Friday, March 8, 2013

Online Battle Over 'Dead Sea Scrolls' Spawns Real-World Consequences

Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences

Raphael Golb at home in the West Village; he is waiting to begin a six-month sentence for online activities that included harassment over a dispute about the Dead Sea Scrolls.
"There is a saying about academia that the disputes are so vicious because the stakes are so low. In the case of Raphael Haim Golb, a son of a Dead Sea Scrolls scholar, the last few years have provided ample support for the first half of the saying. But the second half is less accurate."

In his cluttered fifth-floor walk-up apartment in Greenwich Village, Mr. Golb, 53, is waiting to begin serving a six-month sentence for waging an Internet campaign against his father’s academic rivals, including sending e-mails under a rival professor’s name. The younger Mr. Golb, who has a Ph.D. from Harvard and a law degree from New York University, is six feet tall, 120 pounds; digressive, tightly wound, bookish; a gadfly, an irritant, an obsessive. If you saw him on the street, you might worry about his safety.

Between 2006 and 2009, he created more than 80 online aliases to advance his father’s views about the Dead Sea Scrolls against what he saw as a concerted effort to exclude them. Along the way, according to a jury and a panel of appellate court judges, he crossed from engaging in academic debate to committing a crime.
What he accomplished through this manner of intellectual warfare is, like the Dead Sea Scrolls themselves, a topic on which opinion is passionately diverse, with no shortage of bad blood.
“This has nothing to do with scholarly debate,” said Lawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva Universityand a widely published authority on the Dead Sea Scrolls, who became the prime target of Mr. Golb’s online activities. “It has to do with criminal activity.
“Fraud, impersonation and harassment are criminal matters,” he continued. “This was actually designed to literally end my career.”
Mr. Golb’s father, Norman Golb, 85, a professor of Jewish History and Civilization at the University of Chicago, placed the wrong squarely on the other side. “The D.A. took a scholarly quarrel and makes a case against Raphael Golb and not against what those other people are doing, which was worse,” he said. “The vindictiveness, the anger, the ugliness, that’s O.K. because it comes from the other side.”
The Dead Sea Scrolls are a cache of 2,000-year-old texts and fragments discovered in caves near Qumran, in what is now the West Bank. Their discovery, beginning in 1947 and continuing for a decade, is one of the great archaeological finds of the mid-20th century, and from the start has been marked by controversy. Access to the scrolls was for decades limited to a select group of scholars, initially all Westerners and Christians, labeled by some critics as “the monopoly.” The first scholars attributed the scrolls to a Jewish sect called the Essenes, who were believed to have lived at Qumran in the first century A.D.
In 1980, Norman Golb published an article disputing the Essenes theory and its variants, arguing that no sect lived at Qumran and that the scrolls came from various libraries in Jerusalem and were hidden near Qumran when the Romans besieged Jerusalem around 70 A.D. The scrolls, he argued, provided a window not just on a narrow sect, but on a broad spectrum of early Judaic writing.
Dr. Golb’s views attracted limited support from other scholars, and none from any major academics in the United States. From his home in Chicago, where he has been teaching and publishing, he attributed this cold shoulder to non-scholarly factors. “The personal animus, I regret to say, has nothing to do with scholarship. It has to do with their anger that I came up with a new and more cogent view of the origin of the scrolls.”
Enter Dr. Golb’s younger son, Raphael.
In 2006 and 2007, when several American museums announced exhibits of the scrolls, Raphael Golb was incensed that his father’s theory had not been acknowledged in the shows. “They teach scorn for my father,” Mr. Golb said, accusing rival academics of “indoctrinating students in a culture of hatred.”

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