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.

Germany: How Much “Progress” We Have Made after 500 Years of Reformation!

It is our human responsibility to remember what has happened, to try to understand why, and to ask how things could have been different. It is our Christian responsibility to reassess the structures of our beliefs and the effects of these beliefs on others. It is both a human and a Christian responsibility to take an active role for the sake of the future and begin by rejecting dehumanizing views and actions.

Brooks Schramm and Kirsi I. Stjerna,

Martin Luther, The Bible, and The Jewish People (2012)


1. Introduction

October 31, 2017 will be the five-hundredth anniversary of the posting of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which initiated the Protestant Reformation. You see, I was born and have grown up in a Protestant environment. I used to imagine Martin Luther a superhero, who had the guts and intellect to challenge the religious perversity in his time. How ignorant of me! I still think that Luther has some merits, but now I realize that Luther and his contemporary were also the “pioneers” promoting the “equality” between animals and human beings. Can we say that they were the earliest “animal rights activists”?

2. Martin Luther on the “Equality” between Human Beings and Animals

Luther equated the papal church to animals:

  1. In 1523, Luther called the popes, bishops, sophists, and monks “the crude asses’ heads” / “die groben Eselköpfe” (cited from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew / Daß Jesus Christus ein geborener Jüde sei).
  2. In one Table Talk / Tischrede dated to 1533, he named the cardinals and bishops “bloodhounds” / “Bluthunde.”
  3. In another Table Talk / Tishrede dated to 1540s, he bestowed the title “a sow” / “eine Sau” upon his theological enemy, Johannes Eck.
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On a pamphlet entitled “Papstesel” (1523), Lucas Cranach the Elder, a German painter and a fervent follower of Luther, pictured the Pope as a monster with a donkey head, fish skin, female breasts, and oxen hoof. Photo credit: ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 33 (N/B: I have blurred the original picture).

Luther equated the Jews to animals:

  1. In 1523, Luther appeared to be sane enough to maintain a distinction between animals and human beings. He chided the papal church for dealing “with the Jews as if they were dogs rather than human beings” / “Denn sie haben mit den Jüden gehandelt, als wären es Hunde, und nicht Menschen” (cited from That Jesus Christ Was Born a Jew / Daß Jesus Christus ein geborener Jüde sei).
  2. But later in 1543, he himself called the Jews the “bloodthirsty bloodhounds and murderers of all Christendom” / “durstige Bluthunde und Mörder der ganzen Christenheit” (cited from On the Jews and Their Lies / Von den Juden und Ihren Lügen).
  3. Earlier in 1541, he named the Jews “filthy swine” / “unflätigen Säue” (cited from A New Preface to the Prophet Ezekiel/Neue Vorrede auf den Propheten Hesekiel). In 1543, he invoked the grotesque Judensau image in Wittenberg to mock the the Jewish reverence of the divine name (cf. On the Ineffable Name and on the Lineage of Christ/Vom Shem Hamphoras und von Geschlecht Christi).
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The defamatory picture “Judensau” (Jewish sow) is found on many European churches from the thirteenth century onward. St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg, where Luther preached most of his sermons, houses a small sandstone relief of this image. Luther referred to this image in his treatise entitled “On the Ineffable Name / Vom Shem Hamphoras” Cf. Schramm-Stjerna, 2012: 18, 178. Photo Credit: ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 77 (N/B: I have blurred the original picture).

Didn’t Luther and his contemporary find the comparisons between animals and human beings offensive? Apparently not. They “loved” the animals so much that they wished to turn their fellow human beings into animals such as dogs and pigs. These people were so “civilized” toward the animals that they ate horses, dogs, and cats only during the famine. According to ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 73, a famine struck Münster when some radical reformers took over the city (1535). The citizens then ate their horses, dogs, and cats (“Die Bürger essen ihre Pferde, Hunde und Katzen”).

3. Martin Luther in Today’s Germany

ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 108 features an interview with the media lawyer Jörg Nabert. According to the lawyer, if Luther lived in Germany today, he would not only face criminal charges on account of libel and defamation, he would also be fined a great amount of money:

ZEIT Geschichte: Luther ging mit seinen Gegnern nicht zimperlich um. Wäre er Ihr Mandant, was würde ihm heute für seine Schmähungen drohen?

Jörg Nabert: So einen Mandanten wünscht man sich der kein Blatt vor den Mund nimmt. Allerdings langt Luthe so sehr hin, dass er heute durchaus mit Unterlassungsklagen und Strafanzeigen wegen Beleidigung oder Verleumdung rechnen müsste.

ZEIT Geschichte: Wie hoch wäre das Strafmaß?

Nabert: Nehmen wir mal an, dass Luther trotz Reichsacht nicht vorbestraft ist, dann käme heutzutage eine überschaubare Geldstrafe dabei heraus. Die Kosten eines zivilrechtlichen Verfahrens wären meist schmerzhafter.

Mr. Nabert must be an expert in his field of specialization and I do appreciate his good intention to give voice to the fact that people who speak like Luther should be sued and fined. From the text itself, it is not very clear to me how Mr. Nabert defines Luther’s “Schmähungen.” The left column cites some sentences where Luther attacked the pope, cardinals, bishops, and a European noble (Heinz von Wolfenbüttel), but did not mention the cases where the Jews were villified. Even though Thomas Kaufmann has mentioned Luther’s hatred for not only the papal church, but also the Jews and Turks in another article of the same magazine (pp. 74-79), only Luther’s attacks on the papal church and European nobles have been selected in that column next to the interview. In any case, I have grave doubts if Mr. Nabert is being realistic about the world he is living in. In my view, if Luther and his contemporary lived in Germany today, these two scenarios would arise in all probability:

  1. Luther’s contemporary who ate dogs, cats, and horses would face legal punishments and would ultimately commit suicide due to cyberbully. Since 1986, the German Law on Meat Hygiene has forbidden monkey-, dog-, and cat-eating. Last month, a popular Spanish huntress, Melanie Capitan, committed suicide weeks after she had received online threats from animal rights activists, according to the Daily Mail’s report. The exact connection between those threats and her suicide cannot be ascertained. Striking are the critics flooding her Facebook page AFTER HER DEATH. One person wrote: “You have done a favour to humanity! Bye Bye.” Another mocked: “Ciao Mel! You made a favour to nature.” Still another penned: “She’s finished the lives of many animals and no one defended them…I think our [lives are] worth the same as theirs.” Don’t some European royals and Melanie’s followers hunt animals at their leisure? Based on the principle of the “equality” between animals and human beings, do these animal rights activists expect the royals and followers start committing suicide too?
  2. Luther’s popularity among his people means that instead of being charged on account of slanders, he would be acquitted with impunity. On the principle of “freedom of speech,” Luther would be allowed to continue propagating his idea about the “equality” between human beings and animals. To spread this idea as widely as possible, Luther’s followers would even print out “Papstesel“- and “Judensau“-like images on T-shirts and sell them publicly on Spreadshirt’s website. A legal reply from the Leipzig public prosecutor (Herr Staatsanwalt Merkel) gives weight to the validity of my imagination. A few months ago, a Chinese from the Chinesischehandel courageously filed a criminal complaint against the Spreadshirt company’s T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” on the ground of defamation and incitation of racial hatred. My husband got in touch with him and received a copy of the dissappointing reply from the prosecutor. If you can read German, you can understand the content of the letter (see below). If not, here is my attempt to summarize the letter’s content. In response to the charge of the incitation of racial hatred, the prosecutor responds that the call to “eat the Chinese” is not meant to be serious but is clearly humorous and satirical (“Angesichts des offensichtlich humoristischen bzw. satirischen Charakters des Äußerung…”). [My comment: Well, Luther also meant to “satirize Jewish reverence of the divine name” when he invoked the offensive image of the Judensau in Wittenberg (cf. Schramm-Stjerna, 2012: 178). His satires of the Jews further influenced and fueled the anti-Semitism and anti-Judaism sentiments in Nazi Germany (cf. Probst, 2012).] According to the prosecutor, designating a human life (more specifically a Chinese life) as less than a dog’s life in no way diminishes the human dignity. In response to the charge of defamation, the letter states that the accusation only stands when the statement under inspection refers to a clearly defined and manageable group of persons. The overgeneralized statement encompassing all Chinese does not constitute a slander. [My comment: Don’t you think his utterance of “einen klar abgrenzbaren und überschaubaren Personenkreis” very fuzzy? I am a Chinese, and I have never eaten a dog. The T-shirt clearly targets every single Chinese, it is saying that you can save a dog by eating a Chinese. Its overgeneralization conveys a false information of an individual, but does not constitute defamation. Well, I don’t get it.]
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To protect the privacy of the letter’s recipient, only the content of the letter is shown.

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4. Conclusion

About 500 years ago, Martin Luther, who translated the famous “Lutherbibel” and gave the Germans a new language “Lutherdeutsch, contributed a lot in “promoting” the “equality” between animals and human beings. Many pastors, bishops, and theologians, and Nazi members reused Luther’s anti-Semitic and anti-Jewish writings to reinforce their perceptions of German Protestant nationalism during the Third Reich (cf. Paras, 2008; Probst, 2012; ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016: 94). Did Luther’s words exert their reality-altering power when human beings were gathered into cattle carts during the Second World War?

Today, “about 30 “Judensau” sculptures still exist on churches [including St Mary’s Church in Wittenberg] mostly throughout Germany, and the majority without explanatory plagues,” according to the Christianity Today’s report. What has changed is that many people now take pride in their equality to animals. Right now, Spreadshirt’s “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” and other similar T-shirts are still available online for sale. These T-shirts show us how those who deem themselves as the equal counterpart of animals, like their ancestors, happily compromise the lives and dignity of other human beings they do not like. Wow, the Europeans have “progressed” so much within these 500 years!

After all these ruminations, I think I should not be hypersensitive by taking the attacks on my people “too personally.” I ought to embrace the European, esp. the German “sarcastic humour” (as one William Sherman and one Ines Nitsch told me on the facebook pages of VIENNA.AT and Spreadshirt.de respectively. For reasons unbeknownst to me, Ines Nitsch deleted her comments after I had replied to her very politely on the Spreadshirt.de’s facebook page), despite the fact that their jokes are based on stereotypes / overgeneralization / discrimination / cannibalism. I must understand that the European passion for animals has been cultivated from their long historical traditions, which are to be “admired” and even “emulated” by the rest of the world. Germany/Europe is indeed the yardstick of “enlightenment,” “freedom,” and “democracy.” Now let us stand up “respectfully” and give them a round of applause for such “wonderful” expressions of humanism/animalism.

N/B: On the Spreadshirt.de website, if you type “Chinese,” you will no longer find those offensive T-shirts clutter together as they did in March. But they are still there online for sale. To be fair, I have read that Germany has a really good legal system that trains dogs and integrates them into human society. I do not endorse the abuse of animals. But does that mean we should accept animals’ rights at the expense of human lives and dignity? I think we should not erase any evidence that demonstrates how much “progress” the Europeans have made in their treatments of other fellow human beings. But should such evidence be sold online publicly as just any other commodity? Why can’t they just put those T-shirts in a museum that displays the European attitudes and actions toward other peoples throughout the centuries? I shall refrain myself from saying any further. According to the Chinese proverb,  it is better to be a dog in peace than a human being at war (宁为太平犬,莫作乱离人). Now you have to be less than a dog to maintain peace,  however superficial peace is.

5. Bibliography

  1. Frank Werner (ed.). Luther. Die Revolution des Glaubens. ZEIT Geschichte 05/2016.
  2. Brooks Schramm and Kirsi I. Stjerna (eds.). Martin Luther, the Bible, and the Jewish People: A Reader. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2012.
  3. Christopher J. Probst. Demonizing the Jews: Luther and the Protestant Church in Nazi Germany. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2012.
  4. This website contains the Weimar Edition of Martin Luther’s works (in Latin and German). The spelling of “Lutherdeutsch” used in this edition is a bit different from the modern German’s spelling, which I deploy in the above citations.
  5. Paras, Emily. “The Darker Side of Martin Luther,” Constructing the Past (2008) Vol. 9: Iss. 1 , Article 4. Available at: http://digitalcommons.iwu.edu/constructing/vol9/iss1/4

Last Updated: 23.08.2017

News: Chinese Tourists Arrested in Germany after Making Hitler Salutes in Front of Reichstag

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Photo Credit: Bloomberg

Breaking News from Haaretz: “German police on Saturday arrested two Chinese tourists for making illegal “Heil Hitler” salutes in front of the historic Reichstag building that houses the German parliament.” Read more.

There are times when I am truly ashamed of the ignorance of some of my own people. They idealize and even idolize everything that has ever happened in Europe/Germany. Don’t they have any ideas of the sordidness embedded in history and culture of this continent/country? Here they are obsequiously emulating whatever the West did and do. Yes, I agree these people deserve punishments and further education.

Feel free to read my 2015 tour into Berlin’s past: “Berlin, a City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present”

News: Some More Thoughts on the “Save a Dog, Eat a Chinese” T-Shirt

 

 

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Picture Credit: Heute Österreich

First a big “WOW” to the Austrian lawyer Georg Zanger, who has filed a lawsuit against the Spreadshirt company on account for the “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” T-shirt. VIENNA.AT – Vienna Online published this news on 23 March 2017. He is of Jewish descent and not a Chinese, but is willing to fight for what he thinks is correct. I wish to be like him to fight for what I think is correct, with the benefits of other peoples and not just my own in mind.

So many people know how to speak out their own perspectives in a constructive way. I should also learn to voice my own opinions in a way that improves mutual understanding. Here are my further thoughts on this incident. First, I think the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese,” from a Chinese perspective, is suggestive of a certain form of servitude. Accidentally bumped into this 7-minute long video, where a Chinese professor (王洪涌) from Central China Normal University explains the interesting historical evolution of the Chinese characters “犬” (big dog) and “狗” (small dog). As you may know, the shape of a Chinese character and its cognate forms often suggest the words’ meanings. As she explains, the cognate forms of the characters “犬” and “狗” are related to hunting activities (e.g., 突,伏,etc.), and it can be deduced that dogs were primarily conceived as humans’ helpers to hunt other animals. There is no discussion of dog meat as a Chinese cuisine, but she does highlight how the Chinese proverbs reflect the Chinese attitudes towards dogs. On the one hand, the Chinese proverb 犬有湿草之恩, which is baed on a legend where a loyal dog saved its master from the burning fire, praises the dog’s ability to repay human kindness. On the other hand, a dog’s submission to its master can also symbolize an extreme form of servitude. So the Chinese, to my knowledge, will never dare to compare a human being to a dog unless they want to highlight a person’s despicable subjection to another person (e.g., 狗奴才,狗腿子,猪狗不如,etc.). In this light, I can understand why the Chinese (including I) are especially offended by the comparison between a dog and a human being. Such a suggestion of servitude coming from the non-Chinese with a history of imperialism can cause the Chinese deep suspicions and misunderstandings.

 

Second, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese commits the fault of over-generalizations and can be slanderous. The T-shirt’s statement seems to be based on a false premise that every single Chinese must have eaten a dog. The research of Frederick J. Simoons’ monograph “Food in China: A Cultural and Historical Inquiry” shows that “many ethnic groups in China rejected dog flesh…as food, some of them, such as Moslems, because they consider dogs unclean; some, such as Buddhists, because they viewed the dog as a friend and protector of the family and opposed killing dogs and eating them; and some, non-Han minorities, because they considered dogs to be their relatives. In Kwantung, the Yao, like other Yao groups in South China and Vietnam (the Man), believe they are descended from a dog ancestor and reject dogs as food for that reason, though dogs may be sacrificed and eaten by priests and the afflicted in efforts at curing illness…Among the Chinese, there has been a decline in the acceptability of dog flesh since ancient times, especially in North China” (p. 310). The book goes on to state that “in North China dog flesh is eaten as food only among the poorest sorts of people, and in South China only in certain regions” (p. 310). The article in Huffington Post suggests that “nearly 70 percent [of the people in China] have never eaten dog meat.” Moreover, it is slanderous, if not blasphemous, to accuse the Chinese Buddhists/Moslems and many other Chinese vegetarians of dog-eating.

Third, the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” is discriminatory in nature and is thus guilty of inciting racial hatred. According to Simoons’ monograph again, dog-eating has persisted in certain places in Europe and other parts of the world. Early in the twentieth century, “J.S. Thomson…wrote of dog eating in Germany, where, he said, roughly 8000 dogs were ‘slaughtered for food purposes’ in the previous year [1908], 1400 of them in the cities of Kassel (Cassel) and Chemnitz. Schwabe…also writes of dog eating in parts of modern Europe, and not merely in times of famine. He provides details of how the Swiss prepare ‘Dried Dog Meat,’ and presents a defense of dog eating in nutritional and other terms” (p. 309). Wikipedia contains further information about dog eating in all parts of the world. Yet the T-shirt company/designer has singled out the Chinese as the only national/ethnic group practising dog-eating. The public display of such a T-shirt on the website encourages the dissemination of national/racial/ethnic stereotypes, which can unjustly render the Chinese living in Europe the target of school, university, and workplace ridicules and bullying. The mockery can in turn escalate into more social problems in Europe. In my encounters with some non-Chinese, I have been asked the same question “Do you eat dogs” several times. My experience shows how deeply entrenched the stereotypes are. The problem is I have never eaten dog meat. And I have seldom bumped into the Asians who eat the dog meat. In fact, I have only learned about dog meat through the Western reports. I don’t deny that their reports can be true, and some do perhaps eat dog meat in certain regions. But does this jsutify the stereotypical image of ALL Chinese as dog-eaters?

Lastly, you may want to say this is all a joke/a sarcasm. Why can’t the Europeans have some fun? I can say very clearly that I have zero tolerance of people having fun (not even a little bit) on hurting human dignity, especially when it is related to my family and friends. I bet the Hutus had a lot of fun calling the Tutsis “cockcroaches” during the genocide in Rwanda (a former German and Belgian colony). I am biased. I do not endorse the abuse of animals, but honestly I am not a vegetarian. I do not assign the same value to both human life and animal life. I think the German constitution is also biased when its first article gives such a prominent place to human dignity. The first article states:

(1) Die Würde des Menschen ist unantastbar. Sie zu achten und zu schützen ist Verpflichtung aller staatlichen Gewalt. (Human dignity is inviolable. To respect and protect it is an obligation of every state power.)

(2) “Das Deutsche Volk bekennt sich darum zu unverletzlichen und unveräußerlichen Menschenrechten als Grundlage jeder menschlichen Gemeinschaft, des Friedens und der Gerechtigkeit in der Welt. (The German people therefore acknowledge inviolable and inalienable human rights as the foundation of every human community, of peace and justice in the world.)

I like the fact that it not only stipulates that every state power should give proper dignity to human beings, but it also suggests that the German people should take their own initiatives to respect and protect human rights. I have grave doubts that the T-shirt “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” advertised and sold by the Spreadshirt company based in Germany coheres with the emphasis on human dignity enshrined in the German constitution. But maybe we are living in an ever-changing world, where cannibalism can indeed overcome humanism one day. In that case, I can do nothing but see the T-shirts hanged all around the world to proclaim our transition into another epoch of barbarism.

P/S: I really don’t want to get into such an elaborate argument against the stupid T-shirt, if I haven’t felt that this incident is a tip of the iceberg of the ongoing racial tensions in Europe. I want to share my opinions honestly with you because I believe continuous communication can help alleviate more and more misunderstandings/racial profilings. You have perhaps read my embittered encounters with some of the Europeans/Americans in Göttingen. History can repeat itself in such a short time, can’t it? Barbaric stereotypical remarks can also come out of the mouths of the so-called “social-elites.” On 26 October 2016, Günther Oettinger, a European commissioner from Germany, for whatever conflict of interests in his mind, gave a public speech in Hamburg and described all the Chinese people as “Schlitzohren und Schlitzaugen” (sly-dogs and slit-eyes). Part of Oettinger’s speech is available on Youtube (attached below). For the Spiegel‘s report of this incident, please click here. After several days of pressure from his opponents, Oettinger did apologize for his offensive remarks. His supporters said that “his remarks merely reflected the colourful language typical of his home state.” See the Welt‘s report here. Does that mean that we should all be so engrossed in our own cultural quagmire that we should never jump out of it and critically reflect on it? In light of this, I especially admire people such as the German publisher Sebastian Marquadt who could stand out of his own cultural comfort zone and expose Oettinger’s racial slurs on Youtube. There is always a mixture of good and bad eggs in one country, right? 😉

 

 

News: Spreadshirt’s Controversial “Save a Dog, Eat a Chinese” T-Shirts

A couple of days ago, I saw this Huffington Post’s article shared by a FB friend. It offers an illuminating critique of Spreadshirts, “a German (Leipzig-based) online retail company,” which (has) advertised T-shirts with these offensive sentences: “Save a dog, eat a Chinese,” “Save a whale, eat a Japanese,” “Save a shark, eat a Chinese,” etc.

Yesterday I saw this news on a Chinese website. Due to the passionate protests of some Chinese, Spreadshirt’s branch offices in Australia, Canada, and the US have taken the T-shirts off their retail websites. However, other European (German, French, British, etc.) branch offices continue selling these T-shirts online.

This morning I was browsing the German website of Spreadshirts and have found this intriguing phenomenon. I just find it so interesting that I will post some of my observations here. Feel free to say what you think of them. When I typed the word “German” in the website’s search engine, out of the website came these T-shirts with the following words: “Proud to be German,” “Support our troops,” “Don’t play games with us, we are the German Army,” etc. There are also a lot of pictures of the German Shepherds. Luckily nothing too offensive came out when I typed “Africa,” “Britain,” or other Middle Eastern country names in the search box.

 

Below were some interesting pictures on the German website for the search word “America.” An hour or so later I could no longer find these T-shirts on the German website, and I can only guess that this European company is quite afraid to offend the US consumers by badly representing them? But, you can still find these T-shirts on the Spreadshirt website if you switch your selected region to United States. The designers of these T-shirts are registered in the US. If these US designers/customers love to express their points of view about their own country in this simplistically brutal manner (that does not explain a lot to me), it is none of my business and I can only respect (but not agree with) their chosen ways of expression.

 

I typed “Chinese,” then “Japanese,” and finally “Korean” in the search engine of the German website, and I found the following pictures. The designer who has made the T-shirts “Save a dog, eat a Chinese” and “Save a whale, eat a Japanese” is Quentin 1984 registered in Germany. Other T-shirts come from other European users. Now I have more questions than answers. 1. Hey Quentin 1984, I can understand that in the Western culture you regard dogs as your close friends, but do you really have to resort to CANNIBALISM to promote your dog-loving/whale-loving attitude? 2. Hey models, how could you put on these man-eating T-shirts with a smile on your faces? 3. Hey Spreadshirt company, what motivates you to accept and post these T-shirts online for sale? What sort of humanistic values are you trying to promote through your T-shirts in the European continent? Or do you only care about making money?

 

I am a Chinese, and I have never eaten a dog, shark, or whale. I have very seldom met other Chinese/Asian people who eat these animals. Even if some do eat these animals, I certainly don’t think of killing these people over this. Anyway, I think this Spreadshirt company has unjustly (or perhaps subconciously) helped to promote stereotypical images of other groups of fellow human beings that can lead to (un)intended harm to those fellow human beings. I am especially confused when I read the company’s statement of responsibility, claming that “there are natural limits to our freedom of expression. We do not print things that are bound to offend people, e.g. pornographic material and content designed to insult and discriminate against genders or religious and ethnic groups.” Thinking of my Chinese husband and friends living in Germany, I just hope that this company will practise what it has preached.

 

 

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.

Germany: Refugees and I

WARNING: The following story will begin with some nasty events, but will end on a brighter note.

In a small town neither too near to nor too far from Göttingen live a Chinese lady, her German husband and their child. I visited the lady once. The town was very quiet. Walking on the streets made us feel so young and naive, since all the people we met seemed to be as old and historic as the town itself. She told me that a few factories there had been closed down due to a lack of labour force. The kindergarten her child attended had irregular opening hours (I did not ask if this had anything to do with the lack of teaching staff). Recently, refugees have been assigned by the government to this town. I thought that the people in the town would be really happy about the new vibe, energy and future brought into this place. I was wrong. She came to me with a list of complaints she and her neighbours had accummulated against the refugees. I asked if they had tried to convey their expectations nicely to the refugees. There was an awkward silence. Then she told me that her child had come home one day with a German song, which she summarized as follows: “Deutschland geht unter wegen ‘herzliches Willkommens.'” I was appalled and wanted to know where her six-year-old child had learned that song. Both the mother and child would not tell me. I tried to search for it online, only to discover this terrible blog: http://petraraab.blogspot.de/2015/07/deutschland-geht-unter.html (What’s wrong with this person?!) and another shocking video: https://www.facebook.com/569638976464964/videos/653138404781687/ (The video has either been removed or is hidden from public viewing, but I watched it once, and let’s just say that too much patriotism always sounds dangerous to me). A few days after the conversation with her, I heard from the radio that Henriette Reker, a pro-refugee politician had been attacked and heavily injured by a radically right wing perpetrator (http://www.zeit.de/politik/deutschland/2015-10/henriette-reker-wahl-koeln). So sad, but glad that Reker did win the election at the end of the day.

In Göttingen, for nearly four months, several other university students and I have volunteered to teach the refugees some elementary German.

One day, I came into my class. An eleven-year-old girl from a refugee country in the Middle East, who had just begun to learn the German alphabets, greeted me with the following sentence, written on the blackboard in her own shaky handwriting: “Herzlich Willkommen in Deutschland.” I bet that this is the sentence she has seen most often after her arrival in Germany. Do you still remember the following video?

I told her that she had written very well, and she gave me one of the brightest smiles I have ever seen. Then I remembered the song learned by the six-year-old child. I did not dare to dash her smile with the fact that people might change their minds pretty quickly.

Another day, during the lesson, I asked my students to introduce themselves in German. One by one, they all voluntarily ended their small speeches with the clause: “Ich liebe Deutschland.”

Still another day, after class, another political refugee came up and shared with me not only his yearning to go back to his home country, but also his eagerness to contribute to the German society while he’s there. He told me that he’s grateful that the German government was open enough to receive him and even invited him to speak about his experience in public.

There were days when Göttingen became rainy. Having been wet from head to toe, some students still came into the classrom with a smile on their faces. I saw them carefully take out their lecture notes from the inner pockets of their wet jackets. They would rather stay wet than ruin the lecture notes! (If I were they, I would definitely use the lecture notes to cover me from the rain ;p)

All these small but touching moments led to the final day of the class. Last Thursday, after a short language test, we had an “Abschlussfeier” at my place. My husband and several friends living in the same flat were also there to celebrate with the refugees. Look, the former have decorated the room beautifully to welcome the latter! 🙂

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For this special occassion, I baked a delicious Schmandtorte, the recipe of which I had learned from a former German flatmate. However, I completely forgot to take the cake out of the fridge afterwards, since my husband and our friends surprised us with a table full of delicious dishes they had prepared! There were some more dishes on two smaller tables:

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Really grateful for the eye-opening conversation we had at the dinner table. Maybe I taught the refugees some German, but they have taught me mental toughness despite physical circumstances. Regardless of the differences in our external conditions, what binds us together is perhaps our desire for peace, justice and joy in our world. Can you recognize all these words on the paper screaming out “peace,” “love,” “happiness,” and “freedom” in Arabic, Balochi, Chinese, English, Farsi, German, Hebrew, Hindi and Malay?

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It is sad to hear that the right and wrong, good and bad, life and death of powerless people or nations are often determined or even toyed by the more politically, economically and militarily powerful groups or nations in the world. My husband and I are confused about the stituations and are really not good at comforting people. The only thing we did do was to share the following biblical passage on the Christmas cards we gave to our guests. The passage has comforted us in bleak moments:

Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.

Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.

Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.

Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. (Matt 5:3-10)

May the blessings come soon.

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Postscript:

All the news and stories about the refugees I have heard so far remind me of the polarized attitudes (the very good and the very bad) I have received during my stay in Germany. Given my experience, I definitely have more sympathy for the refugees. If I, a foreign guest in Germany, whose German is not as good as the natives, can even help out a tiny bit, how much more many of you can do for the refugees?

Here are some resources that might help integrate the refugees into our society: