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! 馃檪

Problem:

In the whole book of Ezekiel, the combination of the terms 讻诇诇 “to perfect, be complete” and 讬止驻讛 “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.

Overview:

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 讘专讜砖讈讬诐 “cypress” and聽 讗专讝 “cedar” in v.5, the 拽专砖讈 “plank” in v.6, the 讗专讙诪谉 “purple” and 转讻诇转 “blue” in v.7, the 讞讻诪讬诐 “wise men” in vv.8-9; 砖讈砖讈 “fine linen” and 专拽诪讛 “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!?

Conclusion:

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! 馃檪

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 (qtcoconut@hotmail.com). I’d love to discuss this paper with you and look forward to your sharing of thoughts!

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

Lecture: Ezekiel’s My Cup of Tea!

Note: Here is an excerpt from a lecture I presented on 23.12.2012 in the Sunday School of my church (Goettingen Chinese Christian Congregation). I am most grateful to the senior pastor and his wife for having allowed me to co-teach this ongoing lecture series on Introduction to the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. By their own examples, both of them have shown me what great teachers could be like! And I heartily thank my brothers and sisters in the fellowship for their genuine interest and laughter in listening to this lecture. The original version is in Chinese Mandarin and the following excerpt is only a small part of the original lecture and has been greatly expanded and modified considerably. I try to be more detailed yet not technical to fit it into a blog context. 馃檪

Introduction

During these few years in Germany, my parents and some of my close friends frequently ask if I have found somebody to fall in love with (I guess it鈥檚 a question fair enough for my age). And of course, in the most romantic continent in the world 鈥 Europe, I have fallen in love! And I have fallen in love with — the prophet Ezekiel!! 馃榾 Our dating place is either in the office or in the library. At first, I was struggling with my choices between Isaiah or Jeremiah. But right now, I know my Mr. Right should be Ezekiel! 馃槈

Ok, now you might think that I am crazy! How can I fall in love with someone who no longer (or never, as from a lecture I heard in the Doktorandenkolloquium two semesters ago) exists?! Some say that all we know about the prophets are from the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament and that only very little from the books were written by the prophets themselves (Think about B. Duhm鈥檚 proposal that there were 3 Isaiahs! He also happened to think that only less than a quarter of the book of Jeremiah had been written by the 鈥渁uthentic鈥 Jeremiah! Another person, H枚lscher, thought that only a few per cents of the verses belonged to the 鈥渞eal鈥 Ezekiel, etc鈥) Well, just for the moment, I don鈥檛 care!聽 For me, even if the whole of the book was not written by any of these prophets, the Bible still presents them in a way that they exist. And even if they were not responsible to write the whole of the books, these prophetic books, in my opinion, can still be used to reflect the characteristics of the prophets as configured or imagined by later editors. Anyway, one鈥檚 identity, in my opinion, is always constructed by oneself as well as defined and influenced by others. The question, as always, is how to draw the boundary. Between historical reality and literary texts. Between self and others. Between the biblical canon and other literary materials. Let me for once loosen that boundary to draw from a wide range of literary sources, and I will use my own 鈥渓iterary imagination鈥 to (re)construct what I know of these three prophets. Then I will tell you why Ezekiel is my beloved.

Isaiah

To know the best of Ezekiel, you really need to compare him with Isaiah. As the name of Isaiah (which means 鈥淕od is salvation鈥 in Hebrew) suggests, you can be pretty sure that Isaiah is a smooth-talking guy who knows how to chat in a way that makes everyone happy. Looking at his book, one finds a lot of beautiful poetic speeches. You will rarely find action-orientated prose accounts (exceptions include Isaiah 7-8 and 36-39). Hence you know that his job is just to talk. He can talk about anything from heavens to earth, from the creation to the end, covering the major historical periods from Assyria, Babylon, to Persia. While he seems to be very open-minded, trying to share the blessings of Israel on par with both Egypt and Assyria (cf. Isaiah 19:23-24), he can also stab the Gentiles behind their back in front of the king of Judah (cf. Isaiah 37:29). Recent biblical scholars also question if the texts from Deutero-Isaiah are really that universalistic in our modern sense (cf. Isaiah 49:23, 26). You can never be sure whether Isaiah means what he says. But precisely due to his skills as a smooth-talker, he wins the heart of every generation of humanity thereafter (He reminds me of S眉skind鈥檚 protagonist who possesses the magical perfume to win the love of everyone). You can find the references to him in the HB/OT: 2 Kings 18-20; 2 Chronicles 32:32; Sirach 48:17-23. In the discoveries at Qumran, his prophetic book was the third most attested book with 20 scrolls after the Psalms and Deuteronomy. After the Psalter, his book is the most cited HB/OT book in the New Testament. Not only the Christians like him, but also the Jews regard him as of noble lineage, related to King David (b. Sotah 10b; b. Megillah 10b; cf. Leviticus Rabbah 6:6); he allegedly became the father-in-law of King Hezekiah (b. Berakot 10a). He is particularly respected for the vision described in Isaiah 6, sometimes leading the rabbis to place him on the same level as Moses (cf. Deuteronomy Rabbah 2:4). Given his popularity, you can understand why Michelangelo painted him most handsomely in comparison to the other HB/OT prophets in the Sistine Chapel:

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If Isaiah were my boyfriend, a possible conversation between us would run like this:

Lydia: Will you love me forever? If I fall into the ocean and nearly get drown, will you jump in to save me?

Isaiah: Of course, honey! You are my love, my sunshine, my everything! I will risk everything for you. (And you will never know that he has repeated every single word to another beauty from Egypt or Assyria!)

Jeremiah

To know the strength of Ezekiel, you have to compare him with Jeremiah. The real meaning of Jeremiah is “God exalts”, from the root 专讜诐, 鈥渢o exalt鈥. But somehow, I always confuse the name with another root 专讞诐, which means 鈥渢o have compassion鈥. This is probably because I deem this prophet to be the most compassionate one. Yet, he can be an annoyance to some. He can ramble and ramble and ramble on due to his emotional or physical plights. Next to the book of Psalms, his book is the second longest book in the Bible in terms of verses and words. That is probably why the structure of the book has been considered for a long time to be incomprehensible or illogical. Just try to do a comparison between the Hebrew Masoretic Text and the Greek Septuagint version of the book of Jeremiah, you can see how confused the prophet really is. The Greek version has less than 3000 words than the Hebrew version. Furthermore, the oracles concerning the nations at the end of the Hebrew version (chapters 46-51) have been moved to the middle after chapter 25 in the Greek version. And the internal arrangement of the oracles concerning the nations is also different in both versions. The confused mind of the prophet is understandable, since he has witnessed the upcoming destruction and exile of his beloved people to a foreign land. But, personally, I cannot stand myself or any other for flashing their pains and distraught continuously. Thus it is almost unbearable for me to find a lot of laments and complaints (Jeremiah 11:18-12:6; 15:10-21; 17:14-18; 18:18-23; 20:7-13); a lot of tears and torments (14:19-22; 4:19; 8:18-9:1; 9:10, 17-19; 10:19; 12:7; 13:17; 14:17; 20:14-18; 23:9), a lot of plots and persecutions (26:10-19; 36:26; 37:11-38:6). Come on, you are a man, right?! Apparently such a melodramatic man is also very popular like Isaiah. Within the HB/OT, you can find the reference to this weeping prophet in 2 Chronicles 35:25. The tradition is extended by the Septuagint鈥檚 preface to Lamentations 1:1, which ascribes the book to Jeremiah. In the Second Temple literature, the so-called Paralipomena of Jeremiah and the Epistle of Jeremiah are traced back to Jeremiah. The prophet’s concept of a new covenant also finds its way into the New Testament. The use of Jeremiah 31:31-34 in Hebrews 8:8-12 is the longest continuous quotation of the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament in the New. If I were a painter for Jeremiah, I would probably paint him as 椹櫙娑, a Taiwanese TV star who often appears in the melodramatic soap dramas in this way:

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If Jeremiah were my boyfriend, our conversation would probably go like this:

Lydia: Will you love me forever? If I fall into the ocean and nearly get drown, will you jump in to save me?

Jeremiah: Why!!?? How can you die聽 without me???!!! I will never let you leave me!!

Having suffered a nervous breakdown, he would probably roll in ahes, growl and cry on the ground. And I would be SO guilty to have started this conversation at all and would sheepishly go away鈥

Ezekiel

I love his name, which means 鈥淕od will strengthen鈥! From the name itself, we already know that he is a strong-minded person. In contrast to Isaiah, he doesn鈥檛 have very elegant speeches in the book. Of priestly descent, he is probably a practical person due to cultic demands. Therefore he will have less time to talk and more time to act. It probably doesn鈥檛 make much of a difference to Ezekiel鈥檚 daily activity when God actually shuts the prophet鈥檚 mouth up in 3:26 and only opens his mouth when God wants him to talk of the divine words. When Ezekiel speaks, he speaks earnestly and speaks only God鈥檚 words. Therefore you will find a lot of repetitive formulae throughout his prophetic book, e.g. the divine messenger formula (鈥渢hus says Yahweh鈥) or the word-event formula (鈥渨hen the word of the Lord came to me saying鈥). Different from Jeremiah, Ezekiel probably has a better logic and better organizing skills. Therefore, when I read his book, I feel like I am reading a diary. You can find a quite ordered chronological series (1:1-2; [3:16]; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 26:1; 29:1, 17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1, 17; 33:21; 40:1). The clear outline makes one biblical scholar to make the following comment: 鈥淭he book of Ezekiel is widely and correctly considered the most tightly structured prophetic book of the Old Testament.鈥 (See Konrad Schmid, 鈥淭he Book聽of Ezekiel,鈥 in鈥淭he Book of Ezekiel,鈥 in T&T Clark Handbook of the Old Testament [ed.J. C.Gertz et al.; trans. J. Adams-Ma脽mann; New York: T&T Clark International, 2012], 452.)

His not complaining or crying does not mean that he suffers less than Jeremiah. I think he is truly manly. Think about it: Having been deported forcefully from the home country to a foreign land 鈥 Babylon, he lives in that foreign land until his death. God worries about him and tells him repeatedly that he is going to meet some trouble makers 鈥 the rebellious Judahites (Ezekiel 3:8). Unlike Jeremiah, Ezekiel does not complain too much about these people. We only see a bit of his complaints in Ezekiel 20:49. God asks him to eat dung, he only bargains a bit then he follows the instruction silently (Ezekiel 4). He is not afraid of those evil doers. Regardless of the hierarchy, he dares to challenge and compare the whole inhabitants of Jerusalem to worse-than-prostitutes (Ezekiel 16, 23).聽 Even though there are many prophets who have also compared Jerusalem or Israel to prostitutes, Ezekiel contains the longest and the most piercing, elaborate, detailed depictions of those hypocrites. When God takes away Ezekiel鈥檚 desire of the eye 鈥 his wife, and commands the prophet not to cry, Ezekiel really does not cry (24:16-18). Truly manly! A lot of his thoughts probably do not go well with the traditions. According to the Talmudic tradition, Rabbi Hananiah ben Hezekiah, a sage of the first century BCE, consumed what at the time was considered to be an impressive amount of three hundred jars of oil while he attempted to explain the difficult passages of the Book of Ezekiel (b. Sabbath 13b; Hagigah 13a). Such a man with principles and own thoughts definitely makes others dislike him. Thus in the Lives of the Prophets from c. 1st century CE, we read, 鈥淗e died in the Land of the Chaldeans during the Captivity鈥he ruler of the people of Israel killed him there as he was being reproved by him concerning the worship of idols.鈥 How tragic! In contrast to the popularity of Isaiah and Jeremiah, the New Testament never names or quotes the prophet Ezekiel directly, even though the book of Revelation in particular seems to have been influenced significantly by Ezekiel. A pseudo-Ezekiel text is found at Qumran, albeit only fragment remains. A man who is not recognized until/after his death, how lonely!

I am imagining how it is like to be a girlfriend of Ezekiel. If there is a trouble maker coming up to us and ask Ezekiel: How could you like a girl like Lydia!? I think Ezekiel would look haughtily at that trouble maker and respond: I just like her! That鈥檚 none of your business!

And if I ask him the same question:

Lydia: Will you love me forever? If I fall into the ocean and nearly get drown, will you jump in to save me?

Ezekiel will stop whatever he is doing, he will look me deep into the eyes and will tell me: 鈥淵ou know my feelings for you.鈥 The he will go back to his work at hand 鈥 trying to correct the measurements of the house that he is going to build for me! I think God probably also likes Ezekiel as a man of action. Otherwise, God won鈥檛 ask him to write down the detailed measurements of the gigantic New Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. If I were to die, I don鈥檛 need Ezekiel to cry for me. I just need to know that his heart will bleed for me, that will be enough.

If I have the choice, I will make the diplomatic Isaiah my acquaintance, the compassionate Jeremiah my friend and the strong-minded Ezekiel my beloved.

Why do I write out this piece? First, I think it is fun to read and integrate what I’ve learned about the prophetic books in a fun way to share it around. Second, the more I think about the differences of the prophets, the more I have the awe for God, the Master. Despite their varied personalities, God seems to win the hearts of all of these men totally and overwhelmingly. Thus I think the true heart of Isaiah lies in God when the prophet proclaims God to be the one and the only (cf. Isaiah 44:6; Isaiah 45:5, etc.); I think Jeremiah is still compelled to speak God鈥檚 burning words despite his crying unwillingness or bitterness (cf. Jeremiah 20:9). And the fearless and stubborn Ezekiel shows the obedience to his Master by eating dung! It reminds me how mortal I am, that I can never force myself to like everybody of every personality equally(the reverse is also true). Yet God alone has the ability to use so many people from all walks of life and win their total obedience. It reminds me of what unites me with the others (as said in Romans 8:28):

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.”

And this shall be my 2013 New Year motto! 馃榾 I wish you a very Happy New Year, that you may cherish every day and every encounter!Image

*The above picture is taken from the facebook page of another great teacher I have had (Thanks for that!).