Dead Sea Scrolls case ends in pro­ba­tion

The Oneida Daily Dispatch (Oneida, NY) - - Front Page - By Jen­nifer Peltz

The 9-year-old-case of a man us­ing on­line aliases to si­lence his fa­ther’s de­trac­tors fi­nally ends with no jail time.

NEWYORK » Raphael Golb’s con­vic­tion wasn’t quite like any other: us­ing on­line aliases to dis­credit his fa­ther’s ad­ver­sary in a schol­arly de­bate over the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The 9-year-old case got a New York law thrown out and fi­nally ended Mon­day with no jail time for Golb, who per­suaded a judge to sen­tence him to three years’ pro­ba­tion rather than two months in jail.

Ap­peals had put the jail ter­mon hold and nar­rowed the counts in his crim­i­nal im­per­son­ation and forgery con­vic­tion in a cu­ri­ous case of an­cient re­li­gious texts, dig­i­tal mis­deeds, aca­demic ri­val­ries and fil­ial loy­alty.

“Ob­vi­ously, I’m re­lieved not to be go­ing to jail,” Golb said, adding that he re­mains con­cerned by hav­ing been pros­e­cuted for on­line ac­tiv­ity he said was meant as satire. “The judge to­day did the right thing, but the whole thing should have been thrown out nine years ago.”

Pros­e­cu­tors said jail was a fair pun­ish­ment for a man who posed on­line as a promi­nent pro­fes­sor to send aca­dem­i­cally damn­ing emails about the scholar him­self.

“The ( jail) sen­tence should stand,” Man­hat­tan As­sis­tant District At­tor­ney El­iz­a­beth Roper said.

The case be­gan in 2008 when col­leagues and stu­dents of New York Univer­sity Ju­daic stud­ies scholar Lawrence Schiff­man got emails in which he seemed to sug­gest he’d pla­gia­rized the work of an­other Jew­ish his­tory ex­pert, Nor­man Golb of the Univer­sity of Chicago.

The two were on dif­fer­ent sides of an ob­scure but heated dis­pute over which an­cient Jews wrote the­more than 2,000-year-old scrolls, which in­clude the ear­li­est known ver­sion of por­tions of the He­brew Bi­ble.

But the emails weren’t ac­tu­ally from Schiff­man, who later said he spent weeks re­fut­ing the claims.

By 2009, au­thor­i­ties said they’d fig­ured out who was be­hind the mes­sages: Raphael Golb, a lit­er­a­ture scholar and now-dis­barred lawyer who is Nor­man Golb’s son. Charg­ing Raphael Golb with iden­tity theft and other crimes, pros­e­cu­tors said he’d cre­ated an elab­o­rate elec­tronic cam­paign in­volv­ing blog posts and 70 phony email ac­counts to tar­nish his fa­ther’s de­trac­tors.

Raphael Golb ini­tially ar­gued the writ­ings weren’t a crime but par­ody and aca­demic whis­tle-blow­ing meant to counter schol­arly scorn di­rected at his fa­ther and ex­pose “un­eth­i­cal con­duct” in his field.

Or, as Golb put it in 2010 tes­ti­mony: “I used meth­ods of satire, irony, par­ody and any other form of ver­bal rhetoric that be­came the type of lan­guage used by philoso­phers dur­ing the En­light­en­ment to ex­pose the ir­ra­tional ar­gu­ments of their op­po­nents.”

In­deed, the trial was so full of eru­dite ref­er­ences that it some­times felt more like an aca­demic con­fer­ence, touch­ing on the French En­light­en­ment writer Voltaire, the early 1900s Por­tuguese poet Fer­nando Pes­soa, the Ro­man thinker Pliny the El­der, and more.

But it also was, par­tic­u­larly at the time, a rel­a­tively rare in­ter­net im­per­son­ation pros­e­cu­tion that didn’t in­volve fi­nan­cial crimes.

Golb was con­victed in 2010. He was sen­tenced then to six months in jail, a term that would be re­duced as his ap­peals cut a twist­filled path through state and fed­eral courts and the state Leg­is­la­ture.

In one turn, the case prompted New York state’s high­est court in 2014 to strike down an of­ten-used ag­gra­vated ha­rass­ment law that made it a mis­de­meanor to com­mu­ni­cate with some­one “in a man­ner likely to cause an­noy­ance or alarm” and with the in­tent to do so. Po­lice and pros­e­cu­tors saw it as an im­por­tant tool for pur­su­ing do­mes­tic vi­o­lence and other cases, but Golb and his lawyer called it an un­con­sti­tu­tional in­tru­sion on free-speech rights.

The state Court of Ap­peals con­cluded the law was “un­con­sti­tu­tion­ally vague and over­broad.” The state Leg­is­la­ture later passed a re­vised ver­sion.

The Court of Ap­peals also dis­missed some of the counts in Golb’s con­vic­tion, in­clud­ing the only felony — iden­tity theft — which had led to his dis­bar­ment. He was re­sen­tenced to two months in jail.

Fed­eral courts sub­se­quently cut some more counts, leav­ing a to­tal of 10. They re­flected a to­tal of five emails sent over two days, noted Golb’s lawyer, Ron Kuby.

Said Man­hat­tan state Supreme Court Jus­tice Laura Ward: “I think Mr. Golb has been pun­ished enough.”

“The judge to­day did the right thing, but the whole thing should have been thrown out nine years ago.”

— Raphael Golb


In this file photo, Raphael Golb, cen­ter, and his at­tor­ney Ron Kuby, left, con­fer dur­ing a re­cess in his trial at Man­hat­tan State Supreme Court in New York. A judge is ex­pected to de­cide Mon­day on Golb’s fi­nal bid to re­duce his two-month jail sen­tence....

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