Holy Land theme park in Florida creates controversy
The Holy Land Experience, a theme park created by Christian evangelicals, is to open in Central Florida on 5 February to a chorus of criticism from Jewish and Catholic groups.
The $A28.7 million 'multi-sensory experience' is described as the most ambitious religious tourist attraction in the US. Designed by the high-tech firm that created Universal's Islands of Adventure, the 15-acre facility covers Israel's history from 1450 B.C. to A.D. 66 -- from the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt to the Roman destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.
Attractions include a life-size walled gate of ancient Jerusalem and re-creations of Herod's Temple and courtyard, Jesus's garden tomb, a street market with artisans' workshops, a Bedouin tent and the caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered.
The builder - an Orlando-based ministry called Zion's Hope - has admitted that the part was founded to convert Jews to Christianity.
"We are interested in sharing the Gospel with the Jewish people," said Zion's Hope Executive Director Rev Marvin Rosenthal, an ex-Jew. "But we do not focus exclusively on the Jews. . . . We think there are a lot of things Jewish people will like here. Other things they will disagree with."
Dominic Crossan, a former Catholic priest and author of numerous best-selling books about the life and times of Jesus, said that by using the New Testament as a source of ancient Hebrew history, Holy Land runs the risk of appearing antisemitic.
The evangelical Christian view of Jesus's crucifixion "is that the bad Jews convinced the good Romans to do their dirty work for them," Crossan said. Similarly, the Gospel account of Jesus driving the money-changers from the Temple -- an episode that will be re-created at Holy Land -- also may inflame feelings against the Jews of today, he said.