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).

As the point where three of the world’s major religions converge, Israel’s history is one of the richest and most complex in the world. Sift through the archaeology and history of this ancient land in the free eBook Israel: An Archaeological Journey, and get a view of these significant Biblical sites through an archaeologist’s lens.

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.


Related Posts

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By: Daniel A. Warner, Donald D. Binder, Eric M. Meyers, and James Riley Strange

Jul 14
Ancient Scribe Links Qumran Scrolls to Masada

By: Biblical Archaeology Society

22 Responses

  1. Rob Palmer 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.

  2. 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.

  3. Ron Choong says:

    Herschel, your labors have been and continues to be a blessing to my generation. Its inpired me as a seminarian to participate in my first dig at Beth Shemesh and the many BibleFests. Thank you for your inspired decision to start BAR. Blessings.

  4. Joe Cantello says:

    Hershel–I am so grateful that God allowed a little curiosity on your part (back in 1972) to turn into a magazine (and organization) that benefited many of us over the years. Enjoy retirement–you earned it and I am sure you left the magazine in very capable hands.

  5. Bob Armintor says:

    Thanks Hershel for a wonderfully readable periodical on a subject important to many of us. I hope you enjoy your retirement, and continue to provide BAR with interesting articles and/or comments as your time permits. Best wishes.

  6. johns423 says:

    I appreciate your contributions to knowledge and civilization. Thank you.

  7. deawnae says:

    Thanks for producing a great publication! I pray that you enjoy your retirement and that BAR flourishes!

  8. J. G. Dalton says:

    Mr. Shanks, for a few years now I have been dreading the moment you’d announce your retirement, but now I have the opportunity to finally tell you what I have wanted to:

    Thank you, and thank you!

    Not just for your 42 years of creating, shaping, promoting and keeping alive the wonderful BAR magazine/society, but more… thank you for your way of approaching the world, and your attitude toward life which is no longer common, if it ever was. I refer to your full contact, people-to-people, way of encounter, with a preference for plain speaking and fighting for important ideas and causes. I have cherished your honest comments, your insights, even your brawls! As much as I always read BAR for its news, scholarship, and panoramic photos that take me to places I may never go otherwise, it has been your personal presence that “made” the magazine for me. BAR readers feel that they know you personally and trust you, not always to be right, but to be “real”, with a passion for uncovering truth even if unpopular or awkward.

    Thank you for being a great editor-activist and person! You never hid behind a smoke screen of fake “professional” objectivity, or scholarly elitism. You always had a point of view and asked others to be honest about theirs. Yet you were careful not to leap to conclusions and always presented facts from all sides of debates. Noticing that you come from western PA as I do, I thank you for retaining the honesty, love of people, and plain-speaking that is the best of small-town culture. Of course you’ve gone on to many honors and achievements, in BAR giving everyday people as well as professionals the fruits of scholarship which came from of a lifetime of cultivating top people in many fields. Never for a second did you allow BAR to become boring or conformist.

    Thank you for covering every corner of your readers’ joint “spiritual geography” – the archaeological history and scholarship of that special region – with courageous and profound storytelling. You shaped and sustained for four decades this entertaining magazine in which readers of different faiths find inspiration and education.

    I know you won’t be without a next project, ever, and I eagerly await your next writing. I appreciate that you will continue to use your skills to keep the magazine viable. I will, as you request, transfer my allegiance to the next incarnation of BAR, but in true Hershel Shanks style, I remain vigilant and hopeful that its independent spirit never goes away.

    Mr. Shanks, I wish you and BAR a great continuing journey with gratitude for the fascinating way stations you have provided.

  9. Michael Eisenberg says:

    Dear Hershel, happy retirement. It was a pleasure working together.

  10. Rhea Cohen says:

    Thank you, Hershel, for your dedication to publishing the Biblical Archaeology Review and your books about Biblical history. I’ve been your fan for almost as long as BAR has been in existence and truly can’t thank you enough for all the times I’ve looked forward to the next issue and, when it arrived, read it from cover to cover in one sitting. I wish you a happy and healthy retirement and the satisfaction that you’ve made a difference in the lives of a multitude of readers.

  11. Eileen Behmer says:

    I’ve been a reader of BAR for some 20 years now. I love and admire Hershel Shanks and wish
    him years of fruitful happy retirement.
    Thanks for all the wonderful gifts he gave us.

    Eileen B.

  12. George W. King says:

    Yes Hershel – Retiring after a heavy burden is a blessed hope. You are one special person.
    I am pleased that you added the note that you had your family in Israel when ” it struck you’.
    It struck me too. I am 85 years old and pray that the Lord will give me a little more time to
    finish my DVD’s on Bible Site history – derived from my 17 trips to the Holy Land and my 44,500 slides.
    I prize my first issues of your four times a year – and following the many, many issues of BAR.
    I thought saving your issues from the very first would give me a reference library, – but in the
    last few years – we now have the computer. I still treasure my very first issues, – but now plan
    to dispose them soon. I shall see the Bible truths first hand soon. May God Bless us all !

  13. tonys58 says:

    Hershel, thankyou for the brave leadership in bringing to light the real story of the Dead Sea scrolls to all peoples and for your work with BAR.

  14. Uzi Silber says:

    Thought you ought to leave out the complaint. There are quite a few female Israeli archeologists and I don’t think you should single out Israel for that.
    Soured your farewell note.

  15. Mike says:

    As a long time subscriber, it is hard when a change of command comes. Your insight and fair-minded handling of sensitive topics will be sorely missed. I cannot tell you how much each copy of BAR meant to me during our time in foreign mission service. As a teacher and pastor it is a priceless resource. Hershel, you are a priceless resource and friend to all of us readers. You will be greatly missed. Enjoy your well earned retirement. I know you will still take time to smell the papyrus every now and then. God bless you, and thank you for all the years you have given us.

  16. Marilyn J. Collier says:

    Thank you for all the years you have devoted to this wonderful magazine. I understand the desire to retire, but it sounds like you are retiring like so many of us. I look forward to anything you publishe. Blessings and thank you again.

  17. John G Leslie says:

    Thank you for promoting archaeology regarding the Bible. It helped stimulate my desire to study it as part of understanding, coloring in but not interpreting, the Bible.
    G_d Bless,
    Dr John

  18. Dennis B. Swaney says:

    When I first read this in the Nov/Dec 17 issue of BAR, I was immediately saddened. To me (and probably all BAR readers) you ARE the BAR! In the space of two years the two writers I always read first have left: first Leonard Greenspoon, and now you. Too bad Dr. Greenspoon could not have been brought back to succeed you because while nobody can ever fill your shoes, but perhaps a close “fitting” might have worked.

  19. Dan Bruce says:

    Here in the U.S. we have a custom of telling people who have served in combat, “Thank you for your service!” In the context of the archaeological/theological “combat” often represented by BAR, I think that the same thank you is appropriate for honoring your time as editor, Hershel. May your future be as rewarding and productive as the past.

  20. David P Feder says:

    As a subscriber from Day One (I still have all but two issues stashed away!) I do not want to imagine BAR without Hershel Shanks! Yes, I know you say you’ll still be around putting in your two shekels, but soon you’re going to find yourself too busy to chime in and two shekels will become one shekel will become an agora will become a gerush and you’ll be off fishing or sailing or redoing your home in ultramodern — anything, as long as you no longer have to look at any artifacts older than your most recent pair of Florsheims.
    Sorry, Hershel, but no. The readers have not given you permission. We expect your next “First Person” in our mailbox by Tuesday January 2, and don’t be late.

  21. Lia D says:

    Thank you for such an informative and balanced magazine; your unique insight will be missed.

  22. Jonathan Petersen says:

    Thank you for your vision in starting and leading BAR!

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