The Holy Land Experience opens, but WWJD?

Published 12:00 am Monday, February 5, 2001

Monday, February 05, 2001

The Natchez Democrat

As soon as the envelope was opened, I experienced a sarcastic,

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yet telling, flashback to my childhood.

Inside the package that arrived last week was a folder filled

with promotional material for the latest, greatest vacation: The

Holy Land Experience.

That’s right, from the country that brought you Dollywood and

Six Flags comes a vacation theme park that promises to tell the

greatest story of all times at $17 a head.

And it all begins today as The Holy Land Experience opens its

doors this morning in Orlando, Fla. It’s been created by a non-profit,

non-denominational, non-political Christian ministry.

Nestled between Walt Disney World and Universal Studios, the

$16 million &uot;living biblical museum&uot; recreates the city

of Jerusalem as it was when Jesus Christ walked the earth as a


The holy theme park features a rendition of Calvary’s garden

tomb where Jesus was buried and resurrected three days later and

models of the Dead Sea caves, Jerusalem Street Market and the

Temple of the Great King.

My imagination began to fly. What’s next?

Mr. Barabbas’ Wild Ride?

Noah’s Petting Zoo?

Bathsheba’s Bath House?

The Plague Playhouse?

The entire notion seems a little too much like the &uot;reality&uot;

TV that networks seems to think we’re all craving.

As I thumbed through the literature my cynical psyche was taken

back to fifth-grade Sunday School class.

Of the dozens of Bible stories we read about, perhaps my favorite

was the one about Jesus and the money changers at the temple.

I suspect it stuck in my head mainly because of the little color

drawing that accompanied the story that was in the back of my

King James zipper Bible.

The illustration depicted an angry Jesus flipping over the

tables of the money changers who had turned the temple into a

shopping marketplace.

For a young boy, this was a wild vision. It was as if Jesus

had a little Hacksaw Jim Duggan. Duggan was a popular television

wrestler who was prone to throwing fits and destroying things.

To this day scholars argue over whether Jesus actually made

the elaborate scene that little illustration depicted.

At the time it proved to a fifth-grader that Jesus was in fact

human and did occasionally lose his temper. Although, I think

it’s the only time he did so in the Bible.

While I’m certainly not a Bible scholar, as I recall, the story

appears in a few different Gospels with slightly different details

in each.

And in a way Jesus’ behavior that day may have been what ultimately

led to his crucifixion.

For me, The Holy Land Experience – no matter how realistic

– can’t begin to drive home the messages and lessons found in

the Bible. They are too profound to be communicated through plastic

sets and gimicky costumed characters.

It seems sad that we’ve got to create this elaborate, material

theme park to help drive home the Christian method.

For some reason, I couldn’t get the visual out of my head:

What would Jesus think of such a theme park being made out of

his life and teachings?

Would he merely chuckle as he paid $31 for the &uot;Bethlehem

Silver&uot; pass to give him a week’s access to the faux world

modeled after his life? Or would he merely shake his head in disbelief

and walk away?

Kevin Cooper is managing editor of The Democrat. He can

be reached at (601) 445-3541 or by e-mail at