'Six Flags Over Israel'

An evangelical alternative to Disney World makes a stormy debut in central Florida.
Building a Bible-themed tourist attraction in central Florida is not a new idea. In Jamie Buckingham's 1988 novel Jesus World, a character asked, "Why should Walt Disney be more attractive than Jesus Christ?" The man dreamed of transforming his religious roadside attraction, with a wax Jesus, into a major theme park. "It will be 'Jesus World' in capital letters," he said. "A hundred times bigger and more spectacular than Walt Disney ever dreamed. We will recreate the scenes of the Bible, we'll build a scale model of Herod's Temple, we'll have holograms of Jesus walking on the water. And when they come—by the millions—they'll hear the Word of God."

Jesus World was fiction; Orlando's Holy Land is fact, and it has attracted criticism from both Jews and some evangelicals. The Living Bible Museum opened in February, just a few miles up Interstate 4 from Universal Studios Florida. There are no thrill rides, but Holy Land offers a considerable razzle-dazzle, covering Israel's history from 1450 B.C. to A.dD 66, from the time of Moses and the Exodus to the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by the Romans.

Highlights include a six-story replica of Herod's Temple faÇade; the largest indoor-scale model of first-century Jerusalem in the world; costumed characters; and multimedia, multisensory presentations recreating scenes from the Old and New Testament. On holidays like Easter, an actor portraying Jesus will carry a cross along the reproduced Via Dolorosa, and another actor will preach as John the Baptist. The attraction does not lack for show-business hyperbole; in the weeks before the unveiling, Holy Land's promotional literature proclaimed, "The Gates of Jerusalem Are About to Open in Orlando!"

The Holy Land Experience, as it is ...

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Christianity Today
'Six Flags Over Israel'
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March 5, 2001

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