A British tourist who vanished in the Israeli desert left behind a strange trail of torn-out Bible pages, leading search teams to suspect he was suffering from psychotic delusions known as "Jerusalem Syndrome".

Oliver McAfee, a 29-year-old gardener from Northern Ireland, went missing in late November while cycling through the Negev desert in southern Israel and has not been seen or heard from since.

It was initially thought that McAfee, a devout Christian, got lost following a cycling path but recent clues have led Israeli authorities to believe he chose to disappear into the desert.

An Israeli police search team discovered a series of pages ripped from the Bible carefully weighed down with rocks in the area in which he was last seen. Other handwritten notes quoting Bible verses were also discovered.


Some of the notes included references to the story of Jesus fasting in the desert for 40 days and 40 nights. Search teams scoured the texts for clues to McAfee's location but came away empty-handed.

Investigators also found what they described as "a chapel" apparently made by McAfee on top of a rocky desert ridge outside the town of Mitzpe Ramon. He had cleared a circle-shaped area of stones and used a bicycle tool to carefully flatten the sand.

"He seems to have been doing all kinds of ceremonies that we don't really understand," said Raz Arbel, one of the leaders of an all-volunteer search team that has been looking for McAfee, whose bicycle, hiking boots, camera, and wallet were discovered but not his phone nor his passport.

The biblical clues have led the search party to suspect that McAfee may be suffering from Jerusalem Syndrome, a well-documented mental phenomenon where visitors to the Holy Land suffer psychotic religious delusions, including the belief that they are figures from the Bible.

Israel's Health Ministry records around 50 cases a year where a tourist's delusions are so strong that police or mental health professionals are forced to intervene.

"I have never met this man [McAfee] but from the reports that he was involved in some kind of religious experience in the desert, it certainly sounds like it could be a case of Jerusalem Syndrome," said Dr Moshe Kalian, the former district psychiatrist for Jerusalem and an expert in the condition.

"Jerusalem Syndrome is not a mental disease by itself but is usually superimposed on top of a background of mental distress or disease that a patient has. Their psychotic ideas often lead them on a mission to Jerusalem," he said.

McAfee had struggled with depression in Britain and spent much of 2017 travelling, partly as a way of coping. He cycled through Europe and then went to Mexico on a charity mission before arriving in Israel in late October. He had planned to return to Essex, where he lived, on December 1.

When he did not return his friends raised the alarm and contacted police on Christmas Eve. McAfee was last seen on November 21, by an American tourist.