“We are very pleased to inform you,” the letter began, “that you are cordially invited to attend the Congress on the Dead Sea Scrolls, organized by the Universidad Complutense, through its Department of Hebrew and Aramaic (Faculty of Philology). The Congress will be held in El Escorial (Madrid) from Monday 18th to Thursday 21st March, 1991.

“The purpose of the Congress,” the letter went on, “will be to offer the DSS [Dead Sea Scrolls] scholars an academic forum for the presentation of their current investigation and for the discussion of the new perspectives these texts open for the study of the Hebrew and Aramaic languages; the history of the Biblical text; and the history and literature of Judaism and early Christianity.”

There was to be a press conference in connection with the congress, but the letter to BAR’s editor continued, “Through your participation in the sessions you will have a more direct access to the work done in the Congress and you will be able to give a well documented projection of the Congress towards the interested public.”

Then barely a week before the congress, an express mail letter arrived from Spain, disinviting us: “We kindly ask you to limit your presence to the press conference,” as if we would go all the way to Madrid for a press conference.

The letter gave this reason for the disinvitation: “We are sure that you will understand the convenience of preserving the open, free and candid climate of the academic discussion.”

In short, “open, free and candid” discussion would be accomplished by excluding the editor of BAR. Some might see a certain paradox in this. Apparently, some scholars are fearful that BAR would report the secrets that might be revealed in these academic discussions.

We have attended academic conferences all over the world, from Poland to Canada, from Norway to Israel, on subjects ranging from Egyptology to Ugarit, from early Christianity to ancient synagogues to Byzantine studies, but this is the first time we have been barred from attending any congress. Indeed, in every other case we have been warmly welcomed. Why the Dead Sea Scrolls cannot tolerate open academic discussion remains unclear.

Prominent Dead Sea Scroll scholar Julio Trebolle Barrera, of the organizing committee at the University of Complutense, was clearly embarrassed at the letter of disinvitation that he had been directed to sign and send. “Our true intention,” he said in a telephone interview, “was well expressed in the first letter [extending the invitation to attend the sessions of the congress].” His hand was forced by the three new chief scroll editors who dominated the academic committee that controlled the congress. They are Eugene Ulrich of Notre Dame University, Emile Puech of the École Biblique and Emanuel Tov of Hebrew University. In a telephone interview, Professor Ulrich stated that the BAR editor’s “presence at scholarly conferences is distracting for people who want to exchange academic ideas.”

One of the other scholars who attended the Congress called the disinvitation “a cheap shot.” Another termed it “astounding.” A third expressed no surprise. It is typical of how the Dead Sea Scrolls project is administered.