In The Guardian yesterday reporter Conal Urquhart wrote about “Plans for Holy Land theme park on Galilee shore where Jesus fed the 5,000.” Several evangelical Christian groups under the spirited guidance of Rev. Pat Robertson are negotiating with the government of Israel for land to build a 50 ha (125 acre) theme park tentatively called the “Galilee World Heritage Park.” If this seems like a joke, I note that “Sea of Galilee & its Ancient Sites” is listed on the online wish list of world heritage sites. It is no joke to righteously motivated investors trying to raise 60 million dollars. Nor to Syria, which disputes the take-over of its territory along the Sea of Galilee in the 1967 war. Nor is it likely just a joke to Jews, who Pat Robertson and his followers think are about to suffer the worst persecution ever as soon as a soon-to-be Rapture transports all Bible Believers to meet their Lord in the air. But I can’t help but wonder, in this biblically based theme park what would Jesus ride?

“It thrills me to think that there will be a place in the Galilee where evangelical Christians from all over the world can come to celebrate the actual place where Jesus Christ lived and taught,” tele-evangelist Robertson has said. So if you are planning to book a room, make sure you bring your full-baptism certificate along and no Vatican entry stamps in your passport, please. An official in the Israeli Ministry of Tourism said the site could eventually attract up to one million pilgrims a year. This would yield an estimated 1.3 billion dollars entering the Israeli economy and support alost 40,000 new jobs. (Since most evangelical pilgrims do not drink alcohol, this figure may be overly optimistic. Think of the revenues if the park was reserved for wine-guzzling French and Italian Catholic pilgrims.)

Reports on the theme park, which is now said to be nearing deal stage, have been floating around in the media for several months. An earlier and more extensive article by Ilene R. Prusher appeared in the Haaretz posted an AP news story on the park in their December 23 issue. But Pat Robertson’s main website, so full of self promotion that it puts the Pharaohs of old to shame, has little information available on the negotiations. Those pushing the untestamented new park had better hurry, since Israeli kayakers have already staked a claim. In an article on Wetdawg (Global Headquarters for Adventure Water Sports), the following travel alert is provided:

“Sea of Galilee:
The Sea (lake) of Galilee is the only lake in Israel, and non-salty as well. Start in the city of Tiberias, also 2,000 years old, after having bathed in the famous hot springs in the city. Paddle towards Kapernaum (you can imagine Jesus and his followers in their fishing boats just where you are paddling along). You will see the 2,000 year old fishing boat that was recovered from the bottom of the lake a few years ago. Soon, you will reach Kapernaum where Jesus once lived. The place is now a Franciscan monastery. Be sure to visit the old synagogue where Jesus prayed.”

“Q. What to bring?
A. Personal paddle clothing, sun protector, and sun hat.”

For the time being, BYOB (that’s Bible and make it the KJV) until the hotel is built and Gideon Bibles arrive by the shipload.

Promoters of the park insist it will not become another Disney World, but give it a few years and see which comes first, Disney on Galilean Ice or the Second Coming? For those interested in the filthy lucre this park is sure to generate, the advice given long ago along these shores to “render unto Caesar” must make the Israeli government pleased to make a deal as soon as possible. Why give back to Syria land that has unlimited tourist revenues, something more valuable than oil? But I suggest that the planners maximize this mother of all tourist sites from the start.

First, the proposed park needs a new name. “World Heritage” is for the History Channel. How about “Gala in Galilee” or “Capernaum Capers” or “Seaworld II: Walk on Water”? The hotel will also need a suitable name, depending on what chain takes it over in a future merger. Possibilities include “Inn of the Healed Lepers.” “John the Baptist’s Head Hilton,“ “Motel 666,” or simply the “Kingdom of Heaven in Galilee.“ I think that the hotel should have a casino with money changers at the entrance. Since this would be for evangelicals who do not approve of gambling, they could pay at the entrance to throw out the moneychangers, just like Jesus did in the Jerusalem Temple (and when the temple is rebuilt in Jerusalem they can move the floor show there). Food could be catered by “Burger King of Kings” or “Arthur Preacher’s Fish and Chips.” There would be no need for room service in this hotel, since each floor could have an alcove with baskets of five loaves and two fishes. Guests could take as much as they want and the baskets would never empty; that’s why this hotel is being built in Galilee. I suggest that the hotel occupancy be restricted to 5,000 men since that was the maximum number that Jesus fed (Matthew 14:21). One problem I see is if the hotel has a “no shoes, no service” policy and Jesus does come but forgets his sandals.

Among the parts of the park being considered is a “Holy Bible Garden” for Hebrewed herbs and spiritual reflection. The garden theme is a sure winner with all the scriptural parallels. A small corner could even be reserved for nude apple eating. Why not have a patch where guests could sow tares (certainly not wild oats) among the wheat and see for themselves what it means to sweat earning their daily bread? I see potential for televised rights over a “Holy Bible Garden Survivor “show. Let 12 guests go out after supper in a private room to a spot in the garden where they choose who is going to betray Jesus. This would be a good Christian lesson about the Judas in each one of us.

Also proposed is a Sea of Galilee amphitheater. This is a great idea and it could be the first of many theaters along a Broadway of Destruction. Instead of worldly musicals there would be real-life events to teach proper Christian doctrine. Rev. Robertson’s website is full of haggard attacks on Islam as a religion of violence. So why not reenact the persecution of Christian saints during the Roman era by hiring local Muslims to be thrown to the lions, real lions with the words “lion of Judah” or “Gift of the United States of America” written all over them? If there are so many extremists ready to blow themselves up with suicide bombs, surely some might be tempted to commit suicide just to make cash for their families. There should also be a musical stage for the latest country-Western hymns that many Bible belters like to listen to. Perhaps Dolly Parton could inaugurate it. In fact the park will need a theme song that people can hum, even if they don’t remember the words. If Irving Berlin were still alive, I am sure he could write something like “I’ve Got a Gal in Galilee” (the word Pal can be substituted for gay evangelical Christians still praying in the closets of their log cabins).

But in all of this what would Jesus ride? Why not build the world’s largest “Holy Roller Coaster” to give Holy Land tourists a run for their money? If each Jehovah’s Witness would collect only ten cents from every suburban house they visit in America, the money could be raised in no time. Most of us would pay a dime to stop them knocking at our doors. Surely a “Pharisee Ferris Wheel” would rival the best that Las Vegas has to offer. Or, befitting a theme park along the sea, why not have tourists pay for miracles so they can walk out to their tour boat. And let them fish for men, like Jesus suggested. Local Palestinians could be hired for that as well. If Jesus came today, assuming it was not to rescue Rev. Robertson and his flock from impending Satanic tribulation, what ride would he choose? Or would he just walk on, shaking his head that after two millennia many of his followers still don’t get that when he talked about loving your enemies, he really meant it.

One of the main attractions would be camel tours (they were good enough for Abraham) to the Mount of the Beatitudes. Most people are familiar with the old list of beatitudes, but the actions of some mega-self-loving religious figures like Mr. Robertson call for a new mistranslation. If this theme park does go through (no doubt with a large wall around it to keep out both the nearby Palestinians and Jewish settlers) the inspiring words of Jesus might as well read:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for they can give my ministry their assets and remain poor for continued blessing.

Blessed are they that moan, for their voices shall be taken as a sign of the Holy Spirit.

Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit corrupt politicians, even without delay.

Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after best sellers like the Left Behind series, for they shall fill up the authors’ royalty quotas.

Blessed are the merciful in annuity giving, for they shall receive copies of my books.

Blessed are the pure in heart but simple in mind, for they shall see me as the best way to God.

Blessed are the pacemakers, for they shall remember the best lines of Monty Python’s The Life of Bryan.

Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you, and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely… whoops, Pat Robertson’s attacks on Islam may be a blessing in disguise.

Luke R. E.Publican
Author of Be An Attitude, You Can’t Beat It

Update: After posting this, I came across the following AP wire story. It speaks for itself, unfortunately …

“Robertson says Sharon’s stroke is God’s punishment”
The Reverend Pat Robertson says Prime Minister Ariel Sharon’s massive stroke could be God’s punishment for giving up Israeli territory. The founder of the Christian Broadcasting Network told viewers of “The 700 Club” that Sharon was “dividing God’s land,” even though the Bible says doing so invites “God’s enmity.” Robertson added, “I would say woe to any prime minister of Israel who takes a similar course.” He noted that former Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin was assassinated. Robertson said God’s message is, “This land belongs to me. You’d better leave it alone.” (Copyright 2006 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)