Wednesday, June 10, 2009

Why are we in Iraq? Gog and Magog

In several recent postings I have explored the disturbing role that present-minded readings of the Bible have been playing in Israeli politics and aspirations. The idea of the promised land underpins the incessant expansion of Israeli settlements on the West Bank. The model for ethnic cleansing, advocated long ago by Jabotinsky, is found in Genesis, Joshua, and several other books. In a recent posting, I have analyzed the role of the Amalekite Delusion as a pretext for preventive strikes on Israel’s perceived enemies.

This being so, one must not neglect the dangers of Christian present-mindedness with regard to Scripture. A recent piece (May 26, 2009) by Clive Hamilton at the CounterPunch site contains some disquieting information (

First, a bit of background. We recently learned that Donald Rumsfeld, Bush’s Secretary of Defense, sought to gain his chief’s attention by sprinkling secret wartime memos with Biblical quotations.

Rumsfeld, it seems, had accurately gauged the mentality of his boss. According to Clive Hamilton, Bush came up with a bizarre rationale for launching a war against Iraq. This claim appeared in a 2003 exchange with French president Jacques Chirac. The American president explained that the sinister biblical creatures Gog and Magog were at work in the Middle East; they must be defeated at all costs.

The biblical tradition begins with the reference to Magog, son of Japheth, in the Book of Genesis and continues in cryptic pronouncements in the book of Ezekiel, which are echoed in the New Testament book of Revelation, and in the Qur'an. Preoccupation with Gog and Magog is pan-Abrahamic, spanning all three faiths.

Yet the tradition is ambiguous, with a range of opinions regarding the nature of the entities. They are variously represented as men, supernatural beings (giants or demons), national groups, or lands. Penetrating down into the popular level, Gog and Magog crop up in a wide range of mythology and folklore.

Biblical commentators have identified Gog and Magog as archetypal figures of apocalyptic import who will come out of the north and destroy Israel unless stopped. The Book of Revelation (20:7-9) took up the theme:

“And when the thousand years are expired, Satan shall be loosed out of his prison. And shall go out to deceive the nations which are in the four quarters of the earth, Gog and Magog, to gather them together to battle: the number of whom is as the sand of the sea. And they went up on the breadth of the earth, and compassed the camp of the saints about, and the beloved city: and fire came down from God out of heaven, and devoured them.” (King James Version)

In this influential passage, Gog and Magog figure as the nations in the four corners of the earth, and their attack represents an eschatological crisis after the Millennium, a crisis to be resolved by divine intervention. Although the language of Gog and Magog's destruction recalls the passage in Ezekiel, premillennialist Christians believe that Ezekiel's prophecy and the description found in the Book of Revelation rank as two distinct eschatological events. According to this belief, the war described by Ezekiel takes place before the millennium (probably as an opening catastrophe of the apocalyptic era), while the event depicted in the Book of Revelation occurs at the end of the millennium era (as a concluding event that leads to the closing of the millennium era).

Who or what are Gog and Magog? Later traditions identified these portentous creatures with the Babylonians, the Lydians, the Goths, the Scythians, and even the Irish. Twentieth-century dispensationalism, however, singled out the Russians as the most likely candidate. With the fall of the Soviet Union this claim became less plausible, though some adepts seem to think nowadays that an alliance linking Russia, Iran, North Korea and other states might fill the bill.

Whatever his precise identification, Bush insisted that the time had come for the decisive battle. He admonished Chirac: "This confrontation is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people's enemies before a New Age begins." The use of the term “erase” is particularly ominous. Ethnic cleansing, anyone?

Baffled by Bush's words and unversed in the ways of American Fundamentalism, Chirac’s aides consulted Thomas Romer, a professor of theology at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland. Four years later, Romer gave an account of the episode in the September 2007 issue of the university's review, “Allez Savoir.” The article was little noticed at the time.

In a new book, published in France in March by journalist Jean-Claude Maurice, Chirac is said to have confirmed the report. Astonished by Bush's invocation of Biblical prophecy to justify the war in Iraq, the French president "wondered how someone could be so superficial and fanatical in their beliefs.”

Again in 2003, that crucial year, Bush had reportedly told the Palestinian foreign minister that he was on "a mission from God" in launching the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan. He was receiving commandments from the Lord.

There were a number of reasons for attacking Iraq. Preeminent among them, I believe, was protection of the interests of the state of Israel. For a long time we have known that large sectors of American evangelicals have been beating the drum for Israeli expansion and assertiveness. This report exposes a new facet of this disturbing alliance.

Hamilton remarks: “There can be little doubt now that President Bush's reason for launching the war in Iraq was, for him, fundamentally religious. He was driven by his belief that the attack on Saddam's Iraq was the fulfilment of a Biblical prophecy in which he had been chosen to serve as the instrument of the Lord.”

As Hamilton further notes, “Many thousands of Americans and Iraqis have died in the campaign to defeat Gog and Magog. That the US President saw himself as the vehicle of God whose duty was to prevent the Apocalypse can only inflame suspicions across the Middle East that the United States is on a crusade against Islam.”

And, I would add, he was determined to protect the interests of the state of Israel at all costs.

UPDATE. I have been told that some of these threads have been drawn together by the novelist and independent scholar Joel C. Rosenberg (born 1967), who seems to enjoy a cult following. Rosenberg has published five novels about jihadism and how it relates to biblical prophecy, including The Ezekiel Option (2005), which has some material on Gog and Magog. Two nonfiction books, Epicenter and Inside the Revolution, also deal with the alleged resemblance of biblical prophecies and current events. Rosenberg seems to think that Israel is endangered by a contemporary avatar of Gog and Magog, consisting of an alliance of Russia, Iran, as well as possibly Turkey and Ethiopia, among others.

Rosenberg was born to a Jewish father and a Methodist mother. At the age of 17 he joined his parents in becoming a born-again Christian. After graduating in 1988 from Syracuse University, he worked for Rush Limbaugh as a research assistant. Rosenberg opened a political consultancy business, which he ran until 2000, advising former Israeli Deputy Prime Minister Natan Sharansky and then-former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu in Israel where he gathered many of the impressions that he would later use in his books.

He has made a number of presentations in the media. Rosenberg's July 31, 2006, "Paula Zahn Now" appearance posed the question of "whether the crisis in the Middle East is actually a prelude to the end of the world." Apparently this was a common preoccupation of CNN in those days. Rosenberg compared apocalyptic biblical texts to modern events, which he views through the "third lens of scripture."

Rosenberg's views on the War of Ezekiel 38–39 involving Gog and Magog are generally considered dispensationalist and have elicited some controversy among evangelical Christians. Partial preterist [whatever that may be] Gary DeMar has debated Rosenberg on this subject.



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Israel Orthodox Rabbi Eckstein advertises on Evangelical networks (I count 12 of them) and commercial time to promote Ezekiel's prophesy, with Eckstein clearly in the Hebrew eschatology, playing to Christian eschatology of John the Divine.

In his 5 minute commercials, he appeals to Evangelicals to "Stand with Israel," by sending his International Fellowship of Christians and Jews a cheque for $350 ea, or $700 cpl, to rescue Jews who don't even know they are Jews, so that god's kingdom may rule over all. When impoverished and illiterate viewers forgo meals to support such a fraud, I am surprised the FTC does not embargo the Israeli's "freedom of speech" as "hate speech."

We are shocked to read these revelations with G.W.B. and Gog and Magog. But as strange as this tale is, Eckstein is just as freaky. The average bloke thinks nothing of the fact that Eckstein and Evangelicals are "talking past each other," using each other to achieve totally different objectives, under different conceptions of the kingdom of god.

But when Evangelicals go so far as to conduct "sabbath" shabbat in Hebrew (babbling in tongues fits, too), I think we see fanatics are actually more risible, and despicable, for their utter stupidity, duplicity, and complicity. According Jane Hamsher, Israeli-American Rahm Emmanuel, Obama's chief of staff, wants to EXPAND the Afghanistan conflict, with apparently ulterior motives. My officials in Washington confirmed the Emmanuel "bailout" of European banks and Israeli militia, which he served instead of the U.S.

Is the tail wagging the dog, and does anyone doubt the U.S. taxpayer is Israel's bitch? Does every politician's prostitution before A.I.P.A.C. differ in any way that conservatives prostrating themselves before Ralph Reed's Christian Coalition? America's fealty to foreign interests is marketed by all sorts of bogus slogans, but behind the slogans, some powerful and mighty special interests are not in our interests.

A one-world government under the hegemony of Bibi is just as frightening as a return of Cheney Bush. The world has gone mad, all because the three Abrahamic extremist zealots regard themselves as the Armies of God: Fighting to Defeat each other. We can no longer afford morally, financially, or politically to subsidize these antics. I thought Obama would be different, and he is, but not different enough.

Gog and Magog have gone mad, and we may incinerate each other because of them.

4:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

On a far less intellectual level, one has to wonder: Suppose Ezekial lived in a period of history where he operated a sunglasses kiosk in the Tel Aviv mall, not far from where a citizen of Gog or Magog sold falafels (of which Ezekial had frequently partook - and thoroughly enjoyed). Suppose the falafel person's family and friends also favored Ezekial's sunglasses.

How might Ezekial's writings have differed?

If the average bloke can generate this level of skepticism about the modern relevance of 3,000-year old texts, how frightening is it that world leaders cannot?

Or do the leaders get it as well, but they just like war, and can find no better rationalization for it?

7:21 AM  
Blogger Thom Foolery said...

"With the fall of the Soviet Union this claim became less plausible, though some adepts seem to think nowadays that an alliance linking Russia, Iran, North Korea and other states might fill the bill."

Funny how Gog and Magog always take the form of Americans' political and/or military enemies. These interpreters never look in the mirror, never wonder if perhaps the USA fits the bill.

12:23 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"Funny how Gog and Magog always take the form of Americans' political and/or military enemies." Rev. T. Monkey, I agree with you, but look at the history of Gog and Magog on Wikipedia or any other source. Gog and Magog have always taken the form of the enemies of any particular culture or country in any time and place. Like Satan, Gog and Magog are figments of the universal imagination... an entity on which we can project all our fears and hatreds.

Personally, I think Christian apocalypticism didn't really have much to do with the US invasion of Iraq. I believe that horrible misadventure was all about oil, warfare, and hubris. I think Dick Cheney, Don Rumsfeld, and the rest of their ilk used the Biblical approach to convince George W. Bush, a man of limited intellect, that the cause was just and mandated by God. If Bush had been a believer in Zeus, Krishna, or anyone else, they would have led him down the same path. Shame on them, and shame on us for buying into it.

5:15 PM  

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