Time flies! Can you believe that we’ve already passed the 9th week of this semester?! After the Christmas break, there’ll be 5 more lessons until I finish leading the course on Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations at the University of Göttingen. A few students and I, despite some initial struggles, still commit ourselves to climbing out of the warm beds and attending the class every Thursday morning at 08:15, and surely we’ve been rewarded with some fun in the class 😉 Here’s a summary of what we’ve done so far:
1. In week 2, we went through the ancient historiography relevant to the literary setting of the book of Ezekiel. Before the class, I cut out pieces of paper, on which were written relevant chapters and verses of biblical passages. In the class, the students rummaged through their bibles until they located those passages, and worked out what these texts were about. With several other quotes from extra-biblical sources, the students then rearranged the papers in a relative chronology and reconstructed the history of each foreign nation, taking into consideration the nation’s relation with Judah at the same time. After the students had presented the outcome on board, I then explained the history of each nation in more detail. This exercise, in my opinion, is a good way to get the students work closely with the primary sources. In this way, the teacher occupies less space to hand down year numbers, debates, facts and conclusions in a limited time span and opens more space for students to work out the inner logic of the data themselves. Here come the future historians! 🙂
2. For the rest of the weeks, we went through, in Hebrew, small but critical samples of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. As a Hebrew tutorial, all the students are expected to have some basic knowledge of Hebrew. At the beginning of each lesson, I passed around a cookie box, the fun use of which I had learned from my Akkadian teacher at Göttingen. Inside the box, there were tiny pieces of paper, on which different Hebrew words danced around. Each student picked out one Hebrew word from the box, and parsed it on the board. This activity allowed me to gauge if the students had prepared for the assigned translations. Of course, I did not leave them without some parsing tools. From my Hebrew teachers at the University of Sydney, I had inherited the following useful diagram, which succinctly sums up all the necessary grammatical components of a Hebrew noun or verb, and which helps with the parsing of Hebrew words:
Having done the parsing of several difficult words, we then sat close together and translated the selected Hebrew passages. Taking turn, each of us read and translated the Hebrew verses. The students were allowed to translate the passages into German or English. Sometimes, just for fun, some students even offered a particular translation in either French or Chinese. Isn’t it interesting that the bible can be translated into so many modern languages?! The tricky part was to explain the many peculiarities and irregularities in the Hebrew texts. Once, we encountered a Hebrew word that could have three different basic meanings. At another time, we bumped into one term that provided gaps for other textual emendations. From the literary contexts of the target passages, we had to explore, examine and work out the validity of various translations. The biblical texts kept propelling both the students and me to move beyond our own experiences and limitations, and introduced us to a larger world of knowledge.
3. In the second part of each lesson, we moved onto the discussion questions. 7 days before each lesson, I sent the students the assigned readings and relevant discussion questions. With some preparations at home, the students came forth more easily and courageously to contribute to the discussions in class. In this part of the lesson, I was delighted to observe that the students became animated, offering insights that generated and multiplied dialogues within the class. To encourage the students to link the biblical texts with the wider world, we once watched and discussed two movie clips from the black comedy crime film ‘Pulp Fiction’ directed by Quentin Tarantino (Beware of strong language):
The two scenes in the movie gave an interesting rendition of Ezekiel 25:17. We attempted to compare and contrast the biblical and the cinematographic renditions of Ezekiel 25:17. The adrenaline-filled scenes, I think, gave just enough doses of stimulants to make us reflect on the message embedded in Ezekiel 25 more deeply. Just before the winter break, we even held a Christmas quiz, going through what we had learned in the semester so far through Q&A!
At the beginning of the semester, I was riddled with fear and uncertainties about my upcoming live encounter with the students. ‘What if there are not enough students?’ ‘What if I stutter so often that the students can’t understand the message that I’m trying to convey?’ ‘What if my questions are met with a stony silence?’ There were a lot of ‘what ifs’ swimming through my mind. As the semester unfolds, the passion for the subject of study and the encouragement from a few students seem to dissolve my fear bits by bits. And of course, there’re still 5 more weeks to go, let us then be patient toward the unsolved and gradually live into the answer.
I am really grateful for my senior pastor’s recommendation of this book titled The Courage to Teach:Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer, which helps me reflect on my teaching experience. I bought the electronic version of the book, and the normal cover of the book is displayed on the right. In the first part of the book (chapters 1-3), Palmer stresses that our obsession with teaching technique, objective knowledge and the powers of intellect must also be balanced by a focus on the teacher’s self-knowledge, subjective engagement and the powers of emotions. The second part of the book (chapters 4-6) goes on to explore ways for teachers to relate and connect with the community in education. What I really like is his citation from Robert Frost’s poetry: ‘We dance around in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.’ It helps to paint an imgery of the kind of classroom I want to be in. It reminds me that I am like the students, in that we are all seekers, sitting in a ring, and striving very hard to approach the Secret/the Subject of Study that ‘sits in the middle and knows’.