Bitter Dead Sea Scrolls Dispute Results in Prison Sentence for Scholar’s Son - The Jewish Voice
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Thursday, December 8, 2022

Bitter Dead Sea Scrolls Dispute Results in Prison Sentence for Scholar’s Son

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Raphael Golb in Manhattan Criminal Court in 2010.
Raphael Golb in Manhattan Criminal Court in 2010.
A dispute between academicians over the origins of the famed Dead Sea Scrolls has earned one of the scholars’ sons a prison sentence for multiple crimes committed as a result of an overly impassioned need to defend his father’s theories.

Raphael Haim Golb, 53, is currently awaiting the outcome of an appeals process that will determine if he serves a six-month jail sentence for the 30 charges he has been found guilty of, which include identity theft, harassment and criminal impersonation.

The origins of this somewhat bizarre case are rooted in the history of academic analysis of the Dead Sea Scrolls, the collection of 2,000-year-old texts and fragments that was discovered near Qumran in the area of Judea and Samaria over a ten-year period beginning in 1947. Widely hailed as a momentous archaeological revelation, the scrolls were deemed by the initial group of scholars examining them as having been authored by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes during the first century.

In 1980, another scholar in this field – Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization in Chicago – began publicizing his own theory about the Dead Sea Scrolls, which disputed the established viewpoint. Golb stated that since there was no solid proof that any sect had lived at Qumran, the scrolls had emanated from different libraries in ancient Jerusalem and had been hidden in caves near Qumran when Roman forces surrounded Jerusalem. Golb contended that the scrolls thus reflected the scholarship of a wide spectrum of early Judaic writing, as opposed to that of just one particular Jewish sect. Golb’s opinions in this regard were generally not supported by his academic peers – a development that notably irked his son Raphael.

The junior Golb’s resentment over his father’s alleged mistreatment came to the fore in 2006 and 2007, when exhibits of the scrolls by a number of American museums did not include any mention of Norman Golb’s theory. “They teach scorn for my father,” said Raphael Golb, referring to the scholars in Schiffman’s corner. “This is a system where they suppress people by excluding them.”

Driven by a desire to popularize his father’s teachings, Raphael Golb embarked on an intense campaign of posting Internet comments under assumed names that ultimately expressed one fundamental idea – Dr. Norman Golb is a legitimate Dead Sea Scrolls scholar besieged by a well-financed conspiracy of academicians intent on imposing the belief that their theory of the documents is the only authentic one. The numerous aliases utilized by the scholar’s son were implemented to make it appear as if a sizable number of academicians disagreed with the Essenes theory and backed the elder Golb.

Raphael Golb focused much of his intellectual venom on Robert Cargill, a graduate student who had created a short film about Qumran for a San Diego museum. Contending that the film’s script had neglected any mention of his father’s theory, between 2007 and 2009 the younger Golb sent out mass e-mails of protest under fictitious names to Cargill’s professors, going so far as to suggest that Cargill is anti-Semitic. In papers filed by the Manhattan District Attorney’s office, Rapahel Golb is documented as having sent out dozens of e-mails under seven aliases to hundreds of individuals at UCLA, where Cargill studied. “The volume of defendant’s alias creation,” state the court papers, “and his planning with others, speaks to the deliberate intent in conducting defendant’s operation.”

In September of 2008, Raphael Golb began to take out his anger over the alleged academic snub of his father on a leading Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, Lawrence Schiffman, who has served as a professor at New York University and is presently vice provost of Yeshiva University. While Dr. Schiffman’s theory – that the scrolls had originated with the Sadducees as well as other sources – echoed the beliefs of Norman Golb, Schiffman was the only one of the two to receive wide scholarly acclaim and the media spotlight. After an incident in 1992 where Schiffman accused a follower of the elder Golb of plagiarism, Raphael Golb expressed “lingering bitterness” toward the professor.

Taking his hostility to new heights, the younger Golb fabricated an e-mail account with Schiffman’s name in the address, and proceeded to disseminate messages in the scholar’s name to his colleagues and students. The messages had Schiffman admitting that he had plagiarized Norman Golb to develop his own theories about the Dead Sea Scrolls. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments,” one e-mail stated, “and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies.”

When Dr. Schiffman discovered the ruse, he became alarmed at the threat to his reputation and contacted the FBI. In March 2009, Raphael Golb was arrested. During his subsequent trial, Golb defended his actions by arguing that the use of false names was an accepted method of criticism and debate, particularly within the realm of the Internet. The jury, however, decided that Golb had acted against the law, and found him guilty on 30 counts, including two felonies.

The opinion of the authorities in this case was perhaps best summed up by Manhattan District Attorney Cyrus Vance, who stated in the aftermath of the verdict in 2010, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster.” While acknowledging that most cases of identity theft involve an attempt to steal victims’ funds, Vance said, “In some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”


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