A 40-year-old male tourist from the United States was detained in Jerusalem after intentionally damaging two Roman sculptures on view at the Israel Museum late Thursday afternoon, October 5. The man called the sculptures “idolatrous and contrary to the Torah,” according to Israeli police. It’s not the first time this year than an American tourist vandalizes artwork in the city.
The man toppled over the pedestals on which the two ancient sculptures were sitting, causing significant damage to the works upon impact with the floor in the museum’s Archaeology wing. One sculpture was the head of the Ancient Greco-Roman goddess Athena, the only surviving portion of a lost carved stone statue dating back to the 2nd century CE. The neck of the bust appears to have been damaged after disconnecting from the pedestal following the incident.
The second sculpture, which shattered into multiple pieces, depicted a griffin (a mythological lion-eagle hybrid) with its front paw over the goddess Nemesis’s wheel of fate, also dating back to the 2nd century CE.
“The damaged statues have been moved to the museum’s conservation lab for professional restoration,” a spokesperson for the institution told Hyperallergic. “The museum’s management, which views this as a troubling and unusual event, condemns all forms of violence and hopes such incidents will not recur.”
The museum’s security personnel alerted the Israeli police to the incident, and the man was brought into the police station for questioning.
According to a statement from the Israeli police department shared with Hyperallergic, the man revealed that he intentionally damaged the sculptures because he viewed them as “idolatrous.” The man’s attorney denied that this was an act of fanaticism, telling the Guardian that his client was suffering from a psychiatric condition known as “Jerusalem syndrome,” characterized as a state of psychotic disorientation afflicting pilgrims to Jerusalem. Earlier this year, another American tourist was arrested in Israel after vandalizing a sculpture of Jesus Christ at the Church of the Flagellation in Jerusalem’s Old City in what some suspected to be a case of Jerusalem syndrome.
The police statement also highlights that “the suspect’s detention has been extended for an additional 4 days, through October 9,” as the investigation unfolds.
The museum’s spokesperson noted that the institution will operate as normal throughout the weekend.