Indonesia: Work, Eat, Pray in Malang

Group Photo

Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference

Attending the Seventh Biennial Society of Asian Biblical Studies (SABS) Conference in the city Malang in Indonesia was a mind-blowing experience. The conference was held at the Catholic Seminary STFT Widya Sasana and lasted from the 16th to the 20th of July, 2018. About 88 biblical researchers from around the world (mainly from Asia) flocked to this “Bible Belt” of Indonesia, where a dozen theological colleges and seminaries from various denominations make their home. This incredible journey managed to stimulate my mind (work), spoil my tastebuds (eat), and let me observe the spirituality of others (pray).


The diverse topics presented at the conference blew my mind. I especially enjoyed the session on the Malaysian/Indonesian Bible translations. Dr. Kar Yong Lim from the Seminari Theologi Malaysia and Dr. Daud Soesilo from the United Bible Societies in Indonesia presented an overview of how the Malaysian ruling government considers the Arabic loanword “Allah” a sort of proper name of the Muslims’ God, and thus prohibits the use of “Allah” by the non-Muslims. Some of the country’s Christians, who understand “Allah” as a common noun “God” in their Malay language Bibles, are particularly affected by this prohibition. Dr. Anwar Tjen from the Indonesian Bible Society, on the other hand, presented another kind of motivation that leads some Indonesian Christian communities to reject the use of “Allah” in their Bible translations. As he showed, these Christian groups, under the influence of the Sacred Name Movement in the US, think the term “Allah” is too Arabic and seek to rediscover the Jewish root of Christianity by simply transliterating the Hebrew term אלהים/אל/אלה into “Elohim.” At first sight, two different groups of people in two different countries seek to reject the use of the Arabic loanword “Allah” in the Christian Bible translations for two seemingly different reasons. On closer inspection, both groups actually are motivated by the same desire to sharply delineate their religious identity from the surrounding peoples. One (the Malaysian government) seeks to restrict the term “Allah” for the Islamic God, while another (some Indonesian Christians) strives to distance itself from the Arabic flavoured “Allah” and to highlight the Judeo-Christian origin of its own religion, by adopting the transliteration “Elohim.” The result is a starkly dualistic contrast between the Islam and the Judeo-Christian traditions. The question remains if an extra space can be created for those Christians, who wish to maintain both their national/linguistic and religious identities by using the Malay term “Allah” in their own Christian Bible translations.

I was privileged to preside at the session, where Prof. Koowon Kim, Prof. Zhenhua Meng and Dr. Kwan-Hung Leo Li utilised a comparative/dialogic approach to contextualise different parts of the Hebrew Bible for the Chinese people. The other sessions also include some stimulating analyses of the biblical texts from the Japanese and Korean perspectives. One of the highlights of the conference is the session on the queer readings of the biblical texts in Asia. Homosexuality is still a taboo in many Asian countries and in the traditional monotheistic religions. Therefore, the presenters, including Rev. Dr. Stephen Suleeman, Ms. Pearl Wong, and Prof. Yeong Mee Lee, should be applauded for bringing their research on this difficult subject to the table. All the above sessions have introduced me to so many lights that can be cast on the Bible through reading it in different modern-day societies. I cannot claim to have grasped or concurred with all the discussions appearing in the conference, but I sincerely think that all these different discussions in the academic context are necessary and even beneficial, since they allow us to temporarily jump out of the comfort zones and critically examine our commonly held beliefs.

In addition to learning from the others’ perspectives, I also presented a paper entitled “Seeking a Way Forward: Reflections on the Scholarly Imaginations of Good and Evil in the Book of Esther.” As seen from the above, most of the conference papers focused on reading the Bible in modern-day Asian societies. On the other hand, my paper explored how the Christian and Jewish commentators had used to characterise the book of Esther in their contemporary European, Northern American, Israeli, and African societies. At the end of the presentation, I concluded:

Reading the Esther story from the commentators’ own historical contexts is a double-edged sword. On the one hand, the commentators’ prejudices can lead to distorting the textual ideology. On the other hand, the commentators’ own circumstances can also resonate with the narrative, so as to shed light on some textual elements that have been ignored, marginalised, or misunderstood.

Perhaps, such a historical survey of biblical scholarship in the other parts of the world can provide some food for thought for the Asian biblical commentators, who are now appropriating and analysing the biblical texts in their own social contexts.

Remember, if you are interested in the abstracts of any of the other papers, you can always find and download them on the SABS official website.

MT2A0738 copy

Photo Credit: Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference


Hospitality seems to be at the core of the Indonesian lifestyle. One of the many ways the Indonesians honour their guests is by inviting them to meals. All the meals (including breakfast, morning snacks, lunch, afternoon tea, and dinner) during the conference were graciously provided by the host institution. (Photo Credits: Gio and Winner @ 2018 SABS Conference)


Each dinner, especially the end-of-conference party, was also accompanied by the fascinating cultural performances (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference).


After the conference, I was able to explore a greater variety of the Indonesian cuisines. The choices seemed endless and the rich aroma of the spices just chocked me with happiness 🙂


Nasi Rawon: Rice Served with Black Beef Soup


Breakfast @ Hotel Tugu Malang


Pho @ SaigonSan Restaurant


Bakso: Renowned Indonesian Beef Balls Soup


Fresh Juice!!!

The Indonesians I met during this trip were extremely warm and friendly. When I asked for a “Bakso” and fresh juice with my very limited knowledge of Malay, the above young man and lady got very excited that they decided to converse with me completely in Malay for another 10 to 15 minutes. I could not understand more than half of the conversation, but I got the part when the young man asked for a photo shoot 🙂


Apart from food, religions also play an important role in the Indonesian society. Everyone here seems to belong to either Islam, or Christianity, or Hinduism, or Buddhism, or a syncretism of any of these religions with the folk beliefs.


Christianity, comprising about 10% of the country’s population, is not the main religion in Indonesia. Even then, the actual size of the Indonesian Christian population, according to one of the conference organisers, is roughly equivalent to the whole of the Australian population. Despite the fact that our conference was hosted at a Catholic seminary, the neighbouring Protestant seminary “Seminari Alkitab Asia Tenggara” also cordially invited us for a lunch. After the lunch, the Protestant seminary students gave us a tour around their beautiful campus.


The Main Entrance of the Southeast Asia Bible Seminary (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)


The SEABS’s Vision. According to one Indonesian participant, this seminary adopts a maximalist approach toward the Bible.


An exhibition displaying the history of the Christian missions in Asia (Photo Credit: Gio @ 2018 SABS Conference)


English translation: “This one is truly the saviour of of the world.” Beautiful sculptures pepper around the campus.


The founder of SEABS, Rev. Dr. Andrew Gih, and his wife. For a brief history of the seminary, click here.


The main religion in Indonesia is Islam, and the Muslims make up about 87% of the population. Some Indonesians told me that the Muslims in Malang are moderate, and they get along with people from the other religions very well. These Muslims also take their praying rituals very seriously. In every hotel room I stayed during the trip, I could find an arrow on the ceiling indicating the prayer direction.


Can you find the “Kiblat” sticker?


Mt. Bromo, the active volcano near Malang, is a sacred site for the Hindu believers. According to this website, the name Bromo “derives from the Javanese pronunciation of Brahma, the Hindu creator god.” A lecturer from a neighbouring charismatic Christian seminary kindly offered to take some of the conference participants to hike Mt. Bromo at a small price. We set out at midnight and arrived at Mount Penanjakan when it was still dark. We waited patiently at the lookout point until the sun rose gently over Mt. Bromo at around 05:30am.


Mt. Bromo above the clouds/mists

Then we waded through the “Sea of Sand” (Laut Pasir), while the sand and dust were blown all over our face.


Getting ready to wade through the Sea of Sand.

We climbed along a rather steep slope of mountain.

Finally, we reached the smoking crater of Mt. Bromo.


Mt. Bromo’s Crater

Some Hindu believers would throw offerings into the crater to appease their gods.


A statue of Ganesha in front of the crater

The view from the crater to the bottom of the mountain was incredible.


The Hindu temple was lying beneath the translucent mist in the midst of the “Sea of Sand”

Syncretic Religions

Some people in Malang practice a form of syncretic religion, combining their own religious traditions with the beliefs of their partners.  For instance, the hired driver who took us to Mt. Bromo with his Jeep was a Muslim married to a Hindu lady. Therefore, he, despite being a Muslim, made his offerings to various small Hindu shrines sprinkling at the feet of the mountains. The syncretism of various cultures and beliefs is perhaps best captured at the boutique Tugu Hotel Malang, which also acts like a museum of the Indonesian antiques and artworks. The great-grandfather of the founder of Tugu Hotels & Restaurants Group was a Chinese Indonesian tycoon known as the sugar baron. He then married to a local Javanese woman named Raden Adjeng Kasinem (1857–1935). Therefore, you can find a fusion of the Chinese ancestor worship and the other local/international cultures in the midst of the hotel. The whole place can be quite eerie but also magically beautiful especially after dark.

It must be quite challenging but also exciting to negotiate one’s identity amidst so many other cultural traditions. This trip was an eye-opening experience for me. I enjoyed it a lot, and I definitely want to visit Indonesia again when I save more money and time. Selamat tinggal, sampai jumpa lagi 😉

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:

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)


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


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.


4. Summer greenery from the summit of Festung Hohensalzburg


5. Pleasant aequous surprises at Schloss Hellbrunn


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! ❤



Lecture: Ezekiel’s My Cup of Tea!

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


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

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


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


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

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

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


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


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

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

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

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


I love his name, which means “God will strengthen”! From the name itself, we already know that he is a strong-minded person. In contrast to Isaiah, he doesn’t have very elegant speeches in the book. Of priestly descent, he is probably a practical person due to cultic demands. Therefore he will have less time to talk and more time to act. It probably doesn’t make much of a difference to Ezekiel’s daily activity when God actually shuts the prophet’s mouth up in 3:26 and only opens his mouth when God wants him to talk of the divine words. When Ezekiel speaks, he speaks earnestly and speaks only God’s words. Therefore you will find a lot of repetitive formulae throughout his prophetic book, e.g. the divine messenger formula (“thus says Yahweh”) or the word-event formula (“when the word of the Lord came to me saying”). Different from Jeremiah, Ezekiel probably has a better logic and better organizing skills. Therefore, when I read his book, I feel like I am reading a diary. You can find a quite ordered chronological series (1:1-2; [3:16]; 8:1; 20:1; 24:1; 26:1; 29:1, 17; 30:20; 31:1; 32:1, 17; 33:21; 40:1). The clear outline makes one biblical scholar to make the following comment: “The book of Ezekiel is widely and correctly considered the most tightly structured prophetic book of the Old Testament.” (See Konrad Schmid, “The Book of Ezekiel,” in“The Book of Ezekiel,” in T&T Clark Handbook of the Old Testament [ed.J. C.Gertz et al.; trans. J. Adams-Maßmann; New York: T&T Clark International, 2012], 452.)

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

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

And if I ask him the same question:

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

Ezekiel will stop whatever he is doing, he will look me deep into the eyes and will tell me: “You know my feelings for you.” The he will go back to his work at hand – trying to correct the measurements of the house that he is going to build for me! I think God probably also likes Ezekiel as a man of action. Otherwise, God won’t ask him to write down the detailed measurements of the gigantic New Temple in Ezekiel 40-48. If I were to die, I don’t need Ezekiel to cry for me. I just need to know that his heart will bleed for me, that will be enough.

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

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

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

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

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

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
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 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)
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!