Monday, 12 March 2007

Jerusalem Syndrome

I make full acknowledgement to the Insight Guides Jerusalem guide book as the source of what follows although you’ll find a no less good exposition in Wikipedia.

Every year apparently, several dozen visitors are dragged off to hospital where they are diagnosed as suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome. Typically these are young people, Christians and Jews alike, from North America and Europe who claim to be Jesus, God (more generally, one must presume) or one of the prophets.

Although the symptoms are as often as not of a psychotic nature – the sufferers frequently refer to voices from above – Jerusalem’s Herzog Memorial Psychiatric Hospital which sees most of the cases is not able to say much more on the subject. The main reason for this is that the Israeli authorities are eager to ship the unfortunate sufferers back whence they came as quickly as possible. This is understandable given the tensions that exist almost by default in this city of religion. The memory of a deranged Australian Christian who set fire to the El-Aqsa Mosque in 1969 nearly causing an intifada remains fresh in memories used to extended time frames.

Most of those diagnose with Jerusalem Syndrome have a history of psychiatric disorder and it may just be that religious mania, which is far from being an unusual psychiatric phenomenon, simply finds a ready outlet in those with generalised symptoms who travel to a city whose emotive power to excite is unquestionably considerable.

I was able to close one of my posts yesterday with the ubiquitous ‘plus ça change, plus c’est la meme chose’. Here I go again. We are after all talking about a city with a verifiable history of more than three thousand years in which religion was a central issue. Nearly two thousand years ago the government was so concerned about unrest during religious festivals that the governor himself had to oversee security measures. And what was one of his recorded chief concerns? People proclaiming themselves to be the messiah. Which in turn begs the question, ‘what of the second coming? What indeed!

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