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Notes on Revelation

Is Gog a Code Word?

Guest Commentary:
November, 1998


The name Magog is found in the Table of Nations in Genesis 10. This listing, as one of the sons of Japheth, gives us some clues into the general geographical area in which to place the land of Magog. With some slight variations in opinion, the general consensus is that Magog consists of land belonging to Turkey, parts of northern Iran, and the southern provinces of the former Soviet Union, namely, Georgia, Armenia, and Azerbaijan.

But the name "Gog" gives us some problems. This name is not mentioned in the Table of Nations. The first and only time it is mentioned (before Ezekiel's usage) is in 1 Chr 5:4 - "The sons of Joel; Shemaiah his son, Gog his son, Shimei his son." Here Gog is simply a person's name.

There are many varied opinions on the identity of Gog, but one interesting theory is that the words "Gog" and "Magog" are code words or cryptograms for Babylon, i.e. Babel and the king of Babel.

What is the basis for this theory? Some biblical scholars point out that in the book of Ezekiel, Babylon was omitted from the nations prophesied against in chapters 25-32. Seven nations connected with Israel's fortunes are mentioned: Ammon, Moab, Edom, Philistia, Tyre, Sidon, and Egypt. But Babylon is obviously missing. At the time that Ezekiel was receiving his prophecies, Israel was under Babylonian captivity. It is strange that the very nation holding Israel captive is not mentioned by name. Why omit the nation that would be most on Israel's minds? Did God not have a future judgment in mind for them?

[The Believer's Study Bible offers this explanation: "The omission of Babylon may have been because the Lord's most immediate purpose demanded that the people live in peace among their captors, rather than plotting the downfall of those who enslaved them."]

Some scholars argue that if Babylon was named in Ezekiel's prophecies, secrecy may have played a part. Perhaps Ezekiel feared that his documents would have been destroyed had he openly named Babylon. To assure that his writings survived, Ezekiel may have come up with a code name for Gog.

The Atbash Cipher

One of the most common forms of Jewish cryptograms is called Atbash. It is a very simple substitution code based on the Hebrew alphabet. The Hebrew alphabet (Alef-Beit) consists of 22 letters:

Alef, Beit, Gimel, Dalet, Hei, Vav, Zayin, Chet, Tet, Yud, Kaf, Lamed, Mem, Nun, Samech, Ayin, Pei, Tzadik, Kuf, Reish, Shin, and Tav.

In Atbash, the first letter would be substituted by the last letter, the second letter by the next to last  letter, the third by the 20th, and so on.

To view it better consider the following:

A B G D H V Z Ch T Y K L M N S O P Tz Q R Sh Th
Th Sh R Q Tz P O S N M L K Y T Ch Z V H D G B A

The bottom row serves as the substitution or encoded letter. Another graphical presentation would be like this where the alphabet is folded over on itself and either row serves as the substitution.

A B G D H V Z Ch T Y K
Th Sh R Q Tz P O S N M L

As an example, suppose I wanted to code the word DOG. Remember that there are no vowels in the Hebrew language, so the word to be coded is DG, which would now become QR.   Another example: Rake (RK) becomes GL.

There are a few examples of Atbash clearly evident in Scripture. One is found in Jeremiah 25:26 -

"And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them."

Another is also in Jeremiah 51:41 - 

"How is Sheshach taken! and how is the praise of the whole earth surprised! how is Babylon become an astonishment among the nations!"

The name "Sheshach" (SheSheK) is a code word. Sheshach is an unknown nation or location. However, using Atbash we see that it now becomes Babylon. Sh-Sh-k (take out the vowels and leave only the consonant sounds) now becomes B-b-l (Babel).

Strong's definition of "Sheshach" supports this: #8347. Sheshak, shay-shak'; of for. der.; Sheshak, a symbol. name of Bab.:--Sheshach.

Another example of Atbash ciphering in Scripture is found in Jer 51:1 (NIV translation) - "This is what the LORD says: "See, I will stir up the spirit of a destroyer against Babylon and the people of Leb Kamai." (This coding is not so obvious in the KJV).

Leb Kamai is a code name for Chashdim (ChaShDYM = Kaf-Shin-Dalet-Yud-Mem) or Chaldea, archaic name for Babylon.

It works out to be LB QMY = LeB KaMaY (Lamed-Beit-Kuf-Mem-Yud).

Using the Atbash cipher on the name of "Gog," however, does not translate into Babylon or Babel. But some scholars suggest that Ezekiel may have used a variation of Atbash.

Instead of using the letter intended in the true Atbash formation, the variation would use the letter to the left of it on the bottom half and the letter to the right of it on the top half. The word would also be backwards as well.

A B G D H V Z Ch T Y K
Th Sh R Q Tz P O S N M L

To encode Babel (BBL) using this variation, we would find that B=G (top half therefore move one step to the right) and L=M (bottom half therefore move one step to the left).

Normal Atbash Variation of Atbash
Sh-Sh-K G-G-M
(read backwards)

Some suggest that this really isn't a variation of Atbash at all. Ezekiel may have done something simpler where he may have used the letter next to the one intended as the substitution.

A B -> G D H V Z Ch T Y K L -> M N S O P Tz Q R Sh Th

BBL would become GGM and then flip the word around to get MGG. In the case of "Gog" the word "melek" (Hebrew for "king") may have been used to code L, i.e. "m", the first letter of melek. For example:

Gog, king of Magog (GG M GGM) equals Babel, king of Babel (BBL BBL).

Whether Gog is a code name for Babel is uncertain. However, Scripture has used code names before in the Bible to indicate Babel or Babylon, so the idea does have some precedent.

See also:



Abent, John A., Signs in the Heavens; Copyright 1995.

The Believer’s Study Bible; Copyright 1991 by the Criswell Center for Biblical Studies
Special Study Helps.

Gault, R.T.; Secrets of the Alphabet.

Kaiser, Walter C, et al, Hard Sayings of the Bible; One-volume edition, Copyright 1996.

Satinover, Jeffrey, Cracking the Bible Code; Copyright 1997.


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