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

שלום לכולם!❤️

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


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

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


Resource: College de France Lecture on the Philistines by Aren Maeir

According to the biblical materials, the Philistines emerge primarily as an opponent, an archetype whom Israel should never emulate or get close to (see the multiple examples cited in P. Machinist, “Biblical Traditions: The Philistines and Israelite History,” in The Sea Peoples and Their World: A Reassessment [ed. E. D. Oren; Philadelphia: University of Pennysylvania Museum, 2000], 53-83, esp. 67-69).

But things can be a little bit more complicated from an archaeological point of view! In the stimulating lecture held at the College de France in paris on 25.02.2015, Prof. Aren Maeir shows us how entangled the Philistine culture can be with the Israelite and other cultures in the surrounding world. You can check out the lecture in the following video, which does remind me of my summer adventure at the 2013 Tel Burna archaeological excavation:

Three things from the video amaze me in particular:

1. On the basis of the ancient DNA tests, the Philistines were responsible for importing pigs from Europe into the Levant! (25:15 onwards)

2. There are oraganic residue of incenses from Sri Lanka in the Philistine Iron Age IIA chalices! (43:15 onwards)

3. Some Jerusalemites might have been attracted to the Philistine religion, such that a jar made in the Jerusalem area and inscribed with an Israelite name was found in a Philistine temple precinct! (51:38 onwards)

Interesting mixture of cultures, isn’t it? 🙂

Israel: Jerusalem of Gold (ירושׁלים שׁל זהב)

Last week was not my first time to visit the Old City in Jerusalem. Still, the city does not cease to enchant me with its timeless beauty…

Stepping on the well worn stones dated to the Roman period…


Being surrounded by the colorful scarves and blouses hanging out from the stalls…


Bumping into the traditional amidst the modern,



Exploring a road less trodden,



Finding a secret garden (Lutheran Hospice)…


Dozing off on the couch sprayed with the afternoon sunshine, listening to three different church bells harmonizing with each other…


Taking a deep breath of the religious atmosphere on Sabbath…


Being dazzled by millions of starry lights during the Jerusalem Light Festival which lit up the whole streets of the Old City,







At the end, finding myself humming slowly ירושׁלים שׁל זהב “Jerusalem of Gold,” a song I learned at the Ulpan in Jerusalem in 2008:

ירושלים של זהב
ושל נחושת ושל אור
הלא לכל שירייך
אני כינור…

Jerusalem of gold,
and of bronze, and of light
Behold I am a violin
for all your songs…


I wonder when will be the next time that I visit Jerusalem again?

Presentation: My Last Doctoral Colloquium

As promised in the previous post, I’m going to perform an experiment, sharing one brief overview of a 30 mins long paper entitled The Perfect Beauty of Tyre in Ezekiel 27: Anti-Jerusalem Temple Rhetoric. I presented this paper on 03.05.2013 for the DoKo (Doktorandenkolloquium) at the faculty of my university~ This post is also a way to summarize and commemorate my second and last DoKo presentation over the past three years! 🙂


In the whole book of Ezekiel, the combination of the terms כלל “to perfect, be complete” and יֹפה “to be beautiful” appears only in one oracle concerning Jerusalem and the Tyre oracles (27:3, 4, 11; cf. 28:12). Elsewhere in the whole of the Hebrew Bible, it appears only in relation to Jerusalem (Psalm 50:2, Lamentations 2:15; Ezekiel 16:14). This then raises an intriguing question concerning the comparability between Tyre and Jerusalem within this particular prophetic book.


I thus set out on a journey to discover the link of the Tyrian ship in Ezekiel 27 to Jerusalem in chapter 16 as well as in other passages in the Hebrew Bible. What surprises me is that the first section of Ezekiel 27 (vv.5-9) contains words that are used elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible mostly or only in reference to the sanctuary building contexts (E.g. the parallel of ברושׁים “cypress” and  ארז “cedar” in v.5, the קרשׁ “plank” in v.6, the ארגמן “purple” and תכלת “blue” in v.7, the חכמים “wise men” in vv.8-9; שׁשׁ “fine linen” and רקמה “embroidered cloth” in vv.7, 16, 24). The same can be said in regard to chapter 16, which narrates the abominable history of lady Jerusalem, but uses language at vv.9-14 that is comparable to the tabernacle building in the wilderness (language found mainly in P sources e.g. Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers). Such distinctive linguistic connections thus point me to the direction that the perfect beauty of Tyre in Ezekiel 27 is comparable at a synchronic level to the temple beauty of Jerusalem typified especially in Ezekiel 16.

Of special significance is the rhetorical impact of such linguistic connections might have in reading the glory and subsequent destruction of Tyre in the beautiful lament of Ezekiel 27. I therefore come up with 3 observations on how to evaluate such perfect beauty of Tyre in light of the shared language:

1. Following the lead of Greenberg who suggests the close connections of the perfect beauty among Ezekiel 27:3-4, 11; 16:14; Psalm 50:2; Lamentations 2:15, I further propose that the contexts of judgment in all four passages are one significant commonality.

2. The extensive trade list in the middle of the lament (27:12-25) has the literary effect of exalting the perfect beauty of Tyre to an unprecedented scope. That Jerusalem and the land of Israel are subsumed under the trade list (v. 17) creates further an effect that the manifestations of the temple beauty of Jerusalem is relativized through the pompous glory of Tyre.

3. The ultimate horrid destruction of Tyre by the east wind (vv.25b-36) is not comparable lingustically with the destruction of Jerusalem. Yet, taking the linguistic connections to Jerusalem temple imagery mentioned in the foregoing, and contextualizing the temple imagery within the book of Ezekiel, the negative and indifferent attitude toward Jerusalem temple is evident throughout various redactional layers of the prophetic book (e.g. the presence of Yahweh with the exile in Ezekiel 1; 11:14-16; the departure of Yahweh’s glory from Jerusalem in Ezekiel 8-11; the absence of the designation of Jerusalem/Zion in Ezekiel 40-48, etc.)

Given that Ezekiel 27 is sandwiched between Ezekiel 26:1 (with a chronological formula that alerts to the simultaneous siege of Jerusalem and Tyre by Nebuchadnezzar) and the climactic fall of Jerusalem envisioned in Ezekiel 33:21ff., it is only natural that the destruction of the Tyrian ship in Ezekiel 27 highlights the suspense of the fall of Jerusalem temple. It ascertains the doom of the First Temple and contains the anti-Jerusalem temple rhetoric: If Tyre with all her manifested glory cannot withstand the destruction of Yahweh, how much more can a small sanctuary like the Jerusalem Temple do!?


To conclude, I see an alignment between Tyre and Jerusalem in Ezekiel 27 that cannot be brushed aside too easily. Of course, the alignment is not the whole story of the oracles concerning the foreign nations in Ezekiel 25-32. Anyway, this brief overview is a summary of only a part of the chapter 2 of my dissertation. But before you claim such harsh and deconstructive message concerning Jerusalem temple as blasphemous, I’d like to leave you with the following thought from this small oracle concerning Tyre: The alignment between us and the others (or self-internalization) is probably the best first step to point us to the real difference between us and the others. Looking at what is being destroyed through a comparison with Tyre, we can then have a better understanding of what exactly is preserved for the relationship between Yahweh and the house of Israel to continue in Ezekiel.

Afterthoughts from my DoKo presentation:

Here I can be less technical to talk about this DoKo experience! 🙂

1. Not all professors were at my DoKo presentation. But the one who saw me present at OTSEM 2011 in Copenhagen (when I was still too simple and too naive in the academic field) was at this DoKo as well! He was kind enough to say that I’ve grown to a certain extent that I could defend my paper convincingly and said that it was an excellent paper! (Let me sincerely hope that he really meant what he said)

2. Really grateful to have a really awesome, lovely, supportive, encouraging respondent at my DoKo presentation! Can’t thank her enough to make me feel really comfortable and confident during the presentation of my paper (actually I was lucky enough to have really good respondents at both times of my DoKo presentations who gave super constructive criticisms and feedback to my paper!)

3. Got really useful comments, criticisms, encouragements and one big HUG during and after the discussion time!! They were kind enough to offer some compliments but also good enough to point out that I will still need to think more about my methodology of comparison: How to incorporate a diachronic approach to texts in a synchronic study? I do have some thoughts upon reading the books from Tooman and Levitt Kohn. Mmm… do you have any thoughts on this issue? If yes, please feel free to leave a comment at the bottom of this post or just email me ( I’d love to discuss this paper with you and look forward to your sharing of thoughts!


Phoenician ships transporting cedar logs depicted in a relief of one Assyrian palace

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