By Dr. Joseph Prud’homme
(Below is a copy of the eulogy that Dr. Prud’Homme delivered at Jacob Marberger’s memorial service in Philadelphia this past Wednesday)
We are called together by the death of our beloved friend Jacob, a coming together made necessary by those thousand shocks and heartaches that all human flesh is made heir to. Oh, but I-and we-come not to mourn, no, but to celebrate. For as that seer whom Rabbi Shimoni calls the greatest of all the prophets—Isaiah—writes to remind us that death itself shall be swallowed up in victory. And not just that, but the life led by this remarkable young man, Jacob, is fitting not only for celebration, but for emulation. Here is a role model for us all. A model scholar whose mind was brighter, whose wit sharper, whose love of learning more unshakable than any I have known in 15 years as a college professor. I pray all my students this day and every day would be just like Jacob: would have that softness that endeared him to his fellow students; would have that rapier intellect that would let not a single solecism or sloppy syllogism rest unchallenged; would be as decent, as kind, and as loving to their core.
Jacob. Jacob was a light in my life. A man blessed with incredible intelligence, intelligence matched with unsurpassed compassion, with unexcelled excitement for the life of the mind, with unbounded optimism in the future and potential of every human being. Oh Jacob! Jacob brought out the very best in me as a teacher and the very best in those students fortunate to have him in the classroom.
You know, one time, I remember Jacob asked me about the early reign of King Shamaneser the Fifth of Assyria , and, well I thought myself a good student of Near Eastern religions. I remember another time he asked me about the early days of the administration of William McKinley, and, well, I thought myself a good student of the American presidency. On both occasions Jacob responded to my honest ignorance with that kind smile, that affectionate touch that was so quintessentially Jacob: “that’s okay,” he said, “we’ll learn together.” Oh and that’s just what we did. We worked together in my freshmen seminar, we worked together on economic history and philosophy, we worked together on a research project on religion in public life, and I, I always was the greater learner, learning from him nuance and detail, perspectives and visions I had never dreamed imaginable.
His enthusiasm was infectious and his insight staggering.
Dr. and Mrs. Marberger, you named your son so well. Jacob was indeed a wrestler, was indeed a young man worthy of the name Isra-el, that wrestler of Hebrew scripture. Jacob wrestled with ideas, he wrestled with texts, he wrestled with me to get to the truth-always to get to the truth. He was a man after my own heart.
Because I thought so highly of Jacob, I nominated him for a slot in a highly competitive conference on political theory and invited him to present his papers at major disciplinary conferences. And I know, I know he taught those conference attendees as much as he taught me. Indeed, Jacob taught all whom he met lessons not just about Near Eastern kings and long forgotten presidencies, but about honor, about kindness, about loyalty to principle.
Jacob leaves an enduring legacy. This legacy will be remembered by all of us. And remembered by few more than I. It’s a legacy I’ll treasure until that day I too meet that kind maker, that kind maker of all human flesh.
So Jacob, let me say to you the words of an Irish playwright, one of the world’s very best:
May the nourishment of the earth be yours
May the clarity of light be yours
May the fluency of the oceans be yours
May the protection of the ancestors be yours.
Amen, I pray and all of us pray that Jacob’s memory be a blessing to all who knew him and all who loved him.
May he rest in peace.