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)
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! 🙂

Presentation: Göttingen-Lausanne Graduate Meeting

Recently attended an awesomely-packed graduate meeting in Lausanne!

Here were some of the highlights:

– We visited the glyptic collections in Fribourg University, Switzerland. At the end, all of us were given the opportunity to buy some books in the OBO (Orbis Biblicus et Orientalis) Series at a really cheap price (up to 90% discount, the first book was free)

– We had to present, listen to, and comment on different papers. There was only 5-hour sleep per night (I usually need 10 hour sleep)! Still, I quite enjoyed that existential feeling — ‘I talk, therefore I exist’

– Dinner conversations in French, German and English while the Euro Football match (Germany vs. Greece) was on. I wondered if the world was always that small and hybrid…

– BBQ at one professor’s home (now I really believe in the Swiss hospitality). We drank the aperol on a balcony that overlooked Lake Geneva under the glow of the sunset! C’est la vie!

– We strolled along Léman beach, jumped into the sapphire-like water and bathed under the sun! Well, I am not a good swimmer, when I jumped into the water, my colleague just accompanied me anxiously as I swam bravely back to the shore..wahaha xD

To describe all the above experience in one phrase: C’est magnifique! 🙂


This was where I jumped into the water! Not from the tall springing board. There was a lower springing board just beside the taller one..THAT was where I jumped from ;p


Really love the water and mountains here in Lausanne!

Announcement: Lydia’s Newsletter

* This blog article is dedicated especially to my dearest family and all my friends who care about me and pray for me constantly. Thank you all so much for your love and kindness~~~
Before July 2009, if you asked me when I would like to visit Europe, I would definitely say during my honeymoon in a distant future…
Before July 2009, if you asked me which university is my dream university to complete a PhD, I would definitely say Harvard, Cambridge or Oxford….
All these were my dreams and goals before that time. However, as Proverbs 16: 9 says: “A man’s heart plans his way, but the Lord directs his steps”. To cut a long story short, now (20-04-2010), I am standing on the soil of a small town in Germany, planning to complete my PhD here. When I received the notification that I could come here, I thought in my heart if this is a joke from God. I want to visit Europe. I want to get a PhD. But I never thought these two goals could be combined in such a way. Could you imagine trying to do the most unromantic task (studying) in the most romantic continent in the world (Europe)!!?? And the reality is indeed complicated. This I have discovered when I arrived here. I am trying to get used to the system here and trying to settle down and blend into this society. To be honest, I am still trying to ascertain God’s will and to follow His way here.
Last Sunday, the pastor here in Göttingen preached about a passage in Jeremiah 18: 1-6 and it touched my heart and I would like to share with you:
The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying: “Arise and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause you to hear My words.” Then I went down to the potter’s house, and there he was, making something at the wheel. And the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand of the potter; so he made it again into another vessel, as it seemed good to the potter to make. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying: “O hose of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter?” says the Lord. “Look, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel!”
I really felt like God was speaking to me through this passage at that time. I am indeed the clay. And I would really like to be patiently moulded by God so I could be used as His good vessel in the future. Despite the circumstances, I determine to try my best and let God take care of the rest!!! ^.^
After this serious talk, I would like to share some lovely pictures that I have taken here. Please take your time to enjoy~~~
People joked that this is the “most kissed girl” in the world. Her name is Gänseliesel. It is a tradition in Göttingen for every fresh PhD graduate here to climb up and kiss her. Oh, how I look forward to kiss her in the future!!!
This is Wilhemsplatz, part of the town. This is where the international student office is. It is quite a special feeling to live in a place where the university and the town seem to blend into a seamless unity.
This is a small, open-air store which sells second hand stuff. I just walk randomly and discover this little shop. Göttingen is very small but you can always find a little surprise here and there~
Ok, here comes a very lovely friend that I have met in Göttingen – Janina. She is a student assistant who has helped me a lot in settling into this city. I totally love her cool hairstyle and her cool personality!!! And to the right, you can see the spaghetti ice-cream that I have ordered. I was told it is a specialty here. It tastes delicious!

In Usyd, we have the purple jacaranda tree. Now I get the pink cherry tree in the University of Göttingen!!! I must say the central campus of Göttingen doesn’t look as pretty as Usyd but the rows of cherry blossoms make a big difference, isn’t it??

Ok, here’s the end of my first newsletter~ I miss you all very much and until we meet again, please take care and Tschüss (The German word for bye)!

Egypt: A Wonderful Encounter in Luxor

One year has passed since my trip in Egypt (January 2009). I still vividly remember my encounter with this hospitable youth in Luxor. The story I am going to tell is about how I overcame my suspicion and built trust with a stranger.

1st Encounter

That morning I was occupied with the visits to the Valley of the Kings and the Funerary Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. Then I took a colorful local boat to the east bank where the magnificent Temples of Luxor and Karnak were located. [Note: For more about my tour in Egypt, feel free to read “An Adventure in the Land of the Pharaohs.”]

After the bustling morning, I returned to my hotel. Restless, I decided to explore the Mummification Museum and the Luxor Museum situated in the downtown area. Two Egyptian drivers promised to take me to the Mummification Museum in exchange for a small fee. Happily, I jumped on their pony-drawn cart. And off we went! Well, in the middle of the journey, they informed me that they would change the rate and I had to pay more. Of course, I refused to accept this decision and threatened to jump off the cart. I was so ready to jump off the running cart that they were frightened and decided not to change the rate. Hastily, they dropped me off in the middle of nowhere and told me that the Mummification Museum was nearby. I gave them the amount of money that had been agreed upon. They disappeared in the blink of an eye.

The cart drivers who kind of lied to me...

The cart drivers who lied to me… 😦

No tourists or museums were in sight. Filled with anger and fear, I stood in the middle of the unfamiliar square, flipped through my Lonely Planet, and tried to find my way out. The locals passing by stared strangely at me. At that very moment, one young man appeared. Smiling under the bright sun, he tried to introduce me to a nearby hotel owned by “his brother” (I was pretty sure that he earned commissions by recommending tourists to that hotel). Given what I had just been through, it was really a wrong time for him to sell me anything. I angrily refused him and said: “I only want to go to the Mummification Museum.” I must have seemed quite desperate, and he must have taken pity on me, as he did end up leading me through some winding paths to get to the Mummification Museum (I initially thought that he would just point me in the right direction and leave me alone to find my way out).

I was so relieved when he finally brought me back onto the main road along the Nile. Even more surprising was that he didn’t ask for baksheesh (a tip) in return (if you’ve been to Egypt, you know how some Egyptians are so into baksheesh). I thanked him briefly and that was when I caught the sight of his dimples when he smiled. Then it dawned on me that he, despite my ostensible anger and suspicion, had been very friendly and helpful along the way. A sudden guilt arose in me. But I decided that it did not matter as I thought that I would not see him again. So I just said goodbye to him (in a nicer tone this time). This was our first goodbye…

2nd Encounter

At the entrance of the Mummification Museum, the guards told me that the museum was having an afternoon break and would not be open until 4pm. To pass the time, I decided to walk slowly along the Nile to another Museum – the Luxor Museum. To my disappointment, the Luxor Museum was also closed until 4pm. When I turned around, I saw that youth again, standing opposite to me, across the road. “What a coincidence!” I thought and tried to find a public seat near the museum so that I could wait until the Museum opened. The seat was on the main road and there were several tourists around so I thought that it was quite safe. He also chose a seat near me and sat down. Then he attempted to strike a conversation with me. Having nothing to do but to wait for the museum to reopen, I replied to his questions. He looked 17 to 19 to me (even though he claimed to be 23). He spoke in broken English (which I could understand a fair bit). I spoke no Arabic at all. We communicated in English with a lot of hand gestures and facial expressions. Somehow, we could understand each other and it was fun!

In the middle of our conversation, he said: “Let’s walk around”. I immediately became alarmed and curious if he would follow the footsteps of some Egyptian tour guides who led me to the shops or the hotels that sell merchandise I did not need or want. “No, I have no money, I don’t buy things,” I told him bluntly. “No money, no buy, just walk. I show you the city,” he waved his hands in denial, earnestly. “I have to wait for the museum to open,” I told him. He promised me that he would bring me back to the museum.  “It is not far,” he said. My curiosity about the part of the city he was going to show me arose (Curiosity can be dangerous but I always fail to suppress my curiosity when I travel). Having struggled in my mind, I finally gave in. Anyway, I had nothing to do at that moment. There was no harm following him. He led me to the area where the locals of Luxor lived. Along the way, I started to see Luxor from a different perspective. On the streets, there were women dressed in traditional clothes holding baggages upon their heads, old men sitting in front of the shops, and little children playing around or running under the sun. The whole streets were made even more lively and crowded by the horses, donkeys, ponies, and chickens with their excrements around the corners of the buildings. When we passed by, the people — whether adults or little children — all waved and smiled warmly at me. They treated me like a friend; that, I guess, was because I was with a local then.

The boy invited me to his home. His mom welcomed me warmly by offering me hot tea. Suddenly many little children came running to his home to look at me and to say hello to me. They were all very cute and I took pictures of them. Looking at his home, one could guess that they were not materially rich. The house was a bit too small for him, his mother and other members of the family; the walls around the house seemed to be in need of renovations. However, he still told me proudly that his home was beautiful. When he was telling me this, I could not help but notice that the dimples on his lower cheeks deepened a little bit more. Surrounded by the warm and friendly faces of his family members, I had to agree admirably that indeed his home was beautiful. A home is beautiful when one can find the sense of belonging, familiarity, and cosiness that keep one’s heart warm; and I could feel the warmth at his home. After that, just as he had promised, he brought me back to the Luxor Museum. This time I thanked him sincerely for his hospitality, When I walked into the museum, I thought that it was a pity that I would not see him again. This was our second goodbye …

The cute little children at his home

The cute little children at his home

3rd Encounter

When I came out of the Luxor Museum one or two hours later on, I really could not believe my eyes to see that the boy was standing outside of the museum across the street just like he had been in the afternoon. I was wondering if he needed to work or study. Looking at me, he smiled and waved. I smiled back. He led me to his house again. This time his grandparents were there watching TV. His mother was friendly and warm just like the first time I met her. He showed me photos in his house. Then we went to the local night markets, which were loud and vibrant. On the one hand, the markets gave me a sense of familiarity as they reminded me of the pasar malam in Malaysia. On the other hand, they looked exotic since the people were speaking in a totally different language I could barely understand. He walked through all the streets and alleys as if he knew them all by heart (he probably did). It amazed me, since I did not know all the streets and alleys of the Australian suburb I lived in. I just followed him and we talked to each other on and off. He bought me a chocolate in one stall. Then he bought me a bottle of water in another stall. I did not ask for them. When I insisted on paying him back, he would not let me do so. Well, they did not cost too much for tourists but somehow they weighted so much in my hands. You need to know that, since my arrival in Egypt, most of the people I met always helped me to do something in exchange for money. That boy was the only one who offered me hospitality without asking anything in return. I told him that I had to return to Cairo that night. I had to return to my hotel. He accompanied me to my hotel in a local bus. Riding on the local bus was another new experience for me. This time, I really insisted in paying my bus fare despite his initial refusal. I managed to get him to accept it later on. In front of the hotel, he told me that he would come and see me off to Cairo at the Luxor train station that night. Well, he kept his promise. When I arrived at the train station, he had already been waiting for me. This time, I did not see his dimples or his smile. He just waited with me quietly until my train came. I boarded my train and found my compartment. Through the window of my compartment, I could see him stand motionless on the platform. Hiding behind the curtain, I did not have the courage to let him see me. After all the hospitality and friendship he had shown me, I felt sad that I had to leave my new friend behind. I did not offer him any baksheesh even at the very end (which I had given [sometimes involuntarily] to all the people who had helped and wanted from me in Egypt). I could not have repaid his kindness with all my money. Furthermore, I did not want to taint this friendship with money. Instead, I offered up a little prayer in my heart to God that He would repay the kindness of this kind youth and his mother. Firmly closing the curtain behind me, I whispered my third and last goodbye to this boy…


Now whenever I think of Egypt, I will remember this youth. Then I am reminded of the saying, you become great not by what you have but by what you give. This boy looks like a giant to me. If you ever get to see him next time in Luxor, say hi to him for me. Thanks!

Updated on 19 January 2017.

Turkey: Wandering in Istanbul and Beyond

My 2008 journey into Turkey was the first time I went backpacking. Some of the most captivating moments in Istanbul and beyond include:

  • Walking around Istanbul in the rain. It was worth getting soaked in the rain so as to get a close-up look at the magnificent Blue Mosque, the opulent Topkapi Palace, the venerable Aya Sofya, and the ancient Basilica Cistern!!!


    The Blue Mosque was built between 1609 and 1619. It is an exemplar of the Ottoman architecture.


    The Blue Mosque


    The Blue Mosque – solemn prayers inside the mosque. For a useful introductory survey of the history of Islam (in German), see


    The Blue Mosque and Aya Sofya are opposite to each other, and they look so alike. It is said that the Byzantine architectural style embodied by Aya Sofya has influenced the Ottoman architectural style represented by the Blue Mosque.



    Aya Sofya – the huge circular meddallions inscribed with the Islamic calligraphy. For more information, see


    Aya Sofya – the Byzantine Apse Mosaic depicting Virgin Mary and Baby Christ. For more information, see


    Basilica Cistern – It was built by the Byzantine emperor Constantine and enlarged by Justinian.

  • Being awed by the impressive ruins of the Library of Celsus and meeting the “Romans” in Ephesus.


    The Library of Celcus – It was built in 117 CE (the Roman period). For more information, see


    The Library of Celsus – Ephesus reached the height of its glory during the Roman period. St. Paul, St. John and Virgin Mary visited Ephesus in its heyday.


    The Libary of Celsus


    The Great Theatre – It was first constructed in the Hellenistic Period and then enlarged during the Roman period. For more information, see


    The “Romans” in Ephesus

  • Dipping into the gleaming travertine pools in Pamukkale







Rich Breakfast in Pamukkale

  • Sleeping under the stars on the rocky slopes of Mt Olympus. This was unplanned. It was just too tiring and dangerous to get down from the mountain in the dark after the climb of so many steps to watch Chimaera (a cluster of flames that burn spontaneously from crevices of rocks emitting methane and other gases).




    The serene beach


    The serene beach


    Kadir’s treehouse

  • Climbing up the fairy chimneys (huge stone mushrooms formed by volcanic materials and erosion) in Cappadocia. I had fallen into one of the “chimneys” and had thought that I would be paralysed for life. Luckily, I got lifted up from the “chimney” by others and just got several bruises and nothing else 🙂 The Byzantine murals inside the Göreme Open-Air Museum were amazing! For more information, see







Last Updated: 17th June 2017


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