The Arty Semite

Holy Land as Theme Park

By Jenna Weissman Joselit

  • Print
  • Share Share

Crossposted From Under the Fig Tree

Courtesy Holy Land Experience

Word from on high is that the Walt Disney Company is planning to open a theme park in Israel. Talk about bringing coals to Newcastle!

For years, religiously-minded Americans had created facsimiles of the Holy Land on American soil. As early as 1881, a “miniature representation in relief and color” of Jerusalem graced Ocean Grove, N.J., a Methodist summer colony.

The organizers of the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis did the residents of Ocean Grove one better. “Jerusalem comes to you,” they proclaimed, replicating the Jaffa Gate, the Dome of the Rock, the Tower of David and the so-called Wailing Wall on the grounds of the fair and importing 1,000 honest-to-goodness inhabitants of Palestine to populate the site.

Meanwhile, in Orlando, Fla., just a few miles away from Sea World and Walt Disney World, contemporary evangelical Protestants throng the Holy Land Experience, which boasts of transporting visitors “2,000 years back in time to the land of the Bible.”

Much like an old-fashioned amusement park but better, the Holy Land Experience contains the “Temple Plaza,” the Shofar Auditorium, a Scriptorium, the “world’s largest indoor model of Jerusalem,” and a laser show in which the Ten Commandments are etched in fire atop Mount Sinai.

The idea behind the Holy Land Experience, explains Joan R. Branham (PDF), is to create a “complex theological landscape” that blends Judaism with Christianity.

No matter how ambitious or ideologically fluid, not every Biblically-oriented theme park has succeeded, even in the Promised Land of America. In the early 1960s, a California group, some of whose participants had worked on Disneyland, sought to create a $15 million park and amusement area “devoted exclusively to dramatizing Biblical lore.” They called it Bible Storyland.

“We are sure that Bible Storyland will become a major attraction in the Los Angeles area,” its champions declared. “It will complement Disneyland and like Disneyland will become a ‘must’ for tourists from all over the world.” With a Noah’s Ark carousel, its very own version of the Garden of Eden, a specially designed “Ride to Heaven” and a large scale statue of Moses gripping the Ten Commandments, which greeted visitors as they entered, how could it not?

The project didn’t get too far. Before too long, it ran afoul of clerical opposition, which deemed the whole thing blasphemous.

Only in America.


Permalink | | Share | Email | Print | Filed under: Tower of David, Wailing Wall, Theme Park, Palestine, Ocean Grove, Joan R. Branham, Jenna Weissman Joselit, Jaffa Gate, Israel, Holy Land Experience, From Under the Fig Tree, Dome of the Rock, Disney Land Israel, Disney Land, Bible Storyland, Walt Disney, World's Fair

The Jewish Daily Forward welcomes reader comments in order to promote thoughtful discussion on issues of importance to the Jewish community. In the interest of maintaining a civil forum, The Jewish Daily Forwardrequires that all commenters be appropriately respectful toward our writers, other commenters and the subjects of the articles. Vigorous debate and reasoned critique are welcome; name-calling and personal invective are not. While we generally do not seek to edit or actively moderate comments, our spam filter prevents most links and certain key words from being posted and The Jewish Daily Forward reserves the right to remove comments for any reason.




Find us on Facebook!
  • Is pot kosher for Passover. The rabbis say no, especially for Ashkenazi Jews. And it doesn't matter if its the unofficial Pot Day of April 20.
  • A Ukrainian rabbi says he thinks the leaflets ordering Jews in restive Donetsk to 'register' were a hoax. But the disturbing story still won't die.
  • Some snacks to help you get through the second half of Passover.
  • You wouldn't think that a Soviet-Jewish immigrant would find much in common with Gabriel Garcia Marquez. But the famed novelist once helped one man find his first love. http://jd.fo/f3JiS
  • Can you relate?
  • The Forverts' "Bintel Brief" advice column ran for more than 65 years. Now it's getting a second life — as a cartoon.
  • Half of this Hillel's members believe Jesus was the Messiah.
  • Vinyl isn't just for hipsters and hippies. Israeli photographer Eilan Paz documents the most astonishing record collections from around the world:http://jd.fo/g3IyM
  • Could Spider-Man be Jewish? Andrew Garfield thinks so.
  • Most tasteless video ever? A new video shows Jesus Christ dying at Auschwitz.
  • "It’s the smell that hits me first — musty, almost sweet, emanating from the green felt that cradles each piece of silver cutlery in its own place." Only one week left to submit! Tell us the story of your family's Jewish heirloom.
  • Mazel tov to Chelsea Clinton and Marc Mezvinsky!
  • If it's true, it's pretty terrifying news.
  • “My mom went to cook at the White House and all I got was this tiny piece of leftover raspberry ganache."
  • from-cache

Would you like to receive updates about new stories?




















We will not share your e-mail address or other personal information.

Already subscribed? Manage your subscription.