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. 🙂

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N/B: This photo was not taken from this trip. It was from my 2008 trip to Turkey.

Last Updated: 28.07.2017

Announcement: Paper Accepted in HTS Theologiese Studies/Theological Studies

Do you remember my paper on Ezekiel’s Gog of Magog delivered at the SBL international meeting in Seoul last July? I am happy to announce that it has passed the double-blind peer review of HTS Theologiese Studies/Theological Studies (ISI listed, South Africa based)!

One of the anonymous reviewers mistakenly considers me a male, referring to the author of the paper as “He.” But that is okay, as the same reviewer is very kind to say that the paper is an “excellent article” that “should be published.” Another anonymous reviewer comments that the paper is “well-informed” and “refined.”

In any case, writing this paper convinces me even more that biblical learning can often broaden our perspectives in looking at world events.

To whet your appetite to read the upcoming paper, I hereby include its abstract:

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 United States, identifying them either as the ‘communistic and atheistic’ Russia or the ‘evil’ Iraq. 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. 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, like 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 paper argues that Gog and his entourage primarily display literary attributes previously assigned to Judah’s political allies

Stay tuned! 😉

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P/S: My other academic papers are available for free download at http://nwu.academia.edu/LydiaLee

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:

Prophets
7/04/2016
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! 😀