The Madison Biblical Archaeology Society in 2017 celebrated 50 years of biblical archaeology activities. MBAS was begun in 1967 by Professor Menahem Mansoor, the founder and chairman of the University of Wisconsin Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies. Professor Mansoor passed away on October 21, 2001 at the age of 90, after a distinguished career.

MBAS lecturers have included some of the most well-known figures in Biblical Archaeology and Bible scholarship, such as:
Yohanon Aharoni, Mordecai Aviam, Gabriel Barkay, Oded Borowski, Robert Bull, Mark Chavalas, Sidnie White Crawford, William Dever, Douglas Esse, Peter Flint, David Noel Freedman, Michael Fuller, Dennis Groh, Menahem Haran, James Hoffmeier, Kathleen Kenyon, Moshe Kochavi, Oysten LaBianca, Stanislao Loffreda, Jodi Magness, John McRay, Alan Millard, Dennis Pardee, Avner Raban, Anson Rainey, Walter Rast, Leen Ritmeyer, James Sauer, Joe Seger, Yigael Shiloh, Susan Stephens, Ephraim Stern, Emanuel Tov, John Trever, Eugene Ulrich, David Ussishkin, James Vanderkam, Geoffrey Wigoder, Donald Wimmer, Michael Wise, Donald Wiseman, Sam Wolff, Bryant Wood, Yigael Yadin and Edwin Yamauchi.

Many of the MBAS lecturers were interviewed during their visit to Madison, and those interviews were heard on THE BOOK & THE SPADE radio program. The weekly program, hosted by Gordon Govier and co-hosted by Keith Schoville for many years, began broadcasting in 1983. The program is heard on a number of radio stations including WNWC-AM1190 in Madison and WVMO 98.7FM in Monona, Wisconsin. Each week's program can also be heard online and through a weekly podcast.

Through the long history of MBAS, the organization has been served by three presidents: Menahem Mansoor, (left) Keith Schoville (right) and current president Jeff Blakely.

Many members of the society have traveled to the Middle East on tours organized and led by Professor Mansoor or other leaders of the MBAS. Many of the early MBAS members were also known as MPs, Mansoor's Pilgrims. He conducted 26 travel seminars in the lands of the Bible, with over 800 participants. Some MBAS members have also participated as volunteers in archaeological excavations in Israel.

Professor Mansoor's life, as his son Daniel eulogized, "showed a perfect balance between scholarship and faith. His greatest gift was his ability to connect with others. He never lost a chance to talk and meet someone."

Phyllis Anderson, who received an MA degree from the Hebrew Department in 1968, wrote in the Spring 2008 Letters and Science Today that Professor Mansoor "was one of the greatest teachers I have ever known. He was knowledgeable, kind, encouraging, and even got me a study grant from the State Department to study in Israel. This is certainly a teacher who has changed my life."

Professor Mansoor was born in Port Said, Egypt and studied at Hertzliah High School in Tel Aviv. He earned a B.A. at Kings College in London and a Ph.D. in Biblical Studies and Semitic Languages at Trinity College, Dublin, in 1944.

He came to the U.S. on a Fulbright scholarship in 1954, to work as a lecturer and researcher with William F. Albright at Johns Hopkins University. The following year he came to the University of Wisconsin to chair the newly established Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies.

During his career, Professor Mansoor published over 80 books and articles, including 14 books and 15 textbooks. He published the first translation of the Thanksgiving Hymns found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, and was a popular speaker on the Scrolls phenomenon. He served as President of the Midwest Branch of the American Oriental Society and the Society of Biblical Literature.

During his retirement he published three more books, including a major work, Jewish Cultural History and Thought. He also served as consultant to the Lutheran God's Word Bible Society in Cleveland for their translation of the Hebrew Bible. In 1999, he received the Friedman Prize of the Hebrew Culture Association of America.

The Society and the Department of Hebrew and Semitic Studies have initiated three major exhibitions:

  • The Book & The Spade exhibit in 1967.
  • An updated and expanded Book & the Spade exhibit in 1975.
  • An exhibit on the history of writing and the alphabet, Sign, Symbol Script, in 1983.
    ...The Book & the Spade exhibits were directed by professor Mansoor. The Sign, Symbol Script exhibit was directed by Professor Keith Schoville and was shown at eight sites around the country over an 18-month period.
    MBAS main page