US tourist arrested for smashing Roman-era statues at Israel Museum

Museum says artifacts damaged by 40-year-old visitor date back to 2nd century CE; police say suspect thought statues ‘go against Torah’

Amy Spiro is a reporter and writer with The Times of Israel

Damage seen to statues inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on October 5, 2023. (Israel Museum)
Damage seen to statues inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem on October 5, 2023. (Israel Museum)

An American tourist was arrested on Thursday for allegedly destroying statues inside the Israel Museum in Jerusalem that offended his religious sensibilities.

According to a police statement, officers were called to the site on Thursday evening after a visitor to the museum intentionally smashed and extensively damaged several sculptures.

Photos released by authorities showed two sculptures that had been knocked off of pedestals and broken into several pieces in the museum’s archaeology wing. The pieces appeared to be a head of Athena from the 2nd century CE discovered in 1978 in Tel Naharon near Beit She’an, and a statue of a griffin holding a wheel of fate representing the Roman god Nemesis dated to 210-211 CE and discovered in 1957 in the northern Negev.

The Israel Museum said only that the two destroyed artifacts were “ancient Roman statues dating to the 2nd century CE” which were featured in the archaeology wing.

Police said that a museum security guard detained the 40-year-old man before police could arrive and arrest him. The museum provided a photo of a stick they said the suspect was wandering around with in the museum, and may have used to carry out the attack.

The suspect was questioned by police, who intend to request that a judge deny bail. Officers’ initial assessment is that the man destroyed the statues because he believes they are “against the Torah,” according to a police statement.

The damaged sculptures were transferred to the museum’s conservation lab for professional restoration, it said. Calling the incident “worrying” and “severe,” the museum said it would nevertheless not impact its operations or opening hours.

A sculpture smashed by an American tourist at Jerusalem’s Israel Museum due to what he said was a violation of the Bible, on October 5, 2023. (Israel Museum)

The museum confirmed that the statues on display were the original artifacts.

Sukkot is a popular time for tourists to visit Israel, with many coming from North America in particular.

In February, an American tourist was arrested for vandalizing a statue inside the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem’s Old City.

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