Dead Sea Scrolls-case convictions mostly upheld by appeals court

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The New York Court of Appeals has upheld criminal impersonation and forgery charges against Raphael Golb, who used pseudonyms to discredit and impersonate real academic scholars who studied the Dead Sea Scrolls.

The court dismissed the remaining convictions.

Citing Shakespeare’s Othello (“Good name in man and woman, dear my lord, Is the immediate jewel of their souls”), Judge Sheila Abdus-Salaam wrote in the majority opinion that injury to reputation is within the intent of the statute used to prosecute Golb for criminal impersonation, and that his actions were intended to ruin the reputations of those scholars whose names he assumed.

“Many people, particularly with a career in academia ... value their reputations at least as much as their property,” Abdus-Salaam wrote.

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Golb, described in a New York Times article last year as "a gadfly, an irritant, an obsessive," went as far as using the pseudonyms to contact other professors and students on the matter, defending his father, Norman Golb, a professor at the University of Chicago.

Chief Judge Walter Lippman wrote a partial dissent to the decision, arguing that all charges of impersonation and forgery are invalid, and that interpreting the statutes in question to cover attacks on reputation is unconstitutional and overbroad.

“It is hard to imagine any pseudonymous communication that could not be prosecuted under this statute,” Lippman wrote.

Lippman also cites the same scene (Act III, Scene 3) from Othello in his opinion.

The Dead Sea Scrolls are a collection of ancient religious writings found in 1948 in the caves near Qumran, in the West Bank. Scholars have disagreed over who wrote the scrolls, with the Golbs taking an opinion that goes against several modern theories used as the basis for museum exhibits. This disagreement prompted Raphael Golb to assume the identities of his father's strongest critics to impugn their research and strengthen his father's case.

Golb was initially indicted for identity theft, criminal impersonation, forgery, aggravated harassment and unauthorized use of a computer—a total of 31 counts, of which he was convicted on 30.

The high court affirmed the lower courts' convictions on 19 charges in total. They cleared him of all other charges.