Resource: Living Biblical Hebrew in South Africa!

The faculty of theology at the North-West University (Potchefstroom Campus) has many nice and creative teachers. Liza Lemmer is one of them! I bumped into her at the beginning of the semester and she has kindly let me audit her class. It is a lot of fun to observe how she uses the “Living Biblical Languages” method to teach first-year students Hebrew! For an overview of the “Living Biblical Languages” method, you can look at this video produced by the Biblical Language Center here:


I first came into the class on the third day of Week 1, and the students could already follow basic commands of the teacher:


We also learned the Hebrew words for different body parts through a song 🙂


Once we even had our class outdoors! Guess what! The teacher told me that I already know a lot of Hebrew, so I got to be the camerawoman of the following outdoor recording 😉


Today, the teacher and her assistants acted out the funny story of two men – יואב ואדו – which gave us a real belly laugh 😀


As seen from above, the teaching techniques used by Liza are really diverse and there are a lot of interactions between teachers and students. I really enjoy going to the class. For the other videos of this Beginner’s Hebrew course, feel free to click on the SEMT112 playlist.

Sincerely hope that one day I can teach Hebrew creatively like her 😉

Lecture: I Love Teaching!

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

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


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


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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Recommended reading:

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

Announcement: Saying Hello to a New Semester!

Hallo zusammen!

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

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

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

Yes, it is about my recently defended thesis 🙂

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

Here come my stories…