The Jerusalem Syndrome

Each year about 50 visitors to Jerusalem have to be taken to a psychiatric ward because they are overcome with what they experience in the Holy City. In the worst cases individuals have come to believe that they are the Messiah, or that they are preparing the way for Him. Psychiatrists call this phenomenon the “Jerusalem Syndrome.”

I have no idea who the fellow below thinks he is imitating, but I have dubbed him an “actor” — not someone who has been overcome with the Jerusalem Syndrome. Some might say that he is “John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” (Matthew 16:14 ESV)

An "actor" on the Mount of Olives. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

An "actor" on the Mount of Olives poses as a biblical character. Photo: Ferrell Jenkins.

Wired Magazine recently ran a fascinating article by Chris Nashawaty dealing with the Jerusalem Syndrome. He interviews Dr. Pesach Lichtenberg, head of the men’s division of psychiatry at Herzog Hospital in Jerusalem. Lichtenberg and Nashawaty visit the Old City of Jerusalem in search of a likely prospect for Jerusalem Syndrome. Read the article in its entirety here.

I had been unaware that visitors to Florence, Italy, experience a similar phenomenon when they “are overwhelmed by powerful works of art.” There, it is called Stendhal syndrome after the writer who described it in the early 19th century. Japanese tourists are especially subject to Paris syndrome while visiting the City of Light.

The sights of Jerusalem are truly impressive, and some tourists who tend to be emotional are often brought to tears by what they see and hear.

A woman places her hand on a stone at the fifth station of the cross. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

A woman places her hand on a stone at the fifth station of the cross. Some say this is a stone touched by Jesus on His way to the crucifixion. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

It is not every day that you see someone like this selling jewelery and souvenirs.

Vendor in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Vendor in the Jewish Quarter of Jerusalem. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

We ran a brief note about the Jerusalem Syndrome about four years ago here.

HT: Either Jack Sasson or Joseph Lauer (perhaps both), but I have misplaced the Email.

2 responses to “The Jerusalem Syndrome

  1. The fellow with the donkey (I don’t recall his name) has been a fixture on the Mount of Olives for years. I encounter him almost every time I go there with visitors, either at the Seven Arches viewpoint or along the pilgrim way down to Gethsemane. I never thought there was anything particularly “biblical” about him. He’s just a local Arab gent in traditional dress whose avocation is having his picture taken — for a fee, as you probably know. And he seems to have great fun withg it all! So, a bit of an actor, yes…

    TOM POWERS / Jerusalem

  2. Pingback: Jerusalem Tourist Attractions / Travel Guide / Tips / Blog

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