Jerusalem Syndrome

There really is something called Jerusalem Syndrome. Wikipedia describes it as a:

…mental phenomena involving the presence of either religiously themed obsessive ideas, delusions or other psychosis-like experiences that are triggered by, or lead to, a visit to the city of Jerusalem. It is not endemic to one single religion or denomination but has affected Jews and Christians of many different backgrounds.

I can totally understand why some people can go nuts here. This is ground zero for monotheism. If Jerusalem had an NBA team, I’d call them the Monotheists, and I’d have three season ticket packages: the cross package, the Star of David package, and the crescent package.

I am not sure where to begin talking about the Old City of Jerusalem, so I’ve collected some random thoughts:

  • Jerusalem is small. You can walk from wall to wall in maybe 20 minutes if you don’t get stuck in a tourist group or hassled by a shop vendor. As a result, all of the stuff mentioned in the Bible takes place within a really small area. The Tomb of King David is very close to the room of the Last Supper and across a walking path from the Church of the Dormition. I was walking around looking in shops when I accidentally found myself on the Via Dolorosa. The entire lenght of the Via Dolorsa can be walked faster than most churches take to do the stations of the cross.
  • Jerusalem has been conquered over 40 times. Pretty much nothing from the time of Christ exists in the city today. I think there only a few steps and the Western Wall which exists. As a result, there has been tons of building over things, reorienting religious buildings for other faiths, and very unique inter-faith arrangements that could only exist here. The keys to the Church of the Holy Sepulcher, the holiest site in Christendom, is held by two Muslim families. They open and close the door each day as a compromise to the various Christian sects doing it. The Tomb of King David shrine was built by the Crusaders, expanded and decorated by Persian Muslims, and is now a synagogue. The room of the Last Supper has stained glass windows with Arabic writing from the Koran. The Temple Mount itself was the site of the First and Second Jewish Temples, was then the site of a Roman temple to Jupiter after the Second Temple’s destruction, then a mosque was built by the Arabs, then it was converted to a church by the Crusaders, was converted back to a mosque and now orthodox Jews are licking their chops at the idea of building a third temple. These type of things can be found all over Jerusalem.
  • There isn’t a whole lot of Wailing at the Wailing Wall. In fact, I found it pretty festive. Lots of families take their sons there to get their Bar Mitzvah. Every few minutes you can see a small group of men and a boy walking with a copy of the Torah to a table to read. If you climbed the wall (yeah), you’d literally be in the courtyard of the Dome of the Rock. There is a ramp which will take you from the Western Wall area to the Dome. There is a sign warning jews that according to Torah Law, they cannot go onto the Temple Mount. As they don’t know for 100% certainty where the temple was located, the whole area is considered off limits.
  • Prior to 1967, going from the Western Wall to the Dome was crossing the border from Israel to Jordan. There are still signs that say “Border Police”. Crossing that line from the Western Wall to the Dome area is the single most abrupt and striking cultural change which I think exists in the world. Certainly the most abrupt which I’ve ever seen. The area around the Dome is really the only open space is all of the Old City. It is the closest thing to a park you can find. The Dome is the oldest mosque in the world and many think it covers the location of the Holiest of Hollies from the first and second temple. I wasn’t able to go inside and I have no idea if it is possible for non-Muslims to enter.
  • Being the most significant spot in Christendom, you’d think the Church of the Holy Sepulcher would have a big plaza and be really flashy. In reality there is a tiny courtyard and to get there you have to pass through a small gate lined with merchants selling cheap souvenirs. There is a ladder up against a window which has been there for 150 years. Disagreements between the various sects which control the church have rendered it unmovable. Much of the church hasn’t been cleaned or repaired in over 200 years because of disagreements on how to do it. If you go there, read up on what is inside the church before you go, because nothing is marked and there are no signs.

I’m looking forward to see how Passover and Good Friday are run. Watching the people is really most of the fun.

13 thoughts on “Jerusalem Syndrome”

  1. Yep, I totally get Jerusalem Syndrome. It’s an amazing but oppressive place. You can almost feel the sense of “other worldliness” in the air.

    I can completely understand why it sends some people a little loopy!

  2. I love Jerusalem! We were fortunate to be there last month, I’m guessing, before all the tour buses unload for Easter / Pesach. I’m currently writing an article about Jerusalem & the surrounds, “In the Footsteps of Fathers and Kings”, and had found it hard to consolidate all the information/history on the sights. It’s that feeling of being inconsequential in the face of history. Anyway, I truly enjoyed Jerusalem. With the exception, perhaps, of the Room of the Last Supper. Not even sure what we were looking at with the crowds all herded like cattle in that room. I did enjoy the stained glass windows and Arabic inscirptions, though.

  3. suztours

    I decline to comment, I respect Garys website too much to drag it into this, point taken though.

  4. Karim – you are mostly right – here are a couple of corrections – the Al-Aksa Mosque is NOT above the Western Wall; it’s above the Southern Wall of the Temple Mount. The Western Wall is only recently called the “Buraq Wall” by Muslims – only since Arafat started calling it that for the obvious political reasons (he also denied the existence of the Temples there as well as any Jewish right to the pray there). Traditionally, it was the Eastern Wall of the Temple Mount that was also called the “Buraq Wall”.

    And again, the Dome of the Rock is not now, nor has it ever been a mosque. No prayers are offered officially in the Dome of the Rock, though sometimes Muslim women will pray there.

    You are right that Jerusalem was the first Qibla for Muslims – but it was not because the Al-Aksa mosque was there. It was because that was the location of the Beit HaMikdash (the Temple) – even referred to in 638CE by Caliph Omar ibn Al-Khuttab, the first Muslim official to enter Jerusalem. When Jewish tribes living in Mecca refused to follow Islam, the Qibla was changed to Mecca. Which is why now, Muslims in Jerusalem turn their backs on the Temple Mount when they pray… which signals (to me, anyway), their lack of respect for the place they insist is important to them.

    For more about the Muslim claim to Jerusalem, see

  5. Gary

    The dome of the rock is not the first mosque in Islam, the first mosque is Qibaa in Madina in Saudi Arabia.

    Many people confuse the dome of the rock and the Aqsa Mosque, the 2 are different entities, the Aqsa Mosque is just above the Buraq wall (Wailing Wall), and the Aqsa Mosque is the first Qibla (Directior of Prayers) for Muslims. The Qibla is now towards Mecca.

    The Dome of the rock is the better known landmark of Jerousalem.

    Wish you a happy easter in the holly land.

  6. Gary – ADM is correct concerning the border between Israel & Jordan 1949-1967. In fact, you have probably been to Jaffa Gate? That gate and all of the Old City were in Jordanian hands after the Israeli War of Independence in 1948 (Armistice signed 1949) and until the Six Day War of June 1967. Just across the road from Jaffa Gate is Israel – and that area was called “no man’s land” during those years since Jordanian soldiers on the walls of the Old City would shoot at anything that moved in the valley below.

    Oh – and no Jews were allowed into the Old City at all when it was under Jordanian rule, even though the treaty with Jordan specified that Jews would be allowed to pray at the Western Wall. In practice, it never happened!

    Also – the Dome of the Rock is NOT a mosque but a shrine containing the Foundation Stone and one hair of Muhammed’s beard. Opened in 691 CE, it is NOT the oldest mosque in the world and didn’t have a golden dome unti the 1960s! The Al-Aksa Mosque (that’s the smaller dome at the southern end of the Temple Mount) was completed in 715 CE, though the original was larger than the current building. And no, non-Muslims are NOT allowed just now into the Dome of the Rock or into the Al-Aksa Mosque.

    Prior to 1948, as ADM mentions, there were neighborhoods inside and outside the Old City, but no borders. The Four Quarters of the Old City were designated as such only in 1920, and from 1920 until about 1936, the area called today the Muslim Quarter was called the Mixed Quarter since Jews & Christians also lived there. Jews have returned to the Muslim Quarter and live in houses that were previously Jewish-owned prior to 1948.

    About “border police” – we have them everywhere, not just manning border posts, so don’t be concerned about that.

    Gary – it’s great you are in Jerusalem – I’m a local tour guide and have a little bit of time next week if you would like a walk-around tour at some point – either inside the Old City or outside, in some of the neighborhoods of modern Jerusalem! Just let me know… I’ll give you a special price for Passover/Holy Week!


  7. Gary, masterful post — I’m crossposting to Facebook. One small thing from your copy though that doesn’t square:

    “Prior to 1967, going from the Western Wall to the Dome was crossing the border from Israel to Jordan. There are still signs that say “Border Police”.”

    This is not correct: the crossing was at the UN-manned Mandelbaum Gate from 1949-1967. Prior to that, Jerusalem was an open city. There were neighbourhoods to be sure, but no borders, per se.


    • I don’t know the name of the gate, I’ll have to go back and check, that says “Border Police”. It is just to the left of the entrance from the Western Wall when you enter. As border police would require a border, and the sign looked old, i assumed it was pre-1967.

      Were there guard posts between the Dome or between the various quarters in the city?

      I’m going to go and take a photo of the sign now :)

  8. Thanks for sharing your experience. It was nice to read about all the different subtleties and intricacies of the area.

  9. Just out of curiousity, who told you/where did you find information stating that Orthodox Jews are looking to remove the Dome of the Rock from Temple Mount to build the third temple? And which Orthodox Jews are you referring to (there are different groups)? Because it is accepted by the entirety of Judaism that the third temple will be built when Moshiach (the messiah) comes. There are even some Chasidic Jews are anti-Zionism and assert that the State of Israel should never have been created because according to the Torah Jews weren’t meant to completely return to Israel until the aforementioned messianic era.

    • Clearly the “entirety” of Judaism does not believe that. Most might, but there are groups who want to build a third temple. There are lots of examples starting with the very day the temple mount was taken over in the 1967 war:

      – Sholmo Goren, former Chief Rabbi of the Israeli Defense Force and Chief Rabbi for Israel entered the Temple Mount with a Torah during the Six Day War and made comments about how he wished it to be destroyed. He advocated the creation of a third temple. There is an engraved stoned commemorating him at the Western Wall.

      – The Temple Mount and Eretz Yisrael Faithful Movement want to rebuild the temple now.

      – The Temple Institute wants to build a third temple has already created several items for use in the temple and is working on developing a priest class.

      – In 1983 45 Jews were arrested in a plan to storm and take over the Temple Mount.

      – In 1984 there was an attempt to blow up the mosque using 250 pounds of explosives.

  10. Great post. You’ve gotten to see much more of Jerusalem than I did–my tour was rather limited and didn’t allow us to wander out of certain areas for safety. So, I missed out on most of the Muslim and Christian history of the old city. Guess there’s always next time.

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