Announcement: Paper Accepted in Biblical Interpretation

15685152Do you still remember the Esther paper I presented at the SABS conference in Indonesia last July?

I am thrilled to announce that the paper was accepted for publication at theinnovative academic journal Biblical Interpretation: A Journal of Contemporary Approaches (Dutch-based) in January 2019. So far this is the article in which I have invested the most time and energy (research-wise and writing-wise). More than 18 months have past since its very first inception, it has touched on a number of sensitive issues on the scholarly interpretations of the book of Esther and naturally has attracted polarised reviews. I will be happy to share with you all its background story when it finally sees the light of day~ Stay tuned!🤓

Here is the abstract of my accepted article:

The present article seeks to describe, analyse, and evaluate the modern scholarly attempts to grapple with the moral issues about good and evil in the Hebrew Esther story. The first part of the article examines the anti-Semitic sentiments looming behind the pre-World War II European, especially the Protestant, commentators’ ethics assessments of the book of Esther and its Jewish characters, before pointing out a blind spot in these assessments. The second part of the article offers a systematic analysis of the gradual change of attitude induced mainly by the Jewish scholars in the aftermath of the Second World War. Lastly, the paper turns the spotlight on the Esther studies conducted by recent feminist and other marginalized biblical scholars. Attempts are made to demonstrate how their works, coming from different social contexts, enrich the academic discussions about the notion of good and evil in the book of Esther.

In the meantime, check out the other cutting-edge articles on the Biblical Interpretation website.

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


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”

Austria: Salzburg Carnival/Salzburger Fasnacht

The European history never ceases to surprise me. Based on the information presented at the museum of Schloss Hellbrunn. I found out how some 17th century Europeans entertained themselves with their animals. During the annual Salzburg Carnival, which incorporated elements from Venice,

1. bulls and bears were hunted to death.

2. geese were beheaded. According to the following placard, “[i]n 1613, members of the Court, on the horseback and armed with sabres, tried to cut the heads off suspended geese. In 1616, servants had to strike at geese blindfolded.”


3. pigs were beaten and slain in play. For a reconstructed scene, watch the video (attached above) at 00:36-01:20 and 02:17-02:30.

4. cats were trapped in boxes and their tails were tied to the keyboard to play the piano. To quote the placard for the following picture, “[t]his reconstruction shows a cat piano, an instrument that was used in the 1618 parade in Salzburg. There is no known pictorial representation from the 17th cnetury. Living cats were confined in boxes and their tails maltreated using a keyboard (piano) with sharp metal spikes. The ‘music’ threfore consisted of the howling of the cats.” For a reconstructed scene, watch the attached video at 02:56-03:26.


The commentator on the audioguide reminded us that our [I think he meant “the modern European”] standard toward the animals is different from the previous standard. I wonder since when the attitude change has begun in Europe.


Despite the aforementioned dark history, I am still impressed with the ingenious trick fountains at Schloss Hellbrunn. Human kindness and ingenuity sometimes just don’t march together, right? 😉

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:

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: Further publications by me can be viewed and downloaded here:;



Germany: Berlin, a City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present

Berlin, the capital city of modern Germany, has an intriguing history.

A. 1200-1400

The Slavs who originally inhabited the region called it berl “swamp,” which sounded similar to the German Bär “bear.” Coincidentally, the first Margrave of Brandenburg Albrecht I was nicknamed “the Bear.” Therefore, it is not surprisng that the image of a standing bear has found its way on the guild seal, signet ring and coat of arms of Berlin. And there are even quite a few life-size statues of Buddy Bears on Berlin streets and squares.


My dear brother cuddled with one of the Berlin Buddy Bears.

B. 1400-1918

In 1415 Friedrich I became the first from the Hohenzollern family to rule in Berlin. According to Wikipedia “History of Berlin”: “Subsequent members of the Hohenzollern family ruled in Berlin until 1918, first as electors of Brandenburg, then as kings of Prussia, and finally as German emperors.” Members of the royal Hohenzollern family are now buried in the Berliner Dom (Berlin Cathedral). This branch of the Hohenzollern family was Protestant, so the statutes of the four leaders of Reformation (i.e. Martin Luther, John Calvin, Philipp Melanchthon, and Huldrych Zwingli) loom large alongside the biblical reliefs and mosaics that decorate the walls, niches, and ceilings of the cathedral.

Berliner Dom

The glass windows behind the altar contain colorful depictions of the birth, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Standing on the two columns near the altar are the statues of Martin Luther and John Calvin. The reliefs above the arched niches are several scenes from the Acts of the Apostles. The mosaics on the ceilings of the four small niches are the images of the Four Evangelists. On top of the huge organ is a golden statue of David, who is traditionally thought to be the author of most of the Psalms.


The dome of the Berlin Cathedral depicts eight angels representing the eight Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-11): 1. Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 2. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. 3. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. 4. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. 5. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy. 6. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. 7. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God. 8. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

Since the eighteenth century, the European colonialism in the Middle East and their interests in the biblical stories have played a role in initiating the European studies of the ancient Near East. Therefore, do not be surprised by the vast amount of archaeological treasures collected from Egypt, Mesopotamia, Syria, and Anatolia in the Pergamonmuseum and Neues Museum on the Berlin Museum Island.

According to the museum brochure, the Ägyptisches Museum und Papyrussammlung in Neues Museum “chart the development of ancient Egyptian and Nubian cultures over a period of four millennia. Exhibits include images of royalty, burial chambers and the world-famous bust of Nefertiti from the Amarna Period. Texts covering a period extending from the ancient Egyptians to Late Antiquity are also on show.” During my visit to Neues Museum, the painted bust of Nefertiti could not be photographed, but I took a picture of the smaller stone statue of Nefertiti:


Standing-striding figure of Nefertiti (New Kingdom, 18th Dynasty, in 1345 BCE, Amarna, limestone)

According to another museum brochure, the Vorderasiatisches Museum in the Pergamonmuseum “presents artefacts from ancient Near Eastern cultural history from over 6 millennia, primarily from Mesopotamia, Syria and Anatolia. The approximately 500,000 artefacts were mainly obtained through German archaeological digs in Babylon, Assur, Uruk and Tell Halaf.” What has enticed my curiosity is the wide array of hybrid and winged creatures in the museum:

TOP: The Mushhushshu “dragon” is the symbol of the Babylonian city god Marduk, who has the head and body of a snake, the front legs of a lion, the hind legs of a bird and a scorpion’s sting in the tail (excerpt taken from the placard in front of the Ishtar Gate). MIDDLE: Apkallu griffin is a “wise man” or “sage.” Babylonian tradition says that there were seven Apkallu who lived at the beginning of time before the flood. They were sent by the god Ea to teach wisdom to humans. They are shown as humans with wings. Some have the head of a bird, while others don’t have wings and are dressed in the skin of a fish. They protected people and sometimes hold a bucket and cone for purifying (excerpt taken from BOTTOM: A Lamassu was a human-headed winged bull or lion. Huge sculptures of Lamassus guarded Assyrian palace doorways and city gates. They were there to frighten away the forces of chaos (excerpt taken from

C. 1918-1933

After World War I (1914-1918), the royal Hohenzollern family was overthrown and the Weimar Republic (1918-1933) was established. In 1931, the Prussian Prime Minister Otto Braun turned the Neue Wache, which had served as a guardhouse displaying the Prussian military might, into “die Gedächtnisstätte für die im Weltkrieg gefallenen Soldaten” (the Memorial site for the Fallen of the World War). Having a pacifist mindset, Braun said that the site was dedicated for those who had “sacrificed their blood in a way never before imagined in world history, and in a way, as we hope and as we will try to ensure, that the course of history will never call for again.” (excerpt taken from Prof. Harold Marcuse’s fine paper entitled “The National Memorial to the Victims of War and Tyranny: From Conflict to Consensus”). Then the Nazis came, added a crucifix to it, and renamed the memorial as “Reichsehrenmal.” The American tour guide told us that the Nazis’ adding of the crucifix was to exclude the fallen Jews during the World War I from being commemorated. It is absolutely horrifying! I consider myself to be a Christian, but if this nationalistic kind of Christianity is what we are talking about, then I want to have nothing to do with it! After World War II, under the influence of SED (the communist party who led the DDR [or GDR in English]), the memorial changed its name again to “Mahnmal für die Opfer des Faschismus und Militarismus” (Memorial for the Victims of Faschism and Militarism). Only now, the memorial has a more inclusive name – “Zentrale Gedenkstätte der Bundesrepublik Deutschland für die Opfer des Krieges und der Gewaltherrschaft” (Central Memorial of the Federal Repbulic of Germany to the Victims of War and Tyranny). Isn’t it interesting to see how the changing names of Neue Wache have reflected the changing politicians in power? Different people have different opinions of who they want to exclude or include.


History of Neue Wache in German. For more information in German, see also


History of Neue Wache in English. I was not able to take the picture of the English translation of the history, so this picture posted here is taken from (a great website for photos from around the world!)


Käthe Kollwitz’s Sculpture “Mother with Her Dead Son.” According to Prof. Harold Marcuse, the mother “is not merely mourning, she is filled with regret, with the wish to be able to do it over again differently.” See the history of the sculpture in

D. 1933-1945

This is the epoch of German history I am most intrigued by. When things are not going well for one group of people, they are often desperate enough to find a scapegoat/scapegoats to account for their misfortunes. They become blind to, intolerant of, and agitated with other opinions not in their favour. This is precisely what happened to the elected Nazis Government, which wanted to get rid of anything that “contaminated” the “more superior” German tradition. Under the slogan “Wider den undeutschen Geist” (Against the un-German spirit), the first big official Nazi book-burning took place in May 1933 at Bebelplatz. The aim was to cleanse Germany from the works of anti-nationalistic, jewish, and communist writers and scholars. For more information on this event, see (in German).


On the right is an explanation of the memorial in Bebelplatz: “On May 10, 1933, in the middle of this square, national socialist students burned the works composed by hundreds of free writers, journalists, philosophers, and scientists. ” On the left is a quote from Heinrich Heine, the German poet, writer and journalist: “That was only a prelude, there where they burn books, they burn in the end people. Heinrich Heine 1820.” Heine’s jewish descent and his radical political views caused many of his works being banned by German authorities.

And I must recommend the excellent Berlin’s Jewish Museum, which is home to a permanent collection of two millennia of German-Jewish history. I couldn’t take my eyes off from the following sign:


The sign reads: “Jews will not be served here.”

Reading this sign reminded me of the Chinese scholar Ji Xianlin (季羡林), who studied in Germany during 1935-1945. In Chapter Eight of his memoir “留德十年” (Ten years in Germany), he wrote:

根据法西斯圣经希特勒 《我的奋斗》,犹太人和中国人都被列为劣等民族,是人类文化的破坏者,而金黄头发的“北方人”,则被法西斯认为是优秀民族,是人类文化的创造者。。。不管怎样,中国人在法西斯眼中,反正是劣等民族,同犹太人成为难兄难弟。

This is my English translation:

According to Hitler’s fascist bible “Mein Kampf,” the Jews and Chinese were classified as the lower races, they were the destroyers of human cultures. On the other hand, the Aryans with their golden hair are considered to be the superior race – the creators of human cultures…Anyway, the Chinese, in the eyes of the Fascists, were the lower race, and were thus in the same boat as the Jews.

(Note: If you cannot read Chinese, but can understand German, there is a German translation of the book, freely downloadable in the following link:

Now you can understand why I really could not take my eyes off from the sign. It was as if the sign read: “The Chinese will not be served here.” Even though Ji Xianlin did not get sent to the concentration camp, but I am guessing this: If the Chinese were as influential as the Jews were in Europe at that time, the persecution and massacre would have befallen the Chinese as well.

Here is the commemoration of the victims of World War II in the museum:


According to the information provided by the museum: “The architect Daniel Libeskind created empty spaces in several parts of the building. These so-called voids extend vertically through the entire museum and represent the absence of Jews from German society. The Memory Void contains a work by the Israeli artist Menashe Kadishman, who calls his installation ‘Shalekhet,’ or ‘Fallen leaves.’ He has dedicated the over 10,000 faces covering the floor to all innocent victims of war and violence.”

According to the other museum placards that provide information about Nazi Germany, “new laws and regulations remove Jews from the public service – their admission to universities is greatly restricted and eventually banned altogether.” “In September 1935 the Nuremberg Laws divest Jews of important civil rights. The ‘law for the protection of German blood and honor’ forbids ‘mixed marriages’ and sexual relationships between Jews and ‘Aryans’. Jewish staff are removed from universities and Jews are banned from doctoral examinations.” Not surprisingly, some of the brightest people (e.g. Albert Einstein) left Germany. Where did they go? In addition to other well-known cities in the world, they sought refuge in Sydney and Shanghai!


The Axis of Exile in the Jewish Museum


Shanghai and Tel Aviv!

In fact, two short videos about the Israeli gratitude to Shanghai for providing refuge for the Jewish people during World War II came out last Wednesday. One of them features a short speech by the Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. Another portrays the Israelis happily waving their hand-written “谢谢” (Thank you) at the camera. How touching!

See the really cool youku videos here:

A short advertisement of the videos is available also in youtube:

At the end of the Axis of Exile is the Garden of Exile. According to the explanation in the Jewish Museum:

49 columns filled with earth are arranged in a square, standing vertically on a slanting floor. Olive willows grow out of the columns. The garden’s form – a square – is the only completely rectangular form in the building. “One feels a little bit sick walking though it. But it is accurate, because that is what perfect order feels like when you leave the history of Berlin” —- Daniel Libeskind


My dear brother in the Garden of Exile

Here is another commemoration of the Jewish victims of World War II in Berlin:


The Holocaust Memorial impresses me by its proximity to the Reichstag building. From the Holocaust Memroial, the Reichstag building is within 10-min walking distance.

E. 1945-1990

After World War II, Berlin became ground zero for hostilities between the USA and the USSR. In 1949, Germany was divided into two nation-states: die Bundesrepublik Deutschland (BRD) in the west, and die Deutsche Demokratische Republik (DDR) in the east. The former was controlled mainly by the USA, whereas the latter by the USSR. Due to the economic stagnation in the DDR, many young and well-educated East Germans fled to seek a better fortune in West Germany. In order to stop the flow of its own labour force into West Germany, the DDR built a wall all around West Berlin on 13 August 1961. The Berlin Wall became the most visible symbol of the Cold War.


During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between the East and West. For more information, see

Today, the DDR Museum near the Alexanderplatz takes the visitors back to East German times. The polished Trabant (nicknamed “Trabi”) inside the museum reminds me of the box-office smash hit “Goodbye Lenin!” (2003):


Trabant P601. One line on the placard of the Trabant caught my attention: “Er versprach ein wenig Freiheit in einem unfreien Land.” (It [the Trabant] promised a little bit of freedom in a restrained country).

The Stasi interrogation desk makes me think of the poignantly touching “Das Leben der Anderen” (2006), which paints the lives of the DDR civilians five years prior to the fall fo the Berlin Wall.


INTERROGATION You Will Talk! “Don’t worry, we have plenty of time”, said the interrogator repeatedly. The same questions for hours and the monotonous tapping of the typewriter. The remand prisoner was entirely helpless. Nothing to read, no visitors, no lawyer, sleep deprivation and strict isolation. The only person with whom he ever spoke was his interrogator. Prisoners often felt the need to get everything off their chest. In fact, this was part of the strategy which the Stasi men learned at the Stasi University of Postdam (excerpt taken from the placard of the museum).

Despite all the violations of human rights, I do find East Berlin’s invention of Ampelmann quite charming and even humanitarian. The Ampelmann was the East German pedestrian traffic light symbol designed to reduce traffic accidents. See the brief history in the following link:


The red Ampelmann means “stop” and the green Ampelmann means “go.”

On 9 November 1989, Günter Schabowski the political member of the ruling party of the DDR announced the DDR government’s decision that “travel abroad for private rasons may be unconditionally applied for.” Tens of thousands of East Germans enthusiastically rushed through border points in Berlin and elsewhere in the country. Both West and East Germans celebrated the fall of the Berlin Wall.


Graffiti on the remaining Berlin Wall at East Side Gallery

On 3 October 1990 the reunification of Germany was achieved without a single drop of blood, and an official ceremony was held at the Reichstag building.


Above the Reichstag building is the glass dome designed by Norman Foster. The dome symbolizes a transparent government. The visit of the dome is free of charge, but all have to book a visit in advance. For registration, see

F. Today

How seriously does Berlin today take its history?

I don’t understand all the complexities of Berlin’s history but I think I have found at least some answers inside the Neue Synagogue.

Within the Neue Synagogue, there is a special exhibition “Momente einer einzigartigen Beziehung: 50 Jahre Deutschland und Israel,” detailing some of the momentous events about the post-war relationship between Germany and Israel.


The placards in the exhibition:

IMG_2696[1]Here are some of the meaningful sentences cited on the placards:

  1. Israeli Ambassador Yakov Hadas-Handelsman

Germany and the Germans also face up to the past in their own interests – if not primarily in their own interests. One reason they are now in such a good postion in the world is because they have accepted the past and the memory of the past, and taken on responsibility. However, this does not mean that relations between the two countries are “normal”. They are not normal and they cannot be normal. Rather, they are unique. And this should also be the case in 100 years’ time (Tagesspiegel, 22 February 2015)

2. Foreign Minister Frank-Walter Steinmeier at the Opening Event in the German-Israeli Series of Readings and Discussions

Our relations will forever remain rooted in responsibility for the past. But on the broader basis of a present energised by the curiosity of younger generations, they are set to look even more keenly towards our shared future. (Berlin, 15 January 2015)

3. Federal Chancellor Gerhard Schröder Speaking to the German Bundestag

Let me put this unequivocally: Israel wll receive what it needs to preserve its security, and it will receive this when needed. But as a friend of israel, it is also our right and our duty to speak up openly and sometimes publicly. Without a comprehensive political settlement, one that must include the creation of a viable Palestinian state, there will be no permanent security for Israel and the region (25 April 2002).

4. Speech by Klaus Schütz, Mayor of Berlin, During a Visit by Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin

Berlin has always been a special place for the relationship between Jews and Germans. They lived here together for centuries, and together they made a large and unmistakable contribution of European intellectual life in Berlin. However, Berlin is also the place where the genocide of the Jews was planned, the place where the orders were given to annihilate the Jewish people. We in Berlin do not forget the past, as we firmly believe that our own chances of overcoming the difficulties of the present day and at the same time of being able to build a future in secure peace are only to be found in this remembering and in this awareness of the past. (9 July 1975)

Outside of the Synagogue, a group of German armed police dutifully guarded the Synagogue, possibly to prevent it from any possible terrorist attacks. On the wall near the entrance of the Synagogue is inscribed the following information:


My English Translation: 5 September 1966 – 5 September 1966 This Synagogue is 100 year old and was set on fire by the Nazis in the Night of Broken Glass. During the Second World War (1939-1945), it was destroyed by the bomb attack in 1943. The front section of this house of God should remain a site of warning and remembrance for all time. NEVER FORGET IT Jewish Community of Great Berlin The Board September 1966

One thing Berlin has taught me is perhaps this: To bravely embrace not only the good, but also the bad memory. Not for revenge, but for mutual growth.

Note of acknowledgment:

Many thanks to my dear brother  – Paul Lee – for paying me to be his tour guide during his stay in Berlin. All the above information are gathered from the excellent American tour guide in the Insider Tour, the informative local guide in the Berlin Cathedral, the detailed Lonely Planet “Germany,” and the picture history book entitled “Deutsche Geschichte: Von den Anfängen bis zur Gegenwart” written by Cornelia Fraz and Leo H. Strohm and illustrated by Kyra Stempell. I do not forget the many informative websites available on the internet. See my citations of them in the text. My way of collecting sources and telling the history reflect my own subjectives. It was also my first time to visit Berlin. So, if there is any error, omission, or distortion of facts, please do kindly inform me. Hope you enjoy reading this personal venture into the history of Berlin 😀

Israel: The History of Jerusalem in the Tower of David

ֹLocated at the entrance of the Jaffa Gate in Jerusalem, the Tower of David contains a highly recommended museum. Deploying a variety of illustrations, the museum narrates the transformation of Jerusalem from the Canaanite period (around 3200 BCE) to the time of the establishment of of the State of Israel (1948). What I have written below is cited and modified from the official website of the Tower of David Museum and from the explanatory placards during my visit of the museum in September 2008. All photos (unless otherwise stated) were taken by me.


According to the official website of the Tower of David Museum, the citadel has no connection to King David, and the modern name is a result of misinterpretations that can be traced back to the Byzantine period.

1. Canaanite Period (3200 BCE)

On the basis of one Egyptian Curse on Jerusalem (19th century BCE) and several clay tablets discovered from the Egyptian royal archive of Tel Al Amarna (14th century BCE), the earliest available names of Jerusalem seem to be Rusalimum and Urusalim, a Canaanite region under the patronage of the Egyptian pharaohs.

Canaanite Period (3200 BCE)

An Egyptian Curse on Jerusalem and a Letter from Jerusalem

A Goddess in Canaan: The depiction of the goddess shows strong Egyptian influence, typical of Canaanite art in this period. Gold-plague from Lachish, 13th century BCE. Enlarged Copy. Original on display at the Israel Museum, Jerusalem.

Abraham and the King of Jerusalem

Abraham and the King of Jerusalem: According to the biblical tradition, Abraham met with the king of Salem: “…Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine… and said, ‘Blessed be Abram by God Most High, maker of heaven and earth’ ” (Genesis 14:18-19) Stylized representation.

2. First Temple Period (1006 BCE)

According to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, King David “went to Jerusalem against the Jebusites, the inhabitants of the land” and “captured the stronghold of Zion, that is the city of David” (2 Samuel 5:6-10). His son and successor, Solomon, built the great First Temple (1 Kings 6:1-38).

Let me pause here for a moment and interpose one archaeological reference to David, which I found to be on display in the Israel Museum:

“House of David”: The ruins of Dan in northern Israel revealed a remarkable find: a fragment from a stone monument (stele) erected by King Hazael of Aram approximately 2,800 years ago. Victory monuments of this kind, in which a king ensured that his triumphs would be remembered by future generations, were common practice; what is unique about this fragment is its mention of the Davidic dynasty. In the inscription, written in Aramaic in the 9th century BCE in the same ancient script used for Hebrew at that time, Hazael boasts of killing seventy kings, including “Joram son of Ahab of lsrael”and “Ahaziah son of Joram, a king of the House of David (of Judah). This is the only archaeological evidence so far of the biblical king David.

The Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar came and destroyed the First Temple in 586 BCE. Most of the Jews were then exiled to Babylon. Beginning with the line “By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down and wept, when we remembered Zion,” Psalm 137 laments over the traumatic experience of the captivity. Interestingly, the experience “by the river Chebar among the exiles” also allowed Ezekiel, a prophet of priestly descent, to encounter the glorious visions of God (Ezekiel 1:1).

גלות בבל - The exile to Babylon

גלות בבל – The exile to Babylon

The unforgettable exile to Babylon is also retold beautifully and melancholically in the highly acclaimed Night Spectacular Show in the Tower of David. When night dawns, the walls of the Tower of David become the backdrop where the stories of Jerusalem come alive via a variety of visual and auditory wizardry. I have watched the show and will highly recommend it to anyone interested in the history of Jerusalem. For a preview, you can watch this official video on youtube:

3. Second Temple Period (515 BCE)

When the Persians overthrew the Babylonian empire in 538 BCE, Cyrus the conqueror allowed the Jews to return and reconstruct the Second Temple, which was completed in 515 BCE. According to the biblical account, Cyrus issued an edict:

Thus says Cyrus king of Persia, “The Lord, the God of heaven, has given me all the kingdoms of the earth, and He has appointed me to build Him a house in Jerusalem, which is in Judah. Whoever there is among you of all His people, may his God be with him! Let him go up to Jerusalem which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the Lord, the God of Israel; He is the God who is in Jerusalem. And every survivor, at whatever place he may live, let the men of that place support him with silver and gold, with goods and cattle, together with a freewill offering for the house of God which is in Jerusalem” (Ezra 1:2-4; cf. 6:2-5; 2 Chronicles 36:22-23).

In the Tower of David Museum, we have a replica of the Cyrus cylinder (the original is kept in the British Museum and is dated to around 538 BCE), which seems to confirm the rather open and benevolent attitude of Cyrus towards his varied foreign captives. Speaking of the Mesopotamia, Cyrus in the cuneiform cylinder declared:

Cyrus cylinder © Trustees of the British Museum

Cyrus cylinder © Trustees of the British Museum

… I returned the (images of) the gods to the sacred centers [on the other side of] the Tigris whose sanctuaries had been abandoned for a long time, and I let them dwell in eternal abodes. I gathered all their inhabitants and returned (to them) their dwellings. In addition, at the command of Marduk, the great lord, I settled in their habitations, in pleasing abodes, the gods of Sumer and Akkad, whom Nabonidus, to the anger of the lord of the gods, had brought into Babylon (cited in COS 2:315)

Subsequent years witnessed the rise of the Hellenistic power (332 BCE), the revolt of the Maccabees (167-160 BCE), the reign of the Hasmoneans (140-40 BCE),  and the march of the Romans into Jerusalem (63 BCE). Hostility had raged on between the Jews and the Romans under the rule of a series of procurators, until it came to a head in 70 CE, when the Jewish revolt led to the destruction of the Second Temple. The blazing desire for an independent Jewish state persisted even after then, and culminated in the Bar Kochba revolt (132-135 CE). This time, the Jews were banished from Jerusalem. The Emperor Hadrian razed the city and rebuilt it as Aelia Capitolina.

The Emperor Hadrian

The Emperor Hadrian: Hadrian, one of the most enlightened of the Roman emperors (117-138 CE), transformed Jerusalem into a Roman colony. It was called Aelia Capitolina, derived from his name (Publius Aelius Hadrianus) and that of Jupiter Capitolinus, the patron deity of the new colony. During Hadrian’s reign, all traces of Jewis life were erased from the city. Replica. Original on display in the Israel Museum Jerusalem.

4. Byzantine Period (324 CE)

Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire. St Helena, mother of the Emperor Constantine, visited Jerusalem in 326 CE, identified many sites as the Christian holy places, and sparked a prodigious amount of the building of churches and basilicas on these sites. One of the most notable outcomes of this building campaign is the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, which remains a popular attraction to many Christian pilgrims.

The Church of the Holy Sepulchre. Photo courtesy of a friend.

The courtyard of the Church of the Holy Sepulchre. I am the girl with the pink bag 🙂 Photo courtesy of Christopher Choi.

The church compound is believed to contain sites where Jesus was crucified, buried and resurrected. Different Christian communities (the Greek Orthodoxy, the Franciscans, the Armenian Apostolic Church)  strictly regulate their own usage of the common areas inside the church. Most interesting is the church’s enforcement of the Status Quo, under which, according to the Wikipedia, “no part of what is designated as common territory may be so much as rearranged without consent from all communities. This often leads to the neglect of badly needed repairs when the communities cannot come to an agreement among themselves about the final shape of a project.” Since none of the communities controls the main entrance, two Muslim families have been entrusted to hold the keys of the church, a tradition that can be traced back to 1187. You can check out the story of the key here. If you look closely at the photo taken above, you will observe a ladder standing on the cornice in front of a window. This famed “immovable ladder” testifies to another insteresting case generated by the Status Quo within the church. For the history of this ladder, check out this comprehensive article here.

5. My brain became so overwhelmed with the information absorbed at this point of my visit that I did not take any more pictures during my tour of the other corners of the museum, which displayed the history of Jerusalem in the Muslim Period (638 BCE), the Crusader Period (1099 CE), the Ayyubid Period (1187 CE), the Mamluk Period (1260 CE), the Ottoman Period (1517 CE) and the British rule (1917 CE). Luckily, brief summaries of the periods can be found in the official website of the Tower of David Museum. So I won’t repeat them here again. The only thing I wish to point out is that Jerusalem in modern Arabic is called al-Quds, a name derived from Bayt al-Maqdis, Bayt al-Muqaddas (בית המקדשׁ in Hebrew, “The House of the Holy” in English) that can be traced to the 9th century CE.

Having gone through all these stories of Jerusalem from different historical periods, I am reminded of one playful poem of Yehuda Amichai:

העיר משׂחקת מחבואים בין שׁמותיה

ירושׁלים, אל־קודס, שׁלם, גˊרו, ירו

לוחשׁת: יבוס, יבוס, יבוס, בחשׁכה

בוכה בגעגועים: אליה קפיטולינה, אליה, אליה

היא באה אל כל אחד הקורא לה בלילה לבדו.

אך אנו יודעים מי בא אל מי

The city plays hide-and-seek among her names:

Yerushalayim, al-Quds, Salem, Jeru, Yeru,

Whispering [her first, Jebusite name]: Yevus, Yevus, Yevus, in the dark.

She weeps with longing: Aelia Capitolina, Aelia, Aelia.

She comes to anyone who calls her at night, alone.

But we know who comes to whom.

Last Updated: 17th June 2017