15 years after he had taken a ballista stone without permission from the archaeological site of the Jerusalem Walls National Park in the City of David, an anonymous man decided last weekend to return the 2,000-year old find to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
He did it, he said, in light of the coronavirus crisis, and his feeling that “the end of the world is nigh.”
The ballista, sometimes called bolt thrower, was an ancient missile weapon that launched either bolts or stones at a distant target.
The IAA heard about the repentance of this anonymous thief via a post on Facebook by Moshe Manies, who took upon himself to be the go-between, returning the stone to the state treasury without divulging the identity of the thief.
“It involved two ‘shababniks’ (rebellious youth), who, 15 years earlier, toured the City of David site and came across a display of ballista stones, which were catapulted at fortifications,” Manies related. “One of the boys took one of the stones home. Meanwhile, he married and raised a family, and told me that for the past 15 years the stone has been weighing heavily on his heart. And now, when he came across it while cleaning for Passover, together with the apocalyptic feeling the Coronavirus generated, he felt the time was ripe to clear his conscience, and he asked me to help him return it to the IAA.”
According to Uzi Rotstein, an inspector at the Antiquities Robbery Prevention Unit of the IAA, who was arrived to collect the stone: “Disconnecting an artifact from its archaeological framework by its removal negatively impacts the research and the ability to piece together its historical puzzle. We commend the return of the artifact and appeal to anyone who has taken an archaeological artifact, to take a weight off their heart and return it to the state treasury. These artifacts, which are thousands of years old, are our national treasure. They tell the story of the land and of the people who lived here before us, and should be documented and displayed.”
According to Dr. Yuval Baruch, Jerusalem region archaeologist at the IAA: “The ballista stones which were uncovered at the City of David are most likely connected to the harsh battles between the besieged residents of Jerusalem and the soldiers of the Roman Legion, from around 70 CE, the year of the destruction of Jerusalem. Additional stones of this type have been uncovered in Jerusalem, at, among other places, the area of the Russian Compound near the estimated path of the Third Wall, which was the external wall of Jerusalem during the time of the Second Temple. In the excavations of the IAA there, a battlefield was uncovered, with tens of ballista stones scattered on the ground.”