Some Jerusalem Tourists Turn Into Messiahs

By Michael Van Duisen on Thursday, August 22, 2013
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“Jerusalem is a port city on the shore of eternity.” —Yehuda Amichai

In A Nutshell

Jerusalem syndrome, a disorder first diagnosed in the 1930s, is characterized by ideas, delusions, or hallucinations, with strong religious overtones. Like the name suggests, it affects tourists who travel to Jerusalem, whether the person is Jewish, Christian, or Muslim. Many of the sufferers even begin to feel they are on a mission from God or even are the Messiah themselves.

The Whole Bushel

Jerusalem psychiatrist Heinz Herman was the first to clinically diagnose the disorder in the 1930s. On average, it is said to affect 100 people each year, with 40 of those requiring some sort of hospitalization or treatment. Sufferers are afflicted with ideas, delusions, or hallucinations with strong religious overtones. They can also be seen bathing religiously, dressing in robes, singing hymns, or preaching in the streets. Some may even believe they are sent on a mission from God or are another person, usually Muhammad, Moses, or Christ.

Those who are diagnosed with Jerusalem syndrome are usually first-time visitors to the city, although it has been recorded in long-time residents of the city as well. There are three types of the disorder, each with its own quirks. Type 1 sufferers are people who already had some sort of mental illness. It is thought that being in Jerusalem exacerbates their condition. Usually, they only went to the city because they had religious feelings already and typically believe themselves to be an important historical or religious figure. Type 2 sufferers are people who don’t normally present with any mental problems and just seem to become obsessed with the significance they feel Jerusalem has. The most common type are Type 3 sufferers, people who are said to have never had any mental disorders before arriving in the city. They are the ones who typically become obsessed with ritual cleanliness, the wearing of robes (usually made from a sheet), anxiety, or a desire to travel alone. They also make pilgrimages to various holy sites around Jerusalem and have a tendency to sing hymns or preach sermons in the streets.

Due to the fact that around 3.5 million tourists visit Jerusalem each year, the syndrome is fairly rare. Nevertheless, hotel workers are constantly on the lookout for signs their patrons may be afflicted. The reason for this is that sufferers can occasionally turn violent. In 1969, Australian tourist Dennis Rohan felt he was on a mission from God and set fire to the Al Aqsa Mosque, the third holiest site in Islam, which sparked riots throughout the city. He later claimed to be trying to hasten the Second Coming of Christ, which he desired because he was part of an evangelical Christian sect. There was also the case of an unknown German tourist who claimed he was John the Baptist and was found wandering naked in the Judean desert.

Show Me The Proof

British Journal of Psychiatry: Jerusalem syndrome
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