Two 2,000-year-old sling stones were mysteriously dropped in the courtyard of the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures (MINEC) in Be’er Sheva last week. Also called “sling bullets”, this ancient ammunition dates back to Neotlithic times, famously used by David in his romp against Goliath. The bag packed with these particular stones included an anonymous note that read, “They brought me nothing but trouble.”
MINEC staffer Amos Cohen discovered the parcel which included a typewritten note from an anonymous author that read, “These are two Roman ballista balls from Gamla, from a residential quarter at the foot of the summit. I stole them in July 1995 and since then they have brought me nothing but trouble. Please, do not steal antiquities!” The package also included a map indicating where the robber had taken the stones (image below). Museum director Dr. Dalia Manor immediately reported the find to the Israel Antiquities Authority.
These latest items in the “robbery reversal” lexicon will join other ballista balls from Gamla that are now in the National Treasures Department. Dr. Danny Syon from the Israel Antiquities Authority, who excavated at Gamla for many years, welcomed the return of the stones. He said, “Almost 2,000 such stones were found during the archaeological excavations in the Gamla Nature Reserve, and this is the site where there is the largest number of ballista stones from the Early Roman period. The Romans shot these stones at the defenders of the city in order to keep them away from the wall, and in that way they could approach the wall and break it with a battering ram. The stones were manually chiseled on site by soldiers or prisoners”.
This is not the first instance of “robber’s remorse” that the Israel Antiquities Authority has dealt with. Previously, a thief returned a 2,000 year old Jewish coffin to the Unit for the Prevention of Antiquities Robbery after he realized the morbid meaning of the find (which he had kept in his Tel Aviv bedroom!).
In another case, a minister from New York asked his congregation to forgive a church member tormented by the fact he took a stone from Jerusalem more than a decade earlier. That stone was eventually returned to the National Treasures.
As for would-be robbers, will the lure of a clear conscience become a better deterrent than the threat of a lengthy prison term?
Images taken by Dr. Dalia Manor, courtesy of the Museum of Islamic and Near Eastern Cultures in Be’er Sheva