JERUSALEM -One of the Israel Museum’s biggest supporters, American billionaire Michael Steinhardt, approached the flagship Israeli art institution in 2007 with an artifact he had recently bought: a 2,200-year-old Greek text carved into the limestone.
But shortly after it went on display, an expert noticed something odd — two chunks of text found a year earlier during a dig near Jerusalem fit the limestone slab like a jigsaw puzzle. It soon became clear that Steinhardt’s tablet came from the same cave where the other fragments were excavated.
Last month, Steinhardt relinquished the piece, known as the Heliodorus Stele, and 179 other artifacts valued at roughly $70 million as part of a landmark deal with the Manhattan District Attorney’s office to avoid prosecution. Eight Neolithic masks loaned by Steinhardt to the Israel Museum for a major exhibition in 2014 were also seized under the deal, including two that remain exhibited at the museum.
The Israel Museum declined interview requests and refused to show the artifact’s documentation.
But in a statement, it denied wrongdoing, saying it “consistently follows the applicable regulations at the time the works are loaned.” It said all displays are “in full cooperation” with the antiquities authority.
Unique 2,200-year-old stele (inscribed stone block) that provides new insight into the dramatic story of Heliodorus and the Temple in Jerusalem, as related in the Second Book of Maccabees.
"The Heliodorus stele is one of the most important and revealing Hellenistic inscriptions from Israel," said James S. Snyder, Anne and Jerome Fisher Director of the Israel Museum.
"It contextualizes the Second Book of Maccabees and provides an independent and authentic source for an important episode in the history leading up to the Maccabean Revolt, whose victorious conclusion is celebrated each year during the Jewish festival of Hanukkah."
The newly deciphered stele presents new information about Heliodorus, who, according to the Second Book of Maccabees, received orders to seize the treasure in the Temple in Jerusalem, but was driven from the sanctuary by the miraculous appearance of a fearsome horseman accompanied by two mighty youths.