Statement on the passing of former Moment publisher and editor Hershel Shanks

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Hershel Shanks 1930-2021

Hershel Shanks, who edited and published Moment Magazine from 1987-2004, passed away peacefully on February 5, 2021. He was a lawyer turned passionate amateur Biblical archeologist, responsible for an enormous expansion of public knowledge about a previously closed scholarly world. New York Times book reviewer Richard Bernstein once said that in communicating the world of biblical archaeology to general readers through magazines, books, and conferences, he was probably  “the world’s most influential amateur Biblical archaeologist.”

Born in 1930 in Sharon, Pennsylvania, he earned degrees from Haverford College, Columbia University and Harvard Law School. He then joined the U.S. Justice Department, where he handled cases in the United States Courts of Appeal and the Supreme Court. He practiced law privately in Washington for more than 25 years, writing widely in legal journals.

Thirty years into his legal career, he discovered a passion for archaeology during a trip to Jerusalem and published the first of many books related to archaeology: The City of David – A Guide to Biblical Jerusalem.  Returning home, he continued to practice law and founded Biblical Archaeology Review (BAR), which became known for exploring controversies in the field. Shanks also started Bible Review in 1985 and Archaeology Odyssey in 2000.

He is best known for his defiance of secrecy shrouding the Dead Seas Scrolls. A man who welcomed controversy, in 1991 he announced the publication of 1,787 photographs of Dead Sea Scroll fragments never before published. “Scholars all over the world now for the first time will have the raw material to work with,” he said. He and others were successfully sued for breach of copyright when he did so. 

“Those of us who worked with him… remember him as a dynamo, full of history and strongly held opinions, someone always to be reckoned with and admired and enjoyed, even in vigorous disagreement,” says Moment advisory board member Bert Foer.

Moment editor-in-chief and CEO Nadine Epstein called Shanks, “a towering presence, a true force of nature” and said, “His legacy of opening up the field of Biblical archeology was a testament to his sense of justice and transformed not just Biblical archeology but the trajectory of both the Jewish and Christian worlds. He will be greatly missed.”

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3 thoughts on “Statement on the passing of former Moment publisher and editor Hershel Shanks

  1. A remarkable presence in Jewish life, contemporary issues, history and the exciting exploration of ancient Israel’s archeology, Herschel was a great presence without imposing himself. He helped to raise the level of discourse among the educated by providing satisfying magazines and articles together with dedicated writers and editors. We were very proud to know that his family worshiped at Adas Israel and celebrated their life cycle events with us. He was soft spoken, unassuming and though accomplished he carried himself as a man who wished to be a part of a community of regular worshippers and scholars. My sincere condolences to his family and his colleagues. Zichrono Livracha. Rabbi/Cantor Arnold Saltzman

  2. J.E. Levinson says:

    Confused as to how Mr. S hanks could be sued for breach of copyright, when the people who were suing him assuredly did not write the Dead Sea scrolls.

  3. chuck hersh says:

    Regarding Hershel Shanks, I grew up in Sharon, PA as did Hershel, His Mom, Mildred Shanks, taught me Sunday School at Temple Beth Israel, Sharon. She was awesome. Marty Shanks, Hershel father, was the top salesman “shoe dog” at Reyers Shoe Store a very large shore store in Sharon. I am 17 years younger than he but I had the privilege of communicating with him several times! May His Memory Be for a Blessing

    Chuck Hersh

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