In the Giant’s Shadow

By Susan Laden

I’ve known Hershel Shanks since 1976. Over the past 44 years Hershel has been my boss, my associate, my colleague, and even technically my employee. Hershel has been a challenge, a nudge, a mensch, a person to butt heads against, a colleague, and an ally. More than anything else, Hershel has always been my friend.


Hershel Shanks, Susan Laden, Suzanne F. Singer, and Jordanian archaeologist Mohammad Najjar stand on a Herodian staircase at Machaerus in modern Jordan. Hershel founded BAR and served as its Editor until he was promoted to Editor Emeritus in 2018. Sue Laden is BAS’s Publisher, and Sue Singer was BAR’s longtime Managing Editor. Photo: Hershel Shanks/ Photo by Gyozo Vörös.

Stories have been told elsewhere about the early years of Biblical Archaeology Review, its founding in 1975, and a few of the challenges of the early years. As one of the few on the inside, I’d like to focus on Hershel himself. Hershel was dynamic, he commanded the room. He wasn’t afraid to offend, or worried about hurting others’ feelings. He was also fundamentally decent. His complete unconcern for my missteps was freeing. It allowed me and others at BAS the ability to do big things. Ultimately, that latitude—aligned with Hershel’s voice and amazing instincts—enabled Biblical Archaeology Review to become so much larger and more influential than the tiny niche publication that everybody including Hershel anticipated it would be.

I left BAS in 1994. We had come into conflict that we could not resolve while continuing to work together. Even so, his charisma and charm held sway. We shared lunch once a month for years, and maintained the mutual respect that had driven our professional relationship over the previous decades. In 2003, sufficient time had passed, there was a need, and the time was right for my return. In some ways, the biggest difference upon my return was that Hershel and I started going out to lunch once a week. Quite possibly to the chagrin of area restaurants, who had to put up with us splitting one entree, and requiring them to restore discontinued menu items to satisfy us, their “regulars.”

Hershel Shanks was a man who made things happen. He knew what he wanted to do, and he was seemingly capable of bending the world to his will to get it done. He was a sharp negotiator who sometimes lost good deals because he couldn’t stop himself from asking for just a little bit more. He drew people’s attention, whether sitting around a table or with the words he put to paper. He made passionate enemies and fast friends throughout our world, often both within the same person. Hershel Shanks changed biblical archaeology, leading so many more people to engage with its fascinating puzzles and controversies than anyone thought possible.

The course of my life was changed by this difficult, challenging, compassionate man. I will miss him.

Susan Laden is the Publisher of Biblical Archaeology Review and President of The Biblical Archaeology Society.

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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