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Christian theme park opens amid controversy

Holy Land Experience
A replica of Jesus' tomb is on display in the Holy Land Experience's indoor model of first-century Jerusalem  

ORLANDO, Florida (CNN) -- While Disney World transports visitors into Tomorrowland, a new theme park that opened Monday takes travelers back to ancient Jerusalem.

The Holy Land Experience is a $16 million Christian theme park, filled with such Bible-based attractions as a replica of Herod's Temple and a re-creation of the street Jesus walked along before crucifixion.

There's also a replica of Jesus' tomb, and what founders say is the largest indoor model of first-century Jerusalem. Tourists who pay the $17 admission fee also can voyage to the Qumran caves, where the Dead Sea Scrolls were found.

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Although park founder Marvin Rosenthal says the goal is to spread Christianity, some critics take issue with the presentation.

Rosenthal grew up Jewish but is now a Baptist pastor. His ministry is called Zion's Hope, which critics say aims to convert Jews to Christianity.

Critics see conversion effort

Some Jewish leaders are troubled by some interpretations at the 15-acre park and prominently placed Jewish symbols. Rosenthal said they're true to the period, but the critics see something else.

"All the menorahs -- it's there to entice Jews to make them think this is a Jewish park and that there is a close connection between our ancestors and the notion that Jesus was divine and the son of God," said Rabbi Merrill Shapiro of Congregation Beth Am in Longwood, Florida.

menorah
Some Jewish leaders are concerned about the park's prominent placement of Jewish symbols, saying they encourage false links between Judaism and Christianity  

Jewish leaders say one of the most talked-about attractions, the Wilderness Tabernacle, illustrates their concerns, since the multimedia presentation also features Jewish songs and prayers.

To critics like Shapiro, Rosenthal says simply: If you don't like it, don't come.

But Shapiro said it's not so simple.

"Those of us who don't like it won't come," he said, "but we're afraid that others who are not aware, who are not so sophisticated will come, will put down their money."



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Zion's Hope of Orlando
Disney World
Qumran caves
The Real Site of Herod's Temple in Jerusalem

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