Tributes to Hershel Shanks
from BAS Staff, Contributors, and Associates

“In the Giant’s Shadow”
Susan Laden
BAS, Publisher & President

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, Sue Laden, Suzanne F. Singer, and Hungarian archaeologist Győző Vörös stand on a Herodian staircase at Machaerus in modern Jordan. Biblical Archaeology Society/Photo by Mohammad Najjar.


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.

“A Hero to His Readers”
John Merrill
BAS, Chairman Emeritus & Contributing Editor


Hershel enjoyed the rare good fortune of being able to make a career out of doing what he loved. In his case, Hershel’s love was the intersection of the biblical text and the archaeological findings that either confirmed or called into question our modern understanding of that text. Although not himself a scholar (as he frequently reminded us), Hershel’s legal training and communication skills made him especially qualified to tailor the sometimes arcane work of scholars into findings that were accessible to the non-specialist. Watching Hershel at work—questioning and clarifying details—was very much like watching a skilled litigator cross-examining witnesses and preparing a convincing case for the jury. Hershel’s penetrating wit could occasionally prove nettlesome to scholars, although most supported his desire to dissect and evaluate contradictory opinions, and for this Hershel was a hero to his readers.


“Even Before There Was BAR”
Suzanne Singer
BAR, Contributing Editor and former Managing Editor

My husband, Max, and Hershel were Harvard Law School classmates. I suppose that’s why we qualified to receive his “Dear Everyone” letters, a flow that began when he arrived in 1972 for an unconventional sabbatical year in Israel. Each letter vividly shared an adventure with his wife, Judith, and their two young daughters, Elizabeth and Julia, as they discovered ancient Israel. As the Shanks family drew to the end of their year, the Singer family—Max, myself, and our four sons—arrived. Our model hung before us. What Hershel discovered we would try to find. At that time of our lives, we were not observant Jews, so Shabbat, free from work, was the ideal time to pile into our Ford station wagon for a new destination, often an archaeological site.

Our year extended to four years. In 1975, Hershel’s return to D.C. spawned the small brown quarterly Biblical Archaeology Review, known until today as BAR. Lacking any pressing responsibilities in Israel, I leaped at Hershel’s offer to work as his Jerusalem Correspondent. All I knew was that, when I visited a dig, such as Professor Nahman Avigad’s excavation in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem’s Old City, I could announce myself with a title working for a magazine that no one had ever heard of.

And so I began years of fascinating relationships and developed a gradual respect for BAR’s mission to bring the work of scholars to a world of people interested in the land and treasures of the Bible.

As at the beginning, Hershel was my teacher and a model for never allowing ignorance or lack of experience to impede the certainty that we could move forward. It was his gift to
me and all of us who helped him with his dreams.

Susan Laden, Janet Bowman, and Hershel Shanks at the BAS office. Photo by Robin Ngo.


“Breathing Biblical Archaeology”
Janet Bowman
BAS, Administrative Assistant

In April 1989, I was introduced to the Biblical Archaeology Society and Hershel Shanks. I was initially hired as the receptionist. However, it wasn’t until 1994, when I was assigned to assist Hershel, that I actually became familiar with him and with his family and associates.

I soon learned that Hershel never let the grass grow under his feet. He was a workhorse with a very tight schedule that he stuck to religiously. He never wasted a minute. He was extremely intelligent, predictable, dependable, and professional.

Hershel lived and breathed biblical archaeology and the society, and he put his heart and soul into publishing material that the average person could comprehend to stay informed. He was very devoted to his family, his friends, his staff, and to BAS. Through the years, Hershel often expressed his appreciation for his staff and knew the society could not succeed without the hard work and devotion of each member of the organization.

As a lecturer, Hershel was a captivating speaker. He was also an accomplished pianist and would occasionally entertain the staff with a recital at his home. I always admired that Hershel left his law practice to follow his true passion for biblical archaeology. BAS
will never be the same without him.


“A Showstopping Act”
Robert R. Cargill
BAR, former Editor

When Sue Laden (President of the Biblical Archaeology Society) first asked me to consider assuming the role of Editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, anticipating Hershel’s retirement in 2017, I declined. First among the reasons was, “Who on earth can follow Hershel?” I knew it would be an impossible task. I would immediately be compared to an icon. Hershel’s devoted supporters and the readers of BAR would only be able to see my deficiencies—all the ways that I did not match up to the man who founded this magazine, argued before the Supreme Court, helped liberate the Dead Sea Scrolls, and asked way too many questions far too loudly at the SBL and ASOR sessions he attended. I simply couldn’t follow that showstopping act. It was a no-win situation if there ever was one.

Sue retorted, “No, you’re perfect. You’re already a public scholar who works in biblical archaeology, and you’ve already shown that you can handle many, many people—scholars and the public alike—regularly criticizing you publicly.”

I smiled and took it as a compliment.

And, so did Hershel. And that was perhaps the most powerful thing about Hershel Shanks. He knew his job was to report on the latest archaeological discoveries from the Holy Land, and that he was doing so as an “outsider,” that is, as someone without scholarly credentials in archaeology. Hershel didn’t mind asking hard questions, rubbing people the wrong way on occasion (sometimes on multiple occasions), but—and this is important—he never took it personally! And I know this because I was once a rather frequent critic of Hershel and of BAR. And yet, Hershel never took it personally.

Hershel understood that academic criticism is how scholarship moves forward. He knew that his passion for archaeology and the history of ancient Israel was shared by millions around the world, be they Jewish, Christian, Muslim, atheist—Hershel knew that people love to hear the stories of their ancestors told in a compelling manner, and as often as possible, with vibrant color pictures.

So, I decided to meet with Hershel. And like anyone who has ever met with him can tell you, Hershel Shanks was one of the most charming individuals you can meet. His booming voice, his laugh, his smile, the twinkle in his eye, all encased in his tall, lanky frame, topped by a quick wit and lawyer’s intellect quickly talked me into the job. Before I knew it, I was the second Editor of BAR with his blessing, a job I loved not only for the opportunities to work with fantastic scholars and bring new discoveries to the public, but because of BAR’s loyal readers. I loved most what Hershel loved most—interacting with subscribers, answering emails and letters, and meeting BAR’s readers at the annual Bible and Archaeology Fest. Hershel understood that BAR is always—first and foremost—about its readers. He loved you all as much as you loved him, and he would want you to know that.

Rest in peace, Hershel. It was an honor working with you, learning from you, and continuing your legacy with BAR for the past three years. Thank you for bringing biblical archaeology to the masses. May your memory be for a blessing (ז׳׳ל).

“An Unexpected Mentor”
Glenn J. Corbett
BAR, Editor

When I first joined BAR back in 2007, I honestly didn’t know what to expect from Hershel Shanks. By that time a seasoned graduate student in biblical archaeology, I was, on the one hand, tremendously excited to meet someone whose publication had figured so prominently in my formative fascination with the field. On the other, I admittedly wondered what I could possibly learn from this self-proclaimed “outsider” who had spent a career popularizing a field to which I had already dedicated years of intense study.

I couldn’t have been more wrong! With his inquisitive mind, probing questions, and heavy editorial hand, Hershel helped me become a far more effective writer and editor, especially finding those “hooks,” eye-catching headlines, and stunning visuals that grab the reader’s attention and make them want to keep reading. More than anything, however, he taught me that scholarship—and the knowledge it produces—must be shared and made accessible if it is to have any meaning and significance beyond the cloistered halls of the academy. That vision of shared knowledge—Hershel’s vision—has guided my professional path ever since.

And Hershel was generous and supportive. He was not only a surprisingly understanding boss (he allowed me to work remotely, well before such accommodations were common), but he eagerly supported my efforts to finish my dissertation and even encouraged my occasional research trips to Jordan. Indeed, without Hershel’s patience and understanding, I probably never would have finished my degree.

Hershel, may your memory be for a blessing, and thanks for being such an inspiring guide and mentor.


The BAS staff at the Bible and Archaeology Fest 2017, in Boston, after unveiling the festschrift planned for BAR founder and Editor Emeritus, Hershel Shanks. From left to right: Jennifer Drummond, Robin Ngo, Megan Sauter, Cathy Van Bebber, Susan Laden, Sarah Yeomans, Alicia Bregon, Anatoly Policastro, and Bob Cargill. Photo courtesy Cathy Van Bebber.


“Lessons of the Red Pen”
Marek Dospěl
BAR, Associate Editor

When I became the Assistant Editor in 2016, I was still fortunate to apprentice with the loud but deeply perceptive master. (I am told that by then he was a far mellower version of his former self.) I particularly came to appreciate Hershel’s straightforward, honest, and powerful way of speaking and writing. But the beginnings were difficult. Yes, the learning curve … and Hershel’s merciless red pen. When I would get my pages back from him completely red with changes and comments, I tried not to take it personally. He did not mean it that way; he had no time or patience for nonsense.

Every time I would indulge in wordy, “smart” writing, I would find this comment on the page, underlined, encircled: “says nothing.” It was Hershel’s way of saying, “don’t waste space and the reader’s attention; focus on the message and be concise.” Hershel put me through a school of effective writing, but I’ve found an even deeper lesson in his recurrent comment. I remember Hershel’s maxim daily, and when I hear his “says nothing,” I also hear “cut the rubbish, focus on what’s central, and launch out into the deep.”

May Hershel’s memory be for a blessing.


“Sweet Memories”
Jennifer Drummond
BAS, Circulation Manager

I worked with Hershel only for three years before he retired, but even in that short period of time I have so many fond memories of him. How do you narrow years of memories, and a lifetime of stories, into a short tribute? In light of this conundrum, I picked the thing about Hershel that stands out in my mind the most (aside from his extensive list of achievements).

Hershel Shanks had a sweet tooth. Carrot cake was his favorite, and while I’m sure there were treats he didn’t enjoy, I never saw him turn down something sweet. We had cookies, chocolate, etc., at every meeting, and you rose in Hershel’s esteem if you brought in something to share with him. This worked out well as several of us in the office baked and often brought in our creations. Many a time Hershel would walk in, carrying his slightly ratty, blue bag packed with yellow folders filled with the work we had submitted for review—which I’m sure were marked liberally with red pen—and looked for something sweet. He would be excited and grateful when he found something, but he would be equally vocal if nothing was to be had. While I don’t think he meant to guilt us, no one liked disappointing Hershel, so treats would often appear a day or two after he went looking, I hope to his pleasure.

I’m sure no one will argue when I say Hershel was a great man. It was my honor to have worked for him, talked with him, and learned from him. He left a mark on this world and will be remembered and missed by many, myself included.


“Challenging Norms”
Steve Feldman
BAR, former Managing Editor

Hershel was very smart and confident in his judgments. He was a good writer, took good photos, appreciated a good joke, had a good sense of his audience, and understood that many, perhaps most, of his readers were interested in a site’s or an object’s possible connection to the Bible. He could also be infuriating—he had no hesitation, for example, in telling designers to rip up a layout and start over. But many of the people who worked for him, myself included, worked for him for many years. We obviously felt his good qualities greatly outweighed the bad. But for all the good qualities I’ve just mentioned, there’s one thing I respected him for the most. Hershel came of age in an America where the leading universities and top law firms made little secret of the fact that they admitted a very limited number of Jews, if they admitted them at all. Hershel attended Harvard Law School, worked in the Department of Justice, and practiced law, all at a time when the very Jewish name Hershel Shanks closed many doors. Many people changed their names to advance professionally. Hershel never did. Perhaps that chutzpah (some might call it orneriness) is what allowed him to start a magazine when he had no experience in publishing. He figured he could learn on the way, and he did.

Two memories of Hershel came back to me recently, showing two different sides of his personality. Both concerned the James Ossuary, which dominated the pages of BAR in the early 2000s almost as much as the Dead Sea Scrolls had in the 1990s. The ossuary itself was typical of turn-of-the-era ancient Israel—it would have held the bones of a deceased person or persons after their flesh had withered away. What made this ossuary sensational was the inscription scratched on one of its long sides: translated, it read “James, son of Joseph, brother of Jesus.” Though BAR’s cover story on the ossuary pointed out that there could have been several Jameses in first-century C.E. Jerusalem who had fathers named Joseph and brothers named Jesus, the ossuary was widely taken to have held the remains of the brother of Jesus of Nazareth.

The blowback was fierce. The ossuary had not been found in an archaeological excavation but in the collection of an antiquities collector named Oded Golan. The Israel Antiquities Authority had long battled against looters and felt that many collectors acted as little more than fences for thieves. To make matters worse, Hershel had arranged, before the potential significance of the object was made public, to have the ossuary briefly displayed in Toronto’s Royal Ontario Museum in the fall of 2002, in conjunction with the annual meetings being held there by three scholarly organizations concerned with the study of ancient near eastern archaeology, the Bible, and religion.

The IAA, perhaps embarrassed that it was unaware of the possible importance of an object that they had blithely allowed to leave Israel, immediately convened a panel of scholars who quickly deemed the ossuary authentic but the inscription a modern-day forgery. The Archaeological Institute of America, publisher of Archaeology magazine, and, unlike BAR at the time, adamantly opposed to publishing objects that had come from the antiquities market, quickly championed the IAA’s position. Once the ossuary was returned to Golan, the antiquities authorities in Israel raided Golan’s apartment and took a photo of the bare ossuary sitting on the toilet in a shed on the roof of Golan’s building. Archaeology magazine gleefully published the photo on its website. The implication was clear: If the inscription were authentic and the ossuary as important as claimed, why would its owner store it in such shabby conditions? Golan later told me that the ossuary had been properly wrapped and kept in the locked shed because he feared robbers would break into his apartment. He further claimed that the raiding authorities unwrapped the ossuary and placed it on the toilet to embarrass him and denigrate the claims of authenticity for the inscription, and in that I’m inclined to believe him.

I was just looking at the embarrassing photo on Archaeology’s website when Hershel came into our office. I was crestfallen—the photo was clearly a blow to our championing of the ossuary, and I assumed Hershel would be upset, as well. Instead, as Hershel looked at the photo over my shoulder, he said, “Good for them!” He relished an intellectual battle, and he was willing to give his opponents credit when they scored a point. And, being something of a showman himself, he appreciated a good publicity stunt when saw one.

My second memory concerns the ossuary’s exhibit at the ROM. Hershel had arranged a time when he and a number of scholars could view the ossuary privately. I was also there. Hershel was looking at the ossuary with Frank Moore Cross, widely acknowledged in his time as perhaps the world’s greatest specialist in ancient Near Eastern writing. At one point I approached Hershel with a question, but he quietly but firmly shooed me away. He said, “I want to hear every word Cross has to say about the ossuary.” Those two incidents involving the ossuary capture two key aspects of Hershel’s personality: his combative and at times showman side and his tremendous respect for scholarship and scholars.


“Expanding Knowledge of the Bible”
Janice Krause
BAS, former Travel/Study Manager

Having worked at BAS for 23 years, 13 of them as the Travel/Study Manager, I was well acquainted with Hershel’s desire to broaden the public’s knowledge about exciting discoveries in the Holy Land. The Travel/Study Program was created as part of his mission. He started the program in 1977 with a tour to Israel, led by an archaeologist. In subsequent years, the program included tours to Jordan, Egypt, Syria, and Turkey, all led by archaeologists. Later, seminars became part of the Travel/Study Program, affording participants the opportunity to learn from the Bible scholars and archaeologists who wrote for BAR. The seminars were held at various venues in the U.S., as well as abroad at the University of Oxford in England, and in Rome and Florence. Hershel, a man of many talents, had a vision to connect people to the world of biblical archaeology. I was glad to be able to help spread this interest.


“Making the Arcane Accessible”
Molly Dewsnap Meinhardt
Bible Review, former Managing Editor

“Thank you. My mother finally understands what I do.” As editors at BAS, it was the most rewarding compliment we ever received from authors. Our job was to translate cutting-edge research by leading archaeologists, biblical scholars, and historians into accessible text, accompanied by copious maps, charts, and photos, that gave intelligent, curious, and deeply interested readers, all eager to learn—like any author’s mother (or father!)—the background, vocabulary, and tools they needed to understand the arcane. That, I think, was Hershel’s greatest professional accomplishment—giving access to this tremendous wealth of information to people who simply wanted to dig in and educate themselves. His second greatest accomplishment was, of course, hiring the smart, funny, hard-working people with whom I was privileged to work. I met my husband, Jack, at BAS. For that I will ever remain thankful to Hershel. As he wrote so many times, in obituaries in BAR, Bible Review, Archaeology Odyssey, and Moment: May his memory be for a blessing.


“An Armchair Adventure”
Heather Witte Metzger
BAS, Production Manager

When I was a little girl, I’d ask my mom whom I’d marry. “Hershel Hossenfeffer,” she’d always reply. And every time, I’d respond, “Hershel who?”

Well, I did not marry a “Hershel.” But I had 21 years of association with Hershel Shanks, the primary driver of BAR. I began working with Hershel in 2000, just before his 70th birthday. Shortly after I started, I found myself at a large dinner party to honor and celebrate this man who was well known to do things “his way.” His approach to life was impressive and inspiring. Through his seventies and eighties, Hershel operated with more energy, zeal, and dedication to his work-life balance than many people half his age—all carefully scheduled around his lunch at 1:10 p.m., of course. When I think of the plethora of educational resources he created or inspired—and the lives he touched through them—“rewarding” and “rewarded” are the words that come to mind. After all, sharing is caring. Hershel, may your memory be for a blessing, and we thank you for a job well done—sharing knowledge “your way.”


“Enthusiastic Doer”
Bonnie Mullin
BAR, former Administrative Editor

Hershel was a doer in the arena of biblical archaeology. His enthusiasm for the subject was contagious, as evidenced by my 16-year tenure at BAS, an unexpected second career for me. Hershel was a generous resource of motivation in my life. May his memory be for a blessing.

Several years ago, when I decided to leave the area (and BAS), Hershel asked, “What will you do?”

“Dodge reptiles and hurricanes,” I joked. He was not amused. (What’s more important than biblical archaeology?)

Subsequently, when we met for lunch during my visits to D.C. or phoned, he would update me on projects, such as the latest iteration of Ancient Israel, and always (even during a pandemic) he would inquire, “What are you doing?” It never meant, “How are you staying busy?”

Thinking about his unwavering accomplishments even during the final years of his colorful life, I will miss our inspirational exchanges about continuing to make an impact on what is important to each of us. I am grateful for Hershel’s unbridled enthusiasm and the rich experience of BAS.


“The Lone Red Pen”
Robin Ngo
BAS, former Web Editor

Readers might imagine BAS staff, with our location in Washington, D.C., as immersed in the hustle and bustle of life downtown in the nation’s capital. In reality, our office was in a residential neighborhood, where a fun group outing was checking out the grand opening of a Wawa convenience store. On one particular lunchtime outing, we hit the CVS, where Managing Editor Megan Sauter got a fresh batch of color pens. Right there in the store, we editors at the time—Megan, Jennifer Drummond, Marek Dospěl, and I—claimed what would be our colors for as long as the pens lasted. You see, we all edited BAR magazine proofs and other texts using different ink colors, but only one person could use red: Hershel. And if Hershel didn’t return one of your own pieces in a sea of red ink, you might get worried that he stopped caring.

Of course, Hershel never stopped caring, whether it was about minute details of an article, if a caption could possibly become more alliterative, or even if you’ve finally watched The Red Shoes (his favorite film). I will miss Hershel with his signature smile, always on the edge of either a smirk or a grin.


“Learning from a Legend”
Megan Sauter
BAR, Managing Editor

Even before I knew him personally, I benefited from Hershel’s generosity and archaeological zeal. I was introduced to BAR while on my first dig at Ashkelon, Israel, in 2009. One day, my square supervisor said he hoped that one of our photos would make it into BAR’s dig issue. At my confused expression, another student explained to me that BAR was the best way to stay updated on ancient Near Eastern archaeology and that its annual dig guide highlighted—and illustrated—excavations throughout the biblical world.

I subscribed as soon as I returned stateside. Graciously, BAS even gave me a dig scholarship to participate in a second season.

By the time I joined the BAS staff in 2013, I had heard a lot about Hershel. I knew that he had campaigned to make archaeological discoveries, including the Dead Sea Scrolls, available to the public in a timely fashion—earlier than some archaeologists were ready to go public with their research. I also knew that he enjoyed controversy and occasionally sensationalized things—or at least sensationalized article titles.

But these facts hadn’t prepared me for the force that was Hershel Shanks. When I began working with him, I quickly learned that he had a high standard for everything—from editorial content to food—and he expected people to operate on his level. With a winnowing fork in hand, he cut my verbose, jargon-filled writing to pieces. Keeping our readers’ interests in mind, he maintained that if something wasn’t understandable and pertinent to the average person, it had no business being printed in BAR.

I’m grateful for the opportunity to have apprenticed under Hershel Shanks—and for the invitations to his house for design meetings and piano recitals.


“My Longest Client”
Robert Sugar
AURAS Design, Inc.

AURAS has accounts that have relied on us for years, but none of them compares to the Biblical Archaeology Society. It was one of my first real clients 43 years ago—even before there was an AURAS Design—and remains one to this day. There is one reason for this: the founder of the society, Hershel Shanks.

Over four decades we worked together to grow his little magazine idea into a big business. We redesigned BAR five times, created three other publications for him, and produced almost every issue of every magazine he has ever published—more than 600 of them, or about 40,000 pages of editorial.

He is probably more responsible for my business philosophy than anyone else, but often in the way that the grit is what makes the pearl. Our working relationship transcended the usual client/designer one—it was personal. At times it was contentious, and the challenges of producing BAR under his benevolent autocracy could drive you crazy. Still, there wasn’t anything I would not do for him.

We always met at his house for production meetings, even long after he bought a building to house the society, because he liked the “start-up” vibe of sitting around his living room. Often
the meetings would end up in arguments about small design details or overwrought discussions about titles for features that, both of us being stubborn, usually revolved around the two of us going at it while the other participants watched.

I learned something valuable in those meetings. Even though I was “just” the designer, and was never actually employed by BAS, I got accustomed to having a voice as part of the editorial team. It seemed only natural to make suggestions about the structure of the stories, their titles, and even the addition of more copy that could help flesh out the content. Hershel would never admit when he was wrong, but he would acquiesce to better ideas when he saw them. Not many of our clients worked that way. Designers design; editors write.

Our most successful collaborations over the years have been with clients whose trust we’ve earned by demonstrating that our editorial contributions make their publications better— and their jobs easier. Plus, it is just more fun that way.

That is another quality that Hershel exuded and I always appreciated: how much fun he had with the process of producing each issue and how much pride he felt reviewing the printed product. It remains one of my most important life and business lessons—if working together can’t be enjoyable, even a bit tumultuous, where’s the fun in that?


“A World Without Hershel”
Ellen White
BAR, former Senior Editor

I have never lived in a world without Hershel Shanks, and somehow the thought of such a place is unfathomable for me. Despite his age, Hershel was celestial, timeless, ageless, eternal, and unrelenting; I miss him! When I first started at BAR, Hershel was skeptical of my academic training; he was worried that all that time in the ivory tower would translate into bad, incomprehensible writing. In many ways, he was right (he usually was). Before I started at BAR, I thought I had a gift for words, but it didn’t take long before Hershel showed me that I still had a lot to learn (he returned my first story with 28 edits! And it got better each time). Why was Hershel so good at this? Because BAR combined the two professional loves of Hershel’s life: lawyering and archaeology. The genius of Hershel’s work was that he didn’t write like an academic or a journalist, but rather like the lawyer he was. He was able to take a complex, detailed, and technical issue, formulate it into a coherent position, and make it relatable to an audience of non-specialists in a convincing way. Learning to live in a world without Hershel seems impossible, but as long as BAR lives on, each season will bring me (and you) a little bit of Hershel.


“Interesting and Interested”
Sarah K. Yeomans
BAS, Contributing Editor & former Educational Programs Director

I once read that for a person to be interesting, they must first be interested. This is certainly applicable to Hershel Shanks. Indeed, it was his intense intellectual curiosity that was one of the first things that struck me about him when I first came to work for BAS. His intellectual rigor and his commitment to his opinions were a close second and third; none of these characterizations will likely surprise anyone who knew Hershel personally, professionally, or through his many written contributions to the field of biblical archaeology. Yet there were other aspects of Hershel that were perhaps not as well-known in the public forum, but that we, as his employees and colleagues, saw on a regular basis. He was as generous with his praise and support as he was with his critiques. He had many other interests outside of the fields of law and biblical archaeology from which he made his careers. For example, he was a devoted student of the piano and took lessons well into his eighties. Several years ago, he invited all the BAS staff to his home for lunch and a piano recital of Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 14, a beautiful and complicated piece of music that clearly moved him deeply. I will always remember Hershel as a vibrant, engaged, and interesting man. My decade working with him has made me a better scholar, writer, and thinker—gifts for which I will always be grateful.

It is hard for me to imagine that the BAS offices will no longer ring with his cheerful, booming greeting (“hellllloooooo!”), which would reverberate through the building whenever he entered it. His loss will be profoundly felt, but so will the gift of his legacy. I have no doubt that the editorial team now at the helm of his beloved magazine will continue to carry his vision forward in the same vigorous spirit in which it was founded, bringing their own formidable intellectual gifts to bear on the publication and on the field of biblical archaeology. Hershel’s contributions to the discipline will continue through the efforts and talents of those whom he mentored and with whom he worked closely to bring his vision to life. He will be deeply missed, but in this way he will be with us still.

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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