Why travel to the real Holy Land when you can visit the fake one right here in LA’s Silver Lake neighborhood.
Tucked away in the hills of Silver Lake above the 2 Fwy you’ll find the Holyland Exhibition, a small museum packed with artifacts recovered by the man rumored to be the real-life inspiration for Indiana Jones. In the early 1900s, Futterer was struck ill with severe appendicitis. His prayers for a recovery were answered soon after, leading to a strong belief in the Bible. In 1926, his new-found relationship with religion led to a number of expeditions to the Holy Land, culminating in a personal quest for the Golden Ark of the Covenant. Items in the museum range from small pieces such as 5,000-year-old oil lamps, bottles, coins, ivory and silver Mideastern jewelry, and tapestries to a mummy casket dating back to 600 years before the birth of Christ and a 2,700-year-old sarcophagus. Other highlights include an ancient game table from Damascus featuring 10,000 inlaid pearls and wood from fourteen different fruit trees, and three ears of now-extinct Egyptian corn.
Pre-WWII: Palestine Tours were offered. Antonio F. Futterer founded the Holyand Bible Knowledge Society in 1924. It is a non-profit, interdenominational organization. Futterer’s descendants still offer tours of the Holyland Exhibition today. Futterer’s photographs of the neighborhood in addition to the Holyland building (at the corner of Lake View Ave. and Allesandro Way) chronicle change since 1923.
Post-WWII: Israel tours were offered after Israel became an independent state in 1948. The beautiful lush garden in front of the property was destroyed by the 2 Fwy when it was constructed in 1934.
Betty my tour guide, who also lives on the property with her mother, leads me down to one of the five rooms on the tour. The 5 rooms include: The Damascus Room, Pharaohs Treasury, The Archaeology and Bible Art Room, Jerusalem Bazaar (gift shop) and the Auditorium.
Photos are strictly forbidden but I was able to sneak some snaps since I was the only one on the tour. I sat in this room while Betty prepared some Holyland refreshments and demonstrated the “Futterer’s Eye-O-graphic Bible System”, the most rapid, visual system for learning the bible.
All guests are treated to a grape drink, some Mandel (almond) bread, and apricot fruit leather imported from Damascus while learning about Mr. Futterer and his Biblical system.
In 1926, Futterer went on his first pilgrimage to the Holy Land in search of the Ark of the Covenant, believed to hold the original stone tablets on which the Ten Commandments were written. According to biblical accounts, they disappeared after Solomon’s Temple was destroyed in 587 B.C. After years of research, Futterer concluded that the ark was not destroyed when Nebuchadnezzar razed the temple, and that it was still hidden under Mt. Nebo in modern-day Jordan. In his account of the search, Futterer wrote that he made a binding contract with the Sheik of Nebo to be “one” in the search for the ark. They shook hands and said, “Wahad,” meaning “We are one.” A photograph on the tour shows the sheik and a translator pulling Futterer from a cave atop Mt. Nebo. Futterer thought the cave might house what he was looking for. In his journal, he wrote: “Right under my feet is a cave, only a few yards from the very top of Mt. Nebo. The mouth of it was stopped up with stones, just like Jeremiah said the lost caves would be. Is the Ark beneath this rock on which I stand? Who knows? I searched through the crevices with a flashlight I had brought from Los Angeles, for this very purpose, but I can’t stay long, I must look for more caves!” Like Indiana Jones, he was lowered by a rope through a hole in the ground, where he found a wall of painted images, pre-Christian petroglyphs. Futterer believed the ark lay still farther below. Because authorities would not allow the site to be excavated, he had to move on. Futterer accepted the decision, believing it wasn’t God’s time for the ark to be found.
In 1949, when he was 78, he moved to the island of Cyprus. Before he died there in 1951, his secretary used his notes on his Holy Land adventure to compile a small booklet titled “Adventures of the Golden Ark Explorer.” The museum is now run by Betty Shepherd, a devoted Futterer fan who came from the Midwest three decades ago. She conducts tours for more than 7,000 visitors a year from all over the world. The society’s nonsectarian, nonpolitical status is “what I liked when I came here,” Shepherd said. “I couldn’t understand the Bible, so I prayed and asked God to help me find a place where I could learn the Bible, and I wound up here.”
This statue of Christ was originally located in the long lost Clifton’s Pacific Seas in DTLA. The owners, who were also very religious, donated this piece after Pacific Seas was shuttered.
After your 2 hour tour, you’ll get a chance to visit the Holyland Gift Shop which is stocked with real trinkets you would find in Syria, Armenia, Isreal, Turkey, Egypt and other countries that make up the Holy Land. The Holyland Exhibition is open 365 days a year by appointment only, with a $2.50 donation. For reservations, call (323) 664-3162.