By Ilana Siyance
Hershel Shanks had been a real estate lawyer in Washington, with no training as an archaeologist nor as a biblical scholar. Notwithstanding, he ended up founding and editing a popular magazine which uncovered biblical ancient Israel, making it accessible to scores of readers.
Mr. Shanks, the prolific editor, author and attorney, passed away on Feb. 5 at his home in Washington, at the age of 90. He had been born in 1930 in Western Pennsylvania. In his youth, he had been editor of his high school newspaper. He received his law degree from Harvard, and worked for a few years at the Department of Justice, moving onto private practice, specializing in real estate law, and being named partner. In 1972 he took a yearlong break and traveled to Israel with his wife and two daughters, where somehow a strong passion for biblical archeological digs enveloped him.
In 1974, he founded the Biblical Archaeology Society. He researched and wrote a book named “The City of David: A Guide to Biblical Jerusalem” in 1975. Doing so, he made lasting associations with leading archaeologists. That year, even as he returned to Washington, he was determination to continue in this new quest, and to publish a magazine about intriguing discoveries and scholarly controversies which would even end up substantiating the Bible’s authenticity.
As reported by the NY Times, he started Biblical Archaeology Review in his mid-40s, writing all the articles himself for the first issue. The magazine, which Mr. Shanks headed for more than 40 years until his retirement in 2017, successfully transformed technical and obscure information into digestible and interesting material for tens of thousands of readers. “He had a wonderful knack for turning dry academic content into something that was accessible,” said Glenn K. Corbett, the magazine’s current editor. The magazine boasted 230,000 paid subscribers in the early 2000s, with a pass-along readership of 600,000, although those numbers are much lower now, in the digital age.
In 1987, Mr. Shanks gave up his law practice and purchased a second magazine. Moment, a Jewish affairs bimonthly, had been started 12 years earlier by renowned author Elie Wiesel and Leonard Fein. Mr. Shank served as publisher and editor until 2004.
Mr. Shank’s daughter Elizabeth Alexander, a professor of religious studies at the University of Virginia, said the cause of his death was complications from Covid-19. Mr. Shank is survived by his wife, Judith Shanks; his daughters, Elizabeth, Julia and Leah Gordon; and two grandchildren.