The Holy Land Experience

This profile was last updated in 2003

Description

The Holy Land Experience does not consider itself a theme park. According to its website, The Holy Land Experience is “a living, biblical history museum that takes you 7,000 miles away and 3,000 years back in time to the land of the Bible.” Through its tours and theater productions, it aims to recreate for its visitors the world in which Jesus lived. It is open on Sundays from 12 noon to 6 p.m. and Monday-Saturday from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. A bible study is held on Thursdays at 7 p.m. in the Shofar Auditorium. The Holy Land Experience and Zion’s Hope host a variety of special productions and Bible conferences throughout the year.

History

The Holy Land Experience opened on February 5, 2001, in conjuction with Zion’s Hope, a Protestant and Fundamentalist Christian non-profit organization identifying itself on its website as an “independent, Bible-believing, faith-missionary agency.” Five minutes from Disney World, twenty minutes from Orlando International Airport and ten minutes from Downtown Orlando, the Holy Land Experience is accessible to the Orlando community and Central Florida’s thriving tourism market of nearly 40 million visitors a year. Marvin Rosenthal, CEO of Zion’s Hope, predicted in “A Miracle Blooms in Orlando” that the Holy Land Experience would be “centered in the midst of the number one tourist destination in the world,” allowing it “the unique privilege of sharing the gospel with people from all over the earth.” It is extremely popular and usually fills to capacity by noon each day.

Staff

Most of the 150 ministry members of the Holy Land Experience are associated with the Southern Baptist Convention and others identify as non-denominational Christians. The ministry members are born-again, non-charismatic, and fundamentalist Christians actively attending a church in line with the theology of Zion’s Hope. Many ministry members are converts from Judaism to Christianity.

The staff members give tours through the recreated buildings and act in the many productions the Holy Land Experience puts on daily. Some are also musicians for these productions.

Zion’s Gate Campus

The Zion’s Gate campus is spread over 17 acres and includes both the corporate offices of Zion’s Hope as well as the Holy Land Experience. Originally an orange grove, the Zion’s Gate campus was developed to include a variety of buildings and exhibits, including Shofar Auditorium which houses the original Zion’s Hope ministry, the Byzantium-styled Scriptorium, and the Holy Land Experience.

The most recognizable architectural element is the 1/2 scale reproduction of Herod’s Temple rising above Interstate Four. The outer court of the reconstructed temple serves as an outdoor theater for various theatrical productions including Easter and Christmas productions as well as Festivals of the Ancient World that runs throughout the Jewish High Holy season. The area is also used for question and answer sessions about the Bible during operating hours. The interior of the temple is actually a theater where another attraction, Seed of Promise, is housed.
The retail space attached to the Scriptorium is called Ex Libris. In addition to a small Christian bookstore, there are two stores named in the park’s publication as “Judeo-Christian bookstore” and “Old Scroll Shop.” The campus also houses various outdoor kiosks where food and other items are sold. Exhibits also in this area include a reconstruction of Calvary where a passion play is exhibited twice daily during the Easter season.

The Scriptorium

Within the Zion’s Gate Campus is the Scriptorium, a Byzentine-styled exhibit which houses ancient texts and serves as a focal point of Evangelical Christian scholarship. The Scriptorium exhibit is a joint venture of Zion’s Hope and another international Christian ministry based in Orlando, Sola Scriptura. It houses the Robert Van Kampen Collection of religious and sacred antiquities, left on permanent loan to Zion’s Hope after his death. Van Kampen, the founder of Sola Scriptura, was a long time supporter of Zion’s Hope and an Evangelical eschatologist.

The ancient texts exhibited in the Scriptorium are considered to be inerrant by many Evangelical and Fundamentalist Christians. The exhibit documents and celebrates the rise of Protestant and Evangelical Christianity in the European and American continents. The Scriptorium also has approximately three Hebrew Torah Scrolls on display, each over five centuries old. Earlier in the park’s history, plans to display part of the Van Kampen collection consisting of about thirty intact Torah scrolls was protested by the Greater Orlando Jewish community. By Jewish custom, it is not permissible to display a complete and intact Torah scroll in such a commercial exhibit.
In addition to housing and exhibiting ancient Jewish and Christian texts, the Scriptorium also houses the corporate headquarters to Sola Scriptura. According to the Orlando Sentinel Online, Sola Scriptura is an international Evangelical ministry based in Orlando at the Scriptorium with offices and facilities in the United Kingdom.