(AgapePress) For those who perhaps cannot afford a trip to the Holy Land or are a little nervous about going there right now, a new theme park which opens today in Florida may be the answer. But The Holy Land Experience, as it is called, is not drawing the endorsement of Jewish groups.
On a 15-acre site in Orlando, the creators of this project aim to take visitors to the Jerusalem that existed more than two-thousand years ago. For less than $20 per person, which is less than half of what nearby Disney World and Universal Studios charge, people get a chance to walk through Herod's temple, visit the Garden Tomb, or experience a biblical-era street market.
Marvin Rosenthal is the man behind The Holy Land Experience theme park. He is also the President of Zion's Hope, a Messianic Christian ministry. He says the aim of the park is to transport visitors to the Holy Land of biblical times.
"We realize we couldn't produce Israel in fifteen or sixteen acres here in Orlando. We thought we could take some of the major epical items of biblical significance - like the Garden Tomb ... like the ancient tabernacle ... like the Qumran Caves ... like the great temple that stood on Mount Moriah - do it qualitatively [and] do it honoring the Lord."
He says he makes no apology for the park having a Christian theme.
"We think it will be educational. We do it from a historical, biblical standpoint. We do believe that Jesus is the Son of God. We do believe that He died for the sins of the world. We make that very clear in our literature and everything we're doing. There's nothing of stealth, we're not handing out brochures, we're not trying to buttonhole people."
Rosenthal, who is also an ordained Baptist minister, says non-Christians are certainly welcome and Jews need not feel offended. But according to a story in USA Today on Friday, several Jewish organizations are disturbed at the blending of Christian and Jewish traditions at the park.
Philip Abramowitz of the Jewish Community Relations Council in New York has no problem if the theme park winds up as something strictly for Christians. "But if certain programs show Jews with Moses in the desert and all of a sudden flip to a scene showing Jesus, this bothers me," he says. His comment alludes to a 20-minute show at the Wilderness Tabernacle, which contrasts Jewish prayer with a Christian Nativity scene.
According to the newspaper report, another group - the Los Angeles-based Jewish Defense League - plans to express its displeasure by protesting in front of the park today as well as at Rosenthal's home. Irv Rubin of the JDL finds Rosenthal's Messianic Christian faith a bit of an oxymoron. "To be a Jew for Jesus is like a ham-and-cheese sandwich at an Orthodox bar mitzvah," he says.
But Rosenthal insists his organization is not "huckstering God." After operating costs are paid, all other profits go back into Zion's Hope. "This is very reverent and very biblical, and I think people will be awed." According to USA Today, the theme park needs only 180,000 visitors annually to stay in the black.