Shedding Light in the Darkness

Jerusalem Syndrome – Why Some Visitors to Jerusalem Go Crazy


So you’re visiting Jerusalem and you get a sudden urge to don a toga and tramp around the city shouting out Biblical prophecy. It’s known as the Jerusalem syndrome and it affects Jews, Christians and Muslims of many different backgrounds.

First identified in 2000, psychologists noted religious pilgrims overcome with excitement at being in close proximity to the city’s holy places believed they were Biblical characters. Sufferers are often consumed by a need to be clean, before donning a toga-like gown often made from hotel bed linen. The next stage involves the need to scream, or sing out loud psalms, verses from the Bible, religious hymns or spirituals. A procession or march to one of the city’s holy places, is then finally followed by the delivery of a sermon.

A study by Dr. Bar El, published in the British Journal of Psychiatry, noted that since 1980, Jerusalem’s psychiatrists had encountered an ever-increasing number of tourists who, upon arriving in the city “suffer psychotic decompensation.”

Interviewed by Psychology Today, Dr. Bar-El talked about a case where Palestinian authorities found a man without clothes, money or ID. They contacted an Israeli officer. The Israeli asked only one question: “Is the guy really completely nude?” “No,” answered the Palestinian, “he is wearing an animal skin.” “Oh,” said the Israeli, “you’ve got another John the Baptist.”

The Jerusalem Syndrome is similar to the Florence Syndrome or Stendhal Syndrome (Magherini (Sindrome di Stendhal), identified by Italian psychiatrists who noticed a tendency among tourists and visitors to that city to act in a bizarre and irrational fashion. In Florence the phenomenon seems to be triggered by art works and the beauty of the city itself.

After the film “The Truman Show” came out in 1998, psychiatrists in Montreal started reporting cases of patients with “Truman Show delusion.” These people thought they were the subjects of a secret reality show.


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