DSS Smackdown

I have long had an interest in the Dead Sea Scrolls. This interest started on my mission, when I was introduced to the scrolls by taped lectures about them made by Einar Erickson and distributed by the Simi Valley Stake Seventies Project. These tapes were very popular in my mission and lots of elders listened to them. I then graduated to Nibley (both tapes and books), and from there I graduated away from LDS lectures (which were often pie-in-the-sky, verging on misleading) to reading the actual DSS themselves in translation and reading non-LDS scholarship about them.

I have retained this interest in the scrolls since my mission. I was a beta tester for the FARMS DSS cd-rom library. I was a docent for the FARMS traveling DSS exhibit when it went to Kansas and Nauvoo. I gave a lecture on the DSS at the Field Museum when an exhibit of some of the real things came to town here in Chicago. And I’ve followed the scholarly debates and intrigues over the years, which have calmed down considerably since all the scrolls were finally made publicly available.

One of the key controversies over the scrolls has to do with their provenance. The longtime, standard theory is that they were created by a sectarian group of Essenes, who lived in the complex that was excavated near where the caves where the scrolls were discovered (Khirbet Qumran). In contrast, Norman Golb, a professor of Jewish history and civilization at the University of Chicago, argues that the scrolls are not the work of a single sect and had nothing to do with that complex; rather, they derived from a number of Jewish sects in Jerusalem and were brought to the caves in an effort to protect them from the Romans. I’ve seen Golb lecture here in Chicago and read his book (Who Wrote the Dead Sea Scrolls). I also remember when BYU cosponsored a sort of debate (standing room only, of course) on the subject held at Stanford University back in 1993 among Golb, Catholic scholar Joseph Fitzmyer and BYU professor Stephen Ricks. I personally am open-minded on the question and think Golb makes some excellent arguments. But his position has never caught on and remains a minority view.

Imagine my surprise just now while reading the Chicago Tribune to learn that Golb’s 49-year old son, Raphael, who lives in New York, was just arrested for waging a one-man campaign of harassment against his father’s critics and those who do not accept his theories. He created dozens of intricate internet aliases and bombarded museums and other scholars with very hostile messages. Apparently he has been doing this for a long time, but only recently has his true identity been discovered.

Apparently the younger Golb crossed the line when he sent e-mails as if he were Lawrence Schiffman, an equally well known professor at New York University and one of his father’s critics, to Schiffman’s grad students, making it appear that Schiffman admitted plagiarizing from the elder Golb (even though his theories are completely different). The real Schiffman contacted the Manhattan D.A.’s office and an investigation began, which led to Raphael, who has now been charged with identity theft, criminal impersonation and harassment. He was released on his own recognizance and the investigation is ongoing.

This reads like something from a Dan Brown novel (who would Tom Hanks play)? I realize people’s passions can become inflamed when debating scholarly issues, especially on a subject as controversial as the DSS, but this really takes the cake.

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  1. Life FAIL.

  2. John Hamer says:

    It’s surprising that people still imagine internet “anonymity” is really anonymous. One of the reasons I use my real name when posting (like you do too, Kevin) is to avoid the temptation to write things I wouldn’t want attributed to me.

    Anything I would write pseudonymously might ultimately be able to be linked back to me anyway.

  3. I only occasionally read in ancient scripture studies, but the UW here hosted a series of lectures by Schiffman on the DSS (available online), which I found incredibly engaging (as an aside, UWTV has had some wonderful programming).

    Unfortunately, I think that there are some followers of aspects of Mormon history that pass beyond the polemic. However, and fortunately, besides the Hoffman affair (which was its own monster) I can’t think of that approaches this.

  4. This academic fanaticism is the theme of James Arrington’s 2008 play, “March of the Salt Soldiers,” ostensibly about the Utah War but applicable to partisans of any scholarly issue. I understand the passion that can be roused when people and ideas you truly care about are savaged — but to turn around and savage your opponents this way? That’s a line I won’t cross.

    Blogging under my real name is a major safeguard against that, as others have mentioned.

  5. Aaron Brown says:

    I think all pseudonymous blogging is cowardly, and I say shame on anyone who engages in it. I personally would never participate in anything so immoral.


  6. Kevin, do you think Golb’s passion and personality has caused many scholars to reject his work?? I am awfully partial to Golb’s Jerusalem Origin theory myself. AND I blog under a pseudonym. AND I am 49.

    (Perhaps I should change my moniker to “Raphael.”)

  7. I don’t mind people using pseudonyms just so long as the pseudonym they use is consistent. Anyone who makes up other sock puppets to be their own cheerleading squad or say things they don’t want attributed to their normal persona is pathetic. As us World of Warcraft nerds say, post on your main, n00b.

  8. Kevin Barney says:

    BiV, I think you’ve got a point about Golb’s passion and personality. He is very “in your face” about it and doesn’t seem to have grasped the notion that sometimes less is more.

  9. One of the reasons I use my real name when posting…is to avoid the temptation to write things I wouldn’t want attributed to me.

    Don’t have a problem with pseudonyms, but…yeah, me too.

    I figure if I’m gonna put it out there, I better be woman enough to back it up with my real identity. Happily, this practice has prevented me from saying some the nastier things I’ve thought. My grandmother would be proud. :)

  10. “One of the reasons I use my real name when posting (like you do too, Kevin) is to avoid the temptation to write things I wouldn’t want attributed to me.”

    In my case, it’s never worked.

  11. Q: Do you know why the politics in academia are so vicious?
    A: Because the stakes are so small.

    I first heard that 30 or so years ago, in context of a heated dispute over desk size (no, really) among a group of internationally-known research scientists. This, however, exceeds anything I’ve seen before. ..bruce..

    P.S. I use my real name — and where possible use the exact same user ID — because it makes it that much easier to find (via Google) comments that I have made in the past. I have a small mind, you see, and so am plagued by the need for consistency…. :-)

  12. MadChemist says:

    If bloggers allowed the free exchange, didn’t censor, and didn’t gang up on alternate viewpoints, some of us wouldn’t feel the need to be anonymous.

    Name calling (like calling someone a coward) is no less cowardly just because AB’s name is attached to it.

  13. Kevin Barney says:

    MadChemist, AB made that comment with tongue firmly planted in cheek, given his own blogging history.

  14. StillConfused says:

    My good friend just moved to Utah after spending 5 years in Israel studying a number of religious artifacts. He tells me about some of the controversy, the manipulation of data, the politics and more importantly the egos involved. It is a pretty wild and crazy world.

  15. that is a little sad to read, but not surprising. DSS research has had it’s share of people’s nutty behavior. It’s too bad, because Golb’s theories are a well-reasoned approach. I remembering reading Golb’s book when it came out, and I have been always surprised that his arguments didn’t get a wider acceptance.

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