The Holy Land Experience: The Next Best Thing to Being There
- 2004 8 Dec
Ah, the Holy Land….my favorite place in the whole wide world. I believe all Christians should make a pilgrimage there, but I’m realistic enough to know it’s not possible for everyone.
Two years ago, after my press tour, I returned to the States and wrote a series of articles for Crosswalk.com titled, “Falling Into the Bible.” I received a plethora of emails from those who had been to the “Land of the Bible” as well as those who’d not been, but were now inspired to go.
Still, for some, a visit to Israel is out of the question. What are they to do?
Well, fret no more! I’ve found the answer…and it is practically in my own backyard.
Central Florida’s Holy Land Experience
Nearly four years ago the skyline around the “touristy” end of Central Florida/Orlando changed. Driving along the I-4 corridor, past the high-rise buildings and sparkling lakes, past the outlet malls and billboards for Disney, Universal Studios, and Sea World, there rose something that looked like a scaled-down version of King Herod’s Temple, circa 1st Century Jerusalem.
The Holy Land had come to America, specifically Central Florida, as the brainchild of Marvin Rosenthal, author, teacher, and president of Zion’s Hope, Inc.
“The Holy Land Experience is just a spoke in a very large wheel,” Rosenthal, a Messianic Jew, said to me in a recent interview, as he spoke of a ministry that was countless years in the making.
And not just years upon years. Faith upon faith. Miracle upon miracle. Dollar upon dollar. (“My God is the owner of the cattle on a thousand hills,” he said jokingly. “I just needed Him to sell a few.”)
God was faithful to the vision He’d planted. Today, sitting on 15-acres of prime land near the Central Florida attractions, is The Holy Land Experience, a place where Christians, Jews, and those of any faith who wish to know more about the One True God can come for a “total sensory experience that is educational, historical, theatrical, inspirational, and evangelistic.” It “blends sights, sounds and tastes,” taking visitors half a world away and more than 3,000 years back in time.
Recently, I took my mother to The Holy Land Experience. Would you allow me to share a bit of what we saw…what we heard…what we experienced?
Men and women in period costume greeted us at the Front Gate of the complex. “Shalom,” they said.
“Shalom, shalom,” I returned as the Middle Eastern custom dictates. And then, we were “in the Holy Land.”
The first thing I wanted to do was head to the back of the property where the Scriptorium opens its doors for a one-hour walk-through presentation of the world famous Van Kampen collection of literally thousands of manuscripts, scrolls, and other religious artifacts dating back to 2,200 BC. Guided by lights and an “unseen narrator,” we entered thirteen rooms, each expressive of different eras, each with sealed cases displaying ancient tablets of stone, papyrus scrolls, and parchment as well as other artifacts, such as the key to the cell where John Bunyan wrote Pilgrim’s Progress. We “witnessed” the life-sacrificing gift of what we so often take for granted, The Bible. The Holy Word of God on pages, generation after generation, sacrifice after sacrifice.
At the end of the tour, we stepped into a Byzantine rotunda. The room is dark and cool. Once we were all situated, velvet curtains were slowly raised—one at a time—over impressive paintings of biblical characters such as Moses, Joshua, Mary, and Paul. As the Ten Commandments are recited by our narrator, we watched the “finger of God” etching them in tablets of stone. Finally, as we looked heavenward, we saw the bridge by which all men come to God: the Cross of Jesus.
The Shofar Auditorium, Jerusalem Model, and the Temple of the Great King
From the Scriptorium we stepped into the bright sunlight, crossed a path leading to the Shofar Auditorium, and entered a large room where an informative lecture on the Feasts & Festivals was being given. Through the humor and knowledge of one of the HLE’s over 200 employees, we came to a greater understanding of God’s holy days, of His detailed timing, and of the importance in understanding the days, months, and years described in the books of Moses.
Afterward, we went back outside and to the courtyard (Plaza of the Nations) of the beyond-impressive Temple of the Great King. For the next hour we watched, spellbound, as dancers and singers in full costume presented “The Ancient Festivals of the Biblical World,” with a grand finale of “Days of Elijah” that drew us and others to our feet in song and celebration.
The show itself was rivaled only by a second presentation later in the day (and back in the Shofar Auditorium). “Praise Through the Ages,” began with Miriam singing “Kadesh…” (Holy) as she made her way down the center aisle. We listened, breathless, as men and women throughout time lifted era-appropriate songs of adoration to the Lord of lords and King of kings. The show’s finale—a contemporary medley—was so impacting and powerful the roomful of guests stood, singing, clapping, adoring…and praising. “You are good, all the time…all the time…you are good!”
Outside the auditorium itself (but inside, none-the-less) is the world’s largest model of 1st Century Jerusalem. Here, guests are able to understand the sheer grandeur of size of Herod’s Temple, the place where Jesus slipped away as a boy and where He overturned the tables of the merchants and later declared, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, you who kill the prophets and stone those sent to you, how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.” (Matthew 23:37)
On staff artists of the HLE built the model. “We have some incredibly talented people,” Rosenthal rightfully brags. “Everything you see—everything—from the buildings to the men and women of the city were made by our people.”
Calvary’s Garden Tomb
Outside the Damascus Gate in Jerusalem is a place called The Garden Tomb, discovered in the 1800’s and near a hillside called Gordon’s Calvary.
But, inside the gates of the HLE is an exact replica of The Garden Tomb, right down to the tiled sign just beyond it’s “doors.” Here, as guests gathered around and sheep, goats, and even a camel stood nearby listening, we were once again captivated by the teaching of one of the site’s learned experts. We were invited to step inside the “tomb,” and witness what Peter and John saw (or didn’t see!) on the morning of His resurrection!
The Theater of Life
Inside this movie theater (located inside the Temple of the Great King), we sat and watched a 20-minute film titled “The Seed of Promise,” which was filmed on location in Israel. Our hearts pounded as we watched Adam and Eve giving up the glory of the Garden, heard the Lord God curse them…and then bless them with the promise of the Redeemer. We saw the gut-wrenching faith of Abraham as he prepared to sacrifice his son Isaac on Mount Moriah, and then watched as God, the Father sacrificed His Son outside the walls of Jerusalem. The film’s ending is powerful and full of the promises found within the resurrection and return of our Lord.
We left the theater uplifted…and ready for more!
And More There Is!
It would be impossible to share everything there is to share about the Holy Land Experience in the confines of this article. There is an area just for children to play (Qaboo & Company), which includes a rock-climbing wall and an archeological dig. The Oasis Palms Café offers authentic Middle-Eastern food (like Tabouli and Pita bread) all wrapped up and Americanized. (For example: the Hot Dog Platter—which I got—is a Hebrew National Hot Dog, naturally. They have Tabga Tuna and Arabian Chicken and…well, you get the point.)
I don’t have time to talk about the Qumran Dead Sea Caves and the Wilderness Tabernacle (a fully-automated multimedia presentation). There are shops along the way, too, where I purchased an inspiring print of Mary at the Well and a book I’ve pored over for hours and days.
But I do want to talk about one other thing.
“Our staff is about to start putting up the lights!” Marv Rosenthal exclaims as we wrap up our interview. “You don’t want to miss this!”
Beginning December 16 (and continuing through January 2) Bright Nights In Bethlehem, WHAT IS IT, will be a feature at The Holy Land Experience.