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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Jacob's Well

JACOB’S WELL.—On the arrest of John the Baptist by Herod Antipas, Jesus left Judaea and returned with His loosely-attached followers to Galilee (Mark 1:14). He travelled by ‘the great north road’ through Samaria. This road, after skirting the W. edge of the plain of Mukhneh, and passing under the slopes of Gerizim, enters the wide bay forming the approach to the Vale of Nâblus. Here it divides, one branch striking west, the other going north across the bay, past the ruins and spring of ʽAskar. In the fork of these roads is Jacob’s Well (Bir Yâkûb), where Jesus, being wearied with His journey,—it was about the hour of noon,—sat down and rested (John 4:6).

The well is described (John 4:5) as in the neighbourhood of ‘a city of Samaria called Sychar, near to the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph.’ This parcel of ground (χωρίον) is evidently the plot referred to in Genesis 33:18-19 as lying ‘before’ (or ‘to the east of’) Shechem, which Jacob purchased from the native Shechemites for 100 kesîtahs. Somewhere within its borders the bones of Joseph were afterwards buried (Joshua 24:32, cf. Acts 7:16): and the plot came to have for the N. Kingdom the kind of sanctity that Machpelah had for the Kingdom of Judah. It is nowhere recorded that Jacob dug a well here; but the fact had become a matter of common and well-established belief by the time of Jesus, and no serious doubt has since been raised as to the origin or locality of the well. The traditional sites of Jacob’s Well and Joseph’s Tomb (a little to the N.) are acknowledged by Jews, Samaritans, Christians, and Moslems alike. The tradition for the well goes back to Eusebius (OS, s.v. ‘Sychar’). See also art. Sychar.

In John 4:6 the well is called πηγὴ (‘fountain’) τοῦ Ἰακώβ: in John 4:11 the woman refers to it as τὸ φρέαρ (‘the cistern or pit’) which Jacob gave. The latter is the more exact description, inasmuch as it ‘is not an ʽain, a well of living water, but a ber, a cistern to hold water’ (PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1897, p. 197). Rainwater probably formed the greater part of its supply, though another smaller portion may have been due to infiltration from the surrounding strata. This would partly account for the ‘great local reputation’ of the water ‘for purity and flavour among the natives of El ʽAskar and Nablus.ʼ The neighbouring springs were ‘heavy’ (or hard), being strongly impregnated with lime, while Jacob’s Well contained ‘lighter’ (or softer) water, ‘cool, palatable, and refreshing’ (G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] p. 676). The woman’s presence at the well at noon may have been due to the fact that she was seeking water for workmen on the adjacent cornlands, rather than for domestic use (PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1897, p. 149). The sacred associations of the spot, together with the ‘real excellence’ of the water, probably drew visitors regularly both from ʽAskar (¾ mile away) and from Nâblus (1¾ miles distant), in spite of nearer and more copious supplies.

The true mouth of the well is several feet below the surface, and beneath a ruined vault, which once formed part of the ancient cruciform church mentioned by Arculph (a.d. 700), and referred to by Jerome (OS, s.v. ‘Sychar’). This narrow opening, 4 ft. long and just wide enough to admit the body of a man, broadens out into the cylindrical tank or well itself, which is about 7½ ft. in diameter and over 100 feet deep (G. A. Smith, l.c. p. 373). The interior appears to have been lined throughout with masonry, and thick layers of débris cover the bottom.* [Note: Robinson (in 1838) gives the depth as 105 feet; Anderson (in 1866) and Conder (in 1875) measured 75 feet. Evidently debris from the surface accumulated rather quickly.]

If the uniform tradition as to the well’s origin be correct, probably the incomer Jacob sank this ‘deep’ pit to avoid collision with the natives among whom be settled. A well of his own, on his own ground, would make him secure and independent.

Literature.—Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible ii. 535 f.; Encyc. Bibl. iv. 4829; Robinson, BRP [Note: RP Biblical Researches in Palestine.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] ii. 283 f.; Thomson, LB [Note: The Land and the Book.] ii. 146 f.; Baedeker-Socin, Pal. [Note: Palestine, Palestinian.] 215 f.; Stanley, SP [Note: P Sinai and Palestine.] 241; G. A. Smith, HGHL [Note: GHL Historical Geog. of Holy Land.] 367 f., 676; Sanday, Sacred Sites, 31ff., 91; PEFMem. ii. 172 f.; PEFSt [Note: EFSt Quarterly Statement of the same.] , 1897, pp. 96, 149, 196; Expos. Times, v. [1893] 97 f.

A. W. Cooke.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Jacob's Well'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. 1906-1918.

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