Larger Than Life

By Eric H. Cline

I have never lived, professionally speaking, in a world without Hershel Shanks and Biblical Archaeology Review. He began the magazine in 1975, when I was still in high school. I don’t remember when I first began subscribing, to be honest, but by the time I got to graduate school in the early ’80s, it was de rigueur to read it, albeit sometimes surreptitiously hidden inside the Philadelphia Inquirer, while the Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) and the American Journal of Archaeology (AJA) lay more obviously out on my desk. I still remember breathlessly reading his gossipy reports on the annual ASOR meetings, with his take on the participants and their papers, both good and—even more fun and juicy—bad, with headlines like “Dever Stars at Lackluster Annual Meeting.”2 I have since sometimes found myself on the receiving end of his “zings,” and even a First Person in biblical archaeology, would have been far less interesting without Hershel in the mix.

It is also a testament to Hershel that he has a gift—a journalist’s eye, as it were—of spotting hidden nuggets within the world of arcane academic scholarship. Sifting through jargon-laden and stilted writing in scholastic journals, he winnowed wheat from chaff and brought topics, ideas, and new discoveries to a much larger audience of interested readers. Suggesting, cajoling, and occasionally even heavily reworking manuscripts by and from some of the most distinguished archaeologists and others working in the Middle East, Hershel brought the world of biblical archaeology to life for thousands of subscribers each issue, not to mention their extended families and friends.

He was larger than life, an outsized personality with an outsized—he would say an outsider’s—impact on the field, which is summed up in this single concluding example. I still remember vividly when we were in San Antonio for the ASOR meetings in 2004; my wife’s grandmother came with us. Of all the famous archaeologists, scholars, and other people who were in attendance, there was one—and only one—person whom she wanted to meet, and that was Hershel.

Hershel Shanks and Eric Cline

Hershel Shanks and Eric Cline. Photo by Anatoly Policastro.

Eric H. Cline is Professor of Classics and Anthropology and Director of the Capitol Archaeological Institute at The George Washington University. He is also author or editor of over 15 books and 100 articles including Three Stones Make a Wall: The Story of Archaeology (Princeton, 2017). Cline is the Co-director of the Kabri Archaeological Project at Tel Kabri, Israel. He was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize in 2014 and has won BAS’s Best Popular Book on Archaeology Award three times (2001, 2009, and 2011).

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. 

We have collected reflections on Hershel’s legacy from some of his colleagues and dear friends. Many of these originally appeared in Festschrift: A Celebration of Hershel Shanks, the special double issue of Biblical Archaeology Review, published in 2018. Please enjoy these memories and celebrate Hershel’s contributions to the fields of biblical archaeology and biblical studies.

In Memory of Hershel Shanks Main Page

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