During my previous flight to Europe, a friendly neighbour on the plane struck up a conversation with me. We exchanged some polite chitchat, then she asked me: “So what are you doing in South Africa?”
“I am a postdoctoral researcher at the university in Potchefstroom,” I answered.
“What is your field of research?” She looked curious.
“I am researching the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament at the faculty of theology.” I tried to be concise in my reply.
“That’s very interesting! I also read the Bible.” Her eyes gleamed as she exclaimed excitedly.
Encouraged by her remarks, I elaborated on my answer: “In the past, I did some research on the book of Ezekiel. You know, it’s one of the Major Prophets, coming after Isaiah and Jeremiah. It has some weird visions, but my focus was on the oracles against the foreign nations in the middle of the book. Oh, the book contains the famous Gog oracles.”
She suddenly looked at me in all seriousness and asked: “I know the oracles, ISN’T GOG RUSSIA?”
I knew this association was being made on papers and internet, and I had written an article on it, but I did not expect to encounter such an association face-to-face.
My mind had gone blank for a second or so, before I asked her why she thought so. She said she didn’t know. I asked her if she had read it somewhere. She shook her head again, but this time she gently asked for my opinion on Gog’s identity. I explained how modern biblical scholars commonly place a distance between historical contexts and modern associations. I was not sure if she agreed with me but she listened to my explanation very patiently and attentively.
Before my departure from the plane, I wrote down the link to my HTS article entitled “The Enemies Within: Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39” on a tiny piece of paper and handed it to her. She thanked me and folded it carefully into her jacket’s pocket.
This random encounter touched my heart in two main ways. First, we all have uncritical assumptions, we can’t help it. But the lady on the plane makes me realize that it’s how we deal with these assumptions that counts. When she realized that she couldn’t justify her assumption about Gog, she did not make up tall tales to give weight to her claim, she did not skip the conversation topic for the sake of convenience, and she did not direct my attention to mathematical problems (N/B: she was an accountant) where she could easily prove her intellectual superiority over mine. Instead I was simply humbled that she would ask for my opinion about Gog’s identity. She showed me her patience and respect during my explanation while reserving her final judgment. I think her attitude is something I can learn from during dissensions. Keep listening to the arguments from all sides, modify judgment when necessary. Easier said than done.
Second, it simply feels good to have written an article that can somehow be referred to during a daily conversation. #bridge the gap between academia and a wider public. 🙂
N/B: This photo was not taken from this trip. It was from my 2008 trip to Turkey.
Last Updated: 28.07.2017