Sunday, September 12, 2010
The Protestant Land Experience
On Friday of last week, Mr. & Mrs. Bad Catholic visited “The Holy Land Experience” in Orlando, Florida.
Like on many other subjects, the Bad Catholic has mixed feelings about this park. The Holy Land Experience was originally created by Zion’s Hope, Inc., a Protestant missionary organization which specialized in witnessing to Jews. Zion’s Hope, Inc. was founded by the Reverend Marvin Rosenthal, a Baptist minister who was reared as an Orthodox Jew and converted to Christianity as a teenager. In 2007, the park was acquired by the Trinity Broadcasting Network (TBN). (1)
The park’s founding by Messianic Jews explains why all of the staff energetically greet the visitor with the word “Shalom!” The visitor enters The Holy Land Experience through the “Gates of Jerusalem” into what can best be described as the Bible according to Walt Disney. If Epcot Center had a world showcase display for ancient Israel, it would be The Holy Land Experience.
The centerpiece of “Jerusalem” is the Temple. The Temple, like all the rest of The Holy Land Experience, is a stage for Biblical based live action performances. In the “Shofar Theatre” we watched Jesus save the woman taken in adultery. The production appeared to be well done and well acted by professional actors. The actor who plays Jesus was particularly impressive.
The central production at the Holy Land Experience is the Passion Play. The Holy Land Experience’s Passion Play was well acted, tasteful and powerful. The violence and horror of crucifixion is skillfully evoked. The staff did the best that it could to make the Passion Play a prayerful experience. In this they were thwarted by the crowd. People were noisy, taking pictures, and one fellow was chastised by a member of the staff for happily munching on Holy Land Nachos while watching the death of the Savior.
My quibbles with The Holy Land Experience began when we first arrived and listened to a talk from a park “historian” about the Garden Tomb. As professor Branham says in her Harvard Divinity Bulletin article: “The Orlando passion culminates at a replica of the so-called Garden Tomb, the site in Jerusalem regarded by many Protestant Christians as the place of Jesus’ burial, in preference to the quite different Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the structure widely held by Catholic and Orthodox Christians to be the tomb of Christ.”(2)
According to The Holy Land Experience’s “historian” there’s no doubt that the Garden Tomb was the place where Christ’s body was placed. The Church of the Holy Sepulchre is conclusively ruled out as being the site. Tourists are told that there is no doubt that the Garden Tomb was the tomb of Christ.
Since I worship a risen Lord who isn’t in a tomb, I was able to overlook this since it doesn’t matter which empty hole in the ground Our Lord rose from. But The Holy Land Experience’s historical errors didn’t end there. During the Passion Play, the actor playing Pontius Pilate loudly condemned Jesus “in the name of Augustus Caesar.” Of course, the problem with this is that Tiberius, not Augustus, was the Emperor of Rome when Jesus would have been crucified.
The worst part of The Holy Land Experience was the Evangelical Protestant version of Church history presented in the Scriptorium. Professor Branham’s description is still accurate:
“During the hour-long walking tour of the Scriptorium, guests encounter more than a dozen time periods and geographical settings crafted to support the history of Bible production. Guests are greeted by a lifelike talking “animatronic” figure of the Bible translator John Wycliffe. There’s a Babylonian courtyard dominated by a recreation of the impressive Ishtar Gate to give a palpable context to the clay cuneiform tablets in the exhibit. Visitors travel from an ancient rotunda echoing with “the voices of the prophets” to Egypt’s historic Library of Alexandria to view ancient papyri; from an early church bindery from Constantinople to Gutenburg’s fifteenth-century print shop in Mainz, Germany, including a working replica of his revolutionary printing press; from William Tyndale’s ransacked workshop in Cologne to London’s vast Metropolitan Tabernacle, a scene of nineteenth-century evangelical preaching; and from a simple prairie church on the plains of the American Midwest, where guests learn about missionaries to a rotunda for the tour’s finale, featuring major biblical personalities in an impressive laser show where tablets of the Ten Commandments are etched atop Mount Sinai. The lights go out and an enormous cross hangs suspended and illuminated overhead. Finally on their way out, Ex Libris, the Scriptorium’s book shop, offers guests an extensive selection of Bible and history related merchandise. . . . the Scriptorium represents the Protestant antidote to gesture, sacrament, and action in its presentation of words, ideas, and personal faith.” (3)
As one would expect, according to the Evangelical Protestant version of history, although Catholic monks copied the Bible during the “Dark Ages,” it was all written in Latin and they wouldn’t let the common people read it until Brother John Wycliffe, Brother William Tyndale and Brother Martin Luther came along and overturned all that evil tradition and got back to the Bible alone.
The message is definitely that the Bible created the Church. The inescapable conclusion from The Holy Land Experience’s version of history is NO BIBLE, NO CHURCH. Of course, we know that this is exactly backwards. As Father Joseph Nolan has said “What many evangelical Christians do not seem to understand is that the Bible found it’s existence within the context of a living community. That community’s lived beliefs - written down - formed the New Testament. In other words, the Bible did not create the Church; rather, the Church - that early community of believers - created the Bible.”
After a pilgrimage to the Shrine of Mary Queen of Universe, which should be the first thing the Catholic visitor does in Orlando, between trips to Disney World, Universal Studios and Sea World, The Holy Land Experience is worth a day. Just take the Protestant view of history with a grain of salt.
1. Branham, Joan, The Temple That Won’t Quit: Constructing Sacred Space in Orlando’s Holy Land Experience Theme Park, Harvard Divinity Bulletin, Autumn, 2008.
2. Ibid. p. 25.
3. Ibid. p. 28-29