Lawyer-editor Hershel Shanks built a successful magazine with a good idea and a lot of hard work.

Ask Hershel Shanks to name a significant find in biblical archaeology. His demeanor quickens like a boy choosing ice cream flavors. Peter’s house in Capernaum, he says, or the synagogue where Jesus preached, or perhaps the original site of the Jerusalem temple. Maybe that broken ivory scepter, the only artifact to be positively identified as coming from Solomon’s temple.

For Shanks, a Washington, D.C., lawyer and editor of Biblical Archaeology Review, Israel’s past throbs with life. Ten years ago, after sifting through dusty Middle Eastern digs himself, he decided to make scholarly discoveries accessible to the average American. Not long afterward, his publication was born.

Shanks approached the endeavor with nearly total naïveté. He asked a friend how to go about starting a magazine, and was advised to send a memorandum to people who would be likely to offer their support. “I sent a memo to 25 people and got one reply that wished me luck,” Shanks recalls. “So I drafted a second memo and said, ‘Thank you for your heart-warming response.… We’re going ahead with the first issue.’ ”

Volume one, number one, rolled off the press in March 1975. It was a 16-page booklet with a single photograph and a statement of purpose emphasizing a commitment to scientific, not sacred, truth. “One view of the parameters of faith is that they do not infringe upon, nor are they threatened by, a search for scientific truth,” wrote Shanks, who is Jewish. “Conversely, even the broadest search for scientific truth leaves plenty of room for faith. The rest is up to each reader.”

Biblical Archaeology Review has blossomed through the decade into a lengthy, ...

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