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Jacob's Well

JACOB’S WELL. Modern Bir Ya‘kub is doubtless the well mentioned in John.4.6 as the well of Jacob. For more than twenty-three centuries Samaritans and Jews have believed that this is true. The ground mentioned by John had been purchased by Jacob (Gen.33.19). The area was later wrested by force from the Amorites (Gen.48.22). The well is near the base of Mount Gerizim, whose bluffs may have been meant in Jesus’ phrase “this mountain” (John.4.21). A narrow opening four feet (one and one-fourth m.) long led from the floor of the vault into the well, which was dug through limestone. The depth of the well has not been determined. One explorer in a.d. 670 claimed it was 240 feet (75 m.). Another reported in 1697 that it was 105 feet (33 m.). In 1861 a Major Anderson found it only 75 feet (23 m.) deep. For centuries, tourists cast pebbles into it until Greek Catholics bought the site and put it under guard.

JACOB’s WELL (πηγὴ του̂ ̓Ιακώβ). A well near Sychar in Samaria where Jesus talked with the Samaritan woman.

There is just one reference naming Jacob’s Well in the Bible (John 4:6). Jesus had to pass through Samaria and in so doing “came to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near the field that Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there” (4:5, 6).

There is a problem with the town named Sychar. The modern Askar, which sounds most like it, though in the vicinity, is not near enough to the well. Furthermore, Askar has its own spring. Perhaps it is that Sychar is an evolution of the name Shechem. Genesis 33:18 states that Jacob came to Shechem (Heb. for “parcel,” “portion” or “lot”) and bought the land on which he was camped. There is no OT record of him digging a well there, but that he should do so is certainly reasonable and expected (cf. Gen 48:22).

Shechem (Sychar of John 4) is now generall agreed to be Tell Balatah. Bir Ya’aqub as the Well of Jacob is presently called, is c. one m. E of this tell. This is also at the foot of Mt. Gerazim to which the Samaritan woman alluded (4:20).

According to her statement the well was deep (v. 11). Today it is c. seventy-five ft. deep, but it has prob. been filled with much debris over the years since it was dug. There are hardly any sites that have less doubt as to their authenticity than the site of Jacob’s Well. All traditions agree on this as being the scene described in John 4, and with this the Biblical details fit perfectly. Through the centuries, churches have been built over the well, as various medieval pilgrims have recorded. Today the well is in a cave, or crypt, under the floor of a Greek Orthodox church, that has never been finished above the exterior walls.

Jacob’s Well is known for its soft, or light, water that is supplied in two ways—through underground sources that make it a true well and by percolated surface water, which makes it a cistern, as the Gr. word φρέαρ, G5853, indicates (4:11). This may have prompted Jesus’ remark about living water in v. 14.


G. H. Dalman, Sacred Sites and Ways (1935), 212-215.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

(pege tou Iakob):

1. Position of Well:

In Joh 4:3 ff we read that our Lord "left Judea, and departed again into Galilee. And he must needs pass through Samaria. So he cometh to a city of Samaria, called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph: and Jacob’s well was there." When Jacob came to Shechem on his return from Paddanaram he encamped "before," i.e. East of the city, and bought the land on which he had spread his tent (Ge 33:18 f). This is doubtless the "portion" (Hebrew shekhem) spoken of in Ge 48:22; although there it is said to have been taken with sword and bow from the Amorites. Where the pass of Shechem opens to the East, near the northern edge of the valley, lies the traditional tomb of Joseph. On the other side of the vale, close to the base of Gerizim, is the well universally known as Bir Ya`qub, "the well of Jacob." The position meets perfectly the requirements of the narrative. The main road from the South splits a little to the East, one arm leading westward through the pass, the other going more directly to the North. It is probable that these paths follow pretty closely the ancient tracks; and both would be frequented in Jesus’ day. Which of them He took we cannot tell; but, in any case, this well lay in the fork between them, and could be approached with equal ease from either.

See Sychar.

2. Why Dug:

In the chapter quoted, it is said that Jacob dug the well (Ge 48:12). The Old Testament says nothing of this. With the copious springs at `Ain `Askar and BalaTa, one might ask why a well should have been dug here at all. We must remember that in the East, very strict laws have always governed the use of water, especially when there were large herds to be considered. The purchase of land here may not have secured for Jacob such supplies as he required. There was danger of strife between rival herdsmen. The patriarch, therefore, may have dug the well in the interests of peace, and also to preserve his own independence.

3. Consensus of Tradition:

Jew, Samaritan, Moslem and Christian agree in associating this well with the patriarch Jacob. This creates a strong presumption in favor of the tradition: and there is no good reason to doubt its truth. Standing at the brink of the well, over-shadowed by the giant bulk of Gerizim, one feels how naturally it would be spoken of as "this mountain."

4. Description:

For long the well was unprotected, opening among the ruins of a vaulted chamber some feet below the surface of the ground. Major Anderson describes it (Recovery of Jerusalem, 465) as having "a narrow opening, just wide enough to allow the body of a man to pass through with arms uplifted, and this narrow neck, which is about 4 ft. long, opens into the well itself, which is cylindrically shaped, and about 7 ft. 6 inches in diameter. The mouth and upper part of the well are built of masonry, and the well appears to have been sunk through a mixture of alluvial soil and limestone fragments, till a compact bed of mountain limestone was reached, having horizontal strata which could be easily worked; and the interior of the well presents the appearance of having been lined throughout with rough masonry." The depth was doubtless much greater in ancient times; but much rubbish has fallen into it, and now it is not more than 75 ft. deep. It is fed by no spring, nor is the water conducted to it along the surface, as to a cistern. Its supplies depend entirely upon rainfall and percolation. Possibly, therefore, the water may never have approached the brim. The woman says "the well is deep." Pege, "spring," does not, therefore, strictly apply to it, but rather "tank" or "reservoir," phrear, the word actually used in verses 11 f. The modern inhabitants of Nablus highly esteem the "light" water of the well as compared with the "heavy" or "hard" water of the neighboring springs. It usually lasts till about the end of May; then the well is dry till the return of the rain. Its contents, therefore, differ from the "living" water of the perennial spring.

From the narratives of the pilgrims we learn that at different times churches have been built over the well. The Moslems probably demolished the last of them after the overthrow of the Crusaders in 1187. A description of the ruins with drawings, as they were 30 years ago, is given in PEF, II, 174, etc. A stone found in 1881 may have been the original cover of the well. It measures 3 ft. 9 inches X 2 ft. 7 inches X 1 ft. 6 in. The aperture in the center is 13 in. in diameter; and in its sides are grooves worn by the ropes used in drawing up the water (PEFS, 1881, 212 ff).

5. Present Condition:

Some years ago the plot of ground containing the well was purchased by the authorities of the Greek church, and it has been surrounded by a wall. A chapel has been built over the well, and a large church building has also been erected beside it.

W. Ewing

See Jacob’s WELL.

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