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Jacob’s Well

Jacob’s Well in the New Testament

The Gospel of John is known for its unique narrative. John mentions several events and places that are not referred to in Matthew, Mark or Luke. One of these events is Jesus encounter with a Samaritan woman in Jacob’s Well. Such a well is not known from other historical sources, but the Gospel provides some clues of its location:

“Now [Jesus] had to go through Samaria. So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well” (John 4:5-6).

Here Jesus met a Samaritan woman who came to draw water from the well. Jesus explained to her the spiritual meaning of the “water of life.” A crowd gathered around them, and “many of the Samaritans from that town believed in him” (John 4:39). Jesus stayed two days with them, and then continued his journey to Galilee.


Where is Jacob’s Well?

The two place names mentioned in this event are intriguing. “Jacob’s well” is not really an accurate translation of the Greek text, which literally reads “Jacob’s spring.” Yet apparently the water source is a well, because the Samaritan woman stated, “the well is deep” (John 4:11). Such a place is not known from the Old Testament, nor in the writings of the first century CE historian, Josephus.

“Sychar” is also not mentioned anywhere in these sources, but two ancient Greek versions of the New Testament (Sinaiticus and Curentonian Syrian) use the word “Suchem”, instead of “Sychar”. “Suchem” is no doubt Biblical Shechem, a city that was also a Samaritan center in antiquity. Furthermore, the Old Testament records that Jacob purchased a plot in the city of Shechem (Genesis 33:18-19), and before his death he gave the land to his son Joseph (Genesis 48:22). Later Joseph was buried there (Joshua 24:32). This is un doubtfully the “plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph” mentioned in John 4:5.

The earliest mention of the site is in the writing the fourth century historian and geographer Eusebius. He states that Jacob’s well is near Shechem, and that “now a church has been built there” (Eusebius, Onomasticon 164:1-4). The Madaba mosaic map, a cartographic description of the Holy Land from the sixth century CE, also depicts the site, as red-roofed building near Shechem. It labels it as “Here is Jacob’s well.”


Visiting Jacob’s Well

jacobs well

The location of this site is preserved to this day, in the heart of Modern Schechem, and near the mound of Biblical Shechem (Tel Balata). A church was built over it in the Byzantine period, and again in the time of the Crusaders. In 1885 the Greek Orthodox Church purchased the property of Jacob’s well and began building a modern church at the site, It was completed a hundred years later. The well itself is in a crypt beneath the church.


The Temple on Mount Gerizim

In her discussion with Jesus at Jacob’s well, the Samaritan woman referred to an adjacent mountain, of which she said, “Our fathers worshipped on this mountain” (John 4:20). The mountain that the Samaritans have venerated from antiquity is Mt Gerizim. In the fourth century BCE the Samaritans built a temple on top of the mountain, but it was later destroyed by the Hasmoneans. Furthermore, in the fifth century CE, following a Samaritan rebellion, the Byzantines built a church on top of the ruins of the Samaritan temple, which can be seen to this day.

Despite the persecutions, which continued also under Muslim rule, the Samaritans managed to retain their religious identity and worship and continue to venerate their holy mountain to this day. Every year they still perform the traditional Samaritan Passover ceremony, which includes the sacrifice of lambs, in strict conformity with the Mosaic injunctions in Exodus (12:2ff).

 

 


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Points of Interest in the Area

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