Proselytizing! Sometimes it works, most of the time it doesn't. Sometimes it's subtle and other times, it's...tacky. Ultra tacky. Disgraceful. Desperate. And only $17 per person. Yes, on February 5th, 2001, there will be an alternative to Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida (as if you really wanted one). The Holy Land Experience, a Christian theme park. Oh yes, it's true. The greatest stories of the bible are depicted on film, and the Ark of the Covenant's story is portrayed on a stage. One can enter a replica of Jesus' tomb, climb Herod's temple stairs, and walk down a recreation of the street Jesus walked to his execution. Employees are dressed in period clothing, including the Roman soldiers guarding the front gate. And the kicker is - something that Jesus would NOT do - a laser and pyrotechnic show. The amusement park has been designed by ITEC Entertainment Corp., who have previously been commissioned by the Walt Disney Co. and Universal studios. Marvin Rosenthal, a so-called Hebrew Christian, is the founder of The Holy Land Experience and the Zion's Hope ministry. He had raised $16 million to build the theme park. Rosenthal claims that there will be no overt proselytizing, no literature handed out, and no sneaky attempts at converting Jews to Christianity. And in the same breath: "We're not in the entertainment business...This is designed to communicate the truths of the word of God." What can this place be but a place to proselytize? Does it seem like a desperate attempt to reign in more followers? Why does this religion need to build an amusement park of all things? $16 million is a lot of money; was it necessary to use it in such a way? Michael Eisner has a lot of money, but he's in the entertainment business. If Rosenthal is not in the entertainment business as he claims, I suspect that the money could have been spent in a much better way.
If I were a Christian, I'm not sure what kind of fun this park would be to me. In fact, if I were a Christian, I'd be offended if something sacred to me were put on display like some sort of carni spectacle. And then charged admission for it. As an atheist, however, I am not offended by this amusement park. I'm simply...amused. I hope to get pictures soon.
Of course, this is a family-oriented fun-house. Unfortunately, the bible is not exactly family-friendly. Here's a list of some biblical nastiness that I bet won't be featured at the theme park.
Scenes from the bible that won't be depicted in the film:I Chronicles 21:1-7, 14 and 27:23-24, in which the Almighty gets pissy with King David for taking a census of the Israelite population. 70,000 innocent Israelites are killed. II Chronicles 21:18-20, in which Asa, the grandson of King Jehoram, is struck with an intestinal disease which causes his intestines to slowly slide out of his body for two years. His crime? God just didn't like him. II Kings 2:23-24, in which Elisha cursed forty-two young boys to be mauled to death by two bears. They made fun of him. Scenes not acted out in the stage show featuring the ark of the covenant:Leviticus 10:1-2, in which the ark zaps two of Aaron's sons (maybe Raiders of the Lost Ark style?) because their offerings to god were unauthorized. I Samuel 6:13-21, in which men from the city of Beth Shemesh are killed for peeking inside the ark. II Samuel 6:2-10; I Chronicles 13:6-13, in which an innocent ox driver, transporting the ark to Jerusalem, is killed immediately when he touches to ark to keep it from falling off the cart.
Please read the companion piece that addresses the serious side of this park.Since I wrote the above, the park has opened. Protesting outside on opening day were the offended Jews. On the inside, mostly elderly believers. I've seen pictures of the recreation of ancient Jerusalem; on the news, it's really interesting. I think it's fascinating to see any ancient city recreated, especially in this particular period (I'm enamoured with Romans). I don't know what it looks like up close but I do know that some authenticity was lost in making the grounds and buildings so spic n' span. Believe it or not, Monty Python's Life of Brian may be more accurate. Also, the park employees who dress as the ancient city dwellers are quite happy, healthy and clean. I know that it's not that big a deal; I'm not sure anyone would want to see an exact replica. What irks me is that the 125 employees have signed statements affirming they are Christians. I'm fuzzy on whether or not they had to be Christians, but if that's true I've got a good case of discrimination on my hands.
Here are some updates on the park. Tourist information is located at: http://www.theotherorlando.com/updates/
* Recreation of the limestone caves of Qumran, the place where the Dead Sea scrolls were discovered.
*The Garden Tomb, where the Bible says Jesus was ressurected.
*The Oasis Palms Cafe (enjoy a Goliath burger here).
*The Old Scroll Shop (every proper amusement park must have a gift shop; this one has Jewish gifts as well as Christian.)
*Most intriguing are the rare and priceless Bibles and related ancient manuscripts that are on display.
After sifting through reviews and predictions, I think the bottom line is that this somewhat cheezy park attracts people who are followers anyway. Jews are afraid of the conversion factor, and some visitors expected a bit more from the park. Others don't think it will do very well.