• September 5, 2015

Cyberbully Is Found Guilty on Multiple Counts in Dead Sea Scrolls Case

A professor's adult son was convicted in a New York State court of 30 criminal charges on Thursday for using online aliases to try to harass and discredit scholars whom his father opposed in a bitter debate over the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The jury found Raphael H. Golb, the 50-year-old son of the prominent religious-studies scholar Norman Golb of the University of Chicago, guilty all but one of the 31 counts against him, according to an Associated Press report. It convicted him of forgery, harassment, and identity theft in connection with a sustained electronic campaign in which he impersonated five people and used about 70 phony e-mail accounts to harass and try to damage the reputations of scholars.

Of particular note to academics who were following the case, the jurors rejected a defense lawyer's argument that the damaging statements that Raphael Golb had made about others under assumed names amounted to parody or irony intended to expose what he saw as scholarly lies, and thus were protected under the First Amendment.

"This is an important case for scholars because so much today is done online, and the laws are just now catching up with the technology," said Robert R. Cargill, an adjunct assistant professor of Near Eastern languages and cultures at the University of California at Los Angeles, who was anonymously attacked by Raphael Golb and played a central role in exposing him.

"The verdict," Mr. Cargill said, "should be a reminder that you simply cannot just say whatever you want behind a supposed veil of anonymity and get away with it. There is always someone watching online."

Parody vs. Crime

Mr. Golb's lawyer, David Breitbart, did not return calls seeking comment.

During the trial, in Manhattan, Mr. Breitbart had argued that his client had essentially engaged in an elaborate intellectual prank, and had done nothing criminal, in sending out e-mails under fake names and under an e-mail address falsely attached to Lawrence H. Schiffman, a professor of Hebrew and Judaic studies at New York University whom Raphael Golb had accused of plagiarizing his father's work.

While Mr. Golb, himself a lawyer, sought to use his trial to air the various accusations he had brought against scholars he saw as his father's detractors, the prosecution focused on hammering home the message that Mr. Golb, who was arrested last year, had carried out criminal acts that did real damage to his victims.

"This case is not about whether Dr. Schiffman plagiarized Dr. Golb. It is about how you can't impersonate anyone," John Bandler, an assistant district attorney, told jurors on Thursday during his closing arguments.

A New York University spokesman issued a statement Thursday in which Mr. Schiffman expressed gratitude for the verdict and said, "It is tragic that academic debate was replaced by cybercrime and identity theft as a means of advancing a particular scholarly point of view."

"Let us hope," Mr. Schiffman's statement said, "that the field of Dead Sea Scrolls research can get back to its real business—interpreting the ancient scrolls and explaining their significance for the history of Judaism and the background of early Christianity."

Jodi Magness, a professor of early Judaism at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who was also among Raphael Golb's victims, said on Thursday, "I think that justice has been served, and I think the decision sends a signal that this kind of cyberbullying will not be tolerated."

Mr. Golb, she said, had conducted "smear campaigns" using "vicious anonymous attacks on scholars' academic reputations," and "it is almost impossible to assess how much damage was done."

"I am a relatively well-established scholar," Ms. Magness said, "but these attacks were also conducted against more junior scholars who were more vulnerable."


1. soundingthealarm - October 01, 2010 at 12:28 am

Whether or not Raphael Golb's words were a crude or offensive approach to dealing with his disagreements, or even if they were entirely defamatory, no reasonable person could have concluded that he was in fact the person whose name he used in his emails and blogs. The content was clearly ironic and not the sort of thing that an academic would write or send in his/her own name. And, unlike true perpetrators of identiy theft, he did not use these names in order to obtain personal gain, as one might if one were, for example, obtaining goods after stealing someone's bank details to apply for a credit card. Nor did Dr. Golb make comments of a purely personal or private nature. Similarly, Dr. Golb, as I understand it, did not make direct contact with the alleged victims by sending repeated messages to them, as might be the case in a garden variety harassment/cyberstalking case. While I sympathize with the plight of those affected by Dr. Golb's actions, and I'm sure they were very upset by what was said in their name/and or about them, the criminal courts are hardly the place to settle such matters. Rather, this is the sort of case that ought to be either sloughed off as part of the price of putting forth one's academic work in the public arena, or else, if one believes one has suffered irreparable harm, brought to a Civil court. Putting Raphael Golb in jail is not the right way to handle a matter that is arguably one involving our treasured right of freedom of speech, albeit, uncomfortable, or even quite possibly tendentious or mendacious speech. I shudder to think of the potential consequences were this case to be upheld on appeal. This could even potentially prevent legitimate satire or parody from being published or shown on television, in magazines, or other forms of media, as potential writers, publishers, and broadcasters might feel a chilling effect that will lead to self-censorship, even where the nature of the content does not rise to the level of unpleasantness or scope of Dr. Golb's writings. This is why I invite the academic community to join in supporting Raphael Golb's efforts to appeal his conviction. There is now a group on Facebook that exists for this purpose.

2. xkv8r - October 01, 2010 at 01:45 am

thank you for that wonderful anonymous comment. lol.

3. xkv8r - October 01, 2010 at 01:49 am

thank you for that wonderful anonymous comment. lol. xkv8r(dot)com

4. hightide - October 01, 2010 at 08:40 am

Cyber Bullying is much more complicated to prosecute than most of these comments imagine it is.In a world in which more and more information about each of us is shared often without our knowledge, legally defining privacy becomes more difficult. Technology itself is constantly changing which means the laws we create to protect privacy in today's technological environment could have completely new implications as technology evolves.

The book Cyberbullying Protecting Kids and Adults From Online Bullies [I would underline the title if I could find the right key] really tries to examine these problems and their implications. Things cannot be contained, controlled, and policed in the same way they were in the 20th century.

Have sympathy for the police and the university in their attempts to address these problems. These crimes are crimes we instantly understand emotionally but they are one of the serious challenges of our age to define legally.

5. dank48 - October 01, 2010 at 09:22 am

SoundingTheAlarm, I found your comments really disturbing. I was thinking, how could an academic possibly be so dim.

But then I realized it was satire.

6. dank48 - October 01, 2010 at 12:05 pm

Oh, come on; please tell me it was satire.

Otherwise you're defending my life of larceny on the ground that I have a right to make a living.

7. elyria - October 01, 2010 at 01:57 pm

They kid you not...


8. dank48 - October 01, 2010 at 03:33 pm

Elyria, ah, thanks. I guess.

Good Lord, that's some deluded, pathetic nonsense. It's especially attractive when the writer says of one of those whom Raphael Golb impersonated that he's probably a friend of Catholic christians. Or something. It's too unsettling to spend a lot of time there.

Speaking as one who couldn't know or for that matter care less about the Dead Sea Scrolls except that they're really old scrolls from the neighborhood of the Dead Sea, I haven't the slightest idea whose theory or theories about these artifacts might be correct, or more nearly correct than others.

But if someone could explain to me, as one adult to another, how a "lawyer" can claim without irony that Raphael Golb's obviously deliberate smear campaign is nothing more serious than a prank, I could die a happy man.

I'm glad for Raphael Golb's victims that their defamer has been found guilty. My condolences and sympathy to Norman Golb for being cursed with such a pitiful excuse for a son. Fifty years old and an attorney, and he pulls an embarrassing stunt like this. What a schmuck.

9. soundingthealarm - October 03, 2010 at 05:00 pm

Dr. Robert Cargill posting anonymously, once again as "xkv8r" -- see http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/User:XKV8R

10. wyopaul - October 04, 2010 at 08:33 am

So, soundingthealarm, are you Raphael Golb, or just a wannabe?

11. patrickamoore416 - October 04, 2010 at 09:04 am

Speaking as someone who knows no more about the Dead Sea Scrolls than having read a few articles in the popular media and who had never before even heard of any of the players in this little drama, my opinion is that to claim Golb's actions are parody is ludicrous. And "soundingthealarm" is really confused. First he/she/it claims that we can't know that Golb is the writer, and then apparently concedes that it was Golb after all. Is Golb a "Dr.?" I don't know, but didn't think so, based on 2 articles I've read. And to claim that Golb's actions were not truly identity thift because Golb didn't get money is, it seems to me, disingenuous at best. I'd say let Golb spend a while in jail as a lesson to himself and others who, like some of my students, think that anything done online is not "real" and should not bear consequences.

12. soundingthealarm - October 04, 2010 at 07:01 pm

@patrickamoore416 -- You've completely distorted what I've said. I never claimed that "we can't know that Golb is the writer." I said that he (Golb writing pseudonynomously) couldn't possibly be confused with the REAL person, whose name appears as the sender's email, due to content of the emails. Secondly, I said that Golb did not receive personal benefit -- I did not say that he did not receive money. Not only did he not receive money, but he really gained nothing by writing the emails, except for perhaps the satisfaction of knowing that he had alerted certain individuals to his view that Prof. Schiffman had committed plagiarism. He certainly didn't enhance his own reputation nor that of his father. The law requires that someone misrepresent their identity as that of another for the purpose of obtaining personal benefit. This did not happen, and therefore, in my view, no crime was committed in this regard. Unfortunately, the Judge and prosecutor managed to convince the Jury otherwise, so we will have to see what happens during the appeal.

And for the record, my name is Howard Fredrics. I have nothing to hide, but rather, I simply used the name "soundingthealarm" as a user name when I first registered as a user on this site.

13. hjar3588 - October 05, 2010 at 05:04 pm

In the reality I inhabit, it is ethically wrong to run into a crowded place and shout "fire" (also illegal...). And wearing a fireman's uniform makes it worse. And the bystanders should not be required to evaluate whether the person sounding the alarm is telling the truth, or a real fireman.

I think it's time people took responsibility for their actions. Golb's behavior was cowardly, dishonest, unethical, unprofessional, and now established to be illegal.

Next topic please.

Hugh Jarvis

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