Friday, May 21, 2004

NOT AN EPIDEMIC: According to "No sects, please," in the Jerusalem Post, the "Jerusalem syndrome" has been overrated. Excerpt:
People afflicted by the so-called Jerusalem Syndrome suddenly imagine themselves to be biblical figures or feel compelled to start preaching on the streets of the city. The condition was first identified in 1982 by former Jerusalem district psychiatrist and director of the Kfar Shaul hospital, Dr. Yair Barel.

Sufferers usually believe they are Jesus, Moses, or the Virgin Mary, but several King Davids and at least one Mary Magdalene have also been recorded. While some sufferers arrive in Jerusalem with psychiatric conditions that are heightened (or triggered) by the city's spiritual atmosphere, others have no history of mental problems, but are overcome by the urge to preach in public dressed in white robes - often bed sheets from their hotel.

The condition is usually temporary, affecting religious pilgrims - mostly Christian, but occasionally Jews - who begin to exhibit strange behavior while touring holy sites, sometimes proclaiming that they are ancient religious figures sent on a mission.

"The media exaggerated the syndrome. The issue was blown out of all proportions. A minimal number of tourists have been affected - it passes within a few days. It's nothing," says Amnon Ramon, a researcher at the Jerusalem Institute for Israel Studies.

"The perception was that thousands come down with this syndrome every year, [but] the embassy has encountered only three cases in 20 years, I have heard of about a dozen cases in two decades - it's that rare," says Parsons. "The Jews who get it are always Samson or David - strong characters. Christians are often Moses or Elijah, the witnesses. As soon as they're back in their home setting, the symptoms disappear."

"There's no shortage of crazies who could do great damage," warns Ramon. "These include Christian, Muslim, and Jewish zealots.

In the 1980s, the "Jewish Underground," led by Yehuda Etzion, planned to sabotage the mosques atop the Temple Mount. Some view the Temple Mount Faithful led by Gershon Salomon as a potential threat to an already explosive situation.

While the influence of spiritual Islamic sects such as the Sufis has been overpowered by fanatical, often violent, Muslim groups and their affiliated terror cells, many of the Christian-affiliated cults appear to have drifted away from the city.

David Koresh also figures in the article.

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