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The Manhattan District Attorney has published two press releases about the arrest and prosecution of Raphael Golb. The first, dated March 5, 2009, has been removed from the District Attorney’s website; it is reprinted directly below. The release — apparently influenced by Lawrence Schiffman’s description, in his confidential letter submitted to the District Attorney, of Raphael Golb’s Internet campaign as a “sordid attempt to encourage acceptance of [Norman] Golb’s theories” (see N. Golb’s response) — presents the campaign as an illegal “scheme” involving the “harassment” of Dead Sea Scrolls scholars, and explains, without any mention of satire, parody, or of the constitutional issues of freedom of expression, that Raphael Golb “pretended to be” Lawrence Schiffman:


March 5, 2009

Contact: Alicia Maxey Greene

Manhattan District Attorney Robert M. Morgenthau today announced the arrest of [Raphael Golb] for creating multiple aliases to engage in a campaign of impersonation and harassment relating to the Dead Sea Scrolls and scholars of opposing viewpoints.

The defendant, RAPHAEL GOLB, was arrested on charges of identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment. The crimes in the Criminal Court Complaint occurred during the period of July to December of 2008.

The investigation leading to today’s arrest revealed that GOLB engaged in a systematic scheme on the Internet, using dozens of Internet aliases, in order to influence and affect debate on the Dead Sea Scrolls, and in order to harass Dead Sea Scrolls scholars who disagree with his viewpoint. GOLB used computers at New York University (NYU) in an attempt to mask his true identity when conducting this Internet scheme. He gained access to NYU computers by virtue of being a graduate of the university, and having made donations to its library fund.

The investigation, which included a court-authorized search warrant that was executed this morning at GOLB’s apartment, began in response to a complaint by Lawrence Schiffman, Ph.D., that he was impersonated over the Internet. Dr. Schiffman is a NYU professor, chairman of the Hebrew & Judaic Studies Department and a leading scholar in the field of the Dead Sea Scrolls.

In August 2008, Dr. Schiffman became subject to a campaign of impersonation and harassment through the Internet, by an anonymous individual. An investigation by the District Attorney’s Office revealed that this individual was GOLB, the son of Norman Golb, Ph.D., a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar who resides in Chicago. RAPHAEL GOLB used methods which were intended to maintain his anonymity, and opened an email account – larry.schiffman @ – purportedly in Dr. Schiffman’s name and sent 11 emails to multiple NYU recipients, in which he pretended to be Dr. Schiffman, and purported to admit to plagiarism. Simultaneously, RAPHAEL GOLB, using other Internet aliases, sent emails to NYU personnel and administration accusing Dr. Schiffman of plagiarism, and created Internet blogs accusing Dr. Schiffman of plagiarism.

GOLB also created email accounts in the names of other individuals active in the field of Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, including Stephen Goranson and Jonathan Seidel.

The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of roughly 900 documents, including texts from the Hebrew Bible, discovered between 1947 and 1956 in 11 caves in and around the ancient ruins of Qumran, on the northwest shore of the Dead Sea, in present-day Israel. The texts are of great religious and historical significance, as they include the only known surviving copies of biblical texts made before 100 A.D., and preserve evidence of considerable diversity of belief and practice within late Second Temple period Judaism, the Judaism of the second and first centuries B.C. and the first century A.D. These manuscripts generally date to between 150 B.C. and 50 A.D. Publication of the scrolls is now complete, however it was delayed for many decades.

There is considerable academic scholarship that surrounds the Dead Sea Scrolls, with areas of general consensus, and with areas of debate and differing opinions and theories. Because of the importance of the Dead Sea Scrolls, and because of the delay in publication, the scrolls are also subject to some conspiracy theories.

Many scholars view the scrolls collection as having been assembled by an ancient Jewish sect, which many call the Essenes. Furthermore, many scholars believe that this sect resided in the settlement in Qumran, in close proximity to the caves where the scrolls were found.

The defendant’s father, Dr. Norman Golb, is a professor at the University of Chicago. He has been a proponent of the viewpoint that the Dead Sea Scrolls found in the caves of Qumran had nothing to do with the buildings and settlement at the Qumran site. He believes that they were not the product of the Essenes, but of many different Jewish sects and communities of ancient Israel, who hid the scrolls in the caves at Qumran while fleeing from Jerusalem.

RAPHAEL GOLB, through his Internet aliases, promoted the theories of his father and criticized the theories of others. Frequently, he criticized the manner in which the Dead Sea Scrolls have been exhibited, for not giving sufficient attention to the theories of his father.

GOLB is charged with Identity Theft in the Second Degree, a class E felony, which is punishable by up to 11/3 to 4 years in prison; Identity Theft in the Third Degree, Criminal Impersonation in the Second Degree, Forgery in the Third Degree and Aggravated Harassment in the Second Degree, all class A misdemeanors, which are each punishable by up to 1 year in prison. He is scheduled to be arraigned today in Manhattan Criminal Court.

The investigation is continuing.

The second press release, dated Sept. 29, 2010, is also no longer available online, but some commentary on it has been posted on the Simple Justice blog of former prosecutor Scott Greenfield.

Many reports concerning the case appeared in the press at the time of the arrest and trial.  Most of them closely adhered to the characterization of the facts presented in the District Attorney’s press releases, without mentioning satire, parody, or any of the similar range of expressive conduct reported on with considerable frequency in the media (e.g., Twitter accounts impersonating various university presidents). None of the news coverage examined the ongoing controversy concerning public exhibitions of the Dead Sea Scrolls or the history of allegations of unethical conduct in this field.  One article falsely reported that Raphael Golb had “hijacked” email accounts of various academics.  A somewhat more objective Associated Press account is available here.

More recent treatments have continued to conceal or misrepresent the contents of Raphael Golb’s criminalized writings, as well as the nature of the claims made by the People of New York in the case.  These treatments include a New York Times article by John Leland, which misleadingly asserts that Norman Golb’s research has attracted no support “from any major academics in the United States,” and that Prof. Golb “posted an article… complaining” that a film shown at a museum “ignored his theory.”  Prof. Golb’s article, which was posted, following appropriate review, by personnel of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago, contains a detailed critique of the film in question; it can be read here, and a revised version of it is available here.

Leland also misleadingly suggests that Raphael Golb defamed a young academic with accusations of antisemitism; the Internet articles in question (see, e.g., here) argued that the contents of current Scroll exhibitions, largely created by Christian scholars and demonstrably oriented towards an evangelical audience, appear to be tainted by intellectual antisemitism.

Another New York Times article, by Jim Dwyer, states that Golb engaged in “raucous online debates about the origins of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” and fails to mention that prosecutors alleged that Golb hatched a “scheme” to “defraud” the New York Jewish Museum of $1,000 by “attaching a smear to the reputation” of Lawrence Schiffman with the alleged intent of getting Norman Golb, instead of Schiffman, invited to lecture at the museum.  According to the article, prosecutors argued that

Mr. Golb was correctly found guilty of sock puppetry that spiraled into felonies. Since that crime is not on the statutes, he was convicted of identity theft, criminal impersonation and forgery… There was no question of anyone making money in this cyber-brawl.

Various members of the academic community, particularly ones affiliated with “digital humanities” programs, have cited the Raphael Golb case in writings critical of anonymous online speech.  Thus, in a recent Guardian article, Dr. Simon Tanner, director of the “digitisation pilot of the Dead Sea Scrolls,” suggests that “the case … shows the real invasive power and perfidy of sock puppets.”  Without mentioning the pending appeal, Tanner asserts that Raphael Golb “got six months in jail,” and argues that his blogging and email campaign “severely disrupted … academic discourse … while those innocent academics involved in Dead Sea Scroll research were libelled [sic], defamed and smeared.”

On the other hand, a variety of responses appended to Tanner’s article include the suggestion of one commentator that the “use of ‘sock puppets’ to advance Norman Golb’s theories seems to me not only justified but…, with the ongoing trial process, to have succeeded way beyond [Raphael Golb’s] dreams… The importance of [Norman Golb’s] theories is … of a very high degree and, being denied proper academic channels, the increased awareness of his work due to his son’s actions is certainly to be welcomed, even if one decries the methods used.”

Finally, it may be noted that in the initial press release of the Manhattan District Attorney reprinted above, the statement, “Publication of the scrolls is now complete, however it was delayed for many decades,” appears to refer to the physical monopolization of the Dead Sea Scrolls for nearly half a century by a small clique of scholars. Despite the District Attorney’s statement, as of today it is still not clear that all of the 16,000 manuscript fragments constituting the Scrolls have in fact been published. The release, moreover, fails to mention the far more serious issue of the scientific accuracy or inaccuracy of the “official” editorial commentaries accompanying the published scrolls.

Links to other articles will periodically be compiled on this page.

One Comment
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