GOG AND MAGOG: What does the epic war signaling the End of Days mean for the Jewish people and the Land of Israel
Reprinted from The Jewish Religion: A Companion, published by Oxford University Press.
Gog and Magog are the peoples who will wage war against the Jews before the advent of the Messiah. These two names appear in the vision of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 38, 39) where Gog is the ruler of the country of Magog. Gog will lead his people in war against the land of Israel but will be defeated and God alone will reign supreme.
Since Ezekiel prophesied in exile about the return of the Jewish people to its land, it is possible that he was thinking of contemporary events. Attempts have been made to identify Gog and Magog with nations whom the prophet may have thought to pose a threat in the immediate future to the Jews who were to return to the land. On the other hand, as a number of biblical scholars understand it, the prophet himself may have had in mind events in the remote future as part of his apocalyptic vision.
In subsequent Jewish eschatology, both Gog and Magog are understood to be persons and the “wars of Gog and Magog” become part of the whole eschatological scheme. As with regard to Jewish eschatology as a whole, there is a considerable degree of uncertainty about what is said to happen at the “end of days,” the picture is really an amalgam of various folk-beliefs, some of them contradictory.
In the eschatological account given by Saadiah Gaon (Belief and Opinions, viii. 6) an attempt is made to accommodate the wars of Gog and Magog into the scheme. Interestingly enough, however, in Maimonides’ scheme at the end of his great code, the Mishneh Torah, in which messianism is interpreted in largely rationalistic terms, there is no reference to the wars of Gog and Magog only to the Messiah fighting “the battles of the Lord” in order to reconquer the land of Israel, rebuild the Temple, and establish God’s reign on earth.
Even in Orthodox Judaism, the details of these terrible events are vague and wars of Gog and Magog do not feature at all prominently in Orthodox
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