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Jerusalem syndrome

The Jerusalem Syndrome is a clinical psychiatric diagnosis first identified by Dr. Heinz Herman in the 1930s. The term was coined by Dr. Yair Bar El when he was the director of the Kfar Shaul Psychiatric Hospital, to refer to the results of a 14 year study concluded in 1993, involving 470 tourists referred to Kfar Shaul for treatment, who had become temporarily psychotic. Jerusalem Syndrome is a temporary state of sudden and intense religious delusions, brought on whilst visiting or living in the Jerusalem. Most the 470 hospitalized visitors were Jews, but a large number were Christians. The most interesting feature considering the extreme behaviors sometimes asssociated with Jerusalem Syndrome is that, the subjects sometimes have no prior history of psychiatric difficulty and exhibit none afterward. Dr. Bar El is presently working for the Ministry of Health in Jerusalem, as the district psychiatrist.

The clinical symptoms usually begin with a vague angst, excitement or nervousness sometimes so intense that the patient feels incapable of being around other people. This is followed by the performance of rituals of purification, sometimes including self-baptisms, or immersion in a mikva[?] (ritual purification bath). The patients often adopt "biblical" or otherwise eccentric clothing, sometimes merging their identity with that of a character from the Bible. Finally, patients begin to adopt individual religious requirements and peculiar customs, to which they attach unusual significance, such as idiosyncratic prayers, street preaching sometimes in nonsense languages, perhaps bursting forth in chant[?] or song. Dr. Bar El reported that of the 42 patients who had no previous psychiatric history, 40 of these were Protestant Christians from the United States, with conservative evangelical backgrounds. These patients, if they recover, are typically embarrassed by their behavior, which they cannot explain.

By far the majority of Jerusalem Syndrome patients are harmless, and the victims are usually regarded with pity mixed with amusement. However, there have been significant exceptions: most notably, in 1969 the Australian tourist Dennis Rohan[?] became overwhelmed with the belief that it was his divine mission to set fire to the Al Aqsa Mosque[?]. His act was followed by citywide rioting. These events helped form the premise of a movie called "The Jerusalem Syndrome".

At the approach of the year 2000, concern over the thousands of evangelical Christians who would be coming to the Holy City for millennium celebrations, produced a kind of reverse millennium fever in Jerusalem. Alarmed by the phenomenon of Jerusalem Syndrome, an anxiety began to grow at the prospect of thousands of visitors who otherwise may be normal, stable people, transformed overnight by Jerusalem Syndrome, into a mob of fanatics. Media driven hysteria over Y2K predictions fuelled this anxiety. Although the number of Jerusalem Syndrome patients increased as the year 2000 approached, the disaster which some anticipated did not materialize.

See also: Delusion, Christian eschatology, Millennialism



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