Monday, May 11, 2009

Nazareth Village built to meet demands of Christian tourists

A recreation of Jesus’s life is among dozens of attractions set up to meet the new demands of pilgrims to the Holy Land Sheera Frenkel in Nazareth. A shepherd and a carpenter walk down a hill just outside the biblical village of Nazareth. Clad in robes and leather sandals, they stoop to examine an oil lamp and consider what it means to be a light unto nations.

It is the type of scene that could have occurred 2,000 years ago — which is precisely its appeal for the Christian tourists visiting “Nazareth Village”, a re-creation of Jesus’s life in the town that he once called home.

The site is one of dozens that have blossomed in recent years to meet the increasing demands of Christian pilgrims. “After coming to this country, travelling through it and experiencing the land I have a much clearer understanding of the teachings of Jesus,” said Roger Wambold, 59, who has returned for his third visit to Nazareth Village.

Wearing homespun-robes and carrying staffs, the dozen or so workers at the village show tourists how to plough fields, bottle wine and weave rugs using techniques that historians and archeologists believe existed in the 1st century. Israeli officials hope that the Pope’s visit on Monday will cement the country’s position as the heartland of Christian tourism. Last year 1.8 million of the three million tourists who visited Israel were Christian; the vast majority went farther and defined themselves as “pilgrims”.

Scores of tours have sprung up along the more traditional sites to cater to the billion-dollar industry. Tour operators call it the “complete” Christian experience for those who want to farm, eat, dress, and travel in the manner that Jesus did.

For woodsmen there are “Jesus trails”, a number of walks through the holy sites of the New Testament, while the more scholarly minded can take intensive Aramaic courses. A plethora of goods are on sale from olive-wood crosses to frankincense and myrrh, to plastic-wrapped donkey dung from the hills where Jesus supposedly delivered his Sermon on the Mount.

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