British tourist missing in Negev may have ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’

British tourist missing in Negev may have ‘Jerusalem Syndrome’

Police searching for Oliver McAfee discover trail of torn Bible pages, handwritten notes about Jesus in the desert, and a ‘chapel of stones’

Oliver McAfee (Police Spokesperson)
Oliver McAfee (Police Spokesperson)

A British tourist who went missing in the Negev desert in November may be suffering from religious delusions known as “Jerusalem Syndrome,” the UK’s Daily Telegraph reported Monday.

Police initially thought Oliver McAfee had gotten lost while cycling across the desert, but recent discoveries indicate the 29-year-old may have retreated into the wilderness deliberately.

Earlier this month, hikers walking the Israel National Trial near Mitzpe Ramon found McAfee’s wallet, keys and laptop and handed them over to authorities, prompting police to launch a search.

Since then, search and rescue teams have discovered a trail of pages torn out from the Bible weighed down by stones, as well as handwritten scriptures and references to stories, including Jesus’s fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights, according to the report.

Police teams, accompanied by dozens of volunteers, have also found what they described as a “chapel,” a circle-shaped clearing in the sand that had been flattened by a bicycle tool near the town of Mitzpe Ramon.

Raz Arbel, the leader of the volunteer search team, told the Daily Telegraph, “He seems to have been doing all kinds of ceremonies that we don’t really understand.”

Dr. Moshe Kalian, the former district psychiatrist for Jerusalem and an expert on Jerusalem Syndrome, said that though he had never met McAfee, the reports suggested that he was involved in “some kind of religious experience in the desert” that sounded like the syndrome.

Jerusalem Syndrome is the name given to religiously themed delusions or psychosis triggered by a visit to Jerusalem. The condition can affect visitors who have shown no signs of mental illness previously, and usually resolves upon departure from Israel.

Each year, around 50 tourists are reported to experience Jerusalem-themed mental problems.

McAfee, a gardener from Essex, had been depressed before leaving Britain, cycling through Europe, visiting Mexico and ending up in Israel in late October.

Originally expected back in Britain on December 1, he was last seen by an American tourist on November 21.

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