Dead Sea Scrolls Go to Court
A brilliant young Harvard Ph.D. faces jail for impersonating a Bible scholar—and rival of his father
When did this reversal occur? To a large extent, with the publication of Lawrence Schiffman’s 1990 article “The New Halakhic Letter (4QMMT) and the Origins of the Dead Sea Sect” and his book Reclaiming the Dead Sea Scrolls (1994)—in which Schiffman misattributes to Golb the implausible theory that the scrolls exclusively represent the remains of the Jerusalem Temple library, while arguing in favor of one of Golb’s key points: that the scrolls reveal the variety to be found in inter-testamental Judaism. Schiffman, an Orthodox Jew who has accused Christians of trying “to Christianize the message of the texts,” performed a close reading of one of the scrolls to conclude that the texts were not the work of the Essenes but rather a breakaway, Sadducean sect who were solidly Jewish, proto-Pharasaic, even halachic in their practice and writing.
In 1993, Avi Katzman, an Israeli journalist, published an interview in Haaretz in which he pushed Schiffman on the similarities between his work and Golb’s previous writings.
“But you also, in different articles that you published, have not hesitated to appropriate portions of Golb’s theory without acknowledging as much, and without giving him appropriate credit,” Katzman asserted.
“This isn’t the issue,” Schiffman responded. “There’s no innovation in Golb’s theory. … Golb can say what he wants. The idea that we’re not dealing with a sect is self-evident. Does he think that he wrote the Bible?”
Golb’s son Raphael is a devoted child with a combination of awe and protectiveness when it comes to his father—but it is important to note that his admiration for his father’s work is not simply an act of filial piety. Schiffman has suggested that Golb was behind the attempt to tarnish his reputation, but to this, Norman Golb only laughs. “Raphael is brilliant. He has a Ph.D. from Harvard, and a law degree, and he’s written his own book. I wanted him to write in his own field, comparative literature, but he was interested in this. He likes the field.”
Golb bemoans the injustice being done to his son, but his work has been brought to wider public notice. He says his son was “rather rash, but brave to do it. And after seeing all that I had gone through, how they had tried to suppress my ideas, he had every right to do it.”
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