Taylor House lectures consider: "Is Bob Wilson also among the prophets?"
Bob Wilson, a scholar of Old Testament prophecy, Hoober Professor of Religious Studies, and Professor of Old Testament, has been teaching at Yale for forty years—as long as an entire biblical generation.
This joke was not lost on the members of Yale Divinity School community who gathered to draw humorous parallels between Wilson and the Old Testament prophets to fete Wilson’s many years of service at the annual Taylor House Lectures on April 12.
Several members of the YDS faculty roasted Wilson in a series of mock lectures entitled “Robert Wilson: A Prophet in the Wry.” The panel of speakers included two of Wilson’s former students who are now YDS professors—Assistant Professor of Old Testament Joel Baden and Professor of Hebrew Scripture Carolyn Sharp—as well as Holmes Professor of Old Testament John Collins and Wilson’s colleague J. Edward and Ruth Cox Lantz Professor Emeritus of Christian Communication, David Bartlett.
Baden, who studied with Wilson while writing his Yale College senior thesis, playfully noted Wilson’s unchanging nature. Scrolling through a series of faculty and student photos of Wilson that all featured Wilson in a similar pose sporting his signature thick-rimmed, black glasses, Baden quipped that the glasses are a timeless characteristic of Wilson. To further reiterate the ubiquity of Wilson’s glasses, Baden inserted the signature black glasses on a series of iconic images such as the Washington crossing the Delaware River, Da Vinci’s Last Supper, and Moses, suggesting that Wilson and his glasses indeed exist outside the span of time.
A former doctoral student of Wilson’s, Sharp teased Wilson about the methodological distinctions between their scholarship. Sharp is a specialist in literary and hermeneutical criticism while Wilson’s interest in the Old Testament is more sociological.
Collins continued the night’s theme of Wilson’s timelessness, joking that Wilson is not only a scholar of Old Testament prophets, but he is actually one of them. As evidence, Collins cited Wilson’s “prophetic growl” and his hobby of playing the timpani in the New Haven Symphony Orchestra—much like Saul directed a frenzied band of prophets playing “harp, tambourine, flute, and lyre” in 1 Samuel 10:5. “Is Bob Wilson also among the prophets?” asked Collins to audience laughter.
Bartlett, a New Testament scholar who co-taught courses with Wilson, satirized typology, a school of biblical interpretation that argues for the recurrence of major thematic continuities between the persons in the Old and New Testaments, as further evidence of Wilson’s timelessness.
Wilson, upon offering his concluding remarks at the end of the lecture, said, “This portion of the program was described by the organizers as ‘response.’ It might be more accurately be called ‘retribution.”
The Taylor House Lectures are a storied tradition at YDS. Organized in the format of a parody academic lecture, several Divinity School professors deliver mock lectures that roast a selected faculty honoree. According to the description of this year’s event on Facebook, the Taylor House Lectures “used to occur annually, complete with fashion shows and musical numbers, but was shut down in the 1980s when students felt that the professors became too irreverent. You read that correctly: the students thought the professors had gotten out of hand.”
Last spring, the YDS student group Open Party revived the tradition. In April 2011, the Taylor House Lectures reconvened to honor then-Dean Harry Attridge, who was stepping down from the deanship.