JERUSALEM -- Jerusalem's main psychiatric clinic said that it expects a surge in admissions among millennium pilgrims struck by a syndrome that convinces its victims they are characters from the Bible.
"There is already an increase of about 50 to 60 percent," Gregory Katz, a doctor at the Givat Shaul Mental Health Center, told Israel Radio.
"If all the forecasts of an increase in tourists are true, then we think the cases will increase by 100 percent. We have a new emergency room, but the situation is difficult because we have to treat many sick people not including the tourists."
The clinic is currently treating three foreigners affected by what is known here as Jerusalem Syndrome, Dr. Katz said, including a woman convinced she is a prophet.
Victims are apparently overwhelmed by the religious magnetism of the city, which is sacred to Christians, Jews and Muslims.
The Givat Shaul clinic usually treats about 150 cases of the syndrome a year, of which about 40 require hospital admission.
The disorder is most common among Protestant Christians and Jews, predominantly from the United States and Europe, according to Dr. Katz and to Dr. Yair Bar-El, the Jerusalem district psychiatrist who identified the syndrome in 1982.
Some sufferers arrive mentally disturbed and become convinced they are biblical figures: Old Testament prophets, King David, Jesus, John the Baptist or the Virgin Mary. Others come to Jerusalem with visions of the end of the world.
Still others arrive with no evident disorder, yet then feel compelled to don white robes -- sometimes the sheets from their hotel beds -- and preach rambling sermons.
"We've seen cases from age 17 to 70," said Dr. Katz. "The average age is 35 and people are of above average education."
Israel and the Palestinian Authority expect a record three million pilgrims and tourists to visit the Holy Land in 2000 to honor the start of Christianity's third millennium.
Israel has expelled about 60 Christian cultists from the country so far this year, concerned that a tiny minority with apocalyptic visions might try to set off violence.