Tributes to Hershel Shanks
from Hershel’s Family

“My Companion”
Judith Shanks
Hershel’s wife

From the early years of our marriage, we always shared a love of travel and exploration. He was more adventurous than I, and his willingness to explore brought fun (like riding motorcycles in Puerto Rico) and misadventure (like getting stuck in a desert wadi at dusk without proper lighting).


EVER PRESENT WITH HERSHEL: Judith, his wife of 55 years, and a red pen in his pocket for editing


He started BAR to give him an excuse to talk to working archaeologists. There were a few lean years, but once he started the magazine, he had no intention of giving up. I trusted he could do it: He was a very smart guy, energetic and motivated. I was very pleased for him when he became successful.

Hershel gave me many gifts—our two beautiful daughters, of course, and spirited companionship. I was always grateful for the support he gave me. He encouraged me to pursue my interests in scuba diving and eclipse chasing. Sometimes he’d join me; other times, he’d travel to Israel to source articles for the magazine. He created space for me to grow and learn, and provided warmth and comfort at home. I miss his presence, just having him around. He was my companion for 55 years.



FAMILY MAN. Hershel Shanks with daughters Elizabeth (on left) and Julia (on right).


“A Father and a Colleague”
Elizabeth Alexander
Hershel’s daughter

My grandmother, Hershel’s mother-in-law, used to say that Hershel’s powers as a raconteur were such that he could make even a trip to the grocery store sound like an adventure. I don’t think she meant it as a compliment. But the fact of the matter is that his keen sense for drama and mischievous streak meant his life was filled with real adventures, and, as his daughter, I had a front seat at many of the proceedings.

A reporter from the Washington Post asked me if I knew what made my father turn from law to archaeology and the Bible. Cleaning out his desk, we found a letter that I think offers insight. In 2000, he wrote to the Attorney General of the State of Delaware.

Dear Madam,

At the Cape Henlopen State Park, the Gordon’s Pond entrance, there is a state parking lot that charges $2.50 to park if you have a Delaware license plate and $5.00 if you have an out-of-state license. It seems to me that this is a clear violation of the Interstate Commerce Clause of the United States Constitution, as a burden on interstate commerce, and therefore unconstitutional.

Please advise whether you agree with me and if so, what steps you will take to have this unconstitutional imposition remedied.

Very truly yours,
Hershel Shanks

Let’s analyze this bit of text. First, the letter is very well-written. The language is appropriately spare. There is ironic comedy in juxtaposing the paltry sum at stake ($2.50) with lofty constitutional principles. There is a twinkle in the author’s eye; he delights in his cleverness. Second, this letter is designed to get a rise. My father lived to provoke. When I shared this note with the family there was speculation as to how the letter was received. Best case scenario, we decided, the letter ended up on the staff bulletin board where it garnered a few laughs. But my father probably never heard back from the AG’s office.

And that, I realized, accounts perfectly for my father’s professional involvement with archaeology and biblical scholarship. Unlike the Delaware AG, Israeli scholars of archaeology took every bit of bait my father sent their way. They responded to his provocations, and then some! Which, of course, only encouraged my father to keep egging them on.

As a young girl in the 1970s, I was overcome by my father’s charisma. When he came home from work, he would sit on the edge of his bed while taking off his shoes. My sister and I knelt by him to clap his bare feet with our tiny little hands. We, the adoring fans, were probably preschool age. He could do no wrong.

In the 1980s and 1990s, when I was in college and grad school, studying an academic field very close to his, I was threatened by his looming persona. I asserted my independence. Echoing his critics, I pooh-pooh-ed his scholarly bonafides and saw him as a dilettante-ish interloper. When he was sued in Israeli courts for copyright infringement, I sat by his side in the courtroom and served as his unofficial translator. But during the breaks, I hobnobbed with his adversaries— some of them my mentors at Hebrew University that year—in the hall.

More recently, I’ve come to cherish our overlapping professional lives. I wrote the following in the acknowledgments to my second book: “An unexpected treat during the writing process was sharing each chapter fresh off the press with my father. Our subsequent conversations were deeply moving; he engaged the arguments as if they mattered. When I finished the final version of the epilogue, I emailed him a copy saying, ‘I won’t feel it’s done until it has seen the red ink of Hershel’s pen.’ I am forever grateful to have had the opportunity to interact with him in a way that was both deeply personal and professionally sophisticated.”

All told, I am extremely proud of what he achieved in his lifetime. And I am grateful that he lived a long life, affording me the luxury of moving through each stage of our rich and complicated father-daughter relationship in its proper time.

I will carry his legacy with me always.


“A Healthy Dose of Mischief”
Julia Shanks
Hershel’s daughter

Growing up, I was a bit of a black sheep in the family. Both my parents were highly educated intellectuals. As you know, my dad was a lawyer turned editor/publisher, who graduated from Harvard Law. My mom was a Wellesley graduate who went on to be an editor for Time Life Books. My sister did well in school and never got in trouble. And then there was me … mischievous and beating my own path: first studying to be a pilot, then working as a chef for 15 years before becoming a business consultant to farmers. As I reflect on my dad’s life, I realize I’m very much his daughter, from the mischief to the entrepreneurial spirit.

In his later years, Hershel often reflected on his life with a sense of accomplishment. He talked about “this little boy from Sharon, Pennsylvania,” who went on to become a lawyer and argue legal cases in front of the Supreme Court. On the surface, you might think this pride might come from his upbringing. Raised by a Russian immigrant shoe salesman and a homemaker, he was one of the first in his family to go to college.

But it was more than that. Growing up, his parents and teachers didn’t expect he would go too far because he was such a troublemaker. One example was in high school when he forged a letter on the school newspaper’s letterhead addressed to his parents. The school guidance counselor, Hershel wrote on his behalf, said that he was too devoted to his studies, should get out and socialize more, and therefore needed use of his parents’ car. The school got wind of this, and he was kicked off the newspaper. His grades suffered. He wasn’t able to get into a good college.

But sure enough, motivated by that rejection, he turned things around, and went on to get degrees from Haverford, Columbia, and Harvard Law. I’ve carried some of that spirit, too. I don’t think my parents thought I’d do too much either: I got in trouble … a lot! But somehow, I managed to turn it around. Like my father, I’ve written a few books and had a few careers.
And though we pursued very different paths, we were both entrepreneurs and writers. We always had lively conversations about marketing, branding, and profitability. As I wrote more, he was always there with his red felt-tip pen, making sure every word was needed and expressive.

My father had a passion for the biblical archaeology, and he followed it. Through his magazine, he created a way to stay connected to Israel and visit as an “insider,” not as a tourist. For many years, the magazine barely supported itself. He continued to work in his law practice for at least 12 years after starting the magazine, working on the magazine in the mornings and heading downtown in the afternoons. Eventually, he retired from the law so he could devote himself full-time to the magazine. He was so engaged with his work, that he didn’t fully retire until 87.

His legacy and progeny are a reflection of a life well lived: engaged, curious, always kind, and with a healthy dose of mischief.

The Biblical Archaeology Society remembers the life and achievements of Biblical Archaeology Review’s founder and Editor Emeritus, Hershel Shanks, who passed away February 5, 2021 at the age of 90. Across more than four decades, beginning in 1974 until his retirement in 2017, Hershel transformed BAR from a relatively modest publication reflecting his deep personal interest in the biblical past into the world’s best-selling and most widely read biblical archaeology magazine, enjoyed by millions. 


In Memory of Hershel Shanks Main Page

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