Memorial Service for Professor William Whedbee to Be Held at Pomona College on Feb. 14
A memorial service celebrating the life of Professor J. William (Bill) Whedbee, who died in his sleep at home on Thursday, January 22, will be held on Saturday, February 14, at 2 p.m. at Bridges Hall of Music on the campus of Pomona College, at 150 East Fourth Street in Claremont. Dr. Whedbee, who was 65, was the Nancy M. Lyon Professor of Biblical History and Literature and of Religious Studies at Pomona College.
A member of the Pomona faculty since 1966, Dr. Whedbee was a five-time winner of the College’s Wig Distinguished Professorship Award for Excellence in Teaching, who touched and transformed the lives of countless students, many of whom were inspired to follow in his footsteps. “Teaching was his love and joy,” says Zayn Kassam, a friend and chair of the Religious Studies Department. “It was an art for him. No matter how many times he had taught the course, he read just about everything important that had been published in the field after he had last taught the course and incorporated it. I can't imagine that incoming freshmen will no longer have the opportunity to take Bill's signature class, Biblical Heritage, which he taught every semester.”
Dr. Whedbee also taught Elementary Classical Hebrew, Readings in Classical Hebrew, The New Testament and the History of Early Christianity, and Myth in Classical and Contemporary Religious Traditions.
“He was able to let the texts speak for themselves,” noted his friend and colleague Jerry Irish. “He was able to step out of the way and, in doing so, he enabled hundreds of students to start telling and living their own stories. Bill understood that teaching, like friendship, was to hear lives into being, to listen and respond to the stories of others.”
Rabbi Shelton Donnell, with Temple Beth Shalom Orange County and Pomona Class of 1972, is one of many who credit Dr. Whedbee with life-changing influence. "Bill is the reason I became a rabbi," he noted recently.
Dr. Whedbee’s research covered Biblical and ancient near-Eastern literature and religion (especially mythological and epic texts, prophetic and wisdom literature), the history of biblical interpretation, hermeneutics, and literary criticism. He was the author of several books and articles, the most recent of which was the well-received The Bible and the Comic Vision (Cambridge, 1998). Its publication in paperback in 2002 (Fortress) illustrates its accessibility for students as well as scholars. “His distinctive contribution to the field,” explains Professor Irish, “was to bring his considerable knowledge of contemporary literary criticism and critical theory to his studies of the Bible, evident in his attention to the comic vision in the Bible.”
Dr. Whedbee’s impact on Pomona’s campus extended far beyond his students and department colleagues. Among those inspired were past and present Pomona-Pitzer soccer student-athletes who were “touched with Bill's kindness and unwavering support through the best and worst of times,” said Bill Swartz, coach of the Pomona-Pitzer men’s soccer team.
“While spending his last season with the team this fall, Bill continued to teach the coaches and players that ‘whatever our hands had decided to do, to do it well.’”
Outside Pomona’s gates, Dr. Whedbee gave seminars at Hebrew Union College and team-taught the Bible with his wife, Dr. Tamara C. Eskenazi, in a number of congregations. He earned his B.A. degree from Westmont College, his B.D. from Fuller Theological Seminary, and both his M.A. and Ph.D. degree from Yale University.
The family requests that donations in memory of Bill Whedbee be made to Pomona College in care of David Scott, Director of Stewardship and Memorial Funds, 550 North College Avenue, Claremont, CA 91711.
Dr. Whedbee is survived by his beloved wife, Dr. Tamara Cohn Eskenazi (professor of Bible at Hebrew Union College, Los Angeles), and son David Whedbee (a law student at the University of Washington), as well as his sister Shirley Herman of Seattle, along with step-children Willa Eskenazi (Denver), Kay Eskenazi (San Francisco), Joanne Cohn (Berkeley), Michael Eskenazi (Santa Barbara), and David Cohn (Palo Alto). Five step – grandchildren also survive him: Erika and Nicole Eskenazi, Miranda and Jeremy Cohn, and Alex Cohn White.