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

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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? 😉

Austria: A Wonderful Summer School in Salzburg

Prof. Kristin De Troyer held a fantastic summer school on the Hebrew and Greek manuscripts of Esther at the theological faculty of the University of Salzburg between the 3rd and 7th of July, 2017. I consider myself luckly to have been selected as one of the eleven participants from around the world. A knowledgeable teacher who gave her very best in the class and friendly colleagues who treated each other as equal partners really made my learning of the biblical manuscripts overwhelmingly enjoyable!

Here are some of the memorable moments:

1. Huge smiles at the camera before the hearty dinner sponsored by the University of Salzburg (Photo courtesy of Prof. Kristin De Troyer)

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2. Stunning view from our elegant accommodation in Haus St. Benedikt

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3. Intensive learning of the critical and diplomatic editions of Masoretic Text, Old Greek, Alpha-Text of Esther. Other Jewish recensions, Dead Sea Scrolls, Josephus, and Vetus Latina were also surveyed.

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4. Summer greenery from the summit of Festung Hohensalzburg

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5. Pleasant aequous surprises at Schloss Hellbrunn

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For me, the climax of the summer school was at the end, when my husband, who has been studying in Germany, was able to come to Austria and spent some quality time with me after six months of separation. Love him so much! ❤

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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:

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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 http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/gods/explore/exp_set.html). 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 http://www.mesopotamia.co.uk/gods/explore/exp_set.html).

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.

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History of Neue Wache in German. For more information in German, see also https://www.hgb-leipzig.de/mahnmal/nw1.html

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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 http://www.galenfrysinger.com/berlin_neue_wache.htm (a great website for photos from around the world!)

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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 http://www.history.ucsb.edu/faculty/marcuse/present/neuewach.htm

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 http://www.buecherverbrennung33.de/mahnmal.html (in German).

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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:

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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: http://www.oapen.org/search?identifier=355310)

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:

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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!

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The Axis of Exile in the Jewish Museum

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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: http://shanghaiist.com/2015/08/28/israel-thank-you-shanghai.php

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

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My dear brother in the Garden of Exile

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

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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.

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During the Cold War, Checkpoint Charlie was the best-known Berlin Wall crossing point between the East and West. For more information, see https://www.berlin.de/orte/sehenswuerdigkeiten/checkpoint-charlie/index.en.php

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):

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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.

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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: http://ampelmann.de/html/geschichte_english.html

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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.

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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.

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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 https://visite.bundestag.de/BAPWeb/pages/createBookingRequest.jsf

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.

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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:

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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: 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…

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

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Bumping into the traditional amidst the modern,

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Exploring a road less trodden,

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Finding a secret garden (Lutheran Hospice)…

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

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Taking a deep breath of the religious atmosphere on Sabbath…

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

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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…

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

Presentation: Nations in the Book of Ezekiel

During my last week flight from Frankfurt to Chicago, I watched the movie Where do we go now? by Nadine Labaki on the plane. [You may see the official trailer in the following link:

It narrates how two groups of people, Christians and Muslims live together, side by side, in an anonymous village in a warring country. It tells the story of how the women from both groups try, with different ruses, to negotiate their differences and stop their husbands, sons and brothers from fighting against each other. Some have compared it with Aristophanes’ Lysistrata. Well, this is a movie that can make you laugh and cry at the same time. And I like the way how this movie ends, leaving the whole story and question on negotiating identity open-ended. It raises the complex yet practical question: What exactly makes us “us”? What are the things we should cherish, what are the things we could give up for the sake of a greater good?

In my opinion, this is also the main question faced by the exilic priest, Ezekiel in the Hebrew Bible. In my paper at the SBL Annual Meeting in Chicago, this year, I am going to talk about the portrayals of גוים (nations) in the book of Ezekiel. Just like the film which narrates the negotiation of identities between the Christians and the Muslims in the village, the book of Ezekiel narrates the interactions of גוים (nations) with both Israel and specific foreign powers. The two sets of interactions ultimately serve to highlight Israel’s special identity under Yahweh’s universal sovereignty.

If you are at the SBL Annual Meeting, I cordially invite you to listen to my paper:

Theological Perspectives on the Book of Ezekiel
11/20/2012
9:00 AM to 11:30 AM
Room: W192c – McCormick PlacePaul Joyce, King’s College London, Presiding
William R. Osborne, College of the Ozarks
The “Afterlife” of the Tree Metaphor in Ezekiel 17:22-24 (25 min)
Georg Fischer SJ, Leopold-Franzens-Universität Innsbruck
Pro and contra Zion? – A Comparison of the Temple’s Role in the Books of Ezekiel and Jeremiah (25 min)
Break (5 min)
Lydia Lee, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
Nations (goyim) in the book of Ezekiel: Implications on the Structure of the Book of Ezekiel (25 min)
Soo J. Kim, Claremont School of Theology
YHWH Shammah: The City as Gateway to the Presence of YHWH (25 min)
Business Meeting (25 min)

Electronic copies of the papers may be requested from Dalit Rom-Shiloni at dromshil@post.tau.ac.il as of November 1, 2012

If I won’t see you in the SBL Annual Meeting, don’t worry, next time when we meet each other, you can always ask me to talk about this paper again 🙂

Warmest greetings from Chicago!

Presentation: The ‘Ethnic’ History of Israel in Ezekiel 20

‘The greatest compliment that was ever paid me was when one asked me what I thought, and attended to my answer.’

— Henry David Thoreau

Believe it or not, I love going to academic conferences! There’s no doubt about that, even though at the end of each conference I am pretty much exhausted and need days to recover…

My new hobby: Here are the name tags that I have collected from some of the conferences that I have attended in the past two years~

Let me give you three reasons and convince you that academic conferences can be fun:

1. Usually those academic conferences are located in attractive locations for me to tour around during the break (it partly explains my exhaustion thereafter ;p)

2. Still, the most important reason for me to go to an academic conference is to listen to different read papers. It is a great source to gain new insights. For me, it is more interesting to hear than to read a paper.

When I listen to a paper, I like to imagine that I have the ability near to that of Lisbeth Salander (if you have read the Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. Ok, maybe not that extreme…). Looking at the physical appearance of the presenter, I try to guess the personality of the presenter. With a little bit of imagination (+ some previous research on the person’s online CV), it can give me a clue of the paper’s starting point … But, one can never judge a book by its cover, so I try to deduce more from the body language/voice of the presenter (e.g. at what point does the presenter become excited? at what point is his/her hand shaking? at what point does his/her talking suddenly speed up?) This might help to detect some strong/weak points in his/her arguments. More and more often, I encounter papers read with a professional (or monotonous) tone, then it becomes really hard to detect highlights. That is why, I think the climax of one presentation is the Q&A session at the end. That’s when you see the presenters and the audience come alive, trying either to fight over against each other, or to share some hearty jokes and anecdotes. Don’t worry so much, even if silence sets in after the presentation, there is always the chair person who tries his/her best to break the awkwardness (that’s why it is a high priority to be nice to the chair person). If you like people-watching, you will definitely enjoy the circus of life in academic conferences 😉

Attending a conference gave me the chance to get a close look of the Big Ben and to participate in a restricted Sunday service at Westminster ~

Having said all this, while I attend various lectures or presentations, I always remember one saying of my high school teacher in Malaysia, a chubby gentle Chinese lady who spoke with a quiet, timid, non-confident voice and still somehow won my respect after her utterance of the following sentence: ‘It doesn’t matter how bad the presentation is, you can always learn something from it.’  A lot of time, I discover what first appears to be ‘bad’ is often based on my subjective feelings. If I listen carefully, I can always learn something new from it.

3. Life is all about give and take. If you enjoy watching people struggle in a situation as dangerous as presenting a paper. You have to be in their shoes as well. That is why, despite my extreme shyness (I could be so silent in front of strangers that once I was thought to be literally dumb), I have forced myself to present a few papers in four semi-formal meetings in the past two years of my doctoral study:

  • The “Ethnic” History of Israel in Ezekiel 20.

Paper presented at Göttingen-Lausanne Graduate Meeting in Lausanne (Switzerland). June 2012.

  • Death of Egypt in Ezekiel 32:17-32.

Paper presented at Doktorandenkolloquium, Theologische Fakultät, Seminar für Altes Testament in Göttingen (Germany). June 2012.

  •  “Nations” in the Book of Ezekiel.

Paper presented at Old Testament Studies: Epistemologies and Methods (OTSEM) Annual Conference in Copenhagen (Denmark). August 2011.

  • Hope and Judgment in Ezekiel 25.

Paper presented at Tagung für Chinesinnen und Chinesen, die in Deutschland Theologie oder Religionswissenschaft studieren in Neuendettelsau (Germany). March 2011.

Having collected the wise advice and constructive criticisms from all the people who have watched my presentations, I am very happy to announce that I finally have the chance to present a paper in a formal international meeting in July in Amsterdam!!!

This is also how I got to visit Mr. H. C. Andersen and once his colorful living place - Nyhavn ~

Attending a conference also gave me a chance to visit Mr. H. C. Andersen and the colorful Nyhavn ~

If you happen to be in Amsterdam in this beautifully warm July, and if you also happen to register for the SBL international meeting from 22.07.2012 to 26.07.2012, then I warmly welcome you to listen to my presentation on 25.07.2012. Here are the details:

Anthropology and Sociology of the Bible (EABS)
7/24/2012
3:00 PM to 6:00 PM
Room: D1.18B – OMHP

Emanuel Pfoh, National University of La Plata, Presiding
Lukasz Niesioloski-Spano, Uniwersytet Warszawski
Ethnogenesis and Biblical Studies. The case of Judah (25 min)
Lydia Lee, Georg-August-Universität Göttingen
An “ethnic” history of Israel in Ezekiel 20 (25 min)
Discussion (25 min)
Break (30 min)
Micaël Bürki, Collège de France
The Criticism of Phoenician Trade in Isaiah 23 (25 min)
Emanuel Pfoh, National University of La Plata
A Hebrew Mafioso: Reading 1 Sam 25 Anthropologically (25 min)
Discussion (25 min)

And here is my modified abstract:

In this paper I attempt to investigate Israel’s identity as presented in Ezekiel 20 from the lens of ethnicity in social science. First, I present the social scientific viewpoint that ethnicity is socially constructed, subjectively perceived and connected to a common myth of ancestry. I see some benefit in the Norwegian anthropologist Fredrik Barth’s model in looking at the ethnic identity as relational and seeing those indicia as generated dynamically from inter-group interactions, noting at the same time the model’s lack of attention for power differentials.

Second, I intend to use the above definition of ethnicity as a heuristic tool to investigate the identity of Israel in Ezekiel 20, which, I argue, also stresses the common ancestry as important in differentiating Israel from the nations. Phenotypical distinctions are absent in this chapter, whereas other cultural elements such as ordinances, statutes and Sabbaths are highlighted as ethnic indicia that are actively created during the interactions with other nations. Thus Barth’s non-essentialist model works to a certain extent in explaining the dynamic aspect of Israelite identity in relation to the nations.  However, I argue that the sociological model proposed above like Barth is ultimately insufficient to define Israel’s ethnic identity due to the lack of attention to the power outside of human agency. In Ezekiel 20, the force that forms and shapes Israel’s ethnic identity is ultimately attributed to the creative and sovereign power of Yahweh. In light of the ethnic study in social science, the history of Ezekiel 20 could be read in such a way that Israel’s existence is totally dependent on Yahweh.

I look forward to seeing you there then! 🙂