First Person: My Final “First Person”

From the November/December 2017 Biblical Archaeology Review


Hershel Shanks

In the next issue of BAR, I will have a new title: Editor Emeritus. Yes, after 42 years I will be retiring. I will still be around—putting in my two cents. But I will not have the responsibility for making sure it is all there and putting it all together.

That will be the job of the new editor, Robert (Bob) Cargill. He is young, and he is smart. In some ways, under his editorship BAR will be the same magazine; in other ways, it may be new and different. I am confident you will continue to be enthralled with the magazine, and I think you will like Bob.

Bob Cargill is Assistant Professor of Classics and Religious Studies at the University of Iowa. His research includes the study of Qumran and the Dead Sea Scrolls, literary criticism of the Bible and the Pseudepigrapha, and the ancient Near East. He’s an experienced archaeologist and has excavated at Banias, Omrit, Hazor and Tel Azekah in modern Israel. You may recognize his face, as Bob frequently appears on TV—including the History Channel’s Bible Secrets Revealed and CNN’s Finding Jesus. His most recent book is The Cities That Built the Bible (HarperOne, 2016).

I have no particular plans. I have a few very intriguing articles in the cooker. I will continue working on them until, I trust, they appear in BAR. In other ways, I will continue working with our publisher (and president), Sue Laden, to make sure we are able to pay our printer. Meeting the bills has often been difficult. Many of our readers help us with donations in addition to their subscriptions. And a few wonderful donors help us in a major way.

Of course, I have a little nostalgia. I could fill this issue of BAR with that, but I will confine myself to a few incidents. The first is a negative: I never had a course in the Bible or archaeology and knew nothing about publishing a magazine. I had a degree in English literature from Haverford College, a master’s degree in sociology from Columbia University and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

Freeing the Dead Sea Scrolls by Hershel Shanks is a fascinating account of an archaeology outsider and his scrapes with governments, nomads and scoundrels. Shanks was one of the crucial factors that finally brought the Dead Sea Scrolls, vital tools of academic study, to the wider world.

I went to Israel with my wife and two little girls (then ages six and three) in 1972 on a sabbatical from my law practice. As is often the case, I was helped by some extraordinary good luck: On a family outing to Hazor, my six-year-old daughter, Elizabeth, picked up from the ground part of a clay pottery handle incised with a Syro-Hittite deity. After some initial resistance, Elizabeth agreed to give the handle to the leader of the archaeological expedition to Hazor, a military hero in the war that saw the creation of the State of Israel in 1948 and also Israel’s most famous archaeologist, Yigael Yadin. As a result, I met Yadin, and we had some good talks.

At one point, I offered to help Yadin prepare the publication of the pottery handle for the Israel Exploration Journal. “No,” Yadin immediately replied, “I’ll help you.” And so it was. The article appeared in the Israel Exploration Journal under my name. (I hasten to add, the actual research and writing was also mine.)

Of course there were many other things and people that helped launch BAR—some accidental, others purposeful—like the American archaeologist Bill Dever, then head of the W.F. Albright Institute of Archaeological Research in Jerusalem. His judgment was just what I needed to be editor of this new magazine (which was still many months away and not yet even conceived of).

In our free eBook Frank Moore Cross: Conversations with a Bible Scholar Hershel Shanks conducts five interviews with the renowned Bible scholar.

In the beginning, BAR came out only four times a year and had no color pictures. It has changed many times in many ways.

Over the years, I have met and worked with many Israeli and other Middle Eastern archaeologists—and they are a wonderful bunch. I thought I would end this final First Person column with a complaint, however. I would complain about Israel’s failure to treat female archaeologists equally with men. Well, I’m sure it’s happened—and is to be condemned—but long ago a number of leading archaeologists in the field were women. I think particularly of my friend Trude Dothan, then the world’s leading scholar on the Philistines. She died not long ago at age 93.

Instead, let me end with a plea to give your support to our new editor, Bob Cargill. He’s got a heavy job; it will keep him busy. But I’m confident he is more than up to it. And I’ll be around, I trust for a long time.

“First Person: My Final ‘First Person’” by Hershel Shanks was originally published in Biblical Archaeology Review, November/December 2017.


Related reading in Bible History Daily:

How BAR Was Born
Hershel Shanks reflects on the birth, evolution and legacy of Biblical Archaeology Review.

Biblical Archaeology: Whither and Whence
Giants in the field of Biblical archaeology, Eric and Carol Meyers sit down with BAR’s editor to discuss the past 40 years of Biblical archaeology, including the controversy surrounding the very name Biblical archaeology.


Posted in Archaeologists, Biblical Scholars & Works.

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  • Rob says

    What made me subscribe to BAR? Somewhere along the line Hershel revealed his age (close to mine), and the fact that he graduated from Harvard Law School, which usually impresses a native New Englander. I myself am only a graduate of Geo Washington University, where, fortunately, most of my instructors were PhD level.

    Hershel, I wish you much success in your further pursuits in a well-earned semi-retirement.

  • Wes says

    Amid the articles from the fields where the digging is done, the historical reviews, surveys, interpretations, personal accounts and the discussions or debates among readers, it feels like being back in college with an international campus. Plenty to reflect on, for all of us arriving with our different perspectives, religious and otherwise.

    Thank you for a wonderful contribution to our lives and society.

    We hold you to your promise to continue to write.

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