Page last updated at 01:45 GMT, Friday, 6 March 2009

NY arrest in Dead Sea Scrolls row

Rageh Omaar looks at a fragment of biblical text, file image
Academics have debated the scrolls' origins since they were found

The son of an expert on the Dead Sea Scrolls has been arrested in New York, accused of trying to discredit one of his father's academic rivals.

Police say Raphael Haim Golb, 49, set up an e-mail account in the name of Lawrence Schiffman, an academic at New York University.

Posing as Mr Schiffman, Mr Golb then allegedly sent messages around the university admitting to plagiarism.

He faces a charge of identity theft - which carries a four-year jail term.

Mr Golb has not yet hired a lawyer, prosecutors say.

'Undermining inquiry'

The Dead Sea Scrolls consist of about 900 documents, including some of the earliest biblical texts, dating back about 2,000 years.

They were discovered near the Dead Sea in the 1940s and 1950s and have engendered heated debate ever since.

Mr Schiffman and other academics support the view that the scrolls were written by a group of ancient Jewish scholars called the Essenes.

Other academics, including the father of the accused, Norman Golb of the University of Chicago, believe the scrolls were compiled by a number of different Jewish sects.

As well as sending e-mails purporting to be from Mr Schiffman, Raphael Golb is also accused of using a series of aliases to harass academics and officials.

He also allegedly wrote blogs under assumed names accusing Mr Schiffman of plagiarism.

Mr Schiffman issued a statement after Mr Golb's arrest thanking the authorities for taking action.

"Reasoned intellectual discourse relies on integrity," the statement said.

"When an individual, in seeking to advance a particular view, engages in impersonation and falsehood, he or she undermines the precepts of higher inquiry."

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