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Would you Adam and Eve it? A new US fun park idea: The Bible; DRY ICE AND LASERS PEP UP THOSE OLD PARABLES.


The Roman soldier on duty just by the tomb of Jesus glanced at his watch.

It was the end of his shift and the crowds had been heavier than usual, pushing their way down the crowded Via Dolorosa.

Fortunately, the pre-cast concrete tomb itself was chilled by a built-in refrigeration unit and he was occasionally able to step inside when the humidity became too much.

But he took care not to obscure the view from outside - the visitors insisted on seeing the carefully discarded shroud.

No - not Jerusalem in 33 AD. More Orlando, Florida, 2001 AD.

The Rolex-adorned soldier and the Messiah's air-conditioned tomb are part of America's latest excursion into dubious taste. This time the theme is religion - in the form of a Disney-style park called the Holy Land Experience.

Orlando is already the well-trodden home of theme parks. Universal Studios recreates everything from the Bates Motel in Psycho to a brilliant train wreck. And nearby Disney World is awash with Mickey Mice and Goofys.

Now religion wants a piece of the theme pie. The Holy Land Experience, which has just opened, is the brainchild of Marvin Rosenthal, who was born Jewish but later converted to Christianity and became a Baptist minister.

The pounds 11million, 15-acre park takes the Biblical saga of Israelite history from 1450 BC to 66 AD - from the time of Moses and the Exodus from Egypt, through the time of Christ, ending with the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem.

IT is a mighty step - and stretch of the imagination - from the burger-lined streets of Orlando to a sanitised ancient Jerusalem.

But that is what the Holy Land Experience attempts - and with a straight face.

After parting with a pounds 9 admission fee, you face a three-hour tour, that includes various dramatic highlights, which leaves the original Biblical script" a mite tame.

In the Wilderness Tabernacle Show - a must, this - they use lasers and dry ice as the 12 tribes of Israel pause from their wanderings for various rituals and prayers in Hebrew for the Day of Atonement. Moses and lasers? He should be so lucky...

Just to keep the Christian element intact, all this concludes with a vast Nativity scene projected in the 140-seater auditorium.

In case you are not quite sure what it is all about, you can watch (as I did) a slick film which begins with Adam and Eve (Adam has a "cool dude" look about him and Eve has a touch of the Barbie doll) and ends with the Second Coming of Christ. All in 20 minutes.

And at the end, the auditorium is flooded knee-deep with smoke from dry ice. They are big on dry ice and it is used, presumably, to suggest the presence of the Almighty. There is great emphasis on special effects. The column of smoke that suddenly burst from the Ark of the Covenant, however, owed much to the Indiana Jones movie.

There's a good reconstruction of the Temple of the Great King (although it's a safe bet the priests didn't wear sneakers) and a recreation of the Qumran caves where the Dead Sea Scrolls were discovered in 1947 by a shepherd boy (who doesn't even get a walk-on part).

The employees - they play soldiers, slave girls, flower sellers and assorted members of Jerusalem Chamber of Commerce - are all Christians (a condition of employment) and dress in period costume.

There was Greg Neumeyer, once a computer trainer and now clad in the turban and white robes of a Hebrew priest.

HE has also been learning to play the shofar, the ram's horn trumpet used by Jews in religious ceremonies and for battle.

But Greg was not a happy priest. "It takes a lot out of you," he said, rubbing his battered lips. "Things would be easier if I could play the trumpet."

But this being Florida, hard commerce is never far away. Just by the newly-erected ancient gates of Jerusalem is a neat row of gift shops. There's even one called (believe it) Methuselah's Mosaics, selling expensive arts and crafts.

There are Holy Land T-shirts on sale in the Old Scroll Shop and even some genuine Biblical artefacts (lumps of Israel) straight from the Holy Land.

INEVITABLY, the project has angered the notoriously tetchy leaders of Florida's one million Jews, many of whom have retired from New York.

They are offended by the park's premise that Jesus is the Messiah - a contradiction of Jewish belief.

And the Holy Land Experience's financial backer is Zion's Hope, an organisation known for trying to convert Jews to Christianity.

This has deeply offended the area's most senior Jewish leader, Rabbi Daniel Wolpe, president of the Greater Orlando Board of Rabbis.

"The whole presentation is really offensive,"" he said, "because it implies their tradition is the fulfilment of our tradition. They owe the Jewish community an apology. It is all a terrible thing.""

But founder Marvin Rosenthal (who calls himself a Hebrew Christian) is undaunted by criticism. The message of the Bible may be fixed," he said, "but the method of communicating God's word is flexible."

"We are not trying to force our views on anyone. But we hope that, after people have been round, they will blow the dust off their Bibles," he added.

And if they don't have a Bible, they can stop off and buy one on the way out."


TOMB WITH A VIEW: Jesus replica; UNHOLY ROW: Protester Scott Marks has his say; GRAVEYARD SHIFT: A Roman soldier on turnstile duty near the air-conditioned tombs
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2001 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

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Publication:The Mirror (London, England)
Date:Mar 17, 2001
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