Jacobs Well

Gen 33v19 – it was purchased. Gen 48v22 it was repossessed.

These are notes without any references, I will try to find out where I got them…..In 607AD it was said to be 204ft deep. In 1697AD it was said to be 106ft deep. In 1861 it was said to be 75ft deep, when other dimensions were also taken. !8" diameter at the top for 4ft depth, then it became 7½ft diameter. It was dug through a thick bed of soil to limestone rock. It was a rain-pit, not a well to a spring. The water was about 12ft to 15ft deep at times, but sometimes it dries up. The mouth and upper part has a masonry lining. The rest has the look of being lines. It is near springs which run east from Mt Gerzim?. There was a fifth Century Chapel built over it, which became derelict, although it was open for use. It was then enshrined in marble.


Schofield counted at least 80 springs around the valley of Jacobs Well. The small village nearby was known as Sycar (or Shechem of the Old Testament). The modern name is Nablus Askar. "Formerly there was a square hole opening into a vaulted chamber 15ft square in the floor of which was the wells mouth. The vault has fallen so that stones have fallen in and much reduced its original depth. In Mandrell’s time it was 105ft. Now it is often dry. At other times it has a few feet of water"


Cespari (in Introduction to the life of Christ - Chronicles and Geography) says Sychar originally extended further to the South, and consequentially, a large part of it lay near the mouth of Jacobs Well than to the fountain, Ain el Askar at the North side of the valley of Nabulus, towards the East.


In 'The Land and the Book' by W.M.Thompson, published in 1861, he mentions that Jacobs Well was "now deserted, and the surrounding terrace of rude masonry broken down so there is nothing distinctive or striking about ir"

F.W.Farrar was there in 1868 (Life of Christ by F.W.Farrar).
Not far from Jacob’s well - which is one of the very few precise spots in Palestine actually and closely identified by probability, as well as by unanimous tradition, with our Saviour’s presence—there gushes a sweet and abundant stream. The fact that even the close vicinity of the fountain should not have been enough to render needless the toil of Jacob in digging the well—which is of immense depth—forcibly illustrates the jealousy end suspicion that marked his relations to the neighbouring Canaanites. I sat by Jacob’s well at noon one April day in 1870, hot and thirsty and tired. The well is now dry - and, in fact, all that can be seen of it is a pit some twenty feet deep - the true well (or, at any rate, the mouth of it) ~ having been filled up with masses of rubble and masonry from the basilica once built over it. Captain Anderson descended it to a depth of seventy-five feet, and it may have been twice that depth originally (Work in Palestine, p. 201). Riding on to the stream, I asked for some water, and to my extreme surprise, for it never happened on any other occasion, was refused. I can only suppose that the cup which the Arab had in his hand was in some way sacred, and he did not wish it to be touched by a Nesrdny.


The Palestine Exploration Fund in April 1877 gives this account – "Those of the South of Sychar would go to Jacobs Well rather than to the other springs, being only ten minutes walk away. The true mouth of the well is but four feet long and opens into the well itself, which is 7½ft in diameter. The vaulted chamber was probably the crypt of the church built over the well in the fourth century. Dr Roger and Miss Peach have contributed £150 for clearing the well and protecting it with stonework

The early photograph that we often get of Jacob’s Well, of a lady by a well does not fit in with the other descriptions and photographs of Jacob’s Well. This photograph could be Joab’s Well near Bethlehem.

There are two other early photographs I have of Jacob’s Well included here, and two other descriptions of the well in the 1890s, that I hope to find amongst my books, both showing that the well was in a bad state of repair between 1850 and 1900. One account says that it was half full of stones and they cleaned it out. They said they tied an Arab boy by his ankles and lowered him down to inspect it. It was 75ft deep and 9ft diameter, and was stone-lined for most of its depth. The top stone had a 4ft diameter hole in it. Wells in villages and towns are quite prominent, but if they were outside villages and towns the top was usually beneath the ground, I suppose to hide it from strangers who could use all the water. As you can see, the mouth of Jacob’s Well was well below the surface of the ground.


'Earthly Footsteps of the Man of Galillee'
by Bishop John H. Vincent
Has this comment to the photograph above, when he visited the well in 1894 --------
"Jacobs Well now belongs to a Greek Church. The Keeper of the Church wanted our names in a book and make a contribution towards the building of a new church over the well. We told him that we did not think that a church ought to be built there at all. He seemed to think that this was a cheap argument to avoid giving him money. The well is now seventy five feet deep and seven feet six inches in breadth. The diameter of the opening is seventeen and a half feet. A ruined vault stands above the well twenty feet long, ten feet broad and six feet high. The pieces of broken marble you see in the front belong to some ancient church."


The Illustrated Bible Dictionary by M.G.Easton M.A. gives another picture of the top half of the well with three cheeky Arab boys taken in about 1900 and has this commentary.

"Dug by Jacob in the parcel of ground which he purchased from the sons of Hamor (Gen 33v19). It still exists but although after copious rains, it contains a little water, it is now usually quite dry. It is at the entrance of the valley between Ebal and Gerizim, about 2 miles South-East of Shechem. It is about 9ft in diameter and about 75ft in depth, although in ancient times it was no doubt much deeper, probably twice as deep. The digging of such a well must have been a labourious and costly undertaking. …."


Hugh Macmillan gives this account….

‘A series of buildings of various styles and of different ages have cumbered the ground, choked up the well and disfigured the natural beauty and simplicity of the spot. At present the rubbish in the well has been cleared out, but there is still a domed structure over it, and you gaze down the shaft cut in the living rock, and see at a depth of 70 ft the surface of the water glimmering with a pale blue light in the darkness, while you notice how the limestone blocks which form its curb have been worn smooth or else furrowed by the ropes of centuries.’

At the entrance to the enclosure round the well is planted in the ground one of the wooden poles that hold the telegraph wires between Jerusalem and Haifa.


‘The Holy Land and the Bible’ Special Edition Vol 4, by Cunningham Geikie, is undated but seems to be printed earlier than 1860 when the Church was restored. It has this account…

"Close to this site of the earliest sanctuary in the land is still to be seen the well which Jacob caused to be dug. As it is near magnificent springs gushing from the roots of Gerizim and flowing to the East his undertaking so heavy a task as sinking so deep a well and building a wall around the excavation can only be explained by the jealousy with which the Canaanites, like all Eastern peoples no doubt regard their own springs. To have entrusted to these would have been to invite trouble in the future.

This well of Samaria lies a little off the road on the right hand of the track skirting the left slope of the valley. Turning my horse down the rough side of the road it was a very short way over stony, unused ground to the sacred spot. There is nothing visible now above ground. A little chapel about twenty foot long once built over the well has long ago fallen, its stones lying in rough heaps outside and around the opening below.: not a few of them I fear at the bottom helping to fill up the shaft. The ground slopes up to the fragments of the broken down wall and you have to let yourself down as you best can to reach the well itself.

The Church dates from the fifth century, but, except these stones the only traces of it are some remains of tesselated pavements and carved stones which are hidden beneath rubbish but were seen by the Palestine Surveyors. Over the well is a great stone with a round hole in the middle large enough for the skin buckets of the peasantry to pass down. How old this covering is no one can say (Captain Condor thinks that it is certainly not older than the 12th Century).

But the well itself, beyond the possibility of doubt is that at the side of which, perhaps on some masonry long since gone, our blessed Lord sat, nearly nineteen hundred years ago, while the disciples had gone up to the little valley of Shechem a mile to the west….The well is seven feet and a half across and its depth, which some centuries ago was 105 feet, is still about 75ft. For ages, every visitor has thrown down stones to hear the echo when they strike the bottom. Thus the well is still "deep" and it must have been much deeper in the time of our Lord. It is cut through a thick bed of soil swept down in the course of ages by the rains from the hills on each side, and beneath this great deposit it passes through soft rock, the water filtering in through the sides to the depth occasionally of about 12ft, even yet though it is now dry in Summer, and sometimes for years together.

It is thus rather a beer or rain-pit than a spring well so that when our Lord told the woman that if she had asked him, he would have given her not rainwater such as she gave him, but "living water" it must have struck her greatly. Over forty years ago a boy was induced to allow himself to be let down for the apparently hopeless purpose of finding and bringing up a Bible dropped into the well accidentally three years before, and, strange to say, he found it, the bottom being quite dry at the time. The depth was then said to be exactly 75ft.

Captain Anderson also went down in 1866 but had a perilous descent, for after passing through the round hole in the covering stone, and through a narrow neck, four feet long, requiring him to raise his arms over his head, he fainted away, and only recovered consciousness after lying for a time, insensible on the stones below. The mouth and upper part of the well he found to be of masonry, with which, indeed, the whole of it had the appearance of having been lined.


Jacobs Well, today, is located in a dark crypt of a church, surrounded with icons and candles. A Byzantine Church was built over the well which was destroyed in 1187. In 1860, the Greek Orthodox Church restored the crypt, and in 1914 began the restoration of the Church. In 1960 "it was still unfinished. There were two small structures not unlike builders huts which cover two stone stairways down into the crypt. Water is drawn which is clear and drinkable".