When the first issue of Biblical Archaeology Review was published 40 years ago, it was little more than a one-man show. Founder and editor Hershel Shanks wrote nearly all the content of that first issue, “a funny-looking thing on tan paper with brown ink and just one picture. I didn’t know a damn thing about magazines or magazine promotion,” Shanks recalls.
Today, the full-color, art-rich magazine boasts 125,000 subscribers and a readership of approximately twice that, making it the most prominent periodical focusing on the archeology of the Bible. To celebrate its 40th anniversary, BAR has selected one article from each year of its history to publish in a two-volume retrospective coffee table book, 40 by 40: Forty Groundbreaking Articles from Forty Years of Biblical Archaeology Review (Biblical Archaeology Society, June).
Susan Laden, publisher of the Biblical Archaeology Society, says the book will be promoted primarily through the organization’s own mailing list, with special direct marketing to professors and libraries. The Society sends out 150,000 catalogs a year in various mailings. The book’s distribution to the trade will be handled by Baker and Taylor.
The 40 by 40 collection shows that the magazine has not only published work by some of the best minds in the field, but also that it has been no stranger to controversy.
“Basically, we cover a very contentious field,” says Shanks. “It was largely we who broke the logjam and got the scholars who were husbanding and withholding the Dead Sea Scrolls to release them. And more recently, a leading scholar from Harvard, the oldest endowed chair in the United States, came up with a discovery of something in which Jesus referred to ‘my wife.’ And now that’s been exposed as a forgery. So we’ve been involved in reporting that.”
For some other major debates, like the discovery of an ossuary purporting to contain the bones of James the Brother of Jesus, or an ivory inscription that some believe to be from Solomon’s temple, the magazine has come down on the side of authenticity, saying the artifacts are genuine.
Shanks expects controversy to continue to characterize the field. That’s why a second book, Future 40, will release in the fall. In it, 40 scholars--experts in carbon dating, excavation, paleography, epigraphy, and other sub-specialties—predict what the coming decades will bring to lively debates about the archeology of the Bible.