Hershel Shanks was a U.S. lawyer, author, and editor, particularly of archaeological materials. Shanks was born on March 8, 1930, in Sharon, Pennsylvania, a small town on the Ohio border. He graduated from Haverford College (B.A. in English), Columbia University (M.A. in sociology), and Harvard Law School (LL.B.). He then joined the U.S. Justice Department, where he handled cases in the United States Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. Thereafter he practiced law privately in Washington for more than 25 years, often establishing important precedents in the law. He wrote widely in legal journals and published a book on a great American jurist, entitled The Art and Craft of Judging: The Opinions of Judge Learned Hand.
Although he had never formally studied the Bible or archaeology, he published his first book related to these subjects, The City of David – A Guide to Biblical Jerusalem, during a sojourn in Jerusalem in 1972–73. On his return to the United States, while continuing to practice law, Shanks founded Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), which began as a 16-page pamphlet written entirely by himself; in the early 2000s the magazine had over a quarter of a million readers. Almost all major scholars in Bible and archaeology have published articles in BAR, in which they often explore fresh perspectives for a non-scholarly audience. BAR is known especially for exploring controversies in the world of biblical archaeology, with the editor often taking his own strong stand.
In a famous legal case before the Israeli Supreme Court in 1993, Shanks and others were successfully sued by leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar Elisha Qimron for breach of copyright when Shanks, without permission, published material written by Qimron in A Facsimile Edition of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Shanks founded two other magazines, Bible Review in 1985 and Archaeology Odyssey in 2000. For over 15 years, beginning in 1987, he also served as editor of Moment, a Jewish magazine founded by Elie Wiesel and Leonard Fein, and edited by Fein for 12 years before Shanks became editor.
Shanks was the author of a number of books including Judaism in Stone – The Story of Ancient Synagogues (1979), Jerusalem – An Archaeological Biography (1995), The Mystery and Meaning of the Dead Sea Scrolls (1998), The Brother of Jesus (with Ben Witherington III, 2003), and Solomon’s Temple – Myth or Reality? A History of Jerusalem’s Temple Mount (2006).
His articles and reviews appeared in scholarly journals such as the Israel Exploration Journal, the Jewish Quarterly Review, and the Harvard Law Review. Literally hundreds of his articles appeared in the magazines he edited. He was also the editor of two widely used textbooks: Ancient Israel – From Abraham to the Roman Destruction of the Temple (rev. ed. 1999) and Christianity and Rabbinic Judaism (1988). His many newspaper and magazine articles appeared in the New York Times, the Washington Post, the Wall Street Journal, Commentary and The American Scholar.
Shanks died on February 5, 2021.