A Believer walks into Jerusalem, mulling over his agenda for the humid, sunny day: breakfast, a long walk through the Muslim Quarter, and finally, the destruction of the Dome on the Rock. With the desecrator to the Temple of Jerusalem gone, he will incite the great war of Gog and Magog; the End of Days will ride upon the wind and Christ will return to the Kingdom of Man. Perhaps Christ might stride under the Lions’ Gate in the Old City Walls (although the small idols are actually leopards) and tread along the Via Dolorosa, the Path of Christ to his crucifixion. When the Son of God makes his big comeback, perhaps he will take a nostalgic stroll down the road where processions like to reenact his last days — or not, seeing as nails through the wrists are usually painful affairs.
The court asked the Believer if he knew he would hurt innocent people, if he knew his plans were the manifestations of a madman. The Believer knew. He knew he would bring the Messiah back to Jerusalem. After being referred to the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre, he was sent back to his homeland in South America where he essentially became someone else’s problem.
The Believer’s grandiose schemes to destroy the Islamic shrine would later be identified as Jerusalem syndrome, subtype I superimposed on a previous psychotic illness, and subtype I(ii), the psychotic identification of an idea. He was one of several patients examined by the Kfar Shaul Mental Health Centre as a sufferer of the newly identified syndrome, several case studies of which were made public in a 2000 study published in the British Journal of Psychiatry. Between 1980-1993, approximately 1,200 patients were referred to the Centre for cases of flighty saints, dangerous demagogues, and occasionally God reminding the populace that this was his goddamn world and they better pay attention. These messengers of God can be divided into three categories: Type I (The Believer), Type II (the Academic), and Type III (the Lawyer). Though varying in symptoms, they share the commonality of being incited after visiting Jerusalem.
Godless Pagans linger and coddle idols, an embarrassment to the one true faith. The Academic gets it. He’s been studying these pointless little sycophants for half a decade and he has words that need shouting. He stands at Calvary, giving these “Orthodox Christian” failures a piece of his mind as he rips through the paintings of false gods, smashing the idols of Abraham’s father. Years of his work are coming to life, the pointless studies of Judaism and the long dissertations on the faiths of the East. The Academic is almost fifty years old and if he can’t get his message across now, when can he? When the court sends him to Kfar, he is disappointed to learn that he can no longer return to Jerusalem to spread his gospel, gospel worthy of any saint and Messiah. Three years later, almost a decade in the making, he is still trying to piece together the true word of God.
As a sufferer of Jerusalem syndrome type II aggravated by “idiosyncratic ideations,” the Academic fell under the subtype of the lone individual. He had shown no signs of previous mental illnesses, and was simply, at least to the psychiatrists examining him, an eccentric obsessive whose beliefs were magnified when he finally reached Jerusalem. The other subtype is identified as those belonging to groups, particularly religious groups determined to be suffering from a collective case of the illness. However, members of these religious organizations are usually diagnosed with personality disorders and were only properly examined by psychiatrists when they engaged in violent confrontation with their local neighbors.
The final subtype of Jerusalem syndrome is far less dramatic but no less unusual, with patients having episodes of religious mania and delusion from simply being in Jerusalem. A Swiss lawyer who was part of a group tour reported feeling agitated the entire time he was in the city. He had psychotic fits comprising of a need to remain “pure” by constantly cleaning himself, the desire to sing Psalms loudly from the Bible, and an eagerness to deliver sermons, all of which ended after leaving Jerusalem to go on with his group to Egypt. According to the British study, many sufferers of the third type recall the experience with guilt and shame for actions committed in their delusional state. Interestingly, the study also cites that although the third type is much rarer and more difficult to diagnose, most patients were reported to have come from extremely religious childhoods and were no longer practicing.
The idea of a location-specific illness, especially one that makes saints out of men in the desert, is a phenomena that has slowly trickled into more normative discussions. Award-winning author Neil Gaiman’s fiction anthology Trigger Warning discusses the disorder in one short story titled “Jerusalem”. A married couple is visiting Jerusalem on holiday, when the wife begins to preach about the greatness of the city. Heeding the advice of their tour guide, the husband whisks his wife back to England only to find, in a grim twist, that she has not been cured of the ancient city’s illness. She goes off to preach again, and it becomes apparent that the husband begins to exhibit symptoms of Jerusalem syndrome as well, musing, “This time he would listen” as he decides to track his wife down.
The absurd nature of the disorder has not averted the eyes of the media, with cases of the syndrome bubbling up to the surface every so often. In mid-March of this year, the NY Daily News reported that a 19-year-old American tourist had began searching for buried treasure, convinced it was hidden in the limestone caves known as Solomon’s Quarries that lie beneath the city. Israeli police found the young man sleeping in the caves and discovered his backpack to be full of limestone rocks that the young man believed to be treasure.
Later that month, The Telegraph released a piece on the syndrome, which stated that the Israeli Ministry of Health still receives around 50 confirmed cases of Jerusalem syndrome a year, and that a significant number of cases remain undocumented. In an interview, Dr. Moshe Kalian, the District Psychiatrist of Jerusalem, stressed that the syndrome should be seen less as an inexplicable breakdown — a “transient psychotic episode” as Dr. Kilan describes it — and more as an “aggravation of a chronic mental illness” that already exists. The new dialogue is promising, but there is still no absolute explanation or cure to the unusual affliction, aside from getting the patient away from Jerusalem whenever possible.
A psychiatrist at the Kfar Shauv Centre asks a patient, “I’m Dr. Baum. What’s your name?”
“Why, I’m St. Francis of Assisi,” the man replies, sure of his answer.
“And who told you that?” the psychiatrist asks.
“Why, the Lord Our Father himself,” says St. Francis.
And a man shouts at the end of the hall, “Like hell I did!”
By Reuven Glezer
Reuven Glezer is an incoming student to the Weissman School of Arts and Sciences, and intends to major in Journalism. This is an original piece written for Refract Magazine. He chose to examine the disorder discussed in order to diagnose his own obvious delusions of grandeur.