What drives the Jerusalem syndrome?
Liat Collins wrote in The Jerusalem Post that no other city in the world inspires its own medically recognized syndrome. She refers to the Jerusalem syndrome, a psychosis where normally sane tourists begin to hear voices and believe they are people in the Bible.
The JTA mentioned an episode of The Simpsons, where Homer Simpson traveled to Israel, and was diagnosed with the Jerusalem syndrome. Homer, dehydrated, believed he was chosen to bring Jews, Christians and Muslims together in a new religion called Chrisjumas.
JTA quoted Dr. Gregory Katz, a psychiatrist of Jerusalem’s Kfar Shaul Mental Health Center, who said 30-40 patients a year are treated with the Jerusalem syndrome.
Most of them have had a history of mental illness, but a few experience it for the first time, likely triggered by experiencing biblical Jerusalem for the first time. For many, it is a way to reconcile their biblical impressions of the city with the modern city that Jerusalem is today.
According to JTA, Christians predominantly tend to get the Jerusalem syndrome, specifically Protestant tourists from the United States and Scandinavia. However, Jews and Israelis have been treated, too.
Commonly, they identify with a character consistent with their faith. Jews will identify with King David, Christians with Mary Magdalene or John the Baptist. Jews fantasize about bringing redemption. Among Israelis, the Jerusalem syndrome is gradual, most commonly afflicting Jews who want to build the Third Temple, JTA said.
Christian Today Australia said the syndrome is believed to affect 100 people annually. Quoting Mark Tronson, chairman of Well-Being Australia, it is a type of obsession, similar to “overboard enthusiasm” for a sport or hobby.
Which leads to the question: Is Jerusalem a city that drives people crazy? Considering that most of those afflicted with the syndrome have a history of mental illness that is not likely.
As for the minority who get the syndrome for the first time, one must note that unlike other tourist sites, which people are drawn to for shopping, or adventure or a love of history, people come to Jerusalem primarily for religious reasons.
In religion you will find passion. And too much passion can drive a very small minority overboard. The Jerusalem syndrome therefore could well be a natural outflow of a small population of tourists who are drawn there because of the religious links to the city and whose passion may have gone berserk.