The wait for Jesus assumes biblical proportions in God's own land

Sydney Morning Herald, August 7, 1999
By Alex Benwell

"We filled him up so much with the Holy Spirit he could hardly walk," chuckles Elijah, climbing down from the wall from where he's been preaching God's word to another doubting tourist in the Old City of Jerusalem.

With his face shrouded in grey hair, and looking as biblical as his name suggests, Elijah, 68, (real name Ernest Moche) has all the symptoms of a religious psychiatric condition called "Jerusalem Syndrome" (JS).

The Israeli mental health services say JS, described as a temporary state of mind in which someone believes they have become a biblical character, has been around for a number of years. Jesus, Moses and the Virgin Mary are the most popular. Originally from the United States, Elijah used to be an executive for a large building firm. "God sent me to Jerusalem," he explains. "There are a lot of religious people here who don't like to let in certain people and I'm on their list. But, when I arrived in Tel Aviv, God sent a man from the Government and they let me stay." Back at the Petra Hostel, where he spends most of his time, Elijah has become a bit of a celebrity. A week doesn't go by without a foreign TV crew or journalist interviewing him about Jerusalem and his relationship with God.

Among the hostel's other Christian residents are Elijah's "disciples", Jim and David. They haven't assumed biblical characters yet, but Jim is attempting a 40-day fast in order to make his faith stronger. And David, a former Hollywood film star, finds any excuse to "lay his hands on" somebody's head and pray for them. King David is a popular sight at the Zion Gate. Dressed in a white robe and gold crown, he randomly strums his out-of-tune harp, while singing hymns with enough vibrato to shatter glass. King David's real name is John Ligtenberg. Aged 56, he is originally from Brisbane, but has lived in Israel for the past seven years. "Unless there is a real revival in repenting and people turn back to God, society will get darker," he says. "But the people who love God will grow brighter."

The JS sufferers are gathering in Israel to celebrate the 2,000th anniversary of Jesus's birth. They believe Jesus's second coming will coincide with the turn of the millennium.

In Bethany, a small Arab town outside Jerusalem near the Mount of Olives, I met Brother David. Originally from New York, Brother David believes Jesus, who lived for a time in Bethany, will return to the Mount of Olives.

Brother David sold his mobile-home business 15 years ago and came to Israel on a one-way ticket. "The Lord spoke to me and said that I should move my ministry to the Mount of Olives to prepare the way for His coming," he says.

He now accommodates born-again christians in 10 furnished apartments in Bethany. Brother David's lodgers have come from all over world, and half of them will stay until Jesus arrives. These people all seem fairly stable - maybe a bit eccentric - but Israel is worried the millennium will attract a small but significant number of more sinister JS cases. One such American doomsday cult, Concerned Christians, was discovered by the Israeli authorities and extradited before members could do any harm to themselves or others.

There are four hospitals in and around Jerusalem taking in all types of syndrome sufferers.

There are four hospitals in and around Jerusalem taking in all types of syndrome sufferers.

Professor Eliezer Witztum, a psychiatrist at Jerusalem's Herzog Memorial Hospital, explains that many apocalyptic christians (suffering a new condition called millennium fever) regard Jerusalem as the site of Armageddon. "There is a realistic chance of another fundamentalist Christian sect coming to Jerusalem and causing trouble," he says. "This is not a problem for us doctors, but for the military and secret services."


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