Sychar

SYCHAR (sī'kar, Gr. Sychar). A village of Samaria located near Jacob’s well, where Jesus met the Samaritan woman (John.4.5). It was situated on the main road that led from Jerusalem through Samaria to Galilee. No mention is made of it in the OT, but there is a Suchar or Sichar referred to in the rabbinical writings. Sychar is most often identified with the modern Askar, though the identification is not certain. It is situated close to Shechem (with which it has often been incorrectly identified) and on the eastern slope of Mount Ebal. The site, which by continuous tradition has been identified with Jacob’s well, lies about half a mile (about one km.) to the south. In Jesus’ day Sychar was only a small village.


SYCHAR sī’ kär (Συχάρ, G5373). The one Biblical allusion to it describes it as “a city of Samaria,” near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave his son Joseph (John 4:5; cf. Gen 33:19). Jerome in his Onomasticon distinguishes Sychar from Shechem, though in his other works he identifies them as the same place, arguing that the form of spelling Sychar is a scribal error. The Old Syriac VS also reads Shechem. In the Itinerary of Jerusalem of a.d. 33 a Sechar is located one m. E of Nablus.

Recent debate still leaves the identity of Sychar open to question. W. F. Albright identified it with an ancient site near Shechem. There is an ancient site “askar” nearby, meaning in Arab. a military camp, and Dr. Albright argued that “askar” is a corruption for Sychar. This village of El-Askar is on the eastern slope of nodetitle about half a m. N of Jacob’s Well and just E of Shechem. There is confusion in such identity. First, it is unlikely that Sychar is to be identified with “askar,” as a textual corruption. Moreover, El-Askar is much further away from Jacob’s well than ancient Shechem. There is also the objection that at El-Askar there is a copious spring more than adequate to supply the water needs of the village. The narrative of John 4:15 suggests the woman of Sychar was in the habit of going to Jacob’s well for water. It seems therefore unlikely to identify Sychar with El-Askar.

Others have argued that Shechem is Sychar. But the recent excavations of G. E. Wright have revealed that the end of Shechem as a city occurred in 107 b.c. when Jews from Jerusalem under John Hyrcanus (134-104 b.c.) destroyed the Samaritan temple on Mount Gerizim in 128 b.c. and finally destroyed the city of Shechem in 107 b.c. However, at the site of these ruins, Tell Balatah, there is evidence of occupation from the period of the Samaritans to Rom. times. Jacob’s well, according to an unbroken tradition, lies about half a m. to the E of the village of Balatah. Historically, the well is one of the best attested sites in Pal., at least since NT times. It stands on the eastern edge of the valley which forms the pass between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim. The watertable that feeds the well rests upon an impermeable layer of basalt some twenty meters below the valley floor. With the accumulation of town debris and older sites since Hyksos times, Shechem is twelve to twenty-five meters above the surrounding valley floor. The woman of Samaria was correct in asserting “the well is deep,” possibly thirty-two to fifty-five meters in depth (cf. John 4:11). The sacred associations of the well, and its quality of water, in contrast to the harder water from neighboring springs on the slopes of Mt. Gerizim, would form attractions for the popularity of the well throughout its history.

Bibliography

G. E. Wright, Shechem, the Biography of a Biblical City (1965).

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Mentioned only once, in connection with the visit of Jesus to Jacob’s Well (Joh 4:5). He was passing through Samaria on His way to Galilee, "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." Jerome thought the name was a clerical error for Sychem (Epistle 86). In Eusebius (in Onomasticon) he is content to translate Eusebius, placing Sychar East of Neapolis. It is now generally admitted that the text is correct. Some have held, however, that Sychar is only another name for Shechem ("Sychem"). It is suggested, e.g., that it is a nickname applied in contempt by the Jews, being either shikkor, "drunken," or sheqer, "falsehood." Others think the form has arisen through change of "m" to "r" in pronunciation; as "l" to "r" in Beliar. These theories may safely be set aside. The evidence that Sychar was a distinct place East of Shechem may be described as overwhelming. It is carefully and perspicuously marshaled by G. A. Smith (Historical Geography of the Holy Land, 367 ff). The manner in which it is mentioned shows that it was not a specially well-known place: "a city of Samaria called Sychar." No one familiar with Palestine would have written "a city of Samaria called Sychem." It is mentioned only because of its nearness to the well.

As to the position of the well, there is general agreement (see Jacob’s WELL). It is on the right of the road where it bends from the plain of Makhneh into the pass of Shechem. Fully half a mile off, on the edge of the plain, is the village of `Askar, on the lower slope of Ebal. A little to the West is the traditional tomb of Joseph. This is the district East of Shechem usually identified with Jacob’s "parcel of ground." Many have sought to find Sychar in the modern `Askar. There are two difficulties. The first is the initial letter `ain in the modern name. But G. A. Smith has shown that such a change as this, although unusual, is not impossible. The second is the presence of the copious spring, `Ain `Askar, which would make it unnecessary for the villagers to carry water from Jacob’s Well. This cannot easily be explained away. One could understand a special journey at times, if any peculiar value attached to the water in the well; but from it, evidently, the woman drew her ordinary supplies (Joh 4:15). This difficulty would probably in any case be fatal to the claim of the village at `Ain `Askar to represent the ancient Sychar. But Professor R. S. A. Macalister has shown reason to believe that the village is not older than Arab times (PEFS, 1907, 92 ff). He examined the mound Telul Balata, nearly 1/2 mile Southwest of `Askar, and just West of Joseph’s tomb. There he found evidence of occupation from the days of the Hebrew monarchy down to the time of Christ. Here there is no spring; and it is only 1/4 mile distant from Jacob’s Well--nearer therefore to the well than to `Askar. In other respects the site is suitable, so that perhaps here we may locate the Sychar of the Gospel. The name may easily have migrated to `Askar when the village fell into decay.