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Fearing End of the World, Man Returns Museum Artifact 15 yrs After Stealing It

Ian Harvey
Ballista stone and ancient siege engine

Fearing Armageddon, an Israeli man returns a ballista stone artifact to the museum where he stole it 15 years ago. Of all the worrying things happening in the world, one small glimmer of light shone through recently in Jerusalem. A man whose identity has not been revealed decided to unburden his guilty conscience and return to archaeology experts a 2,000 year old ballista stone, an artifact from the time when Jerusalem was under siege by Roman soldiers.

He had stolen it on a lark, the Times of Israel reported, but the pandemic caused him to worry that he might fall ill with this misdeed weighing heavily on him. A Facebook post about the matter caught the attention of the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) and with the help of a middle man, the bowling ball sized stone was returned to its rightful place. In the post, the man explained, “the time has come to clear my conscience. It feels that the end of the world is near.”

cannonball return museum artifact

The 2,000-yr-old ballista stone returned by an anonymous man 15 years after he stole it. (Moshe Manies)

A guilty conscience may not be the best motivation for atoning for illegal acts, but if it gets stolen goods, particularly rare ones, back where they belong, perhaps the reason for the act is not, ultimately, important. What matters is that the centuries-old catapult stone has been returned to the City of David National Park.

The ball’s historic significance in Israel’s past was explained to the Times by IAA’s Jerusalem Region archaeologist Dr. Yuval Baruch. He said this week, “The ballista stones… 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.”

Ballista

A Ballista

The ball was taken 15 years ago, in all likelihood on impulse, or perhaps on a dare from his friends; the thief could no longer live with his actions, perhaps fearing the consequences he could face in the afterlife. He enlisted the help of go between Moshe Manies, who did a quick return to IAA theft prevention unit inspector Uzi Rotstein, who took the ball and made sure it got safely back in the hands of the IAA. Manies said that the thief was cleaning his home to prepare for Passover and came across the ill-gotten ball, and in light of the pandemic, could not bear to keep it any longer.

Ballista

Roman ballista

The stone was one of dozens found when the IAA was performing an excavation near Jerusalem’s Third Wall, which had once been the exterior wall of the city. Dr. Baruch explained to the Times. “In the excavation (by) the IAA there (at the Third Wall) a battlefield was uncovered, with dozens of ballista stones scattered on the ground.” When the stones were displayed, Manies said later, boys were roaming around the park, and “one of the boys took one of the stones home.”

Perhaps he was unaware of its significance to history, or perhaps he intended to take it back but soon realized the magnitude of his crime. Either way, Rotstein is just glad the ball is back where it belongs. “These artifacts,” he said, “which are thousands of years old, are our national treasure. They tell us the story of the land, and of who resided here before us, and should be documented and displayed.”

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Now, thanks to one individual’s guilty conscience he returns a museum artifact, that display will be all the more complete, with one more antiquity to tell the long, remarkable story of Israel’s history. If this kind of action becomes more commonplace — thieves returning stolen goods, people atoning for crimes previously unpunished — perhaps there is a small, silver lining peeking through during these times of uncertainty.