US lawyer gets jail in Dead Sea Scrolls case

Raphael Golb is sentenced on identity theft, other charges in rare criminal case; trial airs bitter scholarly debate over the scrolls' origins.

Raphael Golb with attorney in court 311 AP (photo credit: AP)
Raphael Golb with attorney in court 311 AP
(photo credit: AP)
NEW YORK — A New York lawyer was sentenced Thursday to six months in jail for an ultramodern crime that was all about antiquity: using online aliases to harass people in an academic debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls.
Raphael Golb, 50, was sentenced on identity theft and other charges in a rare criminal case centered on Internet impersonation — and a very rare trial that aired a bitter scholarly debate over the scrolls' origins.
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The top count was punishable by up to four years in prison. Golb has said he plans to appeal.
Golb's father is a historian and Dead Sea Scrolls scholar. Prosecutors said Golb used fake e-mail accounts and wrote blog posts under assumed names to discredit his father's detractors.
"Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster," District Attorney Cyrus R. Vance Jr. said when Golb was convicted.
Golb said the writings amounted to academic whistle-blowing and pointed parody, not crime.
"My purpose was to expose the pattern of unethical conduct in the field of studies," he told jurors during his trial.
Found in caves in Israel beginning in the 1940s, the scrolls contain the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible. They have provided important insight into the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity.
Some scholars, including New York University Judaic studies chairman Lawrence Schiffman, say the texts were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes. Others — including Norman Golb, a University of Chicago historian and Golb's father — believe the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.
Schiffman went to authorities after some of his students and colleagues received e-mails from an address that used his name. The e-mails appeared to have him admitting that he plagiarized Norman Golb's work and asking the recipients to keep quiet about it. Schiffman denies copying the historian's work.
Raphael Golb, a linguistics scholar and lawyer with degrees from Oberlin College, Harvard University and NYU, acknowledged during his trial that he wrote the messages. But he said he never intended for anyone to believe Schiffman actually sent them and portrayed them as "satire, irony, parody."
Internet impersonation claims have generated a number of lawsuits, but prosecutions are unusual unless phony identities are used to steal money, experts say.
In one notable case, Missouri mother Lori Drew was accused of helping her daughter and a friend pose as a teen boy on MySpace to send hurtful messages to a 13-year-old neighbor girl. The girl committed suicide.
A federal jury in California, where MySpace has its servers, convicted Drew of misdemeanor counts of accessing computers without authorization. A judge overturned the verdict and acquitted her.