Hershel Shanks founded the Biblical Archaeology Society in 1974, when I was one year old. He founded Biblical Archaeology Review the following year. Since that time, BAR has grown into the largest-circulating, best-selling, and most widely read Biblical archaeology magazine in the world. BAR has not only brought the latest and most important archaeological discoveries from the Holy Land to the public, but has also offered scholarly opinions and editorials on their relevance to the Bible, its composition, the people described in its pages, and the people who have venerated it as the Word of God throughout the ages.
Like all scholars, Hershel likes to ask questions. But unlike many scholars, Hershel has never shied away from controversy. That is not to say that he sought it out; sometimes the controversy found him. Still, as a graduate of Harvard Law School, Hershel was perhaps uniquely qualified to navigate the rough, convoluted, and often unforgiving terrain that is the intersecting fields of Near Eastern archaeology and Biblical scholarship. He asked tough questions, and if he didn’t like the answer, or if he felt that someone wasn’t being straight with him, he asked someone else. He welcomed dissenting opinions and often pitted them against one another so that his readers could witness the scholarly debates for themselves.
That was Hershel’s other great strength: He knew his readers and fought for them passionately. Hershel understood that BAR’s readers aren’t (solely) professional scholars; they are largely individuals outside of the academy who happened to be some of the most learned, sophisticated, personally invested, and enthusiastic readers of any popular magazine. His publication reflected this. BAR isn’t an obscure scholarly journal rife with esoteric, technical jargon written by specialists for specialists seeking to out-impress one another; it is a popular magazine that invites the world’s leading archaeologists and scholars to present their research and discoveries to the public in detailed, appropriate language that anyone can understand. These literary descriptions are accompanied by full-color, high-resolution photographs, reconstructions, diagrams, and charts that visualize each article’s information (and wind up in PowerPoints and taped to the desks of readers around the world).
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BAR seeks to make the study of archaeology, history, and the Bible relevant for all people. Hershel Shanks made that possible. That is Hershel’s legacy—that, and a next generation of scholars, my generation, which was first introduced to this field of study not by a scholarly journal, but by Biblical Archaeology Review.
In this special festschrift double issue, we offer a number of reflections on the career of Hershel Shanks as a way of saying thank you.
In the first article, BAS’s Publisher, Sue Laden, offers a short history of the Biblical Archaeology Society. She recaps some of Hershel’s largest accomplishments as Editor of BAR.
Next come what we’re calling Hershel’s “three crusades,” written by three of Hershel’s friends who played a central role in each of these key issues. First, Dead Sea Scrolls expert Marty Abegg recalls Hershel’s efforts in helping to liberate the scrolls from nearly four decades of shrouded isolation by publishing them without the permission of the Israel Antiquities Authority—efforts that ultimately got Hershel sued! For Hershel’s second crusade, Bill Dever discusses BAR’s facilitation of the maximalist-minimalist debate, which centerson whether the establishment of ancient Israel took place in the tenth or the ninth century B.C.E. Hershel’s third crusade comes from epigrapher Ada Yardeni, who reflects on BAR’s role in revealing to the public controversial objects that were not necessarily discovered in controlled archaeological excavations—hence often called “unprovenanced objects” by archaeologists—and argues for the importance of studying these objects.
Next we offer a special collection of contributions from many of Hershel’s friends—archaeologists, scholars, publishers, and BAR alumni—who offer their thanks, stories, and reflections on Hershel the man, his work, and BAR’s importance to the field of Biblical archaeology. While we couldn’t possibly share the well-wishes of all of Hershel’s friends, we hope that this selection of reflections serves to provide a brief retrospective of Hershel’s career from some of the individuals Hershel has influenced over the years.
The grand finale of this issue comes from archaeologist Eilat Mazar, who presents an exclusive article as a gift in honor of Hershel’s lifetime of service to the field. As a result of her literally groundbreaking research, Mazar reveals the discovery of a seal impression from Jerusalem’s Ophel that possibly bears the name of Isaiah the prophet! I am honored to publish this article and that Dr. Mazar has chosen BAR, and in particular this special festschrift issue for Hershel Shanks, to unveil to the world this first-of-its-kind discovery.
I hope you will enjoy this look back at Hershel’s prolific career and celebrate him and BAR as you read this special festschrift issue.
And Hershel, thank you for your life’s work, for introducing me to Biblical archaeology through the pages of BAR, and for trusting me with your literary baby. Proverbs 25:2 says, “It is the glory of God to conceal a thing, and the glory of kings to search a thing out.” Thank you, wise king, for your lifetime of searching.—B.C.