A US tourist was taken into custody after causing extensive damage to ancient Roman statues displayed at the Israel Museum, claiming they were “blasphemous” and “in violation of the Torah”.
The 40-year-old man’s destructive rampage has sent shockwaves through the museum and the archaeological community.
The incident occurred at the Israel Museum in Jerusalem, where the tourist, whose identity has not been released, targeted two ancient Roman statues.
One of the sculptures, a marble depiction of the goddess Athena, was excavated at Beit She’an (a town in Northern Israel) in the 1960s.
The other was a statue of a Griffin, a mythological creature that served as a symbol of divinity in Roman paganism and was discovered in the desert region of the country.
The rampage left the Athena statue headless and the Griffin statue shattered. The Israel Museum confirmed that the damaged artifacts were “ancient Roman statues dating to the 2nd century CE” housed in the archaeology wing.
Security at the museum acted promptly and detained the tourist before police arrived on the scene. Authorities have described the statues as having “sentimental” value, and the investigation into the incident is ongoing.
The suspect was taken into custody and subsequently revealed his motives for the vandalism during police questioning.
He claimed the statues were “against the Torah”, referring to a religious prohibition in the Old Testament.
The Israel Antiquities Authority’s head, Eli Escusido, expressed deep concern over the incident. He said: “This is a shocking case of destruction of cultural heritage. We view with great concern the fact that religious extremists take such action.”
The Israel Museum, the largest cultural institution in the country, houses a world-renowned collection of biblical and Holy Land archaeology.
In a statement, the museum referred to the incident as “unusual” and condemned all forms of violence while expressing hope that such events do not recur.
Both damaged statues have been transferred to the museum’s specialist conservation lab for professional restoration.
Authorities have sought an extension of the suspect’s arrest until Monday, pending further legal proceedings.
The incident took place during the Jewish holiday of Sukkot, a popular time for Jewish tourists to visit Israel. Sukkot is a Jewish autumn festival often referred to as the “Feast of Tabernacles” or the “Feast of Booths”. It is a time of thanksgiving and commemorates the Jewish people’s journey through the wilderness, with the construction of temporary outdoor shelters (sukkot) as a central tradition. The seven-day holiday began on Friday, September 29 and extends through Friday, October 6th.
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