NEW YORK (AP) — A scholar’s son was convicted Thursday of using online aliases to harass and discredit his father’s detractors in a heated academic debate over the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls.
A Manhattan jury convicted Raphael Golb on Thursday of 30 of 31 counts against him, including identity theft, forgery and harassment. He was acquitted of one count of criminal impersonation.
Prosecutors said Golb, a 50-year-old lawyer, used fake e-mail accounts and wrote blog posts under assumed names to take his father’s side in an obscure but sharp-elbowed scholarly dispute over the scrolls’ origins.
Golb didn’t acknowledge crafting the e-mails or blog posts. But his lawyers said the writings amounted to academic whistle-blowing and blogosphere banter — not crime.
The more than 2,000-year-old documents, found in caves in Israel in the 1940s and ’50s, contain the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible and have provided important insight into the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity.
Golb’s father, 83-year-old University of Chicago Professor Norman Golb, said nearly a decade ago that Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, chairman of New York University’s Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, had plagiarized his research. But he has never had to answer for it, and that so angered Golb that he broke the law, prosecutors said.
Raphael Golb, 50, created an e-mail account under Schiffman’s name, then sent a message from it to Schiffman’s colleagues admitting plagiarizing Norman Golb’s work. Golb says his actions were not criminal. Rather, he said he was engaging in a spirited debate about the history of the texts and trying to highlight the fact that his father, a longtime scholar of the scrolls, was plagiarized by a rival professor.
Assistant District Attorney John Bandler told jurors during his closing arguments that Golb’s claims are untrue.
“You blow the whistle by going to the boss. You don’t do it by stealing someone’s identity,” he said.
Bandler said Golb’s electronic campaign was calculated and massive, and it included the impersonation of five people, about 70 phony e-mail accounts and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work.
“It’s not one bad decision he made in the heat of anger,” Bandler said.
The defense summed up its case on Tuesday. Attorney David Breitbart said the real liar was Schiffman, who wrongly mounted a campaign against Golb that he took to the police.
Norman Golb and Schiffman disagree on the origins of the texts. Schiffman says the texts were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes. Professor Golb says the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities. Scholars are split on the debate; both arguments have followers.
Raphael Golb, a linguistics scholar and lawyer with degrees from Oberlin College, Harvard University and NYU, said he was angry the plagiarism accusations were never brought to light and that his father’s theory was being smeared online.
He mounted an effort to expose this by creating aliases, and then crafted blog posts and e-mails. Some of the names used were real people tangentially involved in the debate. Golb said that was a coincidence.
“He’s a smart guy,” Bandler said of Golb. “He has a lot of time on his hands, and he’s trained to use language. He knows how to twist language.”
During testimony, jurors got a history lesson on the ancient texts believed to be 2,000 years old. The scrolls, found by a Bedouin shepherd searching for a lost goat in Israel in the 1940s, include the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible. Access to the scrolls was tightly controlled by a group known as the monopoly. Jewish scholars — including Norman Golb — were not allowed to evaluate them.
The controlled access to the scrolls continues, Raphael Golb argued during his testimony. He said his father was excluded from participating in workshops and museum exhibits on the texts while other more popular scholars were invited.
Jurors started deliberations Thursday afternoon. Bandler asked them to focus on the case in basic terms: Stealing someone’s identity is wrong, and Golb knew that and did it anyway.
“This case is not about whether Dr. Schiffman plagiarized Dr. Golb. It is about how you can’t impersonate anyone,” he said.
(Copyright 2010 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)