On Monday, the New York Times published an article about Raphael Haim Golb, an academic crusader who has been accused of identity theft and forgery for impersonating an NYU professor. Among other things, Golb made an account in the name of Professor Lawrence Schiffman, Chair of the Skirball Department of Hebrew and Judaic Studies, and sent the following message to Schiffman’s grad students:
Apparently, someone is intent on exposing a minor failing of mine that dates back almost fifteen years ago. You are not to mention the name of the scholar in question to any of our students, and every effort must be made to prevent this article from coming to their attention. This is my career at stake. I hope you will all understand.”
The email included a link that supposedly exposed Professor Schiffman as a plagiarist who copied work off Raphael’s father, Dr. Norman Golb. Nasty stuff.
Golb Jr., who testified in his own defense for the past two days, said he was trying to defend his father’s theory that the Dead Sea Scrolls, a collection of religious texts found in caves around the Dead Sea, were hidden there by priests from Jerusalem. Professor Schiffman adheres to the traditional theory that these scrolls were penned by a Jewish sect that lived near the caves, but he says that these details aren’t important in the case against Golb.
“The case has nothing to do with the Dead Sea Scrolls,” said Professor Schiffman in an interview. “Obviously it’s in the background, but the guy committed crimes in which he substantially hurt or had potential to hurt people.”
Golb told the Times that he wrote the incriminating emails in an outlandish manner so people couldn’t think it was actually Professor Schiffman writing them— by which he means that he wrote “Professor” with a lower-case p, and used the name “Larry” instead of Lawrence. With these arguments, Golb and his attorney are trying to pass the emails off as parody and irony.
“Sometimes people are mean to each other,” said his attorney in closing statements on Tuesday. “I submit that’s not a crime.”
Professor Schiffman disagrees. He says the situation, which stretches back to August 2008, gave him non-clinical depression in which he couldn’t work for a month. “I was a victim of crimes,” he said, contending that the emails could have threatened his tenure at NYU and his reputation in the field of Hebrew and Judaic Studies.
The Times quoted Golb as saying that the debate was not about money but about the greater good of academia. He also said that “you can’t get the truth unless you have free and open debate between scholars who have different opinions about things.” Professor Schiffman countered that maybe Golb should take his own advice.
“He’s arguing theory instead of writing in the academic field,” he said. “He got caught up in this thing and I guess it really got to him.”
For juicier details on Golb’s aliases and emails, read Bob Cargill’s extensive “Bobst Libraries Theory.”