A Jewish-American tourist, said to be suffering a religious psychosis, has been arrested in Jerusalem after breaking two ancient sculptures at the Israel Museum.
Broken into pieces
The sculptures, Roman-era exhibits at one of Israel’s foremost cultural institutions, were removed from pedestals on Thursday afternoon and thrown to the floor by the 40-year-old man whose identity has not been released to the media.
A 2nd century CE head of Athena and a 3rd century griffin now lie in the museum’s archaeology wing, where conservation professionals examining the sculptures for damage are yet to make a formal statement about any possibility of repair. Photos showed them broken into pieces.
Two pieces at the Israel Museum were destroyed, the head of Athena and a statue representing the Roman god Nemesis. The vandal said they “went against Torah.” This is part of a fundamentalist Jewish turn that is terrifying. It’s most reminiscent of the Taliban. pic.twitter.com/mVeQFoXlLG— Shaiel Ben-Ephraim (@academic_la) October 6, 2023
Discovered in the late seventies, the head of Athena stood nearly 65 cm tall and was made of Thassos Island marble. The griffin, discovered in 1957, is a winged lion creature with a beak and horns. It held a “wheel of fate” and represents punishment for pride.
Eli Escusido, Director-General of Israel’s Antiquities Authority decried the “horrifying destruction of cultural assets”. Amid questions about how safe priceless artefacts have been following a spate of attacks this year and in the current security crisis as the country verges on war, Escusido said the IAA would look to ensure nothing similar could ever happen again.
Of all the objects in the museum that could have been targeted, it is not known whether the culprit’s choice of a pride-punishing griffin was deliberate but he is reported to have said under questioning that the artefacts were “idolatrous and contrary to the Torah.” Idolatry is the worship of a symbol or image as if it were God.
While members of the government have been quick to blame religious fanaticism, at Friday’s remand hearing, the accused’s lawyer told the court his client could be suffering from “Jerusalem syndrome”. Granted four days for psychiatric examination, the hearing will resume this week.
The condition is a form of delusional religious psychosis that affects several dozen visitors to the Holy City every year, including people who have no history of mental illness. Most sufferers find the disorder disappears when they leave Jerusalem.
In the immediate aftermath of what it called a “worrying” and “grave,” incident, the Israel Museum remained open as Sukkot, a seasonal peak for tourism with an influx of US tourists, was underway. In the meantime, the museum has announced that, “in light of the security situation,” it will be closed until further notice.