Recently on our annual rolling camping trip we visited Palestine Park on the western shore of Chautauqua Lake in southwestern New York. It covers an area about the size of a football field.
Palestine Park is a scale model of the land Jesus knew on the grounds of the Chautauqua Institution, a Chautauqua Lake residential community that offers a mix of arts, lectures, and entertainment each summer.
Palestine Park started with a temporary wooden model in 1874. It was developed as a visual aid for teaching Biblical geography and history in a summer training school for Sunday School teachers. The chief architect of the project was Dr. W. W. Wythe. The project founder, Dr. John Heyl Vincent, Chancellor of Chautauqua, wrote,
“The Park of Palestine was laid out on the grounds of the Sunday School Assembly, in order to provide a large map or model of the Holy Land for the instruction of teachers and young people interested in Bible history, and who desired to see the topography which gives to that history such vividness and power. The Park of Palestine was an attempt to present the general outline of the country, the principal hills and valleys, the water-courses, the cities, etc. In this particular the Park was accurate and invaluable.”
(From The Chautauqua Movement by Dr. John Heyl Vincent, 1895)
Dr. Vincent was also co-author of Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee, a collection of 500 photos of New Testament locales from 1894 arranged in Biblical order in a large format book. The entire book, including photos, is now available on the CD Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galilee.
In a guide book to the park, Dr. Jesse Hurlbut wrote,
“Biblical history is closely connected with the land of Palestine. Here journeyed Abraham and the patriarchs, here Joshua fought the battles of the conquest, here the Judges ruled from Othniel to Samuel, here David wandered and afterward reigned, here the prophets preached, and here Jesus Christ lived His thirty-three years on earth. For it the Crusaders came from over the sea, and toward it have been turned the thoughts and hopes of the Jewish race for eighteen centuries. And since the world war the eyes of all the nations have been centered upon this land with a new interest.”
A visit to the park will enhance your Bible study as it will help you visualize the geography of the area about which you’re reading.
Geography of the Park
Palestine Park depicts the topography of the land from Mt. Hermon in the north to Beersheba in the south.
The map at right shows the geographical features of Israel that are marked in Palestine Park.
Chautauqua Lake represents the Mediterranean Sea. Mt. Hermon is a huge pile of boulders. From here the Jordan River flows south through the Sea of Galilee and on down to the Dead Sea. Green and white markers indicate the locations of Biblical cities, mountains, and hills.
The distance scale is 1.75 feet per mile, and the elevation scale is 2.5 feet per thousand feet.
We spent about an hour going over the entire site and recalling Biblical incidents from the Old and New Testaments that occurred at the various markers. The topography of the model is very accurate and gives one a healthy appreciation of how physically fit Jesus and His disciples had to have been to have walked all over such a rugged land.
Palestine Park provides an excellent overview of the geography and topography of the land of Israel. For many who can’t visit Israel, it’s a great tool for physically understanding the land in which most of the Bible takes place. If you pass near Chautauqua Lake, Palestine Park is well worth a detour. It’s free in the off season and on Sundays.
Here’s a Google map to help find the park on Chautauqua Lake. Palestine Park lies between S. Lake Dr. and the lake between Miller Ave and Miller Park roads.
For more on the geography of the Bible, see the ongoing Hike the Bible series that covers points of interest along hiking trails through Bible Lands.
Soli Deo Gloria.
©William T. Pelletier, Ph.D.
“contending earnestly for the faith” (Jude 1:3)
Thursday November 8, 2012 A.D.
Jesus was going throughout all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues and proclaiming the gospel of the kingdom, and healing every kind of disease and every kind of sickness among the people. (Matthew 4:23)