NEW YORK – A defense attorney said Tuesday that a man accused of posing as a Judaic studies professor to avenge his scholar father in a nasty online debate about the Dead Sea scrolls didn't play nice and his critics responded by wrongly tattling to police.
Raphael Golb, a writer and lawyer, has pleaded not guilty to dozens of charges including identity theft and forgery. The case has exposed a world of bitter academic squabbling about the creators of ancient texts and deals with contemporary notions of Internet privacy and online etiquette.
Golb, who testified in his own defense, doesn't dispute he sent dozens of e-mails under fake names and made up e-mail addresses of a rival professor, Lawrence Schiffman, whom he accused of plagiarizing his father's work. During testimony a day earlier, he said he did what others had done before him: He used parody and irony to expose what he believes are lies.
In closing statements Tuesday, defense attorney David Breitbart said his client's actions weren't criminal and it was wrong of Schiffman to go to police.
"How people articulate their ideas ... is entirely their business," he said. "And sometimes people are nasty. Sometimes people are mean to each other. I submit that's not a crime. That's good ... that's what we call freedom of speech."
Summations by Assistant District Attorney John Bandler were scheduled for Thursday. Bandler earlier called the electronic whisper campaign "a disturbing pattern of conduct," involving about 70 phony e-mail accounts and hundreds, if not thousands, of hours of work.
Breitbart told the Manhattan jury that Golb, a 50-year-old brainiac who earned a doctorate in comparative literature from Harvard University and is fluent in several languages, was trying to publicize Schiffman's academic sins and expose the mean-spirited critics who wrongly ridiculed his father and refused to include him in museum exhibits about the scrolls.
"He had to go to trial in this case in order to accomplish his goal," Breitbart said.
Golb's father, Norman Golb, 83, is a University of Chicago professor and scholar of the Dead Sea Scrolls, texts believed to be 2,000 years old. The scrolls, found in the 1940s in Israel, include the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible. The elder Golb has spent the bulk of his career studying them.
His book on the subject written more than a decade ago has some pages that detail claims of plagiarism by Schiffman, and Breitbart urged jurors to read the account in evidence, especially because Schiffman said on the witness stand he had never been accused of stealing someone's work.
"You certainly know he is a liar," Breitbart said of Schiffman.
In testimony, Schiffman, chairman of New York University's Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, said the two men had disagreed, albeit cordially, over the origins of the scrolls. Schiffman and others say the texts were assembled by a sect known as the Essenes. Professor Golb and others argue the writings were the work of a range of Jewish groups and communities.
But Raphael Golb was so angered by the disagreement, prosecutors said, that he mounted an elaborate, cloaked effort to promote his father's side by creating aliases and then crafting blog posts and e-mails. Some of the names used were real people tangentially involved in the debate. Golb said that was a coincidence.
Breitbart said the case hinges on who is more credible, suggesting witnesses for the prosecution had lied on the stand.
"Raphael had told you what he had done. He told you why he had done it," Breitbart said. "Anyone who knows anything about Gmail knows you can open an account with any name."