Israel: The 2019 Golda Meir Fellowship Ceremony

On 11.03.2019, I was honoured to join the Golda Meir Ceremony with the other fellowship recipients. It was held at the fancy Maiersdorf Faculty Club on Mount Scopus Campus.

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The venue

The name Golda Meir conveys various meanings to different groups of people. For me personally, the name is connected to education opportunities offered to students not only from the developed but also developing countries. This is not the first time I have received a university fellowship, but it does not stop me from feeling awed to see how a single institution is willing to invest so much in the education of so many. I am truly grateful for this research opportunity. ❤️

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A short description of the history of the Golda Meir Fellowship Fund at the Hebrew University

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My postdoctoral fellowship certificate

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Can you find my Hebrew name on the list of post-doctoral fellowship recipients?

Israel: Learning Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Part 2)

❤️שלום לכולם!

Here are some resources I have found useful in learning Modern Hebrew up to the Dalet Level (Lower Advanced):

  1. Dictionary: Morfix is a free online dictionary that allows translation from Hebrew to English or vice versa.  You can type in any morphology of the Hebrew term, and the search engine will offer you the possible base forms and their meanings.
  2. Grammar: Easing into Modern Hebrew Grammar published by the Hebrew University Magnes Press comes in two volumes, explaining almost every nook and cranny of Modern Hebrew grammar in a clear and logical fashion.
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  3. Vocabulary Builders and Grammar Reinforcements: These three textbooks were composed by our ebullient and knowledgeable teachers, Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי), from the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. They target the students at the Gimel (Upper Intermediate) Level and the Dalet (Lower Advanced) Level. They contain texts compiled and composed from a wide range of resources about the Israeli society. Through them, I have learned about the water desalination process in modern Israel,  I have read and listened to Idan Raichel (עידן רייכל)’s evocative song entitled ממעמקים that fuses the Ethiopian rhythm with the traditional Hebrew lyrics, I have deliberated the advantages and disadvantages of a democratic high school in the Israeli society. הכל בעברית! All these texts, while serving mainly to build our vocabulary and reinforce our grammar knowledge, provide interesting insights into the Israeli history, culture, and society. While the first textbook (Gimel Level) is still at its trial period and is not available for online sale yet, the next two textbooks (Dalet Level) בין השורות. עברית לרמת המתקדמים and הפועל בפעולה. פועל לרמת המתקדמים can be purchased at the website of the Hebrew University Magnes Press.
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  4. More Online Resources: I love listening to this Hebrew podcast entitled StreetWise Hebrew. The host Guy Sharett is from Tel Aviv and is now living in Shanghai. I like how it packs a manageable amount of information about Modern Hebrew and its slang within just 5-10 minutes per week. I also learn a little bit more about the Israeli pop music through Guy’s podcast. The English version is free for everyone, while the Hebrew version, mirroring the English version, costs 5 USD per month. The satirical TV show, “the Jews Are Coming” (היהודים באים), broadcasted by Channel 1 and now freely available on YouTube offers another fun and brilliant way to enhance my knowledge of Modern Hebrew and Jewish history. I appreciate how this group of Jews, rather than denigrating the other ethnic groups, has deployed their satirical humour in a self-critical way. Contextualising the speakers’ perspectives is all important for this show, as some of the Hebrew terms aired in the show would make the audience gasp in horror if they were to be put in the mouth of a non-Jew (e.g., a German). For Prof. Zierler’s insightful review that sheds light on the show’s attempt to bridge the secular-religious schism in modern Israel, click herehttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fCV8j3VSsXs
  5. Fun Immersion in Israel: There is probably no better place learning Modern Hebrew than in a country where the language is spoken on a daily basis. Our Hebrew teacher once showed us the late Israeli author Amos Oz’s explanation for the “resurrection” of the Hebrew language in the modern era:

הרגע האינטימי הזה, שבו אמר איש לאישה מילים אינטימיות, לא בספר, לא בסידור, לא בבית הכנסת, אלא מתוך צורך, מפני שלא הייתה שום שפה אחרת – זה רגע תחיית העברית

My reason for speaking Modern Hebrew is not as romantic as what Oz has presented. However, I can agree with him that learning and speaking the language arises out of the need or yearning to connect with and understand the people and environment here. Sitting side by side with classmates coming from diverse walks of life can be intimidating, but our common desire to learn the Hebrew language well creates a commonality between us. An understanding of the environment gradually seeps in when we, following the teachers or tour guides to places on- and off-campus, learn to recognise and call out the Hebrew names of the herbs, flowers, trees, buildings, and bus stations. A sense of satisfaction arises when I seem to light up the faces of some shopkeepers with my effort to speak Hebrew and manage to get a discount thereafter 😉 Language seems to be a powerful tool to bind people together.

Feel free to let me know which other resources have helped you learn Modern Hebrew. 🙂

Israel: Learning Modern Hebrew at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem (Part I)

שלום לכולם!❤️

For the past few months, I have been busy with learning Modern Hebrew at the Rothberg International School at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. Now, with the arrival of Spring, I am able to share with you my exam results ☺️

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10 years ago, I completed Level Aleph (Advanced Beginners) and Level Bet (Lower Intermediate) at the same institution. Therefore, the Division of the Hebrew Language Instruction here allowed me to jump straight into Level Gimel (Upper Intermediate Level) during the Autumn Semester 2018/2019. At the end of the semester, I just lost a mark in my final exam and achieved the final grade 99%. Thereafter, I enrolled in the Level Dalet (Lower Advanced) Winter Ulpan course. Even though this course was intensive, it lasted only a month, so we were supposed to cover only half of the Dalet materials. However, our Hebrew teachers—Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי)—had so much faith in the perseverance of me and two other students in the class that they kindly recommended the three of us to take part in the Dalet level test at the end of the course. Having covered the other half of the Dalet materials on my own, I am pleased that I only lost a mark in the listening test and level exam respectively. That means, I have achieved the final grade 98%. Hi, Level Heh (Advanced), see you next semester! 😀

Learning Modern Hebrew at RIS, HUJI has granted me so much joy. The students came from all around the world, the learning activities were diverse and interactive. Most importantly, our Hebrew teachers—Gali Huminer (גלי הומינר) and Zooki Shay (צוקי שי)— were so fun, knowledgeable, and professional. In the next post, I would like to share with you some of the useful Modern Hebrew resources I have learned from them. Stay tuned (המשך יבוא)!

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Indonesia: Work, Eat, Pray in Malang

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Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference

Attending the Seventh Biennial Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) Conference in the city Malang in Indonesia was a mind-blowing experience. The conference was held at the Catholic Seminary STFT Widya Sasana and lasted from the 16th to the 20th of July, 2018. About 88 biblical researchers from around the world (mainly from Asia) flocked to this “Bible Belt” of Indonesia, where a dozen theological colleges and seminaries from various denominations make their home. This incredible journey managed to stimulate my mind (work), spoil my tastebuds (eat), and let me observe the spirituality of others (pray).

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The diverse topics presented at the conference blew my mind. I especially enjoyed the session on the Malaysian/Indonesian Bible translations. Dr. Kar Yong Lim from the Seminari Theologi Malaysia and Dr. Daud Soesilo from the United Bible Societies in Indonesia presented an overview of how the Malaysian ruling government considers the Arabic loanword “Allah” a sort of proper name of the Muslims’ God, and thus prohibits the use of “Allah” by the non-Muslims. Some of the country’s Christians, who understand “Allah” as a common noun “God” in their Malay language Bibles, are particularly affected by this prohibition. Dr. Anwar Tjen from the Indonesian Bible Society, on the other hand, presented another kind of motivation that leads some Indonesian Christian communities to reject the use of “Allah” in their Bible translations. As he showed, these Christian groups, under the influence of the Sacred Name Movement in the US, think the term “Allah” is too Arabic and seek to rediscover the Jewish root of Christianity by simply transliterating the Hebrew term אלהים/אל/אלה into “Elohim.” At first sight, two different groups of people in two different countries seek to reject the use of the Arabic loanword “Allah” in the Christian Bible translations for two seemingly different reasons. On closer inspection, both groups actually are motivated by the same desire to sharply delineate their religious identity from the surrounding peoples. One (the Malaysian government) seeks to restrict the term “Allah” for the Islamic God, while another (some Indonesian Christians) strives to distance itself from the Arabic flavoured “Allah” and to highlight the Judeo-Christian origin of its own religion, by adopting the transliteration “Elohim.” The result is a starkly dualistic contrast between the Islam and the Judeo-Christian traditions. The question remains if an extra space can be created for those Christians, who wish to maintain both their national/linguistic and religious identities by using the Malay term “Allah” in their own Christian Bible translations.

I was privileged to preside at the session, where Prof. Koowon Kim, Prof. Zhenhua Meng and Dr. Kwan-Hung Leo Li utilised a comparative/dialogic approach to contextualise different parts of the Hebrew Bible for the Chinese people. The other sessions also include some stimulating analyses of the biblical texts from the Japanese and Korean perspectives. One of the highlights of the conference is the session on the queer readings of the biblical texts in Asia. Homosexuality is still a taboo in many Asian countries and in the traditional monotheistic religions. Therefore, the presenters, including Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman, Ms. Pearl Wong, and Prof. Yeong Mee Lee, should be applauded for bringing their research on this difficult subject to the table. All the above sessions have introduced me to so many lights that can be cast on the Bible through reading it in different modern-day societies. I cannot claim to have grasped or concurred with all the discussions appearing in the conference, but I sincerely think that all these different discussions in the academic context are necessary and even beneficial, since they allow us to temporarily jump out of the comfort zones and critically examine our commonly held beliefs.

In addition to learning from the others’ perspectives, I also presented a paper entitled “Seeking a Way Forward: Reflections on the Scholarly Imaginations of Good and Evil in the Book of Esther.” As seen from the above, most of the conference papers focused on reading the Bible in modern-day Asian societies. On the other hand, my paper explored how the Christian and Jewish commentators had used to characterise the book of Esther in their contemporary European, Northern American, Israeli, and African societies. At the end of the presentation, I concluded:

Reading the Esther story from the commentators’ own historical contexts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the commentators’ prejudices can lead to distorting the textual ideology. On the other hand, the commentators’ own circumstances can also resonate with the narrative, so as to shed light on some textual elements that have been ignored, marginalised, or misunderstood.

Perhaps, such a historical survey of biblical scholarship in the other parts of the world can provide some food for thought for the Asian biblical commentators, who are now appropriating and analysing the biblical texts in their own social contexts.

Remember, if you are interested in the abstracts of any of the other papers, you can always find and download them on the SABS official website.

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Photo Credit: Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference

Eat

Hospitality seems to be at the core of the Indonesian lifestyle. One of the many ways the Indonesians honour their guests is by inviting them to meals. All the meals (including breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner) during the conference were graciously provided by the host institution. (Photo Credits: Gio and Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference)

 

Each dinner, especially the end-of-conference party, was also accompanied by the fascinating cultural performances (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference).

 

After the conference, I was able to explore a greater variety of the Indonesian cuisines. The choices seemed endless and the rich aroma of the spices just chocked me with happiness 🙂

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Nasi Rawon: Rice Served with Black Beef Soup

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Breakfast @ Hotel Tugu Malang

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Pho @ SaigonSan Restaurant

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Bakso: Renowned Indonesian Beef Balls Soup

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Fresh Juice!!!

The Indonesians I met during this trip were extremely warm and friendly. When I asked for a “Bakso” and fresh juice with my very limited knowledge of Malay, the above young man and lady got very excited that they decided to converse with me completely in Malay for another 10 to 15 minutes. I could not understand more than half of the conversation, but I got the part when the young man asked for a photo shoot 🙂

Pray

Apart from food, religions also play an important role in the Indonesian society. Everyone here seems to belong to either Islam, or Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or a syncretism of any of these religions with the folk beliefs.

Christianity 

Christianity, comprising about 10% of the country’s population, is not the main religion in Indonesia. Even then, the actual size of the Indonesian Christian population, according to one of the conference organisers, is roughly equivalent to the whole of the Australian population. Despite the fact that our conference was hosted at a Catholic seminary, the neighbouring Protestant seminary “Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara” also cordially invited us for a lunch. After the lunch, the Protestant seminary students gave us a tour around their beautiful campus.

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The Main Entrance of the Southeast Asia Bible Seminary (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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The SEABS’s Vision. According to one Indonesian participant, this seminary adopts a maximalist approach toward the Bible.

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An exhibition displaying the history of the Christian missions in Asia (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)

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English translation: “This one is truly the saviour of of the world.” Beautiful sculptures pepper around the campus.

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The founder of SEABS, Rev. Dr. Andrew Gih, and his wife. For a brief history of the seminary, click here.

Islam

The main religion in Indonesia is Islam, and the Muslims make up about 87% of the population. Some Indonesians told me that the Muslims in Malang are moderate, and they get along with people from the other religions very well. These Muslims also take their praying rituals very seriously. In every hotel room I stayed during the trip, I could find an arrow on the ceiling indicating the prayer direction.

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Can you find the “Kiblat” sticker?

Hinduism

Mt. Bromo, the active volcano near Malang, is a sacred site for the Hindu believers. According to this website, the name Bromo “derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.” A lecturer from a neighbouring charismatic Christian seminary kindly offered to take some of the conference participants to hike Mt. Bromo at a small price. We set out at midnight and arrived at Mount Penanjakan when it was still dark. We waited patiently at the lookout point until the sun rose gently over Mt. Bromo at around 05:30am.

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Mt. Bromo above the clouds/mists

Then we waded through the “Sea of Sand” (Laut Pasir), while the sand and dust were blown all over our face.

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Getting ready to wade through the Sea of Sand.

We climbed along a rather steep slope of mountain.

Finally, we reached the smoking crater of Mt. Bromo.

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Mt. Bromo’s Crater

Some Hindu believers would throw offerings into the crater to appease their gods.

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A statue of Ganesha in front of the crater

The view from the crater to the bottom of the mountain was incredible.

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The Hindu temple was lying beneath the translucent mist in the midst of the “Sea of Sand”

Syncretic Religions

Some people in Malang practice a form of syncretic religion, combining their own religious traditions with the beliefs of their partners.  For instance, the hired driver who took us to Mt. Bromo with his Jeep was a Muslim married to a Hindu lady. Therefore, he, despite being a Muslim, made his offerings to various small Hindu shrines sprinkling at the feet of the mountains. The syncretism of various cultures and beliefs is perhaps best captured at the boutique Tugu Hotel Malang, which also acts like a museum of the Indonesian antiques and artworks. The great-grandfather of the founder of Tugu Hotels & Restaurants Group was a Chinese Indonesian tycoon known as the sugar baron. He then married to a local Javanese woman named Raden Adjeng Kasinem (1857–1935). Therefore, you can find a fusion of the Chinese ancestor worship and the other local/international cultures in the midst of the hotel. The whole place can be quite eerie but also magically beautiful especially after dark.

It must be quite challenging but also exciting to negotiate one’s identity amidst so many other cultural traditions. This trip was an eye-opening experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot, and I definitely want to visit Indonesia again when I save more money and time. Selamat tinggal, sampai jumpa lagi 😉

Resource: Two Great Books on the Textual History of the Hebrew Bible

For those interested in the textual history of the Hebrew Bible, I would recommend these two great books, from which I learn a great deal:

1. Ernst Würthwein and Alexander Achilles Fischer, The Text of the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Biblia Hebraica (3rd ed.; trans. Erroll F. Rhodes; Grand Rapids: Eerdmans: 2014). 20959398

This is an awesome introduction to the extant textual witnesses of the Hebrew Bible, including the Masoretic Text, the Septuagint, the Dead Sea Scrolls, the Samaritan Pentateuch, etc.). The book, which is a revised expansion on Würthwein’s fifth edition published in 1988, gives a clear and systematic explanation of the differences among these textual witnesses, and thus stresses the importance of textual criticism to reconstruct the historical development of the Hebrew Bible. As the author(s) write: “Textual criticism is the doorway to exegesis, and there is no back door. It is all too rarely observed that neither the church nor scholarship possesses a single biblical text, but only a copy that has been transmitted through a particular historical tradition. As a consequence the text not only provides the basis for interpretation, but the text itself is subject to historical study” (p.157).

 

2. Emanuel Tov, Textual Criticism of the Hebrew Bible (2nd rev. ed.; Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2001).

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The framework and a lot of ideas in the foregoing book are also reflected in this monograph, which was first published in Hebrew in 1989 and has become like the “Bible” in the field of textual criticism. Currently, I only have the second revised edition. This monograph contains much more concrete and detailed background information about various manuscripts and translations of the Hebrew Bible. Particularly useful is chapter 3, which features different scholarly approaches to grapple with the textual variants. In the rest of the book, the author then makes use of concrete biblical examples to surmise and explain how different types of textual variants came about. Throughout the book, the author has demonstrated his encyclopaedic knowledge of biblical texts. The content of the book is dense and requires careful reading, but the outcome of learning this book would be rewarding.

Presentation: “The Dynamic Textual History of the Hebrew Bible” at Fudan University, Shanghai, People’s Republic of China

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Photo Credit: history.fudan.edu.cn/7816/list.htm

I was overjoyed to receive an invitation to give a small presentation at the Department of History at Fudan University in Shanghai! I spoke on the “Dynamic Textual History of the Hebrew Bible” (《希伯来圣经》的文本流传与历史变迁) on 08.05.2018.

The first part of the presentation was an introduction to the medieval manuscripts of the Masoretic Text (group) and some late antique manuscripts of the Septuagint. The second part of the presentation traced back to the even earlier biblical manuscripts uncovered around the Dead Sea. I used some examples to illustrate how the Proto-Masoretic Text from the Dead Sea can contain features that differ and predate the medieval Masoretic manuscripts, and how some Hebrew manuscripts from the Dead Sea can reflect the Hebrew Vorlage of the Septuagint. The third and last part of the presentation explored the impact of the concept of Urtext on the scholarly analyses of the relationship among different text groups.

With the kind assistance of a friend, I managed to sharpen my arguments and deliver the whole presentation in Chinese Mandarin. This is my second visit to China and I do cherish the new-found friendship during this brief visit 🙂

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My abstract in Chinese Mandarin!

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One of my favourite parts in Shanghai: Yuyuan Garden. This is where you can find beautiful folk artworks and delicious food 😉

 

Book Review: Thankful for Another Comment on My First Book

Prof. Corrine Carvalho has kindly provided the third review on my first book Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations. The review is published at the Catholic Biblical Quarterly 80 (2018): 125-127. Below are the printed pages:

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I appreciate all the comments that have been made on my first book. The professional feedback has indicated some positive aspects but also further room for improvements. All these comments can stimulate my academic growth in future studies. 🙂