No, The Bible Does Not Predict A Russian Invasion

By Thom Jonas

Everyone hold onto your hats and calm down. Christadelphians have been lecturing about Russia for much longer than I can remember and no doubt they will continue to preach fear and alarmism long into the future. I know I won't convince most of them that they have been misled, but for the few who are curious about why most scholars disagree with them, please read on.

The Bible is an ancient book and sometimes difficult to understand. It is therefore not surprising to find that there are often multiple interpretations held by various scholars and that modern research sometimes overturns widely-held ideas. This topic is one such example.

What the Christadelphians teach about Russia in the Bible

It is not difficult to find information about Christadelphian teachings regarding Russia. Here is a quote from bibletruth.net.au:

In the book of Ezekiel, chapter 38 there is a description of the emergence of the nation of Russia and it leading a confederacy of nations to invade the land of Israel.  Russia is named as Rosh in the Hebrew text of Ezekiel 38:2
https://bibletruth.net.au/kingdom/

The site goes on to state that they got this reference from Gesenius (A Hebrew lexicon from the 19th century). We will return to this later.

Another Christadelphian website has the following:

The leader of this invasion is named as Gog, who is described as “the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal” (verse 2 RV). Unlike other names in this chapter at which we have looked, these ancient names have been superseded by more modern ones. Experts confidently assert that “Ros (or Rosh) is the most ancient form under which history makes mention of the name Russia”, and Russian historians themselves confirm this by stating that “the Russians derive their name from Ros”. 
Ezekiel 38 adds its own confirmation to this interpretation by pin-pointing the geographical location of this prince of Rosh. This is described as “the north parts” or, as the Revised Version gives it, “the uttermost parts of the north” (verse 15). A glance at a world map will reveal that, in relation to the land of Israel, the territory of Russia lies in “the uttermost parts of the north”. It is particularly noticeable that Moscow (Meshech) is almost due north of Jerusalem. There can be no doubt that the Gog of this chapter represents the person in control of the affairs of Russia and is the leader of the forces that will invade Israel.
https://www.christadelphians.uk/articles/russia-in-bible-prophecy/

Note the association of Meshech with Moscow. It is also interesting to read "Experts confidently assert that..." without any attempt to tell us which experts say this. It is followed by a quoted sentence which, when typed into Google, just returns more copies of this same article. Where are these so-called "experts"? Who were they quoting?

As for the uttermost parts of the north, there are at least half a dozen other countries north of Israel as well, so it seems like a stretch to use this as evidence that the Bible is somehow referring to Russia.

What modern scholars teach

Modern scholars give us a rather more benign interpretation of Ezekiel 38, and they provide some pretty compelling evidence to back it up. Perhaps unsurprisingly, we once again find that the ancient biblical authors were actually not writing about future nations they had never heard of.

Ros and Rosh are not Russia

Firstly, the NET Bible has this comment in the footnote:

Heb “the prince, the chief of Meshech and Tubal.” Some translate “the prince of Rosh, Meshech and Tubal,” but it is more likely that the Hebrew noun in question is a common noun in apposition to “prince,” rather than a proper name. See D. I. Block, Ezekiel (NICOT), 2:434-35. As Block demonstrates, attempts by some popular writers to identify these proper names with later geographical sites in Russia are anachronistic.
NET Bible - Ezekiel 38, footnote 4

Further, here is a comment from a book by two prominent scholars:
The attempt of politicians and religionists to equate ros with Russia is briefly described and debunked by Block, p434-435.
Ezekiel's Hope: A Commentary on Ezekiel 38-48, by Jacob Milgrom and Daniel I. Block, 2012. p9 Footnote 26

Also in the commentary in the same book on the next page.

Gog's title remains a puzzle. Was he not a king? Ros, "chief", is best perceived as a lower case noun, defining the preceding nasi, "prince".

"The Book of Ezekiel", a commentary by scholar Daniel I. Block, is possibly the leading commentary on Ezekiel these days and widely recommended. Here is a brief excerpt from that book regarding the identification of Rosh:

The issue revolves around whether ros is the name of an ethnic group or a common noun. Both the LXX and the construct pointing of the Masoretes argue for the former. But who then is this Rosh? The popular identification of Rosh with Russia is impossibly anachronistic and based on a faulty etymology, the assonantal similarities between Russia and Rosh being purely accidental. In the 19th century some scholars associated Rosh with Rus, a Scythian tribe inhabiting the northern Taurus Mountains, according to Byzantine and Arabic writings. Recent attempts to equate Rosh with Rashu/Reshu/Arashi in neo-Assyrian annals are more credible, except that the place so named was located far to the east on the border between Babylon and Elam, and would have had nothing to do with Meshech and Tubal. This interpretation is also difficult (though not impossible) from a grammatical point of view. If Rosh is to be read as the first in a series of names, the conjunction should precede "Meschech." Ros is therefore best understood as a common noun, appositional to and offering a closer definition of nasi. Accordingly, the prince, chief of Meshech and Tubal, combines Ezekiel's preferred title for kings with a hierarchical designation, the addition serving to clarify the preceding archaic term. Ezekiel's point is that Gog is not just one of many Anatolian princely figures, but the leader among princes and over several tribal/national groups.
The Book of Ezekiel, Daniel I. Block, 1997. pp 434-435

A publication by J. Paul Tanner, a research professor in the field of Old Testament studies, also gives the following summary:

Thus the name "Russia" has a rather late association with the modern-day state and would certainly not have been the intention of Ezekiel writing in the sixth century BC.
The more plausible explanation is that the text should be translated "the chief prince of Meshech and Tubal"
Rethinking Ezekiel's Invasion by Gog, J. Paul Tanner, p31

Another noteworthy book, also referenced by the NET, is "Foes From the Northern Frontier" by Edwin Yamauchi. Here is a comment from its foreword, writing about Old Testament prophecies:

Some of these ancient peoples have caught the attention of modern readers who think their names can be identified with modern places. Building on that, some commentators have tried to interpret the prophecies as applying literally to Russia, Germany, and other states of the twentieth-century world. Although these views have spread widely and convinced many, Yamauchi shows why they are wrong and should be avoided by the careful Bible student.

And then we have this comment from p20 of the book proper:

For one thing, even if one were to transliterate the Hebrew rosh as a proper name ... rather than translate it as "chief" ... it can have nothing to do with modern "Russia". This would be a gross anachronism, for the modern name is based upon the name Rus, which was brought into the region of Kiev, north of the Black Sea, by the Vikings only in the Middle Ages.
Foes From the Northern Frontier, by Edwin Yamauchi, 2003, p20

And one last quote, this time from the book "Ezekiel", by Joseph Blenkinsopp:

Gog is further described as "chief prince" of Meshech and Tubal. There are only two proper names here, since ro'sh ("chief, head") is nowhere attested as such. It has no more connection with Russia (a name of Norse extraction) than Meshech has with Moscow.
Ezekiel, by Joseph Blenkinsopp, 1990, p184

So it seems based on the best recent scholarship we can conclude that the word ros in the Hebrew was most likely intended as a common noun, not a place name. Not only that, but the ancient name of Russia (Rus) only came into that region in the Middle Ages, making any association of Ezekiel 38 with Russia clearly anachronistic.

So why do so many Christadelphians think Ezekiel was talking about Russia?

Where the Christadelphians got the idea from

Well, as we will see below, there are 3 main sources that heavily influenced the identification of Russia in Ezekiel 38:2. These are The Septuagint translation, Gesenius, and the Scofield Reference Bible. There were a few others but these appear to be the most influential.

The German Hebraicist Wilhelm Gesenius (1786 - 1842), professor of theology at the University of Halle in Prussia, played a key role in the process by which Gog came to be identified as Russia. Gesenius, whose Old Testament lexicon of 1828 long stood as a standard reference work, viewed "Rosh" not only as a proper name but as an early form of the word "Russia." In another step that would prove highly influential for prophecy interpretation, he also claimed that "Meshech" and "Tubal" were present-day Moscow and the Siberian city of Tobolsk.
When Time Shall Be No More: Prophecy Belief in Modern American Culture, Paul Boyer, 1999, p154

Much has been written about this topic but it seems that the vast majority of writings can be traced back to Gesenius either directly or indirectly.

The Hebrew word for "chief" (ros) in Ezekiel 38:2 was transliterated by the Septuagint as a proper name (Ros), giving rise to a widespread impression that "Russia" was intended. According to Custance:

It may be observed that "rosh" ..., which in this passage is translated "chief prince," signified the inhabitants of Scythia. From it the Russians derive their name. Russia was known as Muskovi until the time of Ivan the Terrible, a name undoubtedly connected with Meshech (pp. 90 f.).
Much later in history we meet the word Meshech in the form Muskovy. It is possible that the two famous cities of Moscow and Tobolsk still preserve the elements of the names Meshech and Tubal (p. 97).
These groundless identifications have unfortunately gained widespread currency in the evangelical world through many channels: the first and the second editions of the Scofield Reference Bible; the phenomenally popular book by Hal Lindsey and C. C. Carlson, The Late Great Planet Earth; and the lectures of Campus Crusade evangelist Josh McDowell on numerous college campuses.
The perpetuation of such idenfications based on superficial similarities is completely untenable in the light of the clear evidence of cuneiform texts which locate Mushku (Biblical Meshech) and Tabal (Biblical Tubal) in central and eastern Anatolia.
Meshech, Tubal, and Company: A Review Article, E. Yamauchi, 1992

This last quotation is highly important in that it brings weighty evidence to bear on the identification and location of Meshech and Tubal.

Tubal or Tabal was the territorial designation of the interior Anatolian kingdom know to the Assyrians as Bit Buritash. This landlocked kingdom, between the Halys River and the Taurus River in Asia Minor, was bounded on the west by Meshech, on the south by Hilakku, on the east by Melidu and Til-garimmu (Beth-togarmah) and on the north by Kasku.
...
Meshech, to be identified with Mushku/Musku in neo-Assyrian sources, was also located in central Anatolia. Ancient records attest to contact with the Assyrians as early as the reign of Tiglath-Pileser I in the 12th-11th century.
The Book of Ezekiel, Daniel I. Block, 1997

What do we know?

While many religious people, including some scholars, still cling to the old writings of Gesenius and others from the 19th century, modern scholars increasingly interpret the word "rosh" in Ezekiel 38:2 as "chief". For examples, see the footnote in the NET Bible and also "The Book of Ezekiel" by Daniel I. Block.

Further, all of the other places mentioned in Ezekiel 38 also appear together in the table of nations from Genesis 10, but "Rosh" does not appear there at all. In fact, the word "rosh" is never translated as a proper noun, despite appearing many times in the Old Testament.

Lastly, the identification of the remaining nations such as Meshech and Tubal has been settled by the discovery of Assyrian cuneiform tablets bearing all of their names. They refer to several ancient places that were situated near each other in the region of Asia Minor. This rules out the identification of Meshech as Moscow, and Tubal as Tobolsk, both of which were based on flawed etymology (they sound a bit the same - go figure!). The same applies to the association of Gomer with Germany, and you can follow this theme with most of the other places listed in that chapter.

I'll leave you with this quote from Edwin Yamauchi, who has written extensively on this subject:

It is a reflection on evangelical scholarship when some of its spokesmen continue to adhere to the groundless identification of ros as Russia, and the association of Meshech with Moscow and of Tubal with Tobolsk, when we have had cuneiform texts and discussions of them that provided the true clarification of these names since the end of the 19th century
Meshech, Tubal, and Company: A Review Article, E. Yamauchi, 1992, pp 243-244

17 comments:

  1. I find this one super interesting, as this is one of my Fathers reasons for leaving the meeting. He could never go along with the Russia idea. Time will be the the judge, he may well be right. Other groups with similar beleifs say its the revived Roman Empire, then Russia after he returns..i know Dad still kept a strong faith deep down... even if he didnt let on. But he would also joke.. maybe no one is listening! i dont think anyone knows for sure..

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    1. It's an excellent article Paul, and yes it is possible to live a life of faith without believing one bit of this crazy story. Billions of mainstream Christians do so.
      I for one am absolutely fine with people believing whatever they want, it is the habit of Christadelphians of attempting to inflict beliefs like this that is the problem. Swanwick Bible school bans even discussion of beliefs such as this as any dissent would go against what the pioneers thought, and as the article describes, the idea was not even original to the pioneers. Many other Bible Schools do likewise, and in effect, dissent from this or any other pioneer writing will get you into trouble in most Ecclesias.
      Christadelphian ecclesias are not places that people who actually think for themselves will ever be truly welcome.
      I hope your Dad found peace and freedom away from them.

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    2. Joseph, you never said a truer word. In the first and the second of the Ecclesias in which I was a member, discussion was allowed, but only about accepted Christadelphian fundamental beliefs. Stray away from these, and you were, indeed, in trouble, and would face censure from the grey-bearded elders. The last Ecclesia in which I was a member didn`t allow discussion at all, in case some member, who had a grain of common sense, decided to launch into a discussion about something new, controversial, and interesting. Those who don`t do their "Cd Truths" homework, will never pass the "Outside the Bubble" examination.

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  2. Still find this blooody interesting.. Dad argued that the word Rosh is a really a guess as to Russia and yes also argued about out the nation from the north as it could be many.I think he had a Old Bible dictionary, this is going back 20 years ago.

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  3. Putin for starters is a devout Christian he has no interest in bombarding or invading the holy land , Christadelphians are very delusional when it comes too this prophecy.
    Why cant they just follow Jesus's teaching and put prophecy aside .

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  4. When I was a child and teen, I was constantly bombarded by lectures about "Gog and Magog." That the term represented Russia. That Russia would eventually invade the Holy Land, bringing about the return of Christ.

    Every time a Russian leader passed gas, it meant the "invasion" was imminent. Even before I was run out of Christadelphianism, tarred and feathered and on a rail, I was already rolling my eyes when they started their usual monologues about "the approaching Russian invasion."

    Now, despite my almost nonexistent contact with these nuts, I just shudder quietly and head out for a pack of cigarettes.

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  5. Doesn't really matter what they teach, or how they package their fruit cake theories, because no one is listening anyway. In Western countries there are few converts, except via marriage, which was always amusing to me. Someone "gets religion," not because they're on some spiritual quest, but because they want to get into someone else's pants by putting a ring on a finger. And everyone just takes this as being ordinary. I always found it more than a little disquieting. In any event, few people come in and get exposed to this nutty denomination via a "spiritual journey." Attendance at just a few Sunday droning sessions is usually enough to send them fleeing. When I think of the thousands of Sundays I personally wasted, listening to old codgers masturbating their gums......

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  6. Three weeks ago, I was taking a walk past my local Ecclesia (West Birmingham, UK), late in the evening (the local Co-Op reduces the price of bread at that time, so I was off to secure fresh bread for morning). Some neighbors/residents were stood outside mocking the "God Willing" part of the poster, partly obscured by the now faded stick on "cancelled" sign, faded after six months of restrictions, and standing amongst an abandoned looking weed infested car park, heaps of mail lying behind the door....The mockery centred on the fact that clearly God was not "willing" for them to go on meeting and spreading their beliefs. So when people do listen to them the inconsistency of the religions vacuous nonsense is immediately apparent even simple folk.
    In 2015, I analysed as best I could, the numbers of deaths and baptisms reported by "The Christadelphian", (amid the panic of the "big conversation") and, after eliminating those obviously brought up in the faith, was left with at the very outside, 20 converts from without ( this was a generous figure, due to lack of clarity, the real figure looked to be less than 10). The numbers were so low that it was clear that many children brought up in the system were rejecting it too.
    I was involved with the Christadelphians from 1997 until late 2013 ( I had left in 2008). In that time, and since ( so far as I am aware, I stand to be corrected), Only 4 people joined our Ecclesia from the "outside", 3 by conversion for marriage (although I would not describe it in the crude terms that you have used, I accept that it boils down to the same thing), myself included. The only other joiner was the adoptive special needs son of members, who sadly passed away not long after. I never witnessed "interested visitors" at all.
    I would postulate that very few make a spiritual journey. In my case I was already a lifelong member of another denomination, and, foolish as it now appears, thought that it would be just another denomination, that had the same tolerance and broad outlook that I was used too. I was of course very wrong.
    This year will be a devastating one for the religion. After a closure of now 6 months and likely many more months yet, baptisms will be down, and young people will enter higher education without being baptised, something that christadelphians families tremble at, as control is effectively lost and the chance of them joining after exposure to the real world (life) gets smaller.

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  7. You should not underestimate the influence of family ties. In my family, some members actually left Christadelphianism, yet for all intents and purposes remain under its influence. In their language, their world view, their conservatism, etc., in these regards they might as well have remained in the religion. Some realize the amount of influence they are exhibiting, and migrate further into "the world." Others don't seem to be able to achieve genuine separation from the denomination.

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    1. Correct, and I do not underestimate it. Someone close to me left, and lives a life far further from Christadelphianism than even I do, but still dances to the tune piped by their Christadelphian family, even to the point of claiming to "accept" their beliefs and expecting the family influence to be so great that they will have a reserved place in the kingdom! Of course it is just a case of someone having their cake and eating it, and a desire to appease family for a quiet life.

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  8. Here in Melbourne I know of several people being baptised this year that I knew from youth groups. It's all children of Christadelphians - I don't know of any "from outside".

    I was a founding member of an ecclesia specifically designed for outreach and belonged for 10+ years, and we still had far more members' children baptised in that time than the couple I remember being baptised "from outside". And I can't think of anyone from outside baptised who is still a member, while I'd think at least half of the children baptised are still members. And, despite the fact that we all took it very seriously when starting it, I'm not the only founding member to have since quit the denomination and religion.

    I know people from my parents' generation who were baptised "from outside" in order to be married, and they still seem to be around and to take it seriously. I can't think of any from my generation who were baptised to be married. But I could certainly be missing cases - I've put a lot of it out of my mind.

    Honestly, my impression throughout has been that Covid-19 will make people who take their religion seriously value it even more, and people who don't take it seriously slide away a little faster. There will probably be people on the fence who might be less involved as a result, but I don't know how many that really is. And my impression also is that the denomination is considered more in decline in the UK than Australia.

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    1. Interesting figures Jon. Seems that the 50% retention rate is broadly in line with the Jehovah's Witness figures, but surprising still that half of them, having been brought up in it still reject it. I have never seen any comment from Christadelphians on why this might be. Perhaps one reading this would like to explain?
      Re: the "generational" thing, yes, maybe. Last conversion for marriage I know of was about 10 years ago (still going strong as I understand it). And thanks for reminding me that I am a couple of generations in front of you. Well and Mancott a couple more still :)

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    2. I might be ahead of you, Joseph, generation-wise (baptised in 1957), but that is not a bad thing, especially as I still have most of my marbles. It also means that I can still remember what I was taught all those years ago entangled within the Cd influence, and can state without fear or favour that I am now, after many years of study and reflection, more than convinced that all those clutch-bubbled in Cd-ism have got their thinking and beliefs in a wrong-minded twist.

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    3. My 50% was a rough number. I know of some families where every child has quit, and some where (as far as I know) every child is still baptised or at least involved. Could be more than 50%, but definitely nowhere near 100%. And of course it may not last - after all, all my family were involved until I quit... Also, anecdotal only, but I remember in one of his books Duncan Heaster talking about when he was baptised with four others they were told only 50% stay Christadelphians, and none of them believed it - but, when he wrote that book, there were only 2 of the 5 remaining (and it's probably a matter of debate in some circles whether he still counts...).

      As to why it's like that, the answer we heard when I was in (based on the Parable of the Sower) was that it was people being led astray by the wisdom of the world or putting science above the Bible or seeking wealth. Whereas what I now say is that none of it's true, and there's no way to indoctrinate children that guarantees they won't discover that (though indoctrination can certainly make it harder to discover that).

      I think inter-faith marriages have become more acceptable in society at large, and possibly some of that has filtered into Christadelphia. I know there are ecclesias that disfellowship for "marrying outside", but I don't think any I belonged to did. And I do know we had one case where a "contact" married a member, and as far as I know the member is still a member, while the contact continued to come along for a while but was never baptised.

      To me disfellowship for marriage outside has always seemed a risky gamble if you care about numbers - yes, it might pressure the member to convert their potential partner, but it also might show the member they are unwanted and make them walk away. I think the theory at ecclesias I've belonged to is that if you can keep the couple around you have a better chance of persuading the "unbeliever" to get baptised.

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    4. Seeking wealth has never been a no-no for Christadelphians, right from day one. Both Dr Thomas with his books-produced-only-by-subscription model of no risk promotion, and Roberts with his head-fondling lunacy and madcap get rich quick schemes such as "electric sugar", right through to an already wealthy man becoming a paid editor of a Christadelphian magazine, but still desiring more, by whatever means. Being "successful" is high on the list of Christadelphian aspirations.
      Hence anybody with the title "Dr", medical or otherwise, will find high status amongst their number. Think Dr (or perhaps "Mr") Stephen Palmer, who would seek to discourage scientific careers amongst the "young people" of the community, but has made a tidy living from it himself.
      When the Derby (Mill HIll) Ecclesia sold their meeting room a few years ago (to the highest bidder), they ( or possibly the buyer) went to considerable length to conceal who the buyer was, and I only found out by actually visiting the place, on a hunch. It is now a Masjid Al-Farooq Mosque. I do not believe that they were unaware of this when the sale went through, they perhaps just wanted the most money!
      This just brings home their decline. 50% or less of their own people stay with them, and they sell out to Islam. Hopeless.

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    5. Joseph, I think there is a double standard there. Young people are warned that riches could lead them astray, but probably do face similar social pressures as in any group to prove themselves "successful" in worldly terms if they want to be well married or have influence or whatever. And if that then does "lead them astray" (or people think it has) then they'll be listed as a cautionary tale of what happens when the "cares of the world" choke you.

      The vast majority of the time I spent in Christadelphia was in ecclesias that had comparatively low budgets and rented their premises. But it seems perfectly reasonable if selling to sell to the highest bidder. After all, whether it becomes a mosque, or a church, or even, say, a high class restaurant, Christadelphians are going to think the new owners aren't advancing "The Truth", so it has to be a purely business transaction.

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  9. `54, not `57 when I was dunked under the waters. Perhaps not all my marbles are as secure as I thought!

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