Interview: Women Biblical Scholars

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

via Interview: Lydia Lee — Women Biblical Scholars

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

According to the site’s stated aim,

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

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

South Africa: Lovely Sotho and Burmese Hymns

A lovely Sotho hymn (compiled and translated by Esmari, one of our bible study group leaders)


Ke ntse ke lebeletse Morena (I am watchful for the Lord)
Ho tla phomola maotong a hae (to rest by His feet)
Hore ke tle ke rutwe ke yena (to be taught by Him)
Moya wa Ka o tle o tshidiswe (so that my soul may be comforted)

Ho monate-nate (x2) (It is nice, really nice)
Ho ba maotong a Jesu (to be at the feet of Jesus)
Ho monate-nate (it is nice, really nice)
Ho rutwa ke Jesu (to be taught by Him)

Thabo e kholo e teng ho yena (Great joy is in Him)
Hobane modibe o phekotswe (because a sinner is healed)
Phekolo e tswa mading a matle (the healing that comes from the wonderful blood)
A tswang lehlakoreng le hlabilweng (that comes out of the side that has been pierced)

Ho monate-nate (x2) (It is nice, really nice)
Ho ba maotong a Jesu (to be at the feet of Jesus)
Ho monate-nate (it is nice, really nice)
Ho rutwa ke Jesu (to be taught by Him)

Ntaela Jesu, ke tle ke utlwe (Tell me what to do Jesus, may I listen)
Mpontshe tsela ya hao e lokileng (show me your way that is good)
Nketelle pele Mmoloki wa Ka (lead me my preserver)
Ke se fapahe mme Ka timela (may I not detour & get lost)

Ho monate-nate (x2) (It is nice, really nice)
Ho ba maotong a Jesu (to be at the feet of Jesus)
Ho monate-nate (it is nice, really nice)
Ho rutwa ke Jesu (to be taught by Him)

An equally lovely Burmese hymn (compiled and translated by Thi Ta):


Lar-gya-lay, (Come oh come,)
Htar-wa-ya Pha-yar Htar-wa-ya Pha-yar ei (Let us praise Yahweh God, Oh)
Mi-ta-do ko chee mwam soe lay (Praise the love of Yahweh sovereign God)
Mi-ta-do ko chee mwam soe lay (Praise the love of Yahweh sovereign God)

All in all, a fabulous night with some of my favourite ladies!


Speech: A Comparative Approach to My First Impressions of South Africa

Disclaimer: This drafted speech remains my personal opinion and does not represent the perspectives of NWU and its international office. Coloured sections and endnotes signify later additions, which serve to clarify and justify the original speech delivered on the International Welcome, Orientation and Multicultural Day (15.04.2016).


Processed with MOLDIV

Photos courtesy of my dad

Hello, everyone. My name is Lydia Lee, a post-doctoral fellow in biblical studies at the North-West University since January 2016. A comparative approach is one of the methods I deploy in my research of the Bible. According to a biblical scholar, Brent Strawn, “comparative methodology sets at least two (sometimes more) subjects alongside each other so as to look at them together in order to … reveal aspects of the subjects that may not have been as readily seen if each was looked at in isolation” [1]. Today, I would like to use the comparative methodology, setting my overseas experiences alongside each other in order to illuminate my first impressions of South Africa in general, and Potchefstroom in particular.

Let us first compare my experiences at Chicago O’Hare International Airport and Johannesburg O.R. Tambo International Airport. In 2012, I was given a chance to present a paper at the Society of Biblical Literature (SBL) annual meeting in Chicago [2]. I was really excited about this opportunity. Yet, for reasons that have remained unbeknown to me until today, I was detained with other strangers at the Chicago airport border control upon my entry to the USA. Without any explanations or concrete evidence of guilt, the airport personnel treated me impudently. Having found out my Australian passport and intention of travelling, they released me on the same day of my entry [3]. Later I filed a formal complaint to the authority and received an apology [4]. I did enjoy the academic conference later on, and I appreciate what SBL has done in fostering biblical scholarship worldwide [5]. Still, I can never forget that inhumanity I experienced and witnessed at a place of a country that speaks so loudly about human rights and international justice. When I was coming to South Africa, I was extremely nervous that the aforementioned experience in the USA would be repeated. To my surprise, the border control at the O.R. Tambo International Airport let me pass through without any difficulties. I had two huge suitcases with me, each was 32 kg. I was struggling to get them onto the trolley. One airport personnel quickly came and helped me place the suitcases onto the trolley. Before I could even thank him properly, he turned and disappeared into the crowd. I was touched by this random act of kindness by a stranger.

Now, let us compare my initial encounters of the people at Georg-August-Universität Göttingen in Germany and the North-West University in South Africa. To be sure, I have respect for the present German government, which bravely embraces its horrendous past [6], which has been rational and compassionate in its handling of refugees [7], and which generously granted me a visa as well as a fellowship to study at one of its universities. However, a good government does not and cannot guarantee that every single individual living in the country shares the same set of values. Between 2010 and 2015, I stayed at the University of Göttingen. In one of the welcome gatherings in 2010, I met a PhD candidate from Eastern Europe. She approached me and asked for my name. Without even knowing my country of origin, she interrogated me contemptuously: “What do you think of China’s treatment of Tibet?” I thought: “Wow, this is indeed the ‘perfect’ ice-breaker for a Malaysian-born Chinese!” For your information, I had not been to China until after the defense of my doctoral dissertation in 2014 [8]. I had no idea with what expertise she and I could discuss and comment on the issue she raised [9]. Another time, at a dinner table, a German professor derogatorily referred to me as someone from the British colony. I am not sure, with Germany’s troubling history, what kind of moral high ground he can claim to look down on someone whose ancestors and family have stayed in countries colonized by the Brits [10]. Still another time, I bumped into another German professor in the corridor. He greeted me with a smug smile: “You don’t have to learn German, because it is too difficult for you to understand.” I thought: “Does not this highly educated person believe in the power of education for  personal developments? What makes him think that I should give up learning a new language from the very beginning of my study without even trying?” Surrounded by these puzzlements, I did not bother to inform him that I had just enrolled in a German language course at the university. Of course, I did not tell him that if there were ever a reason for me not learning German, it would not be the difficulty of the German language, but the cacophony produced by this language [11]. There were many more awkward moments during my stay in Germany and I did behave in a foolishly recalcitrant manner under those circumstances, but today our focus is on Potchefstroom and South Africa [12].

When I was coming to Potchefstroom, I thought that I would have to overcome the same kind of prejudice all over again. To my surprise, nobody I have encountered so far is too obsessed with my countries of origin. The people in Potchefstroom are warm and friendly enough to include me as part of their members. On my first day of arrival in South Africa, my supervisor, Prof. Herrie van Rooy, and his wife Jacoba drove two hours from Potchefstroom to Johannesburg just to pick me up at the airport. I stayed at their place for one night. The next morning, Prof. Herrie accompanied me to the International Office to sort out all the administrative matters. Jacoba made sure that I had everything I needed for my accommodation. Working at his own home, Prof. Herrie has generously let me occupy his office for my research. During the first month in Potchefstroom, I received multiple invitations to braais from my South African colleagues and friends. My friends at the Bult International Church and Bible Study Group always give me a warm hug and a big smile whenever we meet together. One evening, two of my friends were waiting outside of the theological faculty to pick me up so that we could all go home together. Our acting rector, Prof. Fika Janse van Renburg, was talking to two of his colleagues outside of the theological faculty. When he saw my friends, he just dropped his conversation with his colleagues and came to greet my friends. I arrived in time to witness this scene. You see, my friends and I are all international students. We are not high-ranking personnel but merely students. Prof. Fika did not even know us at that time, but he shocked us with his willingness to take the initiative to talk to us – some unknown strangers.

From my experience in South Africa, I realize that what makes a person great does not depend on the person’s country of origin. It does not depend on how high the person can reach or how much the person can earn. Rather, it depends on how low the person is willing to bend down or how much the person is willing to give and serve. I think the humaneness of a person is more important than all the material wealth in the world. I don’t want to over-generalize or over-emphasize my positive encounters in Potchefstroom. I understand that circumstances may vary depending on individuals. There may be other areas at the university and in the country awaiting further improvements. But, just from my perspective, what makes Potchefstroom in particular and South Africa in general so attractive is the friendliness and warmth of the people here. You have made such excellent first impressions on me, that I am willing to stand with you and face all the challenges ahead during my stay in Potchefstroom. I sincerely wish Potchefstroom all the best. God bless South Africa.


[1] Brent A. Strawn, “Comparative Approaches: History, Theory, and the Image of God,” in Method Matters: Essays on the Interpretation of the Hebrew Bible in Honor of David L. Petersen (ed. Joel M. LeMon and Kent H. Richards; SBLRBS 56; Atlanta: Society of Biblical Literature, 2009), 117.

[2] See the advertisement of my presentation at the SBL annual conference in Chicago here.

[3] For a more detailed description of this traumatic event, see my Facebook post written in the morning after my release from detention (14.11.2012). Written in much haste and anger, the post is full of grammar mistakes. I sent a more polished complaint to the authority later on. This airport has remained the only one which treated me so rudely.


[4] I still keep my email correspondences with the authority. Please feel free to email me at, and I can forward them to you privately.

[5] For instance, I do appreciate the Society of Biblical Literature’s effort in providing free e-books to countries with substantially low GDP. For further information, see its International Cooperation Initiative (ICI) website.

[6] For a brief summary of the government’s solemn remembrance of Berlin’s history, see my previous blog articles entitled “Berlin: A City That Looks Back at the Past to Reinvent Itself in the Present.” and “Die großartige Antwort von Angela Merkel auf die Islam-Angst eines besorgten Bürgers.”

[7] For my encounters with and the other reports about the refugees in Germany, see the content and appendix in my previous blog article entitled “Refugees and I.”

[8] When I met the lady, I had no idea that one day I would be going to China for my engagement party 🙂

[9] Later I learned that the lady had stayed in Hong Kong for a while, without travelling to  mainland China.I seriously doubt if she has ever met a real person from Tibet. However, I can understand that we all like to be “Klugscheißer” (smart aleck) sometimes. For instance, we can write a very long critical article about another country, without really recognizing the names of the premier and president of that country.


Source: Badische Zeitung (06.03.2015). Photo courtesy of 新欧洲战法



Li Keqiang and 习近平 are two different people. Source: Badische Zeitung (06.03.2015). Photo Courtesy of 新欧洲战法


To be fair, the newspaper was quick to correct the aforementioned mistake. Source: Badische Zeitung (07.03.2015).

[10] Criticisms about the countries I have lived in are acceptable to me as long as the remarks are at least built on good intentions and not personal insults. For my critical reflections on life in Malaysia, see my blog articles entitled Malaysia: A Multi-Ethnic Society, Malayisa: A Divided Society, Malaysia: A Meritocratic Society, and Malaysia: The Dislocation.

[11] Just to justify my first impression of the German language, please watch the following video:

[12] I do not want to demonize all the people in Germany. In fact, I have a really good German friend, who has always remembered my birthday ever since we knew each other. I do not set facebook birthday reminder, so it is very precious that this true friend outside of my family circle will punctually remind me that I am getting older each year. All said, I don’t hate all Germans/people living in Germany, but I do find South Africans much friendlier 😉

South Africa: Singing “Hoe Groot is U” in Drakensberg

When: 18-21 March 2016

Where: BergVenture, Central Drakensberg


Who: Senior students and young workers from several Reformed Churches in South Africa


Photo courtesy of Lourens Aucamp


Photo courtesy of Lourens Aucamp

Highlight #1: Enjoyed the majestic beauty of the Golden Gate Highlands National Park from the height of the Protea Corner.



Highlight #2: Chilled out at the arty quaint Clarens. Savoured the FREE beer-tasting in the microbrewery there.



Photo courtesy of Motlasing Moreki


Photo courtesy of Motlasing Moreki

Highlight #3: Inhaled a lungful of fresh mountain air, took in the sights of the incredible peaks of Drakensberg, and pondered upon Psalm 8:3-4: “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place; What is man that You take thought of him, And the son of man that You care for him?”



Highlight #4: Hung out with cool brothers and sisters from different parts of the world.



Photo courtesy of Mukesh Kumar

Highlight #5: Sunbathed in Falcon Ridge Bird of Prey Center while being mesmerized by the lively raptor-flying show. Do you know that eagles most often fly by soaring and gliding instead of flapping their wings? Their particularly large wings make them prefer to rely on external forces, such as the lifting air stream or rising warm air, to move around. This means that they do not need to rely on their own strength during the flight. Knowing how an eagle flies helps explain Isaiah 40:31, which reads: “But those who wait for the Lord’s help find renewed strength; they rise up as if they had eagles’ wings, they run without growing weary, they walk without getting tired.” Like the eagles that soar high in the air by relying on external currents, we shall overcome our deficiencies not by our own strength, but by relying on the powerful God. 😉


Highlight #6: Explored the stunning Drakensberg (Dragon Peaks Park) on horse back. Lady Jemima was the horse I was riding on (not sure if I spell the name correctly).



Highlight #7: Sang the refrain of the hymn “O Moholo”/”Hoe Groot is U”/”How Great Thou Art”/ “Comme tu es grand”/”你真伟大” in different languages on the last night of our camp. It was really amazing to witness how people from diverse backgrounds can somehow be united by their awe of God.


Let’s enjoy the hymn once more in English 🙂