Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences-NYT

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CJ Hinke comments: We include this timely article to show that not even scholars of classical antiquity are immune to legal abuse by the misguided excesses of rampant government. If even classicists fall victims to such abuse, then wider academia is surely far more vulnerable.

For a recent pertinent example, Aaron Swartz <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Aaron_Swartz>, Internet activist and research fellow at Harvard working at MIT, was charged with copyright ‘crimes’ for releasing five million academic articles prior to 1923 (!) from JSTOR which has made them public in 2011. He faced a sentence of 35 years in prison and a one million dollar fine. Aaron most tragically committed suicide in January just prior to commencement of his trial. His death was an unforgivable loss to all of us.

The current antiquated model of copyright enforcement is simply untenable in the Internet age. A good example might be the Loeb Classical Library, for instance. Most of us, all published academics, ask why copyright “protection” extends 70 years past a creator’s death, widely making invaluable but unprofitable works firmly out-of-print and unavailable. Personally, I would far rather my hard-won works of quirky scholarship are actually read by real people! This model has also resulted in an impasse of inertia for online library projects such as Digital Online Libraries of America, Google Books and Open Library due objections by the publishers’ industry over international access.

We must also mention the tragic death in US custody in Seattle of Dr. Roxanna Brown of Bangkok University, world authority on Southeast Asian ceramics. <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roxanna_Brown>, <http://www.latimes.com/news/local/la-me-roxanna-sg,0,7268800.storygallery>. See also, Steven Martin’s account in his 2012 book, Opium Fiend <http://www.amazon.com/Opium-Fiend-Century-Slave-Addiction/dp/0345517830/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1361106218&sr=1-1&keywords=Opium+Fiend>,

First they came for the students but I was not a student…

Are you really safe from the mind-police in your academic pursuits???

The time to speak out agasinst such outrages is now!

 

Online Battle Over Sacred Scrolls, Real-World Consequences

John Leland

The New York Times: February 16, 2013

http://www.nytimes.com/2013/02/17/nyregion/online-battle-over-ancient-scrolls-spawns-real-world-consequences.html?ref=todayspaper&pagewanted=all

 

17GOLB_SPAN-articleLargeRaphael 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.

[Annie Ling for The New York Times, insert; and Rina Castelnuovo, background]

 

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.

 

Related

 

17jpGOLB1-popupLawrence H. Schiffman, vice provost of Yeshiva University. [Annie Ling for The New York Times]

 17jpGOLB2-popupRaphael Golb and his lawyer, Ronald Kuby, after Mr. Golb’s conviction in November 2010. [John Marshall Mantel for The New York Times]

17jpGOLB3-popupNorman Golb, Mr. Golb’s father. [Joel Golb]

17jpGOLB4-popupBooks by Dr. Golb and Dr. Schiffman that espouse their theories about the origin of the Dead Sea Scrolls. [Annie Ling for The New York Times]

 

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 University and 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.”

“This is a system where they suppress people by excluding them,” he added.

At the time, the younger Mr. Golb was researching a book about French secularism and working just enough as a real estate lawyer to pay his bills. He also received money from his parents. The Internet offered ways for him to argue his father’s case. He wouldn’t have to use his real name, which others “would simply use to smear my father,” he said. Instead, he could post under an alias — or four, five or six. He began posting comments on the museums’ Web sites, complaining that the exhibits were one-sided.

He started a blog; then another and another, each under a different name. The aliases begot other aliases, known on the Internet as sock puppets: 20, 40, 60, 80. The sock puppets debated with other posters, each time linking to other sock puppets to support their arguments, creating the impression of an army of engaged scholars espousing Norman Golb’s ideas. Using the alias Charles Gadda (from the Italian writer Carlo Emilio Gadda), Raphael Golb published articles on the citizen news Web site NowPublic and linked to them in comments and blog posts written under other aliases. The writings all championed Norman Golb as an honest scholar bucking a well-financed, self-serving conspiracy.

He acted as an online troll, stirring up controversy. “Was it appropriate for a scientific institution to allow a group of Christian academics to impose their agenda on an exhibit of ancient documents taking place under its auspices?” he asked of an exhibit at the San Diego Natural History Museum, in an Oct. 6, 2007, article. That article, he said, drew 16,000 views.

“They saw this happening and they were furious, because I was sabotaging their Internet campaign,” Raphael Golb said of the museums. His father’s rivals, he suspected, used sock puppets to answer his comments.

“It became a kind of war,” he said. “It was very ugly. But I was glad it was happening. I was like, this is great. This draws more attention to my father’s work.” To a family member he wrote, “they are faced with a dedicated, in-the-know adversary who is out to get them, and there’s simply nothing they can do about it.”

One of Mr. Golb’s targets was a graduate student named Robert R. Cargill, who created a virtual tour of Qumran for the San Diego museum.

Norman Golb posted an article on the Web site of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago complaining that the film’s script ignored his theory.

Raphael Golb went further, sending pseudonymous e-mails to Mr. Cargill’s professors at U.C.L.A.

“I said this person should be compelled to answer the published criticisms of his work at his Ph.D. defense,” Raphael Golb said. Some of the e-mail messages suggested that Mr. Cargill, who describes himself as agnostic, was a fundamentalist Christian and an anti-Semite.

Mr. Cargill, who is now 39 and an assistant professor of classics and religious studies at the University of Iowa, remembered Mr. Golb’s campaign as a frontal assault meant to thwart his career.

“Any time someone hears the name Robert Cargill, they hear, he’s anti-Semitic,” Mr. Cargill said. “Let’s say I’m applying for a job and I’m in a pool of 10 finalists. When they do background checking, they see this Cargill looks like he’s being criticized as anti-Semitic. We don’t know if it’s legitimate, but it’s safer to go with someone else.”

The e-mails kept coming. According to papers filed by the Manhattan district attorney’s office, from June 2007 to June 2009, Mr. Golb’s aliases Steve Frankel, Carlo Gadda, Don Matthews, David Kaplan, Emily Kaufman, Jesse Friedman and Robert Dworkin sent dozens of e-mails to hundreds of people at U.C.L.A., all attacking Mr. Cargill. “The volume of defendant’s alias creation,” the court papers read, “and his planning with others, speaks to the deliberate intent in conducting defendant’s operation.”

Mr. Cargill fought back. A typical e-mail message or blog post has an Internet protocol address that identifies the computer used to create it. Using simple software that identified the I.P. addresses, he traced the e-mails and blog posts of 82 aliases to the same few computers. Beneath one of Mr. Golb’s pseudonymous comments, he posted a message, using the pseudonym Raphael Joel, a combination of Mr. Golb’s first name and his brother’s. The message was: We know who you are.

His sock puppets, in other words, were taunting Mr. Golb’s sock puppets.

Ronald Kuby, a lawyer for Raphael Golb, last week disputed Mr. Cargill’s characterization of himself as an innocent victim, writing in an e-mail message that “he played a vile role in this case. Among other things, Cargill spend hundreds of hours obsessively tracking down ‘Charles Gadda’ because of the latter’s online criticisms, engaged in his own sock puppetry while concealing it and condemning Golb for the same thing.” Mr. Kuby added, “Cargill is probably a lot of fun to chat with, but he is more than capable of using his hurt puppy persona to manipulate the criminal justice system.”

Mr. Golb put it this way: “Cargill was stalking me.”

When an exhibit of the scrolls was scheduled for the Jewish Museum in New York in September 2008, Mr. Golb turned his sights on an old antagonist, Dr. Schiffman, who was scheduled to speak at the exhibit. Dr. Schiffman was then chairman of the Hebrew and Judaic studies department at N.Y.U. Dr. Schiffman, too, had a theory about the scrolls: that they belonged to a sect called the Sadducees, but that some came from other sources — a theory that Norman Golb said borrowed from his own. But unlike Dr. Golb, Dr. Schiffman was regularly invited to speak at conferences and on television. In 1992, Dr. Schiffman was among a group of scholars who accused one of Norman Golb’s protégés of plagiarism, damaging the young scholar’s career. Raphael Golb said the incident left him with “lingering bitterness” toward Dr. Schiffman. Norman Golb’s 1995 book, “Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls?” included a long chapter criticizing Dr. Schiffman’s scholarship and accusing him of lifting ideas without credit.

Dr. Schiffman said of Norman Golb, “Almost nobody reads anything he writes.”

This time, in addition to using sock puppets, Raphael Golb said, he created an e-mail account with the address of Larry.Schiffman@gmail.com, and wrote to Dr. Schiffman’s employers, colleagues and students at N.Y.U., “confessing” to having plagiarized Norman Golb in developing his own ideas about the scrolls.

“Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago,” one e-mail read. “It is true that I should have cited Dr. Golb’s articles when using his arguments, and it is true that I misrepresented his ideas. But this is simply the politics of Dead Sea Scrolls studies. If I had given credit to this man, I would have been banned from conferences around the world.” The e-mail was signed, “Lawrence Schiffman, professor.”

Sitting among stacks of papers, books, conga drums, assorted sneakers and other clutter in his Greenwich Village apartment, a stone’s throw from N.Y.U., Raphael Golb said he had intended the e-mails as obvious parody — that no sentient person would believe a professor would write such things, or sign his missive “professor.” The distinction was important, Mr. Golb said, because the First Amendment protects parody. “I didn’t realize I was dealing with idiots,” Mr. Golb said.

But people did believe the e-mails were real, Dr. Schiffman said. “I was walking out of my office and a graduate student says to me, ‘I got your e-mail from last night.’ I said, ‘wait a minute, what e-mail?’ ”

Dr. Schiffman went to the F.B.I., contacting an agent he had advised on a prior case. “You know how the F.B.I. says, ‘once you’re one of ours, you’re always one of ours?’ ” he said. “It’s totally true. They told me the assistant D.A. to call. ‘Tell him you spoke to us.’ ”

Raphael Golb was naked and asleep when police officers came to his apartment early on the morning of March 5, 2009, arresting him on 51 charges of identity theft, aggravated harassment, criminal impersonation, forgery and unauthorized use of the computers in an N.Y.U. library. He had been up all of the previous night writing comments or blog posts under his various aliases. The officers seized Mr. Golb’s computers and led him handcuffed from his building. Waiving his rights to a lawyer and to remain silent, Mr. Gold denied sending any bogus e-mail messages, telling the investigators that Dr. Schiffman had filed a false complaint “out of maliciousness toward my father.” He added, “I find the guy a bit nauseating, to tell the truth.”

Mr. Golb later rejected a plea deal that would have kept him out of jail.

At his trial in September 2010, Mr. Golb admitted to all of his writings, but defended his use of pseudonyms as a time-honored vehicle for criticism and debate — and a staple of Internet culture. He wasn’t trying to defraud anybody or gain anything, his lawyers argued; he just wanted his father’s views represented. If he was guilty of slander or libel, his victims could sue him in civil court.

“I’m not saying anybody here acted well,” Mr. Kuby said. “I just don’t think anybody acted criminally.”

After a three-week trial, the jury ruled otherwise, finding Mr. Golb guilty on 30 of 31 counts, including two felonies. On Jan. 29 he lost again on appeal on all but one count. He is currently out on bail pending a decision by the State Supreme Court on whether or not to hear his appeal. Last week, he was granted permission to go to Chicago, where his father was in the hospital after a minor stroke.

But is Mr. Golb really a cybercriminal, or just a particularly noxious partisan in a constitutionally protected academic debate, using guerrilla methods to advance a minority viewpoint?

Dr. Schiffman said he had asked the prosecutors if they couldn’t just scare Mr. Golb. “Send some police in there to scare him and he’ll stop. They said, ‘you have to understand, we don’t do that. We investigate a crime, and if we find there’s a crime, we prosecute.’ ”

Mr. Golb remains disappointed that First Amendment advocates, including the New York Civil Liberties Union, have declined to support him, though they were asked. “I’m astonished at their silence,” he said. “I don’t want to inflate myself, but the consequences of this are obvious. When we start to allow prosecutors to act on behalf of resentful professors to whom no harm was done at all, it’s frightening.”

Mr. Kuby said he thought the issue hit too close to home: “Nazis marching in Skokie — great. Impersonating a professor in a debate about the Dead Sea Scrolls — not so great.”

The district attorney’s office declined to speak on the record about a pending case, but in a statement after the verdict in 2010, Cyrus R. Vance Jr., the district attorney, said, “Using fictitious identities to impersonate victims is not what open academic debate seeks to foster,” adding: “It is true that the vast majority of identity thieves seek to steal their victims’ money, but in some cases, identity thieves maliciously intend to damage their victims’ reputations and harass them, while cowering in anonymity. Such was the case here.”

Christopher Dunn, associate legal director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, said that he had spoken with Mr. Kuby but could not remember the specifics of the conversations or of the First Amendment claims in the case.

With his felony conviction, Mr. Golb was disbarred; the trial also consumed most of his mother’s savings, he said. The prospect of prison shook him from his bravado.

“My real concern is if I’ll be able to handle it physically,” he said. “I don’t have a good back. I was once rushed to the hospital with neck spasms. Being in a confined environment, I don’t know how I’ll react to that. It’s possible I’ll go insane. It’s possible that I’ll be fine and just read my books and do some writing.”

Mr. Golb’s father and Dr. Schiffman remain in secure, tenured positions, unchanged by his actions. Raphael Golb said his only regret was the grief and expense caused to his mother. As he waited to learn if he would enter Rikers last week (he received a stay on Wednesday), he said, “All I can do is keep moving forward. I’m not sleeping well. It’s so ugly. There’s no need to read Kafka anymore. This is better.”

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