Accepted Paper:

MacDavidification? Making the holy land look right for American protestant pilgrims  


Jackie Feldman (Ben Gurion University of the Negev)
Amos Ron (Ashkelon Academic College)

Paper short abstract:

While visions of Zion shaped understandings of America, frontier visions influence American Protestants' expectations of Israel. By examining theming of holy sites, techniques of guides, and itineraries of tour companies, we demonstrate how the Holy Land is tailored to the American Protestant gaze.

Paper long abstract:

The Holy Land and Zion have fueled the American imagination since Puritan times. If Biblical visions of Zion shaped pioneers' understandings of America, the visions of the frontier constitute many American Protestants' expectations of Israel. Their ways of viewing and experiencing the Holy Land are conditioned through the reading of the Bible, as well as through model cities and media images diffused throughout the USA. Practices such as in situ Bible reading, the search for uncluttered nature, the viewing of the land from broad vistas, the adulation of technological progress, the penchant for archaeology and Orientalism all inscribe American Protestant understandings on the land to produce a textualized sacred landscape.

By examining the theming of Protestant sacred sites in Israel, the narrative techniques of Jewish-Israeli guides working with American Protestant pilgrims, and the itineraries of tour companies catering to the American Christian market, we demonstrate how the Holy Land is tailored to the American Protestant gaze. The theme sites and guiding techniques reflect contemporary processes, such as the salience of media images, and the increased importance of sensory experiences in forming contemporary American identity. Yet such sites and guiding narratives are oriented, not to provide thrills, but to develop meaningful relationships with God, the Bible, and the past.

The products and performances employed increase the authority of new religious tour sites, while generating political support for the State of Israel. We also demonstrate how alternative organizations employ related tropes and techniques to garner American Christian support for the Palestinian cause.

Panel W120
'America' abroad: the good, the bad and the ugly (MAC workshop II)