1,000-year-old gold-embroidered Hebrew books seized in Turkey

Gold-embroidered parchment manuscripts written in Hebrew believed to be around 1,000 years old were seized by police in the southeastern Turkish city of Mardin last week after being smuggled into the country .

Video and photos from the books shared by Mardin Provincial Police showed drawings of animals such as an owl, deer, scorpion and bull surrounded by Hebrew writing, although it is not clear whether the books were written in Hebrew or another language or dialect that used Hebrew writing, such as Judeo-Arabic.

The police announcement identified the four books and one scroll as Torahs (the Hebrew Bible).

The books and the case in which the scroll was stored were all adorned with the Star of David and one of the books also had a menorah on its cover.

A suspect has been arrested in this case.

The Syrian Observatory for Human Rights reported on Tuesday that sources informed it that the manuscripts seized by the Turkish authorities were stolen by the al-Rahman Legion, a Syrian rebel group, from the Eliyahu Hanavi synagogue in the Jobar district of Damascus and smuggled into Turkey.

Residents of the Jobar neighborhood have reportedly demanded that the al-Rahman Legion return the manuscripts, as well as other manuscripts that the militia allegedly stole from the neighborhood. According to the report, the militia denies having any of the manuscripts and says they left them in the eastern Ghouta region when they withdrew from the area.

The Eliyahu Hanavi Synagogue was bombed and looted during the Syrian Civil War, according to Diarna, a digital database of Jewish heritage in North Africa and the Middle East. The site is traditionally believed to be the place where the prophet Elijah hid from the Israelite king Ahab after declaring a drought. The site is also believed to be where Elijah’s successor, Elisha, was anointed.

Earlier this year, Turkish security forces seized on Friday (March 26th) a Torah between 2,000 and 2,500 years old with a golden inscription in the northern province of Samsun.

Acting on intelligence, police squads stopped two suspicious cars and found the manuscript, said the sources who asked not to be named due to media restrictions.

Police can be seen rummaging through backpacks in the trunk of the suspects’ car in video of the incident. The ancient artifact was simply wrapped in a plastic bag stuck in the pockets of a nearly empty cloth bag.

The police can then be seen removing the golden Torah from the plastic bag with gloved hands, before removing it from the old protective case. Pages in which old inscriptions are written are displayed.

Five people were arrested, the source added.

Reuters contributed to this report.

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