The Archaeological Evangelist

By Amy-Jill Levine

It is difficult to say no to Hershel Shanks. Much like Jesus, he has the capacity to say to otherwise busy people, “Come, follow me. I will publish your article after editing it, and your good news will receive wide distribution.”

His potential disciples sometimes demur, “I don’t do archaeology: the heat, the dust, the waking up early, I might break a nail … .”

And Hershel responds, “Take up your laptop and follow me.” And we do.

What makes Hershel’s evangelism compelling is that he does not settle for the obvious. Nor does he seek to be provocative simply for the sake of provocation, despite what some “Letters to the Editor” suggest. He promotes the good news of critical biblical scholarship that speaks not only to what ancient texts meant, but also to what they might mean today for people who look to the Bible for guidance.

In 2002, when he was editing Moment magazine, Hershel asked me to do a piece on Jesus in his Jewish context. He—not I—titled the article “Jesus Who?” Helped both by the provocative title and by Hershel’s judicious editing, the piece was selected for inclusion in Arthur Kurzweil’s Best Jewish Writing 2003. That one essay convinced me that I could write for the general public, and it made the topic of Jesus kosher for Jews.

To keep the hechsher (kosher “seal of approval”) for putting “Jews” and “Jesus” in the same sentence in place, in 2012 Hershel invited me to contribute a piece titled “What Jews (and Christians Too) Should Know About the New Testament” for BAR. Also that same year, he published my column “The Many Faces of the Good Samaritan—Most Wrong.”

Hershel Shanks has introduced the New Testament to Jews and corrected the numerous, erroneous anti-Jewish teachings that come from uninformed biblical study. He has done more than entertain and educate; he has provided the opportunity for Jews and Christians both to recognize our common history and to work against bearing false witness against each other.

Amy-Jill Levine is the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Professor of New Testament Studies and Professor of Jewish Studies at Vanderbilt Divinity School and College of Arts and Sciences in Nashville, Tennessee. In 2011, she became an affiliated Professor at the Woolf Institute, Centre for the Study of Jewish-Christian Relations at Cambridge, UK. She co-edited The Jewish Annotated New Testament (Oxford, 2011) with Professor Marc Brettler of Brandeis University.

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

Send this to a friend