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. 🙂

 

 

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

News: Peter Enns on Jon Stewart’s Quasi-Prophetic Role

Jon Stewart could not come up with any jokes when commenting on Charleston Church shooting.

Peter Enns made a poignant connection here between Jon Stewart and the biblical prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

What these two men have said and written reveal honest reflections, and there are a lot for us to think about and act upon.

Lecture: The Happy Ending in the Winter Semester 2014/2015

As a preamble to one of the last few lessons of the Hebrew tutorial I led on Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations (OAN), I showed the students the following anecdote (excerpt taken from http://tragicfarce.com/2012/09/06/gog-and-magog-are-at-work-in-the-middle-east-bush-told-chirac/):

But before Chirac could elaborate on that point, Bush veered into another direction.

“Jacques,” he said, “You and I share a common faith. You’re Roman Catholic, I’m Methodist, but we are both Christians committed to the teachings of the Bible. We share one common Lord”

Chirac said nothing. He didn’t know where Bush was going with this.

“Gog and Magog are at work in the Middle East,” Bush said. ‘’Biblical prophecies are being fulfilled.”

Gog and Magog? What was that?, thought Chirac.

“This confrontation,” Bush said, “is willed by God, who wants to use this conflict to erase his people’s enemies before a new age begins.”

Chirac was bewildered. The American president, he thought, sounded dangerously fanatical.

After the call ended, Chirac called together his senior staff members and relayed the conversation.

“He said, ‘Gog and Magog.’ Do any of you know what he is talking about?”

Blank faces and head shakes.

“Find out,” Chirac said.

Well, guess whom the French government contacted to find out who Gog is? Just so you know, Gog appears quite prominently in Ezekiel 38-39. From what I gathered from the web, the government had got in touch with one biblical professor teaching in France and Switzerland. And I was lucky enough to meet this kind professor once when I was presenting a paper at a graduate meeting. But that is not the point of showing this anecdote! The point is that the biblical literature plays a vital role in the Western religion, culture and politics, which, for better or worse, can inevitably bear immense influence on the Eastern world. As this excerpt reflects, having an appropriate understanding of the OAN matters,and it can even become a matter of life and death!

Of course, the Hebrew tutorial was not much concerned with modern-day politics, but focused on the textual translations and analyses of the relevant biblical texts. The last Hebrew lesson took place on 05.02.2015. At the end, the number of students who persevered in getting up early and attending the class at 08:15 every Thursday morning in the freezing winter dropped from a few to TWO! The remaining two were one sweet German girl and one handsome Swiss guy! To be honest, even if there were some visiting students in the class from time to time, the amount of students in this tutorial, which required Hebrew as a prerequisite, could not be compared with the considerably higher amount of people attending the “Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament” I once co-led in the Chinese Christian Congregation in Göttingen (one lecture from the latter can be glimpsed here). A few semesters ago, six research members and I also co-taught one advanced seminar course belonging to the same faculty at the same university. There were seven of us, and the number of students who showed up at the end of that course amounted to three. In light of this, I was extremely happy and grateful when there were still two precious students at the end of this tutorial. Yep, I am an easily satisfied person 🙂

Before the last tutorial, I wrote the admin an email and asked for the evaluation forms for the students to fill out. The admin replied that “das Fach ‘Altes Testament’ wird in diesem Semester nicht evaluiert.” So I decided to make my very own evaluation forms for the students. Here they are:

IMG_2090IMG_2096I did enjoy every moment of my teaching last semester. Not that I did everything perfectly. The students were kind enough to only mention two areas of future improvement. First, as mentioned by one of the students, I have to act more effectively with time. The tutorial was supposed to run from 08:15 to 09:45. I was always in the class before 08:15, but then I tended to get too excited with the students, so that I usually ended the class at 10:00 instead of at 09:45. This could be inconvenient for the students who wished to rush to the next class which began at 10:15. So I need to learn to stick to the schedule in the future. Second, as mentioned by another student, it was really easy for me to fall into the trap to quickly give out answers after I had gathered one student’s opinion and before another student could step in to offer his/her opinions. I am thinking that maybe counting from 1 to 20 silently during the interval is a good way to allow more students to think deeply and gather the courage to voice out their opinions.

That said, the students also gave me some real encouragements in the feedback forms! Nothing thrilled me more than the students who had found my way of teaching Ezekiel interesting. I was so glad that I could help them understand this “crazy ” prophet a bit more! 🙂 Well, the two diligent students liked the way Hebrew and the history of research were taught in the tutorial. You know, it was really awesome to find students who were patient and persistent enough to dig deeper into this technical stuff. Apparently, I was good at creating cosy and comfortable classroom atmosphere. Despite my occasional eagerness to dominate the classroom discussions, I also actively involved the students in the discussions. And I also gave good library/learning advice and showed them that there’s a bigger world outside the lectures.  All in all, their feedback did brighten up my days! It was really fun getting to know you guys! And hope that you will all go very far in this field of study ~~~

Please forgive me to do this last show off. One of the students later told me that myIMG_2100 tutorial was one of the best in the last semester. And another gave me one delicious Swiss chocolate as a token of gratitude! So delicious was it that I ate up the whole chocolate but forgot to take to take a picture of it 😦 Can you believe it? I forgot to take the picture of the chocolate!!! I only remember that there was a swiss flag on it, but It was a really awesome chocolate. In order to commit it to my memory, I decided to “historically reconstruct” it on a piece of paper. 😉 Here is the “historical reconstruction” >>>

Lastly, to my future employer, I am still preparing myself to be a great teacher in the future. When the time comes, when I am ready to knock on your door and ask you to offer me a job, please do take into consideration what I have shared above, ok? 😉

Lecture: I Love Teaching!

Time flies! Can you believe that we’ve already passed the 9th week of this semester?! After the Christmas break, there’ll be 5 more lessons until I finish leading the course on Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations at the University of Göttingen. A few students and I, despite some initial struggles, still commit ourselves to climbing out of the warm beds and attending the class every Thursday morning at 08:15, and surely we’ve been rewarded with some fun in the class 😉 Here’s a summary of what we’ve done so far:

1. In week 2, we went through the ancient historiography relevant to the literary setting of the book of Ezekiel. Before the class, I cut out pieces of paper, on which were written relevant chapters and verses of biblical passages. In the class, the students rummaged through their bibles until they located those passages, and worked out what these texts were about. With several other quotes from extra-biblical sources, the students then rearranged the papers in a relative chronology and reconstructed the history of each foreign nation, taking into consideration the nation’s relation with Judah at the same time. After the students had presented the outcome on board, I then explained the history of each nation in more detail. This exercise, in my opinion, is a good way to get the students work closely with the primary sources. In this way, the teacher occupies less space to hand down year numbers, debates, facts and conclusions in a limited time span and opens more space for students to work out the inner logic of the data themselves. Here come the future historians! 🙂

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This is the history of the foreign nations that the students have reconstructed 🙂 In hindsight, I realize that I should have cut the pieces of papers in a bigger size, so that the words on the paper could be more clearly seen. Anyway, we were a small tutorial, so I ended up gathering the students around me and explained the history to them.

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This is our cookie box! Isn’t it lovely? 🙂

2. For the rest of the weeks, we went through, in Hebrew, small but critical samples of Ezekiel’s oracles against the nations. As a Hebrew tutorial, all the students are expected to have some basic knowledge of Hebrew. At the beginning of each lesson, I passed around a cookie box, the fun use of which I had learned from my Akkadian teacher at Göttingen. Inside the box, there were tiny pieces of paper, on which different Hebrew words danced around. Each student picked out one Hebrew word from the box, and parsed it on the board. This activity allowed me to gauge if the students had prepared for the assigned translations. Of course, I did not leave them without some parsing tools. From my Hebrew teachers at the University of Sydney, I had inherited the following useful diagram, which succinctly sums up all the necessary grammatical components of a Hebrew noun or verb, and which helps with the parsing of Hebrew words:

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Just focus on the bubbles and the branches on the board. They are a summary of the grammatical parts of a Hebrew verb and a Hebrew noun. Please disregard the boxes and other hebrew words, which were some stuff I wrote to explain the Tyre oracles.


Having done the parsing of several difficult words, we then sat close together and translated the selected Hebrew passages. Taking turn, each of us read and translated the Hebrew verses. The students were allowed to translate the passages into German or English. Sometimes, just for fun, some students even offered a particular translation in either French or Chinese. Isn’t it interesting that the bible can be translated into so many modern languages?! The tricky part was to explain the many peculiarities and irregularities in the Hebrew texts. Once, we encountered a Hebrew word that could have three different basic meanings. At another time, we bumped into one term that provided gaps for other textual emendations. From the literary contexts of the target passages, we had to explore, examine and work out the validity of various translations. The biblical texts kept propelling both the students and me to move beyond our own experiences and limitations, and introduced us to a larger world of knowledge.

3. In the second part of each lesson, we moved onto the discussion questions. 7 days before each lesson, I sent the students the assigned readings and relevant discussion questions. With some preparations at home, the students came forth more easily and courageously to contribute to the discussions in class. In this part of the lesson, I was delighted to observe that the students became animated, offering insights that generated and multiplied dialogues within the class. To encourage the students to link the biblical texts with the wider world, we once watched and discussed two movie clips from the black comedy crime film ‘Pulp Fiction’ directed by Quentin Tarantino (Beware of strong language):

The two scenes in the movie gave an interesting rendition of Ezekiel 25:17. We attempted to compare and contrast the biblical and the cinematographic renditions of Ezekiel 25:17. The adrenaline-filled scenes, I think, gave just enough doses of stimulants to make us reflect on the message embedded in Ezekiel 25 more deeply. Just before the winter break, we even held a Christmas quiz, going through what we had learned in the semester so far through Q&A!

At the beginning of the semester, I was riddled with fear and uncertainties about my upcoming live encounter with the students. ‘What if there are not enough students?’ ‘What if I stutter so often that the students can’t understand the message that I’m trying to convey?’ ‘What if my questions are met with a stony silence?’ There were a lot of ‘what ifs’ swimming through my mind. As the semester unfolds, the passion for the subject of study and the encouragement from a few students seem to dissolve my fear bits by bits. And of course, there’re still 5 more weeks to go, let us then be patient toward the unsolved and gradually live into the answer.

Recommended reading:

I am really grateful for my senior pastor’s recommendation of this book titled The Courage to Teach:Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life by Parker J. Palmer, which helps me reflect on my teaching experience. I bought the electronic version of the book, and the normal cover of the book is displayed on the right. In the first part of the book (chapters 1-3), Palmer stresses that our obsession with teaching technique, objective knowledge and the powers of intellect must also be balanced by a focus on the teacher’s self-knowledge, subjective engagement and the powers of emotions. The second part of the book (chapters 4-6) goes on to explore ways for teachers to relate and connect with the community in education. What I really like is his citation from Robert Frost’s poetry: ‘We dance around in a ring and suppose,/But the Secret sits in the middle and knows.’ It helps to paint an imgery of the kind of classroom I want to be in. It reminds me that I am like the students, in that we are all seekers, sitting in a ring, and striving very hard to approach the Secret/the Subject of Study that ‘sits in the middle and knows’.

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 😉

Announcement: Saying Hello to a New Semester!

Hallo zusammen!

To all students at the University of Göttingen, I volunteer to teach Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations (chapters 25-32) in this coming semester (WiSe 2014/2015). For more details, you can check out this link on UniVZ.

The "official" German ad about my course that I have written and stuck on the notice boards of the theological faculty :)

The “official” German ad about my course that I have written and stuck on the notice boards of the theological faculty 🙂

Yes, it is about my recently defended thesis 🙂

For practical reason, the classes will be cancelled if there are no more than five students for each class in the first two weeks… How cruel! ;-p

So I’m going to do a bit of promotion about this course. This promotion is also to assure you that die Übungsleiterin is NOT an alien monster, a runaway fugitive or a bloody murderer. In what follows, I will introduce myself and the genesis of my interest in Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations. This introduction is going to act like a CV, except that it is going to be in the form of a narrative, and except that it is going to be very long, like in a series! Anyway, Adam Fletcher’s hilarious How to be German/Wie Man Deutscher wird has already told us, a German CV has to be “a giant document, death by minutiae.” I am just trying to fit into this flow of German tradition.

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A fun little book that is one of the “Spiegel” bestsellers.

“Wait,” you will ask. “Shouldn’t your scholarship be separated from your personal life? Why should we bother to understand your past in order to understand your work? After all, it has to be totally objective, isn’t it?”

“Sorry,” I will stare at you puzzlingly. “I don’t understand your question. What does objectivity really mean to you?” Once I watched a BBC programme about interior design. Depending on the colour, lighting, texture, pattern and furniture arrangement in a single room, our eyes can actually be brought to perceive the dimensions of the same room in different terms. In an analogous way, depending on our external experience and lived environments, we are disposed to perceive the biblical texts in different ways. The way we gather the textual evidence and the way we make up a set of criteria to evaluate our evidence all reflect subjectivity. What makes true scholars different from the other amateurs, in my opinion, is their willingness to explore, gather, discuss, argue and criticise the opinions of the others or even of themselves. That means, a scholar’s work represents not a total objectivity but rather a more informed subjectivity. To say one’s position as totally devoid of personal Tendenz, it seems to me, is a rather presumptive claim.

So, if you are interested in my viewpoint on Ezekiel 25-32, why don’t you spend some time to get to know the behind-the-scene stories? I will try to be transparent and honest as much as possible. Hopefully I can show you why I just can’t get enough of Ezekiel 25-32, even after four and a half years since I have written down my doctoral research proposal. This is also a reply to all those people I have kept bumping into in the previous years, who have remarked: Why can’t you just focus on the famous visions of Ezekiel? How do the Oracles against Nations have to do with anything?

Just one more thing about the structure of the following series. The reason that I am drawn to Ezekiel’s Oracles against the Nations is due to the fascinating concept of “nations.” My perspectives to the texts are indelibly shaped by my study and living experience in several nations that I have stayed in for a relatively longer period (at least for more than six months). In what follows, I will divide and categorize my stories chronologically, covering Malaysia, Australia, Israel/Middle East and Germany. Just bear in mind, I am not going to tackle the comprehensive history of each nation, which belongs to the task of professional historians. Even though some “official” historical events might shed light on my experience, the stories predominantly remain my own first-hand encounters and reflections.

Here come my stories…