NEW YORK – A lawyer charged with impersonating a Judaic studies professor online portrayed the allegation as payback in a scholarly showdown over the Dead Sea Scrolls, a video shows.
The professor, New York University scholar Lawrence Schiffman, "is an enemy of my father," an adversary in an obscure but bitter academic debate over the scrolls' origin, Raphael Golb said in the 2009 video, played Monday at his identity theft trial.
"If I'm in here, that's why," Golb added.
The unusual case is blending discussion of the more than 2,000-year-old scrolls with the 21st-century topic of Internet impersonation.
Manhattan prosecutors say Golb adopted a variety of online aliases to avenge his father, University of Chicago professor Norman Golb, and discredit Schiffman in the scrolls debate. The two academics have long disagreed about the ancient Jews who wrote the scrolls, which have provided important insight into the history of Judaism and the beginnings of Christianity.
According to prosecutors, Raphael Golb's tactics to tarnish Schiffman included blog posts accusing Schiffman of plagiarizing his father's work — and e-mails in which Schiffman appeared to admit it. Schiffman denies copying Norman Golb's work and says he's never had a personal problem with the Chicago historian.
The e-mails were sent to Schiffman's students and colleagues, forcing him to spend weeks rebutting them, he testified last week.
In the video, Raphael Golb denied sending those e-mails or writing the blog posts about Schiffman, though he declined to answer a prosecutor's questions about whether he had used certain other Internet pseudonyms. At times, the self-employed attorney broached free-speech protections.
"If people post things about this on the Internet, it's their constitutional right to express their opinion," he said during the roughly two-hour-long statement.
He suggested Schiffman was implicating him in the e-mail escapade "out of maliciousness towards my father," who had written critically of Schiffman's approach to the scrolls.
"He has motive — big motive — to do anything that he can do to damage my father," Golb said in the video.
While he declined a lawyer and spoke expansively, Golb noted repeatedly that he was tired and anxious after being awakened by police.
The Dead Sea Scrolls were found in the 1940s in Israel and contain the earliest known versions of portions of the Hebrew Bible.
Many scholars, including Schiffman, say the documents were assembled by a Jewish sect known as the Essenes. Norman Golb and some others say the scrolls were, instead, the work of many different Jewish individuals and groups.
Raphael Golb, 50, faces dozens of charges that also include criminal impersonation, forgery and harassment. Some could carry prison time if he is convicted, though the complexities of sentencing laws make it difficult to estimate how much.