An American tourist has been arrested after allegedly smashing two second-century Roman statues at the Israel Museum – with his lawyer claiming he was experiencing a mental disorder called “Jerusalem syndrome”.
Israeli police have said initial questioning suggests the Jewish-American suspect destroyed the statues in Jerusalem because he considered them to be “idolatrous and contrary to the Torah”.
The Torah is the compilation of the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.
Museum photos show the marble head of the goddess Athena knocked off its pedestal onto the floor and a statue of a pagan deity shattered into fragments.
The damaged statues were being restored, museum staff said.
Nick Kaufam, the suspect’s lawyer, has denied the man acted out of religious fanaticism.
Instead, Mr Kaufman said the 40-year-old tourist was suffering from a mental disorder that psychiatrists have labelled “Jerusalem syndrome”.
The condition – a form of disorientation believed to be induced by the religious magnetism of the city, which is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims – is said to cause foreign pilgrims to believe they are figures from the Bible.
The defendant has been ordered to undergo a psychiatric evaluation. Officials did not release his name due to a gagging order.
The vandalism late on Thursday raised questions about the safety of Israel’s priceless collections and stirred concern about a rise in attacks on cultural heritage in Jerusalem.
The Israel Museum, with its exhibits of archaeology, fine arts, and Jewish art and life, described the vandalism as a “troubling and unusual event” – and said it “condemns all forms of violence and hopes such incidents will not recur”.