Two Palestinians were arrested Tuesday for allegedly stealing a rare antique Hebrew scroll and attempting to sell it for millions of dollars.
Police apprehended the two suspects in Jerusalem after an intelligence tip allowed police forces to trace their tracks and intercept the document's sale.
The rare historical document, handwritten in Hebrew on papyrus paper and estimated to be more than 2,000 years old, is a bill surrendering property rights. The document was written by a widow named Miryam Ben Yaakov, and hails from a period in which the people of Israel were exiled from the area and very few Jews remained.
The scroll also, unusually, clearly indicates a precise date on the first line: "Year 4 to the destruction of Israel". The intention is, presumably, either to the year 74 C.E. (the year when the Second Temple was destroyed during the Great Revolt) or to 138 A.D. (the annihilation of the Jewish settlement following the Bar Kokhva revolt).
The Israel Antiquities Authority said on Wednesday that the scroll was an "exceptional archeological document, of the like but a few exist," adding that similar scrolls had been sold worldwide for sums as high as $5-$10 million.
The IAA estimated that the seized document was indeed authentic, but the final verdict will arrive only after it returns from a series of laboratory tests.
The document was apparently stolen from a cave within Israel's borders where antiquities raiders were digging.
"We don't know from which cave it was exactly stolen, "said Amir Nur, director of the anti-antiquities theft division.
"If we had known we would have searched for more scrolls in that area."
Police investigator Eli Cohen said Wednesday that officers was looking into how the suspects arrived at the scroll, and were they involved in other antiquities robberies.
The current scroll came undone somewhat while it was excavated, something which wouldn't have happened, according to the AA, if it would have been removed in a professional excavation.
According to the Antiquities Authorities' law all of the archeological artifacts within Israel's borders, excavated or otherwise, are state property and fall under the responsibility of the Antiquities Authority.
In fact, any trading in artifacts is considered illegal in Israel, with the exception of a small number of cases authorized by the IAA.
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