The Holy Land Experience is located in Orlando, Florida. It was founded by Marvin Rosenthal and his son, David, and opened its doors to the public on February 5, 2001. Rev. Rosenthal was a Baptist pastor in the northeast, who had converted from Judaism to Christianity. He and his son, David, had been thinking about a religious theme park for years, and in 1989 they began the journey to make their dream a reality.
What follows is the story Marvin Rosenthal told an audience when my wife and I visited the Holy Land Experience in March of 2002.
Rosenthal felt a strong call to Florida where he planned to start a new ministry called Zion’s Hope, a Protestant and Fundamentalist Christian non-profit organization. Along with this Rosenthal also felt a call from the Lord to find a unique approach to teach the Word of God in a way that would provide an experience of the historical, cultural and geographical setting of Bible times. The idea of a miniature Holy Land theme park came to the forefront. He planned to create a park where everyone could experience the sights and sounds of the city of Jerusalem.
A real estate agent chauffeured Rosenthal and his son around looking at potential sites in the Orlando area. The agent talked price in terms of the dollar cost per foot of frontage. Rosenthal thought he meant dollars per acre! For example, the agent would say, “This property is 15”. Rosenthal thought he meant the whole acreage would sell for around $15,000! Once the agent realized that the Rosenthals didn’t have millions to spend, he lost interest in working with them.
Rosenthal’s son suggested that they look at a prime piece of land where two major highways cross one another. They found a nineteen-acre patch of land in Orlando, located off Interstate 4 about five miles east of Universal Studios. Though the land was considerably more expensive than what they felt was reasonably within their sights, they made a bid of faith. What they didn’t know was that the current owners of the land were going through a bankruptcy. The bankruptcy judge accepted Rosenthal’s bid of $1.2 million. Now all they had to do was find the money to make the down-payment!
Rosenthal’s telephone pleas for help from friends resulted in the necessary funds coming through for the down payment. Now money was needed to hire architects, arrange to get the necessary zoning and proceed to construction. Again, they went ahead on faith and prayer. Another supporter rescued the project by arranging for loans to fund and complete the project. The Holy Land Experience theme park became a reality.
They were ready to open the doors to the public, but now lacked the money to advertise!
The Holy Land Experience theme park had provoked criticism from local rabbis and other Jewish leaders who were concerned about the use of Jewish symbols and prayers in a Christian theme park. They also felt the park was created to try to convert Jews to Christianity. The Los Angeles-based Jewish Defense League promised to picket the opening and predicted two hundred people would participate.
Rosenthal and the theme park organization denied and refuted any plans to use profits to convert Jews to Christianity. The picket threat and accusations by the Jewish Defense League resulted in media coverage from around the world to cover the picketing. Only four picketers actually showed up. But the whole action provided plenty of free publicity for the theme park!
Before welcoming its first visitors, Rosenthal prayed for the Lord's protection of the Christian attraction. The park can be described as a living museum that authentically recreates the city of Jerusalem and its religious importance between the years of 1450 B.C. and 66 A.D.
On the first day many church groups, students and visitors streamed through the turnstiles at the main entrance, which is a life-sized replica of the Jerusalem gate. Visitors then enter into a marketplace, created to look like the one where Jesus walked through nearly two thousand years ago. The re-creations of the city are very realistic, and there are several high-tech presentations with special effects. Staff and characters in productions are all dressed in biblical costumes.
Just after noon on the first day the park reached capacity. Officials had to turn visitors away. Operations at the park had planned to accommodate eight hundred guests at one time, and there were one hundred eighty parking places for cars and buses. By mid-afternoon, officials said, nearly two thousand people had passed through the gates of the park!
In addition to the original park, the Holy Land Experience opened an 18,000 square foot Scriptorium in August of 2002—a Center for Biblical Antiquities. Featured is the Van Kampen Collection of Biblically related artifacts. It is the fourth largest collection of such rare items in the world. Many of these are the only known copies in existence, and some pieces are over 4,000 years old. The Scriptorium also has a non-sectarian library and research center and is one of the most unique facilities of its kind in the world. This housing of some of the world’s finest collection of authentic biblical artifacts and antiquities, including ancient cuneiform, scrolls, rare manuscripts and Bibles, defines the goal and purpose of the Holy Land Experience.
In 2007 The Holy Land Experience was bought by Trinity Broadcasting Network. TBN was looking for a location in Central Florida to build a broadcasting studio, and the sale and purchase proved to be a perfect fit for both entities. Under the direction of Dr. Paul and Jan Crouch, the park was expanded and further developed. The construction of additional beautiful gardens, landscaping and Jerusalem site locations made the park even more of a destination in demand in the Orlando area. Emphasis was made on presenting the saving power of the Lord Jesus Christ through enhanced dramas and musicals depicting life-like scenes and stories from the Bible. Recently added is the Church of All Nations, a fantastic 2,000 seat auditorium. This addition makes possible the production of many more dramas and presentations.
You can read more about the theme park at www.theholylandexperience.com.