Prof’s son charged in Dead Sea scroll scandal

Golb allegedly stole identity of father’s academic rival to discredit opposing theories

By Louise Lerner

New York City police arrested the son of a U of C professor Thursday on charges he conducted an Internet smear campaign against his father’s academic opponents.

Raphael Haim Golb, 49, a graduate of Harvard and New York University Law School, is accused of identity theft, harassment, and criminal impersonation. He is the son of Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and Dead Sea scrolls scholar at the U of C’s Oriental Institute.

The Manhattan district attorney’s report describes an intricate online scheme designed to promote Norman Golb’s ideas and harass opposing scholars. Chief among the allegations is the charge that Golb impersonated NYU Judaic Studies professor Lawrence Schiffman, opening a Gmail account in his name and sending out fake e-mails in which Schiffman admitted to plagiarizing Norman Golb’s work on the origin of the Dead Sea scrolls.

“We will fight the allegations placed against Mr. Golb,” said Irena Milos, the attorney who represented Raphael Golb for his arraignment. “We will fight anyone who tries to harm the Golb family.”

Norman Golb remained steadfast about his son’s innocence.

“My son has not had his opportunity to tell his side of the story, and when he does, the world will know what a terrible thing has been done to him,” Norman Golb said.

The Dead Sea scrolls are a set of 2,000-year-old parchments containing biblical text in Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. Since their discovery in 1947 near the West Bank town of Qumran, scholars have debated about who authored the scrolls; early research proposed a nearby sect called the Essenes, based in Qumran.

In 1980, however, Norman Golb published a paper suggesting that Jews fleeing from Jerusalem wrote and hid the scrolls. “Many people were horrified by this new theory,” Norman Golb said. His work gained support over the years, but other scholars, including Schiffman, continue to resist the new hypothesis.

“This has everything to do with the politics of the scrolls,” Norman Golb told the Chicago Tribune on Saturday.

Since 2006, museum curators, filmmakers, and other Dead Sea scholars who teach the original theory have been reporting online abuse from several mysterious sources. Anonymous blogs accused Schiffman of plagiarism.

Robert Cargill, an instructional technology coordinator at UCLA who was targeted in the harassment campaign for his work on a Dead Sea scrolls documentary, began to suspect that the attacks all came from a single source. He tracked the perpetrator’s IP address to computers at New York University’s Bobst Library. Raphael Golb lives a block away and is an alumnus of the law school.

Cargill did not directly accuse Golb, however, and is not cited in the district attorney’s report. The official charges only list incidents from July to December of 2008.

“I think it’s very important to realize that what is going on here has absolutely nothing to do with different views about the Dead Sea scrolls,” Schiffman told the Maroon Sunday. “The charges involve crimes against me, which could have been seriously harmful to my career. It is an example of the horror of internet crime and what it can do to innocent people.”

The count of second-degree identity theft, a felony, carries a maximum penalty of four years in jail.

“It’s obviously a tragedy when academic disputes lead some people to commit crimes,” Schiffman said. “The lesson in this is that academic discourse is a wonderful privilege and right, but it brings with it responsibility to keep it honest and open and without rancor. And the other lesson is that crime doesn’t pay.”