Anecdote: Gog on the Plane

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

Article: The Enemies Within: Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39

My article entitled “The Enemies Within: Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39” is now published in the open-access journal HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies (South Africa-based)! Please feel free to check it out on their website:

This article summarizes and builds on a section of my 2016 monograph entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles the against Nations. Since not all of you may have the time to read through the entire book, this article can help you quickly grasp some of the most interesting arguments about the Gog oracles in Ezekiel 38-39. Moreover, this article will lead you through further samples of the reception of Gog of Magog that are not found in the monograph.

Here is the abstract of the article:

The most extensive descriptions of Gog and Magog in the Hebrew Bible appear in Ezekiel 38–39. At various stages of their political career, both Reagan and Bush have linked Gog and Magog to the bêtes noires of the USA, identifying them either as the ‘communistic and atheistic’ Russia or the ‘evil’ Iraq. Biblical scholars, however, seek to contextualise Gog of Magog in the historical literary setting of the ancient Israelites. Galambush identifies Gog in Ezekiel as a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, who acted as Judah’s oppressor in the 6th century BCE. More recently, Klein concludes that Gog, along with his companions, is ‘eine Personifikation aller Feinde, die Israel im Buch Ezechiel gegenüberstehen’. Despite their differences in detail, these scholars, such as Reagan and Bush, work with a dualism that considers only the features of Judah’s enemies incorporated into Gog’s characteristics. Via an analysis of the semantic allusions, literary position and early receptions of Ezekiel 38–39, this article argues that Gog and his entourage primarily display literary attributes previously assigned to Judah’s political allies.

Enjoy your reading! 🙂

P/S: FREE download of Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations is available here: Further publications by me can be viewed and downloaded here:;



Presentation: Unravel “Gog of Magog” in Seoul, South Korea

The Society of Biblical Literature International Meeting will take place in Seoul, South Korea during July 3-7, 2016. I am so excited that I will deliver a paper entitled “Gog of Magog within and beyond Ezekiel 38-39” in this conference on July 4, 2016!


 Photos taken from Allez Savoir! 39 (2007): 34-41, here 37, the website of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, and Joseph Moo’s  “Gog & Magog War Coincide With the Coming 4 Blood Moon”

According to the French report “George W.Bush et le Code Ezéchiel” by Jocelyn Rochat in Allez Savoir! 39 (2007): 34-41, the former US president George W. Bush justified the invasion of Iraq in 2003 by saying that “Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East.”

A Palestinian cartoonist Baha Boukhari painted a cartoon depicting the USA and UK as Yajuj and Majuj (Gog and Magog). According to the website of the Lahore Ahmadiyya Movement, the cartoon appeared in the Arab newspaper Al-Ayyam on April 4, 2003.

One Singaporean Joseph Moo, following the footstep of Ronald Reagan and many others, published a series of slides entitled “Gog and Magog War Coincide With the Coming 4 Blood Moon” in May 2014 and claimed that Gog is Russia.

Who then is Gog? Come and discuss with me on July 4, 2016! 😉

Here is the abstract of my paper, which is also available on the SBL website:

The most extensive descriptions of Gog and Magog in the Hebrew Bible appear in Ezek 38-39. At various stages of their political career, both Reagan and Bush have linked Gog and Magog to the diplomatic and military enemies of the USA, identifying them either as the “communistic and atheistic” Russia or the “evil” Iraq (Halsell 1986, 45; Eichenwald 2012, 459). Biblical scholars, however, seek to contextualize Gog of Magog in the historical literary setting of the ancient Israelites. Galambush identifies Gog in Ezekiel as a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, who acted as Judah’s oppressor in the sixth century BCE (Galambush 2006, 259-260). More generally, Klein concludes that Gog, along with its companions, is “eine Personifikation aller Feinde, die Israel im Buch Ezechiel gegenüberstehen” (Klein 2008, 131). Despite their differences in detail, these scholars, like Reagan and Bush, still work under a mindset of animosity, considering only the features of Judah’s enemies incorporated into the characteristics of Gog. This paper argues that Gog and his entourage display literary attributes previously assigned to not only Judah’s enemies, but also Judah’s political allies, especially Egypt. Internal evidence suggests that the Gog oracles are a much later insertion into the book of Ezekiel (Tooman 2011, 72-83). Therefore, Ezek 38-39 apparently draws from omnifarious biblical elements and themes, so that all foreign historical nations, whether friends or foes, are all combined and transformed into a metahistorical symbol of chaos or evil, standing in opposition to YHWH and the restored Israel in the eschatological era. Brief remarks will also be made as to how the literary process within Ezek 38-39 that relegates all foreign elements to one eschatological symbol of evil is mirrored in the Septuagint (Num 24:7; Deut 3:1, 13; 4:47; Esth 3:1; 9:24) and continues to evolve in early Jewish and Christian traditions.

The paper will be presented in the Prophets Section. Here are the details:

2:00 PM to 3:30 PM
Room: B104 – Theology Hall (Yonsei)Chwi-Woon Kim, Baylor University
The Negative Attitude toward Abraham and Israel (Isa 63:16) in light of the Literary Development of the Prayer in 63:7–64:11 (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Sehee Kim, Boston University
Parallels in Concept and Plot between Ezekiel 16 and Unfaithfulness (Sumerian Myth) (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Lydia Lee, North-West University (South Africa)
Gog of Magog within and beyond Ezekiel 38–39 (20 min)
Discussion (3 min)
Kristin Weingart, Eberhard Karls Universität Tübingen
My Father, My Father! Chariot of Israel and Its Horsemen!? (2 Kgs 2:12; 13:14): Elisha’s or Elijah’s Title? (20 min)
I look foward to meeting you all there! 😀


Lecture: The Happy Ending in the Winter Semester 2014/2015

As a preamble to one of the last few lessons of the Hebrew tutorial I led on Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations (OAN), I showed the students the following anecdote (excerpt taken from

But before Chirac could elaborate on that point, Bush veered into another direction.

“Jacques,” he said, “You and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord”

Chirac said nothing. He didn’t know where Bush was going with this.

“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” Bush said. ‘’Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.”

Gog and Magog? What was that?, thought Chirac.

“This confrontation,” Bush said, “is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins.”

Chirac was bewildered. The American president, he thought, sounded dangerously fanatical.

After the call ended, Chirac called together his senior staff members and relayed the conversation.

“He said, ‘Gog and Magog.’ Do any of you know what he is talking about?”

Blank faces and head shakes.

“Find out,” Chirac said.

Well, guess whom the French government contacted to find out who Gog is? Just so you know, Gog appears quite prominently in Ezekiel 38-39. From what I gathered from the web, the government had got in touch with one biblical professor teaching in France and Switzerland. And I was lucky enough to meet this kind professor once when I was presenting a paper at a graduate meeting. But that is not the point of showing this anecdote! The point is that the biblical literature plays a vital role in the Western religion, culture and politics, which, for better or worse, can inevitably bear immense influence on the Eastern world. As this excerpt reflects, having an appropriate understanding of the OAN matters,and it can even become a matter of life and death!

Of course, the Hebrew tutorial was not much concerned with modern-day politics, but focused on the textual translations and analyses of the relevant biblical texts. The last Hebrew lesson took place on 05.02.2015. At the end, the number of students who persevered in getting up early and attending the class at 08:15 every Thursday morning in the freezing winter dropped from a few to TWO! The remaining two were one sweet German girl and one handsome Swiss guy! To be honest, even if there were some visiting students in the class from time to time, the amount of students in this tutorial, which required Hebrew as a prerequisite, could not be compared with the considerably higher amount of people attending the “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament” I once co-led in the Chinese Christian Congregation in Göttingen (one lecture from the latter can be glimpsed here). A few semesters ago, six research members and I also co-taught one advanced seminar course belonging to the same faculty at the same university. There were seven of us, and the number of students who showed up at the end of that course amounted to three. In light of this, I was extremely happy and grateful when there were still two precious students at the end of this tutorial. Yep, I am an easily satisfied person 🙂

Before the last tutorial, I wrote the admin an email and asked for the evaluation forms for the students to fill out. The admin replied that “das Fach ‘Altes Testament’ wird in diesem Semester nicht evaluiert.” So I decided to make my very own evaluation forms for the students. Here they are:

IMG_2090IMG_2096I did enjoy every moment of my teaching last semester. Not that I did everything perfectly. The students were kind enough to only mention two areas of future improvement. First, as mentioned by one of the students, I have to act more effectively with time. The tutorial was supposed to run from 08:15 to 09:45. I was always in the class before 08:15, but then I tended to get too excited with the students, so that I usually ended the class at 10:00 instead of at 09:45. This could be inconvenient for the students who wished to rush to the next class which began at 10:15. So I need to learn to stick to the schedule in the future. Second, as mentioned by another student, it was really easy for me to fall into the trap to quickly give out answers after I had gathered one student’s opinion and before another student could step in to offer his/her opinions. I am thinking that maybe counting from 1 to 20 silently during the interval is a good way to allow more students to think deeply and gather the courage to voice out their opinions.

That said, the students also gave me some real encouragements in the feedback forms! Nothing thrilled me more than the students who had found my way of teaching Ezekiel interesting. I was so glad that I could help them understand this “crazy ” prophet a bit more! 🙂 Well, the two diligent students liked the way Hebrew and the history of research were taught in the tutorial. You know, it was really awesome to find students who were patient and persistent enough to dig deeper into this technical stuff. Apparently, I was good at creating cosy and comfortable classroom atmosphere. Despite my occasional eagerness to dominate the classroom discussions, I also actively involved the students in the discussions. And I also gave good library/learning advice and showed them that there’s a bigger world outside the lectures.  All in all, their feedback did brighten up my days! It was really fun getting to know you guys! And hope that you will all go very far in this field of study ~~~

Please forgive me to do this last show off. One of the students later told me that myIMG_2100 tutorial was one of the best in the last semester. And another gave me one delicious Swiss chocolate as a token of gratitude! So delicious was it that I ate up the whole chocolate but forgot to take to take a picture of it 😦 Can you believe it? I forgot to take the picture of the chocolate!!! I only remember that there was a swiss flag on it, but It was a really awesome chocolate. In order to commit it to my memory, I decided to “historically reconstruct” it on a piece of paper. 😉 Here is the “historical reconstruction” >>>

Lastly, to my future employer, I am still preparing myself to be a great teacher in the future. When the time comes, when I am ready to knock on your door and ask you to offer me a job, please do take into consideration what I have shared above, ok? 😉