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Jerusalem Syndrome

To pray for the peace of Jerusalem is praiseworthy, but to be overly obsessed with the city is not.

Jerusalem Syndrome is a group of mental phenomena that includes the manifestations of religiously themed or obsessive actions, delusions or other psychosis-like behaviors, which are triggered by a visit or visits to the Holy City of Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is one of Israel's biggest tourist attractions with a continuous streaming of visitors coming from many nations for pilgrimages and prayers.

Isaiah 2:1-3
1 The word that Isaiah the son of Amoz saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem.
2 Now it shall come to pass in the latter days
That the mountain of the Lord’s house
Shall be established on the top of the mountains,
And shall be exalted above the hills;
And all nations shall flow to it.
3 Many people shall come and say,
“Come, and let us go up to the mountain of the Lord,
To the house of the God of Jacob;
He will teach us His ways,
And we shall walk in His paths.”

For out of Zion shall go forth the law,
And the word of the Lord from Jerusalem.

It is praiseworthy that people from all nations will ascend up to Jerusalem, praying for her peace and blessing the people of Israel.

It is praiseworthy that people will go and visit Israel so that they can learn, study and understand their Bibles more as they walk through the ancient paths.

But some people go to the city with a mission in mind or a mandate from heaven that they believe needs to be completed or executed upon arrival or during their stay. Unless they do so, Jerusalem will be in great trouble or danger.

Some believe that they are the high priests, dressed with ephods containing the 12 gemstones, doing countless prophetic acts and discharging apostolic prayers here and there. Some think they are like the prophets Elijah or John the Baptist, prophesying loudly in the streets of Jerusalem.

Some are seeking supernatural experiences and heavenly encounters, believing they are the messiahs or famous figures from the Bible or history makers or harbingers of the endtimes. Most of them are misguided and unguarded, and often ended up as spiritual misfits or freaks!

  • An Irish schoolteacher checked into a Jerusalem hospital, fully convinced she was about to give birth to Baby Jesus. But she was not even pregnant.
  • A Canadian pilgrim tried to break down stone blocks off the Western Wall, believing that he was Samson!
  • An Austrian man flew into a rage in a kitchen when the hotel chef refused to prepare the Last Supper for him.

Jerusalem Syndrome had already been detected since the Middle Ages. About 1870, a British Anglican Vicar, J.E. Hanauer, wrote: “It is an odd fact that many Americans who arrive at Jerusalem are either lunatics or lose their mind thereafter.”

Most of the delusions portrayed by the people suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome are highly theatrical and very public. They will often rip hotel bed sheets into ancient costumes or outfits, shouting in holy sites or wailing and screaming down the streets.

A former district psychiatrist in Jerusalem, Dr Moshe Kalian said, “Their appearance is very dramatic and they use Jerusalem as a stage and deliberately go there to play out their act - an act that they entirely believe to be true.”

Of those who were hospitalized for the Jerusalem Syndrome, 66% were Jews, 33% were Christians and 1% had no known religious affiliation. Not only tourists, some local residents are temporarily or permanently affected as well.

Not surprisingly, the peak periods are during the Feasts of the Lord, Good Friday, Easter, Christmas and the summer holidays.

People can become intoxicated by the Holy City, whether with or without previous psychiatric history. Yes, some people with no history of mental illness can become overwhelmed too, and temporarily lose their minds.

Often symptoms start appearing on the second day of their stay in Jerusalem when they begin to have an unfathomable feeling of nervousness and anxiety. They suddenly feel a need to be left on their own, leaving their tour group. They begin to perform acts of purification or ritual baths. They often change their clothes, dressing in white robes, in an effort to resemble some prophets or apostles. This type of behavior does not lead to hospitalization in a psychiatric ward. Most of those affected by the Jerusalem Syndrome do not cause much disturbances. They are at worst a public nuisance or a mild source of amusement.

But a certain percentage are severely disturbed, and often behave in a way that demands police or psychiatric intervention, even for a temporary period.

The majority of those who are hospitalized often have mental health problems in their own countries. They come to Jerusalem deliberately on what they believe as a mission or a mandate from God. Most of them are harmless but occasionally some become violent.

Jerusalem Syndrome is similar to the Florence Syndrome. Some tourists to that Italian city begin to act in a bizarre and irrational manner. In Florence, however, the phenomenon is triggered by the works of art and the beauty of the city, and is not as severe or as frequently observed as Jerusalem Syndrome.

There is something about Jerusalem, the Holy City, so importantly central to the people of three faiths. It even causes a special kind of syndrome that no other city could create.

The important thing about visiting Jerusalem is this: What have we become after our visit? Do we love the Lord more? Do we love His people more? Do we read His Word more? Do we study the Bible with renewed interest and increased clarity? Do we pray more?

Psalm 24:3-6
Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord? Or who may stand in His holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully.
5 He shall receive blessing from the Lord, and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
6 This is Jacob, the generation of those who seek Him, who seek Your face. Selah


Written on: 16 August 2017