L.B.: The Literal Donkey’s Penis

Left Behind, pp. 10-15

I like Ezekiel. Even by the standards of Old Testament prophets, the guy was pretty over-the-top.

Lots of prophets accused the faithless nation of "promiscuity" and "whoredom," but Ezekiel took it a step further: "Every prostitute receives a fee, but you give gifts to all your lovers, bribing them to come to you from everywhere for your illicit favors. … no one runs after you for your favors. You are the very opposite, for you give payment and none is given to you" (16:33-34).

Plus he had all that street theater and performance art — the flaming poop, cutting his hair with a sword — cool stuff. He also provides what is probably the dirtiest verse in the Bible, "There she lusted after her lovers, whose genitals were like those of donkeys and whose emission was like that of horses."

That's Ezekiel 23:20 in the NIV. (My buddy Dwight wants to get end zone tickets to a Monday Night game some day and wave a sign that reads, "Ezek. 23:20.")

The book of Ezekiel seems to recount his preaching from before and during the Babylonian exile. He foretells, then describes, then laments the fall of Jerusalem. Then, in some pretty wild prose, he envisions the rebuilding of that city. Towards the end of the book (chapters 38 & 39), he describes the invasion of Jerusalem by "Gog and Magog."

For a determined "prophecy" nut, this cipher of a passage is an invitation for serious abuse — and that's what we get in Left Behind.

For LaHaye and Jenkins, the meaning of these chapters is self-evident, crystalline. Clearly, it means that one day — 2,600 years or so after Ezekiel is dead and gone — an evil Communist empire will attack the modern state of Israel with an all-out nuclear assault.

What else could it mean?

Hence we get the logistically, psychologically, geopolitically and strategically incoherent and impossible account in Left Behind of just such an attack.

Ezekiel describes the destruction of the armies of Gog and Magog with his characteristic hyperbole and flair for detail (like the rebated prostitutes and donkey penises). That flair for detail presents a particular obstacle for literal-minded folks like L&J, who feel compelled to make their story match every one of Ezekiel's flourishes.

Ezekiel 38:4 says Gog will attack with his "whole army," so L&J insist that Russia must attack with its entire arsenal — thousands and thousands of nuclear warheads.

This attempt to follow Ezekiel as strictly as possible also explains L&J's bizarrely informing us that Russia — apparently thinking enough nuclear weapons to blow up the planet several times over might still not be sufficient to destroy a nation the size of New Jersey — has reinforced its military might through "a secret alliance with Middle Eastern nations, primarily Ethiopia and Libya."

Ethiopia? And since when was North Africa a part of the "Middle East"? And what happened to all that stuff we were just reading about Israel being at "peace with all her neighbors"? (Apparently L&J are defining "peace" in a way that doesn't preclude the occasional attempt at nuclear annihilation.)

And, again, Ethiopia?

This is how the entire book works. They seek out every opaque piece of apocalyptic imagery in the Bible, assemble these into a seemingly arbitrary sequence (Revelation, then Ezekiel, then Revelation again, then maybe Daniel …), and then cloddishly transcribe this imagery into an unimaginatively literal series of events.

So if, in L&J's view, Ezekiel says that Russia and Ethiopia have to attack Israel, then by gum, that is how their story will go. Realism, plausibility, readability and coherence be damned.

As for those chapters in Ezekiel, I'll let Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown handle this, from their 1871 Commentary Critical and Explanatory on the Whole Bible:

The objections to a literal interpretation of the prophecy are–(1) The ideal nature of the name Gog, which is the root of Magog, the only kindred name found in Scripture or history. (2) The nations congregated are selected from places most distant from Israel, and from one another, and therefore most unlikely to act in concert (Persians and Libyans, &c.). (3) The whole spoil of Israel could not have given a handful to a tithe of their number, or maintained the myriads of invaders a single day (Ezekiel 38:12,13). (4) The wood of their invaders' weapons was to serve for fuel to Israel for seven years! And all Israel were to take seven months in burying the dead! Supposing a million of Israelites to bury each two corpses a day, the aggregate buried in the hundred eighty working days of the seven months would be three hundred sixty millions of corpses! Then the pestilential vapors from such masses of victims before they were all buried! What Israelite could live in such an atmosphere? …

  • S. M. Breen

    Ethiopia? Jeez…

  • Chris

    The use of Ethiopia, which is largely Christian and, once, Jewish as an enemy of Israel can point to one of two things, both showing how out of touch L&J are with the world outside their weird fantasies.
    1. They still think that Ethiopia is communist and therefore would be an ally of Russia, which I suspect they also think is communist.
    2. They are hopelessly ignorant of geographic names as used in the Bible. Ethiopia in the Bible, and in all literature from the Greek and Roman eras, is actually in modern Sudan. Ethiopia, or Kush as it is sometimes called, was a remote kingdom (for the Israelites) south of Egypt. Modern Ethiopia was called Abyssinia in the texts from that era.
    Weird part is that Sudan would make a much more plausible enemy for Israel than Ethiopia. It is a militantly Islamic state with plenty of links to terrorism and probably a desire to build WMDs. So if L&J bothered to do even some elementary historical research, like Ptolemy’s Geographica (or any book that refers to it, like Encylopedia Britannica) they wouldn’t pull such weird statements out of their ass.
    As it is, I have negative faith that people who can’t even tell figure out the location of an actual place from the Bible (a book they claim to be scholars (!) in) can identify the location of the mysterious and fantastical Gog and Magog. I suppose they would see it as faith in the face of reason. Personally I’ll put my faith in God not LaHayne & Jenkins.

  • Jorge

    Yeah, that’s what keeps me up at nights, thoughts of the unrestrained Ethiopian hoards. You know, if it weren’t for the dreadfully wooden writing style and the utter lack of a sense of humor, these books could very easily become the Monty Python of Apocalyptic send up.

  • Patann

    Wow. Now I’m really confused. I hope it doesn’t get to where I actually have to read these books.
    these books could very easily become the Monty Python of Apocalyptic send up.
    Wouldn’t it be funny if l&j … nah, no way! Too serious a matter …

  • Jeff

    The local used bookstore has a whole shelf of these books, and I don’t think it’s a coincidence that there are far more of the early books – especially book one – than there are of the later ones.

  • Chris

    Maybe the humor will come at the end. You know, heavenly Jerusalem descending from on high, then in a thunderous voice God declares, “April Fool!”

  • chris

    A better one would be if god revealed himself as Allah. And he smote them, chortling avuncularly, “Backed the wrong horse, chumps!”

  • Joe Taylor

    Thanks to the Slacktivist for examining LB and its broad interpretation of scripture. I think a sign of the last days might be that a writer so bereft of a decent prose style could command the dough this guy’s getting. Makes me doubt the existence of a benevolent God.

  • Dave

    George H.W. Bush was Magog in the Skull and Bones at Yale!
    I believe the end is nei. Please, please take all those Christians so we can implement decent social programs for all people left behind.

  • The Bone

    I too have harbored fantasies of waving signs at sporting events which featured bizarre Bible quotes. My top choice:
    “He that is wounded in the stones [i.e., testicles], or hath his privy member [schlong] cut off, shall not enter into the congregation of the LORD.” (Deuteronomy 23:1. King James version, natch)
    There’s also a great quote in the KJV translation of Kings where David arrives at a city and proclaims hat he will kill all the men. The Elizabethan idiom employed for men in that verse is “all those who pisseth against the wall.”
    I’m completely enjoying the Left Behind commentary. Thanks for posting this.

  • michael (in DC)

    fwiw: my NAAB Study bible seems to think the other countries cited (Meshech, Gomer &al) would be Georgia & the Caucases–the northernmost places the Israelites woul’ve known about…maybe more plausible if the Turks launched the nukes?
    I’m enjoying this too, but: Dude, seriously! You’ve done, what, 5-7 posts, maybe 3K-5K words, and you’re on page 15?!!! of book One?! I’m afeared we’re gonna lose you before the damn plane lands!

  • Jon H

    Maybe all the Ethiopian Rastafarians are going to drop *bongs* on Israel?
    I dunno. That’s all I got.

  • PK

    Nota Bene: You must take the whole. Remember, Israel is now shipping excess produce all over. Ethiopia and Sudan are WELL-FED. Thus, in a couple years, hey are a huge regional military force to be reckoned with. See?
    -trying to be sarcastic

  • Rt. Rev. Lynne

    My favorite passage is:
    When the Lord of hosts lifted their garments, She laughed out loud. (New Revised Modern Version)
    the Right Reverend Lynne

  • KJW

    Does it matter that God (through Ezekiel) was saying these things about whores and donkeys to people who were sacrificing THEIR OWN CHILDREN due to following anyone but Him?

  • Patrick

    I had missed this superb moment of the Bible in my whole life up to now and Fred’s most useful post that goes back to late October. I also agree that the LB people probably still think Russia=USSR. Precise geographical knowledge in the unbrave new world is even termed “intellectual” pretty often.
    Anyway, first time I see anywhere another version of “Rose’s Turn” from GYPSY when either Ethel Merman or Rosalind Russell sings “Some people got it and make it pay… some people can’t even give it away…well, this people’s got it… and this people’s spreadin’ it around…” I doubt that Sondheim got the lyric from Ezekial though.
    That is more than Elijah ever said to or about Jezebel (unless it wasn’t recorded).

  • Guinastasia

    Either that, or else they still think it’s the Russian Empire, ruled by the Tsars (who were extremely anti-semetic).

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  • Mad Latinist

    (A very late note)
    Given that Libya was at one point part of the Achemenid Persian empire, the association doesn’t see that unlikely.

  • Ursula L

    Fred,
    You’ve got one heck of a spam on this thread – only noticed it because you linked to this thread in today’s LB Friday.
    It should be right above this post – might want to make it go away.


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