Who says that there aren’t honest people around today?
In 1997, a 46lb fragment of a marble column disappeared from one of the excavations the Israel Antiquities Authority (IAA) was conducting south of the Temple Mount. It has now been returned.
Several weeks ago, the IAA received an unexpected e-mail from a Christian clergyman in New York: “I am requesting forgiveness for a member of my congregation”, he wrote. “The fellow confessed to me that twelve years ago he took a stone from Jerusalem and his conscience has bothered him ever since. I wish to return the stone to Israel and hope that you will forgive the man for his transgression.”
The stone fragment arrived in Jerusalem in a wooden crate that was specially constructed for the flight back to Israel, with a letter from the guilty party, which read:
I came to Israel on an organized trip. As a student of archaeology, I was very excited when we visited an excavation south of the Temple Mount. I asked how I can purchase a stone from the excavation because I wanted a souvenir with which to pray for Jerusalem and was told it was not possible. On the last day of the trip our Israeli tour guide approached me and took the stone fragment from inside his coat. ‘Take it’, he said. ‘It’s a present from me’. I asked him how he obtained the stone and he replied, ‘It’s okay; don’t worry’. I was very happy and took the stone with me on my flight back to New York. Only later did I realize that he probably took the stone from the excavation without permission. For the past twelve years since then, rather than remind me of the prayer for Jerusalem, I am reminded of the mistake I made when I removed the stone from its proper place in Israel. I am asking for your forgiveness.
Though taking archeological artifacts can lead to imprisonment, the IAA said that because of the “sincerity” of the letter, it will forgive the man, as requested.
IAA officials said that the stone was a column fragment that was discovered during the excavation of one of the Umayyad buildings located south of the Temple Mount. This is the second drama related to stolen archeological artifacts in a month. In early May, the Bintel Blog reported on an Indiana Jones-style operation which led to the return of a stolen 2000-year-old Hebrew document.