Ezekiel 38 & 39 (Part 3)

Dr. Thomas Ice

Part III

   "Son of man, set your face toward Gog of the land of Magog, theprince of Rosh, Meshech, and Tubal, and prophesy against him."

-Ezekiel 38:2

Wehave seen that Magog is a reference to the ancient Scythians, who gave rise tolater descendants that settled along the eastern and northern areas of theBlack Sea. "The descendants ofancient Magog-the Scythians-were the original inhabitants of the plateau ofcentral Asia, and later some of the these people moved into the area north ofthe Black Sea. The homeland ofancient Scythians is inhabited today by the former Soviet republics ofKazakhstan, Kirghizia, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan, and the Ukraine."[1] But who is "the prince of Rosh"?

The Attackon Rosh

Theidentification of Rosh is one of the most controversial and debated issues inthe entire Gog and Magog prophecy, even though it should not be. I believe when one looks at theevidence it is overwhelming that this is a reference to the modern Russians. However, we need to first look at theevidence for such a conclusion.

Preteristprophecy critic, Gary DeMar contends, "In Ezekiel 38:2 and 39:1, the Hebrewword rosh is translated as ifit were the name of a nation. Thatnation is thought to be modern Russia because rosh sounds like Russia."[2] He then quotes "Edwin M. Yamauchi,noted Christian historian and archeologist, writes that rosh 'can have nothingto do with modern 'Russia.'"[3] On a Bible Answer Man radio broadcast in October 2002, the host, HankHanegraaff, asked Gary DeMar what he thought about Tim LaHaye identifying Roshas Russia, since the two words sound so much alike. DeMar responded, "The idea that you can take a word inHebrew that sounds like the word in English, and then go with that and tocreate an entire eschatological position based upon that is . . . it'snonsense." As I will show later,identification of the Hebrew word rosh with Russia is not based upon similarity of sound. That is a flimsy straw man that DeMarconstructs so that he can appear to provide a credible criticism of our view onthis matter. DeMar then declares:"The best translation of Ezekiel 38:2 is 'the chief (head) prince of Meshechand Tubal."[4]

Concerning thepossibility of a Russian/Islamic invasion of Israel in the end times, MarvinPate and Daniel Hays say categorically, "The biblical term rosh has nothing todo with Russia."[5] And later they state dogmatically,"These positions are not biblical. . . . a Russian-led Muslim invasion ofIsrael is not about to take place."[6]

A central issuein whether rosh refers toRussia is whether rosh is tobe understood as a proper noun (the Russia view) or should it be taken as anadjective (the non-Russia view) and be translated in English as "chief." This is a watershed issue for anyonewho wants to properly understand this passage.

Reasons Rosh Refers toRussia

Now, I want todeal with reasons why roshshould be taken as a noun instead of an adjective and then I will deal withwhether it refers to Russia. Theword rosh in Hebrew simplymeans "head," "top," or "chief."[7] It is a very common word and is used inall Semitic languages. It occursapproximately seven hundred and fifty times in the Old Testament, along withits roots and derivatives.[8]

The problem isthat the word rosh in Ezekielcan be translated as either a proper noun or an adjective. Many translations take rosh as an adjective and translate it as the word"chief." The King James Version,The Revised Standard Version, and the New International Version all adopt thistranslation. However, the New KingJames, the Jerusalem Bible, New English Bible, American Standard Version, andNew American Standard Bible all translate rosh as a proper name indicating a geographicallocation. The weight of theevidence favors taking roshas a proper name. There are fivearguments that favor this view.

First, theeminent Hebrew scholars C. F. Keil and Wilhelm Gesenius both hold that thebetter translation of Rosh in Ezekiel 38:2-3 and 39:1 is as a proper nounreferring to a specific geographical location.[9] Gesenius, who died in 1842 and isconsidered by modern Hebrew scholars as one of the greatest scholars of theHebrew language, unquestionably believed that Rosh in Ezekiel was a proper nounidentifying Russia. He says that rosh in Ezekiel 38:2,3; 39:1 is a, "pr. n. of anorthern nation, mentioned with Meshech and Tubal; undoubtedly the Russians, who are mentioned by the Byzantine writers ofthe tenth century, under the name the Ros, dwelling tothe north of Taurus . . . as dwelling on the river Rha (Wolga)."[10]

Thisidentification by Gesenius cannot be passed off lightly, as DeMar attempts todo. Gesenius, as far as we know,was not even a premillennialist. He had no eschatological, end time ax to grind. Yet, objectively, he says withouthesitation that Rosh in Ezekiel 38-39 is Russia. In his original Latin version of the lexicon, Gesenius hasnearly one page of notes dealing with the word Rosh and the Rosh people mentionedin Ezekiel 38-39. This page ofnotes does not appear in any of the English translations of Gesenius'Lexicon. Those who disagree withGesenius have failed to refute his sizable body of convincing evidenceidentifying Rosh with Russia.[11] I do not know what DeMar would sawabout this evidence since he never deals with it.

Second, the Septuagint, which is the Greek translation of the OldTestament, translates Rosh asthe proper name Ros. This is especially significant sincethe Septuagint was translatedonly three centuries after Ezekiel was written (obviously much closer to theoriginal than any modern translation).[12] The mistranslation of Rosh in manymodern translations as an adjective can be traced to the Latin Vulgate ofJerome, which did not appear until around a.d.400.[13] James Price, who has a Ph.D. in Hebrewfrom Dropsie, which is the leading Jewish academic University in America says,"The origin of the translation "chief prince ofMeshech and Tubal" is traced to the Latin Vulgate. The early translators of the English Bible were quite dependenton the Latin Version for help in translating difficult passages. They evidently followed Jerome in Ezek38:2, 3; 39:1."[14] Price further explains the reason forthe erroneous translation as follows:

Evidently by the second century a.d. the knowledge of the ancient landof Rosh had diminished. Andbecause the Hebrew word roshwas in such common use as "head" or "chief," Aquila was influenced to interpretrosh as an adjective,contrary to the LXX [Septuagint] and normal grammatical conventions. Jerome followed the precedent set byAquila, and so diminished the knowledge of ancient Rosh even further byremoving the name from the Latin Bible.

By the sixteenth century a.d. ancient Rosh was completely unknownin the West, so the early English translators of the Bible were influenced bythe Latin Vulgate to violate normal Hebrew grammar in their translation ofEzekiel 38-39. Once the precedentwas set in English, it was perpetuated in all subsequent English Versions untilthis century when some modern versions have taken exception. This ancient erroneous precedent shouldnot be perpetuated.[15]

ClydeBillington explains why Jerome went against most of the evidence and went witha deviant translation:
Jerome himself admits thathe did not base his decision on grammatical considerations! Jerome seems to have realized thatHebrew grammar supported the translation of "prince of Rosh, Meshech, andTubal" and that it did not support his own translation of "chief prince ofMoshoch and Thubal." However,Jerome rejected translating Rosh as a proper noun because, "we could not findthe name of this race [i.e. the Rosh people] mentioned either in Genesis or anyother place in the Scriptures, or in Josephus. It was this non-grammatical argument that convinced Jerometo adopt Aquila's rendering of Rosh as an adjective ["chief'] in Ezekiel 38-39.[16]

Third, many Bibledictionaries and encyclopedias, in their articles on Rosh, support taking it asa proper name in Ezekiel 38. Someexamples: New Bible Dictionary,Wycliffe Bible Dictionary,and International Standard Bible Encyclopedia.

Fourth, Rosh is mentioned the firsttime in Ezekiel 38:2 and then repeated in Ezekiel 38:3 and 39:1. If Rosh were simply a title, it wouldprobably dropped in these two places because in Hebrew when titles are repeatedthey are generally abbreviated.

(ToBe Continued . . .)



[1] Mark Hitchcock, After The Empire: BibleProphecy in Light of the Fall of the Soviet Union (Wheaton, IL: Tyndale House Publishers, 1994), p.23.

[2] Gary DeMar, Last Days Madness: Obsession of the Modern Church (Powder Springs, GA: American Vision, 1999), p. 363.

[3] DeMar, Last Days Madness, p.363. Quote from Edwin M. Yamauchi,Foes from the Northern Frontier: Invading Hordes from the Russian Steppes (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1982), p. 20.

[4] DeMar, Last Days Madness, p.365.

[5] C. Marvin Pate and J. Daniel Hays, Iraq-Babylonof the End Times? (Grand Rapids:Baker Books, 2003), p. 69.

[6] Pate and Hays, Iraq, p. 136.

[7] Francis Brown, S. R. Driver, and C. A. Briggs, Hebrewand English Lexicon of the Old Testament (London: Oxford, 1907), electronic edition.

[8] Based upon a search conducted by the computerprogram Accordance, version6.4.

[9]C. F. Keil, Ezekiel, Daniel, Commentary on theOld Testament, trans. JamesMartin (Reprint; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1982), p. 159. Wilhelm Gesenius, Gesenius'Hebrew-Chaldee Lexicon to the Old Testament (Reprint, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1949), p. 752.

[10] Gesenius, Lexicon, p. 752.

[11] Clyde E. Billington, Jr. "The Rosh People inHistory and Prophecy (Part One), Michigan Theological Journal 3:1 (Spring 1992), pp. 62-3.

[12] The ancient Greek translations of Symmachus andTheodotian also translated Rosh in Ezekiel 38-39 as a proper noun. Billington, "The Rosh People in Historyand Prophecy (Part One)," p. 59.

[13]Clyde E. Billington, Jr., "The Rosh People inHistory and Prophecy (Part Two)," Michigan Theological Journal 3:1 (Spring 1992), pp. 54-61.

[14] James D. Price, "Rosh: An Ancient Land Known toEzekiel," Grace Theological Journal6:1 (1985), p. 88.

[15] Price, "Rosh: An Ancient Land," p. 88.

[16] Billington, "The Rosh People in History andProphecy (Part One)," p. 60.