Nablus (Shechem) PDF Print E-mail
Written by Stephen Langfur
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Nablus (Shechem)
Ancient Shechem

Jacob's Well

"Jacob's well is one of the authentic Christian sites: its identity with what is told in the New Testament is not subject to doubt" (Madrich Yisra'el Vol. 8, p. 384).

There are a number of reasons for this certainty, but the basic one is that wells do not move, and this is the only well in the region. Indeed, it is strange to find a well here, since there are many springs nearby. In the 1860's and 70's, British explorers heard water gushing everywhere in the pass between Ebal and Gerizim, where there are more than twenty springs. Remains of water-driven flour mills are visible there. According to John 3:23, the Baptist "was baptizing in Aenon near Salim." Salim is the name of a village three miles east of Shechem, and Aenon means springs. "Aenon near Salim" may have been four large springs on the eastern edge of Mt. Gerizim.

John's Gospel locates the well at a town called Sychar, whose name is preserved in the village of Askar, a kilometer to the north. Sychar too had a spring. The Mishnah calls it Ein Sychar, "the spring of Sychar." (And see G.A. Smith, pp. 240 - 246.)

With so many springs, why would anyone go to the trouble of digging a vertical shaft 137 feet into the earth?

Yet someone did, for here it is.
The British explorers quote a medical missionary, Dr. H.J. Bailey: "The respective qualities of various supplies of water are a favourite topic with Easterners, and in a hot climate, where other beverages are almost unknown, the natives are great connoisseurs. From the nature of the soil the springs at Nablus are mostly of very hard water, 'heavy' as the natives say. Not unjustly they attribute many of their complaints to this, and long for the 'light' waters of Gaza and other places. Now Jacob's Well has among them the repute of containing cool, palatable, refreshing water, free from the deleterious qualities of their other supplies. Frequently I have been told that after a hearty meal (which with them is appalling) a draught of this water will disperse the feeling of abnormal fulness in a short time. The fountain at El-'Askar gushes from the limestone of Mount Ebal, and is of particularly hard or 'heavy' water. ....It is not uncommon in the East to send a great distance for drinking water, especially among those who can afford to do so" (Palestine Exploration Fund Quarterly, 1897, p. 149 ff., quoted in G.A. Smith, pp. 245-46).

It was the quest for better water, then, that may have led someone to dig this well, just as it led the woman to travel more than half a mile for it, passing springs on her way.

John 4:5-6 locates the well in Sychar, "near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob's well was there." Both Genesis 33:19 and Joshua 24:32 refer to this plot of ground. Despite the circuitous drive we take today, the well is a stone's throw from Tel Balata, ancient Shechem, and the traditional Joseph's Tomb. We might be tempted with St. Jerome to identify Sychar with Shechem, but two of his predecessors, Eusebius of Caesarea and the Pilgrim of Bordeaux, take care to distinguish the two while placing them very near.

In any case, there simply is no other well in the region. The Byzantines built a cross-shaped church with the well in its center. Its remains became the crypt of a Crusader church. The Greek Orthodox restored this crypt in the nineteenth century: in it we stand when we visit the well today.  In 1914 they began to rebuild the church itself, but their money came largely from Tzarist Russia, and the revolution stopped the flow. Since the collapse of the Soviet Union in 1990, they have resumed the work.

"The well is deep," said the woman. It is about 115 feet (35 meters) to the surface of the water and 137 feet (42 m.) to the bottom. Here we may read the text.

For security reasons, one should check with the Israeli and Palestinian authorities before visiting Jacob's Well.

Modest dress required.

Open: 9:00-12:00, 14:00-16:00 (17:00 in summer). It is often open in the break as well.

Rest rooms available for a small fee.  

Telephone: 09-2375123