The life and times of Jesus of Nazareth will come to life this week in an unusual Bible school program at Magothy United Methodist Church.
For two days, children will experience life in Palestine, circa A.D. 29. They'll munch figs and dates, wear period-era costumes, live in tents representing the tribes of Israel and play Jewish and Roman games.
The program, a mammoth amount of work for the 300-member church on Mountain Road, will include everything from street dramas depicting scenes from the New Testament to farm animals common during the life of Christ.
"Children learn best by imitation, and we hope to satisfy that," said Felicia Granofsky, chairwoman of children's ministries, who is coordinating the program. "Hopefully we'll bring Christian values by learning what our Jewish heritage was all about."
For example, the children will learn how youngsters in Bible days played games and listened to the oral telling of history. "They didn't have books, they had scrolls, but most traditions were handed down through oral telling," Mrs. Granofsky said.
Because the land that is now Israel was occupied by Rome, the children will learn Roman games such as the discus throw and archery. And they'll attend "chariot" races, with scooters substituted for chariots, Mrs. Granofsky said.
But for the most part, the 5- to 12-year-olds at the Bible school will experience real sights, sounds and tastes.
Many of the children will wear costumes supplied by the church. They will smell bread baking in a rock oven, play with lambs and try their hand at crafts such as carpentry.
Children will be assigned to one of the 12 tribes of Jacob and live in that tribe's tent, under a mother's supervision. "They will learn that families in Jewish culture were very important and are still important today," Mrs. Granofsky said.
They will also make crafts, sing songs and learn traditional Hebrew dances. Each tribe will make its own tribal banner.
A simulated marketplace will be set up, complete with shop-keepers, carpenters, candle-makers, basket-makers and weavers.
Parishioners with those skills volunteered to add the realism to the Bible school. This is the first time the church has produced this elaborate Bible school, although they have held more typical programs for several years.
When a Vacation Bible school planning committee heard of the program -- "Marketplace 29 A.D.: A Bible time experience" published by B.J. Goetz Co. -- they admired the "unique way of bringing the community together in the old world of the Bible, where Jesus walked," Mrs. Granofsky said.
After visiting a Marketplace program at a Baltimore church, Mrs. Granofsky decided it was a superb teaching tool.
The curriculum is written for three churches working together, but Magothy United Methodist didn't get much response from neighboring churches and decided to go ahead anyway.
"It's a lot to ask out of one church, but everyone seems excited and keyed up," she said. "If we can pull it off, maybe next year local churches will come in with us."
The two-day school will also include "street dramas" of New Testament scenes, such as the lost sheep episode, healing and miracles, Jesus at age 12 and the Good Samaritan story, ending with the arrest of Jesus.
Youngsters may return Friday evening for the grand finale from 7 to 8:30, when the public is invited to tour the marketplace.
The program will end with a processional from the marketplace to the church sanctuary, where the Resurrection scene will take place.
"It's all based on the premise that children learn best when they are actively involved in the learning process," said Mrs. Granofsky. "We believe the environment of the marketplace will encourage children to help one another so that relationships develop naturally."