Tuesday, July 21, 2020

COGAT seizes baptismal font near Bethlehem

APPREHENDED ANCIENT ARCHITECTURE? IDF returns 5th century stolen baptismal font to original site in Tekoa. COGAT Archaeological Unit says the artifact was stolen by antiquity looters some 20 years ago; Palestinian official accuses Israel of theft (Rossella Tercatin, Jerusalem Post).
A fifth century baptismal font that was stolen from its original site by antiquity looters has been located and returned by the Coordinator of Government Activities in the Territories, COGAT announced on Monday. However, the reconstruction of the circumstances was denied by the Palestine Liberation Organization, which accused Israel of theft.

According to COGAT’s release, the artifact, which dates back to the Byzantine period, was looted about 20 years ago from the Tel Tekoa archaeological site in the West Bank. It is about 1.5 meters high and is shaped as an octagon and decorated with a cross and a stylized garland.

From what I can work out, looters stole the baptismal font from the archaeological site of Teqoa (Khirbet Tuqu') in 2000. The Palestinian Authority recovered it in 2002 and deposited it in the town of Tuqu' near the mayor's house in anticipation of the building of an antiquities museum. This seems to have happened in a very small geographical area. COGAT seized the font and "returned" it. The reports don't specify where exactly they returned it to. The archaeological site? Questions of jurisdiction about such matters appear to be complicated.

My grasp of the geography is vague, so any clarifications from someone local would be welcome.

Other coverage that supplements the Jerusalem Post article:

The Jewish Chronicle: Israel Retrieves Stolen Ancient Baptismal Font, PA Alleges ‘Colonial Plunder’ (Aryeh Savir, Tazpit News Agency)

The Palestine Chronicle: Israeli Forces Seize Ancient Baptismal Font near Bethlehem (VIDEO)

Visit PaleoJudaica daily for the latest news on ancient Judaism and the biblical world.