Interview: Women Biblical Scholars

Dr. Lydia Lee is Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the Research Focus Area: Ancient Texts: Text, Context and Reception, North-West University in South Africa. She earned her B.A. (Hons) in Biblical Studies and Classical Hebrew at the University of Sydney and Ph.D. in Ancient Near Eastern Studies at Georg-August-Universität Gottingen. She can also be found at […]

via Interview: Lydia Lee — Women Biblical Scholars

My sincere thanks go to Karen R. Keen for kindly inviting me to write an interview on the fabulous Women Biblical Scholars website.

According to the site’s stated aim,

The blog includes profiles, interviews, book reviews, and other means to spotlight women biblical scholars. Of particular interest are Christian and Jewish scholars whose work contributes to the thriving of faith communities and advances helpful discussion of religion in our contemporary world.

If you are a female biblical scholar, and you would like to give voice to your thoughts about biblical scholarship, please don’t hesitate to email Karen at:

women.biblical.scholars@gmail.com

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

Article: The Enemies Within: Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39

My article entitled “The Enemies Within: Gog of Magog in Ezekiel 38-39” is now published in the open-access journal HTS Teologiese Studies/Theological Studies (South Africa-based)! Please feel free to check it out on their website: http://www.hts.org.za/index.php/HTS/article/view/4541

This article summarizes and builds on a section of my 2016 monograph entitled Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles the against Nations. Since not all of you may have the time to read through the entire book, this article can help you quickly grasp some of the most interesting arguments about the Gog oracles in Ezekiel 38-39. Moreover, this article will lead you through further samples of the reception of Gog of Magog that are not found in the monograph.

Here is the abstract of the article:

The most extensive descriptions of Gog and Magog in the Hebrew Bible appear in Ezekiel 38–39. At various stages of their political career, both Reagan and Bush have linked Gog and Magog to the bêtes noires of the USA, identifying them either as the ‘communistic and atheistic’ Russia or the ‘evil’ Iraq. Biblical scholars, however, seek to contextualise Gog of Magog in the historical literary setting of the ancient Israelites. Galambush identifies Gog in Ezekiel as a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, who acted as Judah’s oppressor in the 6th century BCE. More recently, Klein concludes that Gog, along with his companions, is ‘eine Personifikation aller Feinde, die Israel im Buch Ezechiel gegenüberstehen’. Despite their differences in detail, these scholars, such as Reagan and Bush, work with a dualism that considers only the features of Judah’s enemies incorporated into Gog’s characteristics. Via an analysis of the semantic allusions, literary position and early receptions of Ezekiel 38–39, this article argues that Gog and his entourage primarily display literary attributes previously assigned to Judah’s political allies.

Enjoy your reading! 🙂

P/S: FREE download of Mapping Judah’s Fate in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations is available here: https://www.sbl-site.org/publications/books_ANEmonographs.aspx. Further publications by me can be viewed and downloaded here: https://www.researchgate.net/profile/Lydia_Lee22; https://nwu.academia.edu/LydiaLee.

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Lecture: How Many Books of Esther Do We Have?

My friend Szi-chieh Yu helpfully introduced me to this wonderful website called the Bible Project. It contains many beautiful animated videos that render biblical stories accessible to everyone, everywhere. The animations are simply lovely! I notice that it defines and explains the Bible from a Protestant Christian perspective. It stresses a unifying principle underlying the Protestant Bible. As one of the videos points out, it is helpful to bear in mind that today the Bible the Protestants are using is not exactly the same as the Eastern Orthodox Christians and the Catholic Christians. The Protestants are using the Jewish Tanakh as their Old Testament (with a different structural arrangement). The Jews and the Protestants, however, can interpret the scriptural texts rather differently.

The Project’s video entitled “What Is the Bible?” also highlights that the Protestant Bible has undergone a long process of compilation. Biblical scholars have continued encountering historical artefacts (e.g., Dead Sea Scrolls, Cairo Genizah, Nag Hammadi Library, etc.) and internal literary evidence (e.g., stylistic breaks, doublets, thematic tensions, etc.) that point to the fluidity and diversity of the early scriptural traditions.

If you wish to know how diverse the early literary traditions surrounding the story of Esther (one of the stories found in the Protestant Bible today) were, why don’t you pop by for the Ancient History Public Lecture tomorrow evening (19:00-20:00)? In the lecture, we will also explore how the early Jewish and Christian writers grappled with the textual fluidity and diversity. See you there! 🙂

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Announcement: Paper Accepted in HTS Theologiese Studies/Theological Studies

Do you remember my paper on Ezekiel’s Gog of Magog delivered at the SBL international meeting in Seoul last July? I am happy to announce that it has passed the double-blind peer review of HTS Theologiese Studies/Theological Studies (ISI listed, South Africa based)!

One of the anonymous reviewers mistakenly considers me a male, referring to the author of the paper as “He.” But that is okay, as the same reviewer is very kind to say that the paper is an “excellent article” that “should be published.” Another anonymous reviewer comments that the paper is “well-informed” and “refined.”

In any case, writing this paper convinces me even more that biblical learning can often broaden our perspectives in looking at world events.

To whet your appetite to read the upcoming paper, I hereby include its abstract:

The most extensive descriptions of Gog and Magog in the Hebrew Bible appear in Ezekiel 38–39. At various stages of their political career, both Reagan and Bush have linked Gog and Magog to the bêtes noires of the United States, identifying them either as the ‘communistic and atheistic’ Russia or the ‘evil’ Iraq. Biblical scholars, however, seek to contextualize Gog of Magog in the historical literary setting of the ancient Israelites. Galambush identifies Gog in Ezekiel as a cipher for Nebuchadnezzar the Babylonian king, who acted as Judah’s oppressor in the sixth century BCE. More recently, Klein concludes that Gog, along with his companions, is ‘eine Personifikation aller Feinde, die Israel im Buch Ezechiel gegenüberstehen’. Despite their differences in detail, these scholars, like Reagan and Bush, work with a dualism that considers only the features of Judah’s enemies incorporated into Gog’s characteristics. Via an analysis of the semantic allusions, literary position, and early receptions of Ezekiel 38–39, this paper argues that Gog and his entourage primarily display literary attributes previously assigned to Judah’s political allies

Stay tuned! 😉

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P/S: My other academic papers are available for free download at http://nwu.academia.edu/LydiaLee

Resource: Bible Odyssey

Bible Odyssey – A fun and informative introduction to various aspects of biblical literature! You should really check out the articles/maps/videos composed and provided freely by experts on this amazing website run by Society of Biblical Literature 🙂 And I eagerly anticipate their writings on Ezekiel ~~

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Lecture: My First Teaching Day This Semester

Two days ago (on 23.10.2014), my excitement woke me up at 04.00. The chilling 6 degree Celcius could not damp or freeze my excitement. Having quickly climbed out of the warm bed, I reread the typed lecture notes over and over again. Just before my departure from home, I double-checked to make sure that the bibles, hand-outs, PowerPoints, computer, mouse, pens, sticky tapes and teaching cards were all lying safe and sound in my backpack. Then, I started my way slowly under the street lights to the university building where my first lesson in this semester was going to take place.

The whole building was lit up in warm yellow, there was one cleaner diligently mopping up at the entrance. Besides her, there was only me. I guessed I was the second living creature in the tall concrete building at that very moment. It was so quiet that I could feel my racing heartbeat as I climbed up the stairs. Once I was in the classroom, I quickly opened my computer, wrote some notes on the black board, stuck my teaching cards on the wall, positioned my bibles and hand-outs at the top right hand corner of the table, and patiently waited… The clock slowly but steadily struck eight and there was still not a shadow to be seen. I looked desperately out the window. The ash-grey sky showed no indication that the sun was rising. I began to wonder if there would be students willing to climb out of their warm blankets, to sit in one of the earliest classes in the university, and to listen to a novice teacher rambling about the book of Ezekiel. “If there’s no one to be seen at 08:30, I shall have a huge breakfast at ZHG,” I made up my mind. “Shall I have a croissant or a cake? Maybe I shall have a hot coffee with a strawberry cake,” I talked to myself.

Miracles did happen!!!

At 8:13, a “guten Morgen” rang suddenly from the entrance. Then the first student came in. A few followed suit. Oh! That was the best “guten Morgen” I had ever heard in years. And so in a small and cosy classroom, with the company of a few friendly students, I began my first teaching day in this semester! 🙂

An outline of my lecture plan:
08:00-08:30 introduction, practical matters
08:30-08:45 brainstorming about Ezekiel the prophet and Ezekiel the book
08:45-09:00 explain the problem in Ezekielian scholarship
09:00-09:15 sticking game to get us familiar with the different scholarly approaches
09:15-09:45 explain the different approaches to Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations

As seen from the above outline, I tried to alternate students’ activities (brainstorming and sticking game) with my own explanations. This was to enhance students’ participation in the classes.

What I had learned from the Cambridge CELTA (Certificate in English language Teaching to Adults, a course designed not so much to improve the quality of one’s English, as to polish one’s English-teaching ability) really came in handy during my preparation for the lesson. From this course, I learned that students can retain more of the learning materials when the teachers induce students’ own answers and opinions before giving out the standardized research. In other words, classroom interaction can enhance the learning ability of the students.

Therefore, prior to my explanation of the structure and content of the book of Ezekiel, I asked the students to brainstorm what they already knew about Ezekiel the prophet and Ezekiel the book. Later, I also prepared a sticking game to introduce the students to the different scholarly approaches to Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. I was afraid if I just read out my notes, they might have just fallen asleep in that early morning. So I cut out small pieces of paper, written with names of different commentators, with dates of their publications, with keywords/quotes from their hypotheses, and with biblical passages they used to justify their hypotheses. Then, the students read through these hints and decided which category of scholarly approaches these commentators belong to. Don’t you consider this to be a more creative way to introduce the scholars and their works?

Anyway, I am still learning how to teach the biblical texts more effectively. So if you know of any other methods to make learning the biblical texts fun, please send me your comments and suggestions! Hopefully there will still be students around in the second week, so then I can share further thoughts on teaching with you 😉