Mount Ephraim and Benjamin
41. Here is Jacob's well
The only well which is specifically mentioned in the NT, and the place where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman (John 4:6). It is not mentioned by that name in the OT, even though Jacob's dwelling is reported to be in that region.
The text in John connects the well with the city of Sychar (John 4:5), but opinions on the identification of this town are divided between those who see in the place-name the modern town of Askar located N of this well and others who associate Sychar with Shechem. See SHECHEM; SYCHAR. The former position favoring Sychar was held by the Old Syriac Bible, Jerome, and more recently Albright. Two of the most-frequently used arguments are the alleged corruption of Sychar to Shechem, and the text of Genesis 33:18 which mentions Jacob as having dwelt before the city, i.e., to the E of it. This identification has been shaken by recent archaeological evidence according to which Shechem ceased to exist by the 1st century B.C. Thus, nearby Askar receives more attention today despite the fact that the town is not as close to the traditional well as the proponents of this thesis would wish; in addition to this, Askar has its own well whose water is not as good as the one of the well in question.
Yet in spite of the difficulties connected with the identification of the city of Sychar, the well has been confidently identified with Bir Ya'aqub (M.R. 177179) in the proximity of Tell Balatah. This well is located at the entrance to the ravine which separates Mt. Ebal from Mt. Gerizim in a Greek Orthodox church that has been under construction since 1903. This location is plausible since it agrees with the evidence from the narrative, namely that the well is found at the foot of Mt. Gerizim (John 4:20) and about 1 mile SE of Nablus. It is near the fork of a road which comes from Jerusalem and branches to Samaria and Tirzah respectively.
The authenticity of this well is not only based on the details from the story, which agree with its identification, but also upon the fact that all traditions -Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim- support it. This led A. Parrot to declare that this site is the most authentic of all the Holy Place in Palestine. The earliest evidence comes from A.D. 333 when Pilgrim of Bordeaux mentions a pool or a bath filled with water from this well. Also, Eusebius in the 4th century speaks of the well in his Onomasticon.
According to Jerome there was a church in this place toward the end of the 4th century, a fact confirmed by the story of Arculf's pilgrimage in A.D. 670, which states that the church was built in the shape of a cruciform. Archaeological excavations of the site have unearthed the ruins of an old crusader's church which dates to the 11th century. In 1881 a stone was discovered nearby which is believed to have been a cover of the well.
The well itself is ca. 100 feet deep, a fact reminiscent of the woman's words in John 4:11. The water is clear and cool and visitors today are still offered a cup of this refreshment. The upper part of the well is built in masonry, while the lower is cut through rock. The words from John 4:6 can be translated as "on the well" which suggests that the well was covered by stone blocks. The well is supplied in 2 ways, by underground sources and also by surface water -like rainwater. Based on the use of the Greek word phrear (4:11) some are inclined to call the source a draw-well. The water source was certainly not a cistern, nor is it today but rather a rich supply of water at a great depth.
Some of the important parallels between the report of John and the actual description of the place demonstrate the author's good knowledge of the geographical data of this Palestinian region.
Bibliography: Albright, W. F. 1956. Background of the New Testament and Its Eschatology. Cambridge. Parrot, A. 1968. Land of Christ. Philadelphia.
Zdravko Stefanovic, The Anchor Bible Dictionary, ad v. "Jacob's well"
Michael Avi-Yonah (The Madaba Mosaic Map, Jerusalem 1954, 46)
From the times of the Bordeaux pilgrim (and against Eusebius, On. 54, 23) the Christian tradition placed the Well of Jacob near the sacred tree (Platanus) of the Samaritans at the road-crossing east of Shechem. The church on the spot is mentioned already by St. Jerome (Peregr. Paulae XVI ) and by Antoninus (ed. Geyer, p. 162).
Khalid Nashef ("Tradition and Reality of Holy Tombs in the Madaba Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 234)
The veneration of holy figures is not restricted to their places of burial. Such is the case with "Jacob's Well" associated with Joseph's Tomb. On the map to the south of Joseph's Tomb there is a representation of a church with an inscription referring to Jacob's Well. I mention this example like many others in the map, though not tombs, because among the Palestinians the holy spot is designated as Bir en-Nabi Ya'qub. A biblical figure is transformed into a prophet by local tradition. This transformation had already occured, and was taken over as part of the Palestinian popular tradition. (See also the complete article)
José M. Blázquez ("The Presence of Nature in the Madaba Mosaic Map", in The Madaba Map Centenary, Jerusalem 1999, 251)
Wells are not frequent in mosaics. Water flowing from a fountain appears in the mosaic of Utica with hunting scenery. In the mosaic of the House of the Laberii, in Oudna, a man draws water with a pole from a well to water a horse. In a pavement of Apamea in Syria a huge chain pump was depicted on the Orontes River; it comes from the porticoes of the Great Arcade, dated to 469. A similar chain pump can be seen in a mosaic of the Great Palace of Constantinople.Two water mills occupy the central part of a mosaic there. (See also the complete article)
General plan of the historical sites around Nablus
Bellarmino Bagatti (Ancient Christian Villages of Samaria, Jerusalem - in the press)
Villages Around the Well of the Samaritan Woman
Jesus stopped at the traditional Jacob's Well and, while the disciples went on in search of food, a Samaritan woman came to draw water. Whatever the woman had in mind in going to the well, she certainly did not expect to hear anything like Jesus' words; and they left her convinced (Jn 4,5-42). She went to express her joy to the inhabitants of the nearby village who came themselves to speak with Jesus, with equally enthusiastic results. They invited the Master and his disciples to stay in the village which from that moment could be consider Christian and a foundation of the Lord himself.
The village in question is called Sychar in the Gospel, and its identification is not certain. Some identify it with Sychem, the ancient ruined city now located north of the well; others with the village of 'Askar situated to the northeast which has archeological remains of the period. The question has little importance because in any case it is a village not far from the well. Since the conversion of the villagers, the well began to be called after the Samaritan woman.
A few years after the Lord's death, Philip the Deacon evangelized the city of Samaria-Sebaste; and the apostles Peter and John were sent by the Mother Church of Jerusalem to organize the new community. On their way back to Jerusalem the two apostles, who had accompanied Jesus in the journey that had brought him past Jacob's well, 'preached the gospel to many villages of the Samaritans,' as St. Luke says (Acts 8,25). Seemingly that the apostles, once welcomed guests of the inhabitants of Sychar, had returned to their old acquaintances."
St. Justin, a native of nearby Flavia Neapolis, the present-day Nablus situated a few kilometers from the well, in speaking of the Christians mentions also the Samaritan-Christian communities which arose among the Samaritans and the Jews (Apologia I, 53, PG 6, 405-408), although he considers them less organized and less numerous than those of Gentile stock. Conceivably Sychar always remained Christian, because the well soon became a place for baptism. The anonymous pilgrim of Bordeaux expressly mentions it in 333: 'balneus qui de eo puteo lavatu.,' i.e. 'a bath (in the pilgrim's language, a baptistry) which takes its water from this well' (Itinerarium Burdigalense 588, 1, CCSL 175, 14)
At Flavia Neapolis in the fourth century there was a bishop of Gentile stock called Germanus who is praised by the Samaritan poet Marqah because he permitted circumcision despite the Roman laws forbidding it. Seemingly Germanus was in charge of Samaritan-Christian communities established in the neighborhood. (However, Germanus is described by the chroniclers as an official appointed by either Decius (249-251) or his successor Gallus (251-253), who would have restrained from enforcing Decius' edict forbidding circumcision; if this is true, he was not a bishop or even a Christian. His identification with the fourth-century bishop of Neapolis, Germanus, is by no means certain, as the name was very common at that time. The period of Marqaa himself is not certain: some scholars date him to the fourth century, others to the third. See A.D. Crown, R. Pummer and A. Tal, eds., A Companion to Samaritan Studies, Tübingen 1993, 103, 152-153.). He or his successors built a cruciform church over the well which is first mentioned by St. Ephrem (De virginitate, CSCO 224, 58-59), then again by St. Jerome in his version of the Onomasticon . In translating Eusebius' entry which spoke only of the well, Jerome added: 'Today a church has been built there.' (On., 164-165). Since I have already written at length about this church, which anyway was not the village church, I refer the reader to the pertinent essay for further details (LA 16 , 127-164).
At the entrance to the Greek property, which includes the traditional well, there is a quite singular sarcophagus. On its long side it is adorned with festoons enclosing the shield of the Amazons, and on the short side, by a cross in relief. Since the style of the shield brings us back to the second-third centuries, the whole sarcophagus and consequently the relief of the cross can be assigned to this date. It may attest to the Samaritan-Christian presence in the pre-Constantinian period.
Among the materials reused by the Crusaders in erecting a great church on the site of the cruciform building, there is a Samaritan inscription of the Decalogue. Today it is preserved in a little museum existing here, and may provide an addidional testimony to this community. In formulating the hypothesis, we have before us the Samaritan inscriptions recovered at Mount Nebo (S. Yonick, LA 17 , 162-221) in which were found phrases of Christian flavour, and an amulet with Samaritan incription and the emblem of the cross, in which is a hint to the doctrine of regeneration (E. Testa, LA 23 , 286-317).
Under Emperor Justinian some Samaritans converted to Christianity for expediency sake, but continued to practice the Samaritan cult in secret. Procopius of Caesarea refers to them in the Secret History .(ch. XI).
In the Middle Ages the well was held by a Latin community dependent on the Benedictine Abbey of Bethany, which rebuilt the already ruined primitive church; but once the Latin kingdom fell, also this second church fell into ruin. The Franciscan Father Nicholas of Poggibonsi, who saw it in 1347, stated that it was destroyed'and the well 'almost completely choked. Father Quaresmi, who visited the place almost three centuries later, reported that the Greeks would come to the church ruins from time to time to celebrate the cult there, and that they kept the enclosure gate locked. In 1860 they succeeded in acquiring the site are its owners to our day. In 1893 they managed to clear the well. A church begun before World War I is still unfinished.
The villages around the well have been Moslem for centuries. Father Marian Morone, Custos of the Holy Land from 1652 to 1657, relates (Terra Santa I, 322) that the fields surrounding the well were very fertile and at his time the farmers used to convey their wheat to Jerusalem and sell it to the monks, 'but then the tyranny of the Turks grew worse; the Pashas of Jerusalem forced the poor monks to buy corn from them at higher and heavier terms than the price demanded by the peasants.'
Plan of the present church at Jacob's Well
showing earlier remains (B. Bagatti)
For more sources and bibliography see:
Tabula Imperii Romani. Iudaea - Palaestina (Jerusalem 1994) s.v. "Puteus Iacobi", 205-206.
Map Section 5 Place Sources