AD ASTRA PER ASPERA: Contextualizing My First Book Entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations

**See endnotes for further references**

My first book entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations had passed the double-blind peer review and was licked into shape under the supervision of the superb editorial team of the SBL Ancient Near East Monographs Series (US-based). At long last it is out. “Historians,” says John Hirst, “write from the evidence but also from their understanding of how the world works and how they would like it to work” [1]. As such, it is important to contextualize one’s work in a particular historical milieu. Below is my attempt to contextualize this book, sharing with you how my doctoral work experience as one of the Sofja-Kovalevskaja research team members at the Theologische Fakultät in Göttingen between 2010 and 2014 [Note: My doctoral study belongs to the Department of the Ancient Near Eastern Studies at the Philosophische Facultät] has directly or indirectly influenced the writing of the book.

1. Dehumanizing the “Other”

Do you still remember the two German male professors, whom I told you about in a speech? At the beginning of my study, one of them posed this smug remark to me: “German is too difficult for you to understand.” At the end of my defense, his only comment to me was that my work was non-German and only suitable for the Anglo-American readership. I guess he meant that my work was of low-quality. The other professor, who referred to me as someone from the British colony, never bothered giving any academic comments on any of my works. [Germans vs. Anglo-Americans]

During my doctoral study, a self-proclaimed socialist/pro-feminist (non-German) from the theological faculty mocked me: “You are put in the Philosophische Fakultät [Faculty of Arts] because you are a girl and it’s simple.” I did not know how writing a doctoral dissertation while completing 16 courses between 2010 and 2014 had made my life simple. I certainly did not know why my gender had anything to do with my allocation in the Philosophische Fakultät. But in 2015, I bumped into the statistics gathered by the University Medical Centre Göttingen (UMG), which helped me put his mockery in a broader context. Stuck at the back of one of the university buildings, the poster outlines the distribution of male and female students and academics (Studierende, Promovierende, Promotionen, Wiss. Personal, Professuren) at various faculties of the University of Göttingen in 2013.

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In the medical faculty and the arts faculty, the numbers of female PhD candidates (Promovierende) and  holders of doctorates (Promotionen) are roughly equal to the male counterparts.

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Apparently, girls are too “simple” for the theological faculty, so that males (83%) far outnumbered the females (17%) in the category of holders of doctorates (Promotionen). At the end of the day, the males in all faculties fare much better than females in getting hold of the professorship (Professuren).  [Males vs. Females]

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Once a European (non-German) commented on my paper sarcastically: “You cannot disagree with or argue against a person’s point of view. Is it because you are Asian?” Another time, the same person also voiced his incomprehension before me about the opening of some teaching positions for the non-whites in a predominantly white community situated in a non-European country. [Europeans vs. Non-Europeans]

These and many other people I encountered during my doctoral study taught me how to “put me in my place” and etched on my mind an invisible yet clearly demarcated boundary between the “stupid” (me) and the “intelligent” (them). To save time and space, I will spare you all other details. Suffice it to say that so rampant were the overgeneralizations that categorized good and bad qualities on the basis of nationality, gender, and ethnic or cultural backgrounds that I began to get used to, or even accept, them. According to one professor of philosophy, David Livingstone Smith, “You don’t have to be a monster or a madman to dehumanise others. You just have to be an ordinary human being.“My encounters with human beings were simply unavoidable.

2. Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations

The aforementioned experiences have influenced my study of Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations in a way I did not imagine. Turning to Zimmerli’s monumental commentaries on Ezekiel, I have gradually come to admire his meticulous text-critical insights, which reveal the book of Ezekiel as a literary product of continuous Fortschreibung. This is despite the fact that he seems to be puzzled by the link between the Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations and the prophet’s own message about the house of Israel. He questions Ezekiel’s concern for the hubris of the foreign nations, when “nothing is said of the prophet’s task to be a prophet to the nations” (cf. Ezekiel 3:6) [2]. When I read his Grundriß der alttestamentlichen Theologie, I was so ready to embrace his comment that the fate of the foreign nations in Ezekiel 25-32 is incomparable to Judah’s fate announced in the rest of the book of Ezekiel. As he says, “Die Fremdvölkerworte von Ez 25-32 … zeigen im Einzelnen wenig Berührung mit der spezifischen Botschaft an Israel … Im Ganzen aber behält die Völkerverkundigung Ezechiels etwas Schematisches und läßt sich nicht mit den persönlichen Umgang Jahwes mit seinem eigenen Volk vergelichen.” [3]

Block, whose commentaries show influences of Zimmerli’s magnum opus, goes one step further. He argues that the whole of Ezekiel 25-32  represents “the judgment of the enemies of God’s people” and “the nations addressed by Ezekiel all represented the enemies of Israel.”[4] Therefore the destruction of the foreign nations in Ezekiel 25-32 functions as a “backhanded message of hope” for the house of Israel [5]. Upon reading this line, I was so ready to applaud. To my mind, this was indeed the justified end of the enemies of God’s people. As the philosopher David Livingston Smith has already observed, it is all too human to degrade others by treating them as less than humans and by subjecting them to cruelties or indignities. The book of Ezekiel is an editorial product passing through so many human hands. It is only normal that whoever composed or edited the book would reveal their human nature by reveling at the destruction of the foreign nations.

However, Schwagmeier’s and Marzouk’s observations about the corpus gave me a pause. Schwagmeier’s detailed study of various manuscripts of Ezekiel confirms the important role of the terminological connections in MT Ezekiel, more so than that in the LXX [6]. The judgment language found in Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations often echo those found in the prophecies against Judah in the rest of the book. Marzouk’s innovative research demonstrates the importance to contextualize the prophecies against Egypt within the book of Ezekiel. The monstrification of Egypt in Ezekiel 29-32 should be read in light of the adulterous intimacy between Egypt and Israel or Judah in chapters 20 and 23 [7]. That is to say, Egypt in Ezekiel is not Judah’s enemy, but in fact Judah’s alter ego. Building on their insights, I delved further into the lexical allusions (temporal aspect) and literary contexts (spatial aspect) of Ezekiel 25-32. After much rumination on the biblical texts, I have come to this argument, highlighting one aspect of the oracles against nations, which, to my mind, has not been paid sufficient attention:

Ezekiel 25-32 contains some of the most virulent speeches directed against Judah’s neighboring nations. Some scholars emphasize that the destruction of the nations in chapters 25-32 means the upcoming salvation of God’s people. Other scholars presuppose that the nations are judged by a separate moral standard and render the judgment executed upon the nations irrelevant to that upon Judah. In this study, Lydia Lee postulates a third way to perceive the rhetorical roles of the nations in Ezekiel 25-32. Unraveling the intricate connections between the oracles against the nations and those against Judah, Lee argues that Ezekiel 25-32 contains a daring message directed not only against the foreign nations, but also against Judah’s land, temple, and nation. Lee places Ezekiel 25-32 in a broader context, considering how samples of its early reception within the prophetic book affirm or transform the bleak message about the oblique judgment for the house of Judah.

This discovery of ancient challenges to identity boundaries led to the publication of my first book entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations. I am glad that it has passed the double-blind peer review of the online, open-access Ancient Near East Monographs Series. In the spirit of the book’s emphasis on commonalities, the book is available for free download at:

https://www.sbl-site.org/assets/pdfs/pubs/9780884141808_OA.pdf

That means, whether you are from Africa, Australia, China, Europe, UK, US, or anywhere else in the world, you can read it for free! 🙂

For those who prefer to hold a book in your hands, paperback and hardcover editions can be purchased online:

https://secure.aidcvt.com/sbl/ProdDetails.asp?ID=062819P&PG=1&Type=BL&PCS=SBL

I do not earn royalities from the purchases, but the money you pay can contribute to the SBL’s International Cooperation Initiative (ICI), which aims to “mak[e] scholarship available to scholars and students in underresourced countries.”

3. A Journey of Self-Discovery

Reflecting on the writing and production of this book has made me realized how I and those who mocked me were alike. I was a coward, my English was not good enough to retort their vile remarks, my position was not high enough to pose a direct confrontation with them. However, deep down in my heart, I despised them as the descendants of murderers, slave-traders, and colonists. As such, I also committed the fault of overgeneralizations.

I refused to communicate with them, except for bureaucratic or work purposes. Even then, I only dealt with them half-heartedly. Returning evil for evil did not make me a better but worse person. All I cared were my own work and benefits. I wanted to finish my work as quickly as possible so that I could get out of the depressing environment. I built a thick barrier between them and me, trying to tear down or set me opposite to whatever intellectual enterprises they took pride in. But then I discovered this: Some people may be evil but they are not all stupid. My stupidity and weaknesses provided them with more excuses to justify their insults of my nationality, gender, or ethnicity. Therefore, I had to swallow my silly pride and learned to appreciate their ingeniosity.

Unknowingly, my enemies taught me to appreciate and cherish the warmth radiated and help offered by those who have cared and supported me. I have learned never to take people’s kindness for granted. Both groups of people have strengthened my convictions of what kind of a person I want to be. I do not want to be a German, a male, or a white European. I want to be a better Malaysian-born Australian, a female, a non-white Chinese, who can produce good-quality works while being warm and kind. This book is a small step for me to achieving that goal. It is dedicated to “my foes, friends, and family, all of whom have led me on a journey of self-discovery.”

Endnotes

[1] John Hirst, Sense & Nonsense in Australian History (Black Inc. Agenda, 2005), p.1.

[2] For further information, see Lydia Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations, ANEM 15 (Atlanta: SBL Press), p. 15.

[3] For further information, see Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate, p. 35.

[4] For further information, see Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate, p. 12.

[5] For further information, see Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate, p. 13.

[6] For further information, see Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate, p. 37.

[7] For further information, see Lee, Mapping Judah’s Fate, p. 21.


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