Orlando and Disney World are almost synonymous. You can't think of one without thinking of the other. However, five miles southwest of downtown Orlando only three minutes from Universal Studios The Holy Land Experience is a multi-sensory Biblically themed attraction that transports guests 7,000 miles away and 3,000 years back in time. Guests walk into the ancient city of Jerusalem, recreating in elaborate and authentic detail that historic city and its religious importance.
The Holy Land Experience combines themed costumes, dramatic enactments, special music written exclusively for the project, theatrical events, high-tech, multi-media presentations and a moving film "The Seed Of Promise" shot on location in Jerusalem.
It all comes together to create an enlightening journey back as far as circa 1450 B.C., during the time of Moses when the Israelites were wandering in the desert for 40 years, on through Jesus' teachings, his crucifixion and the destruction of Jerusalem and the city's Herodian Temple by the Romans in 66 A.D.
While theme parks abound in the nation's tourism capitol, The Holy Land Experience, which opened February 2001, considers itself more of an interactive museum. The $16 million park, includes re-creation of scenes from the Bible, including a model of Jerusalem at that time, a courtyard where musical performances are staged and the Scriptorium, which uses animated figures to describe the history of the Bible and a collection of ancient documents.
Themed after a fourth century Byzantine monastery, the Scriptorium houses the Robert and Judith Van Kampen collection of biblical manuscripts, codices, incunabula, and other rare books that document the history of how the Bible has been preserved, published, and disseminated through the ages.
Serious Bible students and lovers of rare books will most likely be fascinated. Committed Christians will no doubt be moved by some moments in the tour. Others may be less impressed.
The tour culminates with a soul-stirring evocation of major Biblical figures from the Old and New Testaments and, just as a reminder, a recitation of the Ten Commandments, complete with Charlton Heston-worthy lighting effects. Guests are then led into a well-appointed modern living room with the modern distractions of television and cell phones serving as a final exhortation to take the time to reconnect with the Word of God.
Not everyone has been pleased with this new Orlando edition to the neighborhood. The Holy Land Experience attracted small protests at its opening from Jewish groups worried that the Holy Land Experience's emphasis on the Jewish milieu of New Testament times amounted to an attempt to convert Jews. In the main, though, it seems to attract a broad range of visitors, especially but not exclusively church groups.
The 15-acre site is the brainchild of Marvin Rosenthal, a Jew who converted to Christianity and sought to use conventional theme-park methods to bring the story of Jesus to the 40 million fun seekers who bombard Orlando each year.
The museum is a development of Zion's Hope, a non-profit, Christian ministry organization based in Orlando. The land for the project was purchased in 1995, design work was completed in 1999, and construction of the project began in January 2000. Orlando-based ITEC Productions Corp. designed of the project. For more information go to www.theholylandexperience.com.
Russ Jones is publisher of The Chronicle Newspaper with editions in Colorado, Kansas and Indiana. Jones is a former reporter with NBC and authored in various publications.