Scholar's son accused of identity theft in Dead Sea Scrolls debate
Prosecutors: Raphael Haim Golb created Internet aliases in effort to further father's views on ancient texts.
The son of an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls has been arrested in New York for impersonating other experts in an effort to further his father's views on the 2,000-year-old documents.
During a six-month period in 2008, Raphael Haim Golb, whose father Norman Golb is a University of Chicago professor of Jewish history, created dozens of Internet aliases in the names of individuals who were active in Dead Sea Scrolls scholarship, New York prosecutors said last week. He is accused of stealing the identity of Lawrence Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University who disagrees with Norman Golb's views, and sending dozens of e-mails in his name.
The younger Golb, who denies the allegations, is charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and aggravated harassment, and faces a maximum of four years in prison if convicted.
Schiffman contacted the Federal Bureau of Investigation when he found out someone was sending e-mails in which he appeared to confess to plagiarism, but was told the case fell under New York State jurisdiction.
"People can write books and agree or disagree, but what Golb's son did is a criminal act," Schiffman said. "It goes beyond the research dispute."
Many scholars believe the scrolls, which shed light on the life of Jews and early Christians around the Second Temple period and were discovered in the Qumran caves near the Dead Sea in 1947, were assembled by the Essenes, an ancient Jewish sect that broke away from mainstream Judaism and lived close to where the scrolls were discovered.
Norman Golb has taken the position the scrolls were produced by multiple Jewish sects, were written in Jerusalem rather than the Dead Sea area, and were documents from the library of the Holy Temple held in Qumran for safekeeping. Over the last few years, Norman Golb has accused the majority of Dead Sea Scrolls experts of silencing him and keeping him out of conferences related to the subject.
His son, who works with him, was motivated by the belief that his father's theories were not taken seriously enough, according to the Manhattan District Attorney's office.
Schiffman, for his part, discovered there were fraudulent e-mails going out under his name when a student told him he had received one.
"Last week one of my students told me: I got your e-mail," the professor said. "I told him I hadn't sent him an e-mail. He showed me an e-mail in which I admit plagiarism. It later turned out that another student got it, all the faculty members and all the professors in the New York area."
Schiffman said all the e-mails were sent from the university library.
Schiffman says the charged atmosphere surrounding the long-buried scrolls causes some people to lose proportion.
"I call it the curse of the scrolls," he said. "The fun of researching the scrolls is that there's a lot of mystery surrounding these texts. But somehow, it apparently attracts unbalanced people. There are people who get carried away and just go crazy from the scrolls."