NY lawyer convicted in Dead Sea Scrolls case
Thursday, September 30, 2010; 7:27 PM
NEW YORK -- 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 found Raphael Golb guilty of 30 counts against him, including identity theft, forgery and harassment. He was acquitted of one count of criminal impersonation.
Golb didn't react as he heard the verdict in the unusual criminal trial over claims of Internet impersonation - even more unusual because of its arcane subject. He said outside court he wasn't surprised by the verdict, because he felt the judge's instructions to the jury were biased. He planned to appeal. As he sat on a bench, he said: "I'm stoic."
"I'm looking forward to the appeal," he said. "But not with joy, just because that is what happens next."
Prosecutors said Golb, 50, 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 acknowledged on the stand that he crafted the e-mails and blog posts, but said the writings amounted to academic whistle-blowing and blogosphere banter - not crime. He said he was using irony, satire and parody to expose a plagiarist.
Defense Attorney Ron Kuby said the case was a clear violation of the First Amendment.
"Today what happened was the District Attorney of New York County and the trial court made hurting somebody's feelings a criminal act," he said. "And in New York, hurting people's feelings or being annoying is not a crime, we call that Monday."
The jury deliberated about five hours. Golb was acquitted of impersonating one scholar, but convicted of identity theft, harassment and criminal impersonation of Dr. Lawrence Schiffman, a longtime rival of his father's whom he said plagiarized research and was never punished. Schiffman took the case to authorities.
Golb's father and Schiffman, who is chairman of New York University's Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies have long disagreed on the origins of the texts. Schiffman says they were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes. Norman Golb, a University of Chicago professor, believes the writings to be the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.
Scholars are split on the debate; there are supporters of both arguments.
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.
Golb created an account under Schiffman's name and sent messages from it to Schiffman's students and colleagues. They pointed to blog posts about the plagiarism allegation and asked the recipients to help keep it quiet. "This is my career at stake," some of the e-mails said.