[The Jerusalem Market at the Holy Land Experience.]

by Ronald Lukens-Bull and Mark Fafard

The Holy Land Experience is an Orlando based Christian attraction that includes characteristics of both modern and medieval pilgrimage sites; indeed, it serves as a substitutional pilgrimage, an alternative to traveling to war torn Israel. The park resembles other Orlando area themed attractions, but is characterized by biblical themes that include daily crucifixions. The park also promotes a positive perspective towards Judaism and Israel through recreation of an imagined Jerusalem and reenactments of Jewish rituals. Through varieties of religious education, reconstructions, and reenactments, the site is not only a venue for learning and entertainment but also attracts those deeply concerned with furthering their Christian faith. In an email sent to the Holy Land Experience, for example, a visitor wrote about their experience at the site and stressed its Christian significance:

“What a fantastic idea! I think that this park is a true blessing. It is a fantastic way to show our society about the Bible and teach today’s children about Christianity in a fun and exciting way. This is more than a park it is a place of miracles.”

Like other parks and pilgrimage sites, passing through the front gate of HLE (a replica of the Ottoman Jaffa Gate) one enters another world, designed to create a specific experience. While visiting the site, the individual is in between two realms, that of the ordinary (profane) and that of the extraordinary (sacred).

Immediately upon entering the park, the visitor is immersed in an imagined, A.D 66 Jerusalem market (see Figure 1) surrounded by faux mud-brick buildings. Costumed staff, including Roman Guards grouped together in a corner and peasant musicians playing instruments such as the oud, the African d’jembe, tambourines, and the gourd, populates the market. The musicians in the Street Market interact with the visitors by talking about their instruments or songs. Guests are regularly invited to try them out. The structural settings, characters, and music combine to form a transitional tool from the modern secular world to the time of Jesus. Throughout the park, the visitor encounters these characters as well as Jewish Priests and other denizens of this imagined Jerusalem.

Even the cafeteria strives to contribute to the biblical atmosphere. In November 2006, the menu was changed from a grill menu to a serving line menu. Previously, the food was mostly western with biblical names such as Goliath Burger, Bedouin Beef, Jaffa Hot Dog, Arab Chicken Wraps, and Caesar’s Delight for desert. After the change, the food includes a choice of rice or noodles with meat and vegetable dishes that to the uninitiated might seem to be Middle Eastern cuisine. The portion sizes are called “Paul’s Platter” (large) and “Hannah’s Helping (small). The tacit goal for the cafeteria is to put the visitor into a teachable mindset.

2006-2007 CATALOG ITEM! BEARNARDO Bearnardo, the Scribal Bear, was designed by Gund™ exclusively for Holy Land’s Scriptorium: Center for Biblical Antiquities. The bear is accompanied by information detailing the importance of scribes and the great work they did in meticulously copying the Word of God.

[This is an excerpt from the full online article by Ronald Lukens-Bull and Mark Fafard, “Next Year in Orlando: (Re)Creating Israel in Christian Zionism,” Journal of Religion and Society vol. 9.] Click here to read the entire article.