Yajuj and Majuj (Arabic: يأجوج ومأجوج Yaʾjūj wa-Maʾjūj), and the Muslim world identified them first with Turkic tribes from Central Asia and later with the Mongols. In modern times they remain associated with apocalyptic thinking, especially in the United States and the Muslim world.
- 1 The names Gog and Magog
- 2 Judeo-Christian texts
- 3 Alexander the Great
- 4 Identification with civilizations
- 5 Gog and Magog in Muslim tradition
- 6 Modern apocalypticism
- 7 See also
- 8 Explanatory notes
- 9 References
The names Gog and Magog
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The first mention of the two names occurs in the Book of Ezekiel, where Gog is the name of an individual and Magog the name of his land; in Genesis 10 Magog is a person and no Gog is mentioned, and in Revelation both Gog and Magog appear together as the hostile nations of the world. A Reubenite[a] named Gog or Goug occurs in 1 Chronicles 5:4, but he appears to have no connection with the Gog of Ezekiel or Magog of Genesis.
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; efforts have been made to identify him with various individuals, notably Gyges, a king of Lydia in the early 7th century, but many scholars do not believe he is related to any historical person. The name Magog is equally obscure, but may come from the Assyrian mat-Gugu, "Land of Gyges", i.e., Lydia. Alternatively, Gog may be derived from Magog rather than the other way round, and "Magog" may be code for Babylon.[b]
Ezekiel and the Old Testament
The Book of Ezekiel records a series of visions received by the 6th century BC prophet Ezekiel, a priest of Solomon's Temple who was among the captive during the Babylonian exile. The exile, he tells his fellow captives, is God's punishment on Israel for turning away, but God will restore his people to Jerusalem when they return to him. 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).
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.
In all the books of the Old Testament, Gog appears only in these chapters.[c] Of Gog's allies, Meshech and Tubal were 7th-century kingdoms in central Anatolia north of Israel, Persia towards east, 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. The confederation thus represents a multinational alliance surrounding Israel. "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". 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 of the Temple and God's eternal presence with his people) emphasises the eschatological character of that event.
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. 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.
Gog and Magog from Ezekiel to Revelation
Over the next few centuries Jewish tradition changed Ezekiel's Gog from Magog into Gog and Magog. The process, and the shifting geography of Gog and Magog, can be traced through the literature of the period. The 3rd book of the Sibylline Oracles, for example, which originated in Egyptian Judaism in the middle of the 2nd century BC, changes Ezekiel's "Gog from Magog" to "Gog and Magog," links their fate with up to eleven other nations, 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. The passage has a highly uncertain text, with manuscripts varying in their groupings of the letters of the Greek text into words, leading to different readings; one group of manuscripts ("group Y") links them with the "Marsians and Dacians", in eastern Europe, amongst others.
The Book of Jubilees, from about the same time, makes three references to either Gog or Magog: in the first, Magog 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 Japheth's land is assigned to Magog. The Book of Enoch, another intertestamental work, tells how God stirs up the Medes and Parthians (instead of Gog and Magog) to attack Jerusalem, where they are destroyed. The 1st-century Liber Antiquitatum Biblicarum, which retells Biblical history from Adam to Saul, is notable for listing and naming seven of Magog's sons, and mentions his "thousands" of descendants. The Samaritan Torah and the Septuagint (a Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible made during the last few centuries of the pre-Christian era) occasionally introduce the name of Gog where the Hebrew original has something else, or use Magog where the Hebrew has Gog, indicating that the names were interchangeable.
Chapters 19:11–21:8 of the Book of Revelation, dating from the end of the 1st century AD, tells how Satan is to be imprisoned for a thousand years, and how, on his release, he will rally "the nations in the four corners of the Earth, Gog and Magog," to a final battle with Christ and his saints:
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.
After the failure of the anti-Roman Bar Kokhba revolt in the 2nd century AD 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, identified as 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. 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. The rabbis associated no specific nation or territory with them beyond a location to the north of Israel, but the great Jewish scholar Rashi identified the Christians as their allies and said God would thwart their plan to kill all Israel.
Alexander the Great
The 1st century Jewish historian Josephus identified the Gog and Magog people as Scythians, horse-riding barbarians from around the Don and the Sea of Azov. Josephus recounts the tradition that Gog and Magog were locked up by Alexander the Great behind iron gates in the "Caspian Mountains", generally identified with the Caucasus Mountains. This legend must have been current in contemporary Jewish circles by this period, coinciding with the beginning of the Christian Era.[d] Several centuries later, this material was vastly elaborated in the Apocalypse of Pseudo-Methodius and Alexander Romance.
Gog (Syriac: ܓܘܓ, gwg) and Magog (Syriac: ܡܓܘܓܵ, mgwg) appeared in the Syriac Alexander Legend dating to 629–630, which was a work to be distinguished from the Syriac version of the Alexander Romance. Written by a Christian based in Mesopotamia, this work has a long full title which in shorthand reads: "An exploit of Alexander.. how.. he made a gate of iron, and shut it [against] the Huns". It is considered the first work to connect the Gates with the idea that the Gog and Magog people are destined to play a role in the apocalypse. The work claims that Alexander carved prophecies on the face of the Gate, marking a date for when Gog and Magog will be chief among the 24 nations who will subjugate the greater part of the world, and this age will be ushered in by the Huns breaching the Gate.
This Gog and Magog legend is not found earlier versions of the Alexander Romance of Pseudo-Callisthenes (the oldest manuscript dates to the 3rd century),[e] but was interpolated into recensions around the 8th century.[f] In the latest and longest Greek version[g] are described the Unclean Nations, which include the Goth and Magoth among them, and whose people engage in the habit of eating worms, dogs, human cadaver and fetuses.
Identification with civilizations
Early Christian writers (e.g. Eusebius) frequently identified Gog and Magog with the Romans and their emperor. After the Empire became Christian, 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.[h] 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.
As one nomadic people followed another on the Eurasian steppes, so the identification of Gog and Magog shifted. In the 9th and 10th centuries these kingdoms were identified by some with the lands of the Khazars, a Turkic people who had converted to Judaism and whose empire dominated Central Asia–the 9th-century monk Christian of Stavelot referred to Gazari, said of the Khazars that they were "living in the lands of Gog and Magog" and noted that they were "circumcised and observing all [the laws of] Judaism". Arab traveler ibn Fadlan also reported of this belief, writing around 921 he recorded that "Some hold the opinion that Gog and Magog are the Khazars". 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, though he makes no mention of Gog and Magog.
After the Khazars came the Mongols, seen as a mysterious and invincible horde from the east who 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.
Europeans in Medieval China reported findings from their travels to the Mongol Empire. Some accounts and maps began to place the "Caspian Mountains", and Gog and Magog, just outside the Great Wall of China. The Tartar Relation, an obscure account of Friar Carpini's 1240s journey to Mongolia, is unique in alleging that these Caspian Mountains in Mongolia, "where the Jews called Gog and Magog by their fellow countrymen are said to have been shut in by Alexander", were moreover purported by the Tartars to be magnetic, causing all iron equipment and weapons to fly off toward the mountains on approach. In 1251, the French friar André de Longjumeau informed his king that the Mongols originated from a desert further east, and an apocalyptic Gog and Magog ("Got and Margoth") people dwelled further beyond, confined by the mountains.
In fact, Gog and Magog were held by the Mongol to be their ancestors, at least by some segment of the population. As traveler and Friar Riccoldo da Monte di Croce put it in ca. 1291, "They say themselves that they are descended from Gog and Magog: and on this account they are called Mogoli, as if from a corruption of Magogoli". Marco Polo, traveling when the initial terror had subsided, places Gog and Magog among the Tartars in Tenduc, 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.
An explanation offered by Orientalist Henry Yule was that Marco Polo was only referring to the "Rampart of Gog and Magog" another name for any portion of the Great Wall of China. Friar André's placement of Gog and Magog far east of Mongolia has been similarly explained.
The confined Jews
Some time around the 12th century, the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel came to be identified with Gog and Magog; possibly the first to do so was Petrus Comestor in Historica Scholastica (ca. 1169–1173). While this confounding was becoming commonplace, some, like Riccoldo or Vincent de Beauvais remained skeptics, and distinguished the Lost Tribes from Gog and Magog. As noted, Riccoldo had reported a Mongol folk-tradition that they were descended Gog and Magog. He also addressed many minds (Westerners or otherwise) being credulous of the notion that Mongols might be Captive Jews, but after weighing the pros and cons, he concluded this was an open question.[i]
The Flemish Franciscan monk William of Rubruck, who was first-hand witness to Alexander's wall in Derbent on the shores of the Caspian Sea in 1254,[j] identified the people the walls were meant to fend off only vaguely as "wild tribes" or "desert nomads",[k] but one researcher made the inference Rubruck must have meant Jews,[l], and that he was speaking in the context of "Gog and Magog".[m] Confined Jews were later to be referred to as "Red Jews" (die roten juden) in German-speaking areas; a term first used in an Arthurian epic dating to the 1270s.[n]
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.
Gog and Magog in Muslim tradition
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. In Islam, Alexander probably lies behind the figure of Dhul-Qarnayn, "the two-horned one", mentioned in Surah 18 of the Qu'ran. Dhul-Qarnayn (Alexander), having journeyed to the ends of the world, meets "a people who scarcely understood a word" who 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". He agrees to build it for them, but warns that when the time comes (Last Age), Allah will remove the barrier and Yajuj and Majuj will swarm through.
The early Muslim traditions were summarised by Zakariya al-Qazwini (d. 1283) in two popular works called the Cosmography and the Geography. Gog and Magog, he says, live near to the sea that encircles the Earth and can be counted only by God; they are only half the height of a normal man, with claws instead of nails and a hairy tail and huge hairy ears which they use as mattress and cover for sleeping. They scratch at their wall each day until they almost break through, and 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".
When Yajuj and Majuj were identified with real peoples it was the Turks, who threatened Baghdad and northern Iran; later, when the Mongols destroyed Baghdad in 1258, it was they who were Gog and Magog. The wall dividing them from civilised peoples was normally placed towards Armenia and Azerbaijan, but in the year 842 the Caliph Al-Wathiq had a dream in which he saw that it had been breached, and sent an official named Sallam to investigate. Sallam returned a little over two years later and reported that he had seen the wall and also the tower where Dhul Qarnayn had left his building equipment, and all was still intact. It is not entirely clear what Sallam saw, but he may have reached the Jade Gate, the westernmost customs point on the border of China. Somewhat later the 14th-century traveller Ibn Battuta reported that the wall 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.
In the early 19th century, some Chasidic rabbis identified Napoleon's invasion of Russia as "The War of Gog and Magog". But as the century progressed, apocalyptic expectations receded as the populace in Europe began increasingly to adopt an increasingly secular worldview. 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. 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. Even some Russians took up the idea, apparently unconcerned by the implications ("Ancestors were found in the Bible, and that was enough"), as did Ronald Reagan.
Post Cold War-millenarians still identify Gog with Russia, but they now tend to stress his allies among Islamic nations, especially Iran. 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. 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". Chirac consulted a professor at the Faculty of Theology of the University of Lausanne (Switzerland) to explain Bush's reference.
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. Reinterpretation did not generally continue after Classical times, but the needs of the modern world have produced a new body of apocalyptic literature in which Gog and Magog are identified as the Jews and Israel, or the Ten Lost Tribes, or sometimes as Communist Russia and China. 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.
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- All Reubenites are held to be descendants of Reuben in the view of the Torah. But it is unclear what family relationship Gog's father Joel has with the sons of Reuben in verse 3.
- The encryption technique is called atbash. BBL ("Babylon") when read backwards and displaced by one letter becomes MGG (Magog)
- A Gog is mentioned in I Chronicles 5:4, but he is Gog of the tribe of Reuben, an Israelite, and can hardly be the same as the Gog of Ezekiel.
- Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 1
.123 and 18 .97; The Jewish War 7 .244-51
- The oldest manuscript is recension α. The material is not found in the oldest Greek, Latin, Armenian, and Syriac versions.
- Recension ε
- Recension γ
- 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).
- Riccoldo observed that the Mongol script resembled Chaldean (Syriac, a form of Aramaic), and in fact it does derive from Aramaic. However he saw that Mongols bore no physical resemblance to Jews and were ignorant of Jewish laws.
- Rubruck refers Derbent as the "Iron Gate", this also being the meaning of the Turkish name (Demir kapi) for the town. Rubruck may have been the only Medieval Westerner to claim to have seen it.
- Also "barbarous nations", "savage tribes".
- Based on Rubruck stating elsewhere "There are other enclosures in which there are Jews"
- Since Roger Bacon, having been informed by Rubruck, urged the study of geography to discover where the Antichrist and Gog and Magog might be found.
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