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Jacob’s Well

West Bank

 

Jacob’s Well, where Jesus asked a Samaritan woman for a drink and offered her “living water”, lies in the crypt of a modern Greek Orthodox church at Nablus in the West Bank.

Jacob's Well

Mouth of Jacob’s Well (Seetheholyland.net)

It is often considered the most authentic site in the Holy Land — since no one can move a well that was originally more than 40 metres deep.

Jewish, Samaritan, Christian and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob.

The location, at the entrance to a mountain pass between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal, is 2km east of Nablus. It is near the archaeological site of Tell Balata — thought to be the biblical Shechem — and about 63km north of Jerusalem.

It was at Shechem that the patriarch Jacob bought “the land on which he had pitched his tent” (Genesis 33:19).

The Samaritan woman reminded Jesus that Jacob “gave us the well, and with his sons and his flocks drank from it”. He told her he was the promised Messiah, and she and many residents of her village believed in him. (John 4:5-42)

 

Samaritan woman venerated as martyr

Access to Jacob’s Well is by entering the Church of St Photina and descending stairs in front of the iconostasis to the crypt.

Photina (Svetlana in Russian) is the name Orthodox tradition has given to the Samaritan woman. She is venerated as a martyr who was flayed alive and thrown down a well in Rome by the emperor Nero.

Jacob's Well

Interior of Church of St Photina (Seetheholyland.net)

A masonry structure surrounds the mouth of the well. On it stands a metal-framed pulley with a coil of rope long enough to reach the water.

A neck section about 50cm across and 1.2 metres deep opens into a shaft about 2.5 metres in diameter, hewn through solid rock.

Though the Samaritan woman told Jesus “the well is deep” (John 4:11), measurements of the depth have varied over the years, due to accumulation of debris (and stones dropped by curious visitors).

A depth of more than 40 metres recorded in 1935 had reduced to something over 20 metres by the 21st century. In ancient times the well was sunk much deeper, probably twice as far.

At times Jacob’s Well has been dry in summer.

 

Samaria was a ‘no-go’ area

Because of friction between Jews and Samaritans, the territory of Samaria was usually a “no-go” area for Galileans travelling to or from Jerusalem.

Jacob's Well

Icon of Jesus and Samaritan woman, in Church of St Photina (Seetheholyland.net)

The Gospel of Luke (9:51-55) tells of a Samaritan village that refused to receive Jesus because he was going to Jerusalem (on that occasion two of his disciples wanted to bring fire from heaven down on the village).

Samaritans have their origins in Judaism but, as the woman at the well pointed out to Jesus (John 4:20), they worship on Mount Gerizim rather than in Jerusalem.

They also regard Moses as the only prophet and accept only the first five books of the Old Testament (the Books of Moses, or the Torah).

The Samaritans at one time numbered in the hundreds of thousands but by 2007 only 700 remained, living mostly at Mount Gerizim and near Tel Aviv.

 

Succession of churches on the site

Pilgrims’ writings refer to Christian veneration of Jacob’s Well from the 3rd century. The earliest source, the anonymous Pilgrim of Bordeaux, mentions a bath (presumed to be a baptistry) that took its water from the well.

Jacob's Well

Church of St Photina at Jacob’s Well (Tiamat / Wikimedia)

A cruciform church built around 380 was the first of a succession of churches erected over the well. One of them appears in the 6th-century Madaba mosaic map.

In 1860 the Greek Orthodox Church acquired the property and began restoring the crypt. Construction of a new church was hindered by the 1917 Russian Revolution, which halted Russian funding, and by an earthquake in 1927.

The present church, completed in 2007, is modelled on a basilica from the Crusader era. In an attractive setting of trees and pot plants, it is well-lit, spacious and airy — a contrast to older Orthodox churches in the Holy Land.

Framed icons in modern style and bright colours are fixed to walls and ceilings, rather than being rendered on to these surfaces.

 

Place of conflict and violence

Nablus was an arena of conflict between militant Palestinians and the Israel Defence Force during the Second Intifada, between 2000 and 2005, but has since rebuilt itself as an industrial and commercial centre.

Jacob’s Well has also been a site of contention and violence. In 1979 a Zionist group claimed it as a Jewish holy place and demanded that crosses and icons be removed. A week later the custodian, Archimandrite Philoumenos, was butchered to death in the crypt and the church was desecrated. No one was ever convicted of his murder.

Jacob's Well

Remains of Archimandrite Philoumenos in Church of St Photina (© vizAziz)

The remains of Archimandrite Philoumenos are venerated in the right-hand chapel of the Church of St Photina.

North of Jacob’s Well is a related site, Joseph’s Tomb. This white-domed tomb is believed to be where the bones of Jacob’s son Joseph were buried after being brought back from Egypt (Joshua 24:32).

 

In Scripture: Jesus and the woman at the well: John 4:5-42

Administered by: Greek Orthodox Church

Tel.: 972-2-2375123

Open: 9am-1pm, 2pm-5pm; ring the bell

 

 

References

Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Walker, Peter: In the Steps of Jesus (Zondervan, 2006)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

The Geographical, Historical & Spiritual Significance of Shechem (Biblical Studies Foundation)
Samaritans (Wikipedia)
The Samaritan Update (The-Samaritans.com)

 

 

Jericho

West Bank

Jericho

Sign for world’s oldest city (© Visitpalestine.ps)

It’s reputed to be the oldest town on earth, with stories to match. The Israelites supposedly brought down its walls with a great shout and trumpet blasts. Here Jesus healed Bartimaeus, the blind beggar, and dined with Zacchaeus, the rich tax collector. And both Cleopatra and Herod the Great coveted this lush oasis.

Jericho (the name means “City of palms”) is mentioned 70 times in the Old Testament.

In perhaps the most famous battle in the Bible, it was the first town captured by the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land. But did “the walls come tumbling down”, as the song says? Archaeologists are divided on whether Joshua’s Israelites did in fact demolish a walled city.

Water from Jericho’s powerful perennial spring provides irrigation for abundant fruit, flowers and spices. “When the orange and lemon trees are in bloom, in the spring, the air is so heavy with their perfume that the visitor is sure he could bottle some of it and take it home with him,” writes archaeologist Godfrey Kloetzli.

The spring is associated with the prophet Elisha, who purified its waters by throwing salt into it.

Mound rose as towns were destroyed

Jericho

Ancient tower at Tell es-Sultan (Seetheholyland.net)

The first hunter-gatherers settled here around 9000 BC. Archaeologists have unearthed the remains of more than 20 successive settlements at Tell es-Sultan (or Sultan’s Hill), a sun-baked earthen mound two kilometres north of the present city.

The 15-metre mound was formed over the centuries as towns were destroyed and new ones built on their rubble. The most striking discovery unearthed is a thick-walled stone tower, 7 metres high and 7.6 metres across, dating back to 7000 BC.

Besides being the oldest town on earth, Jericho is also the lowest (more than 250 metres below sea level).

City of priests and Levites

Since Jericho was on the normal route from Galilee to Jerusalem, Jesus passed through it several times.

Jericho

Sycamore described as Zaccheus’ tree (Seetheholyland.net)

Near the centre of the city, a centuries-old sycamore tree recalls the incident in which the tax collector Zacchaeus, too short to see over the crowd, climbed a sycamore’s branches in order to see Jesus. (The African sycamore fig should not be confused with the sycamore of Europe and North America, which is a different species.)

At a nearby Greek Orthodox monastery, the trunk of a dead sycamore behind a glass frame is also described as the tax collector’s tree.

Jesus chose the steep, rocky road from Jerusalem down to Jericho as the setting for the parable of the Good Samaritan.

In this parable, Jesus describes the compassion of an alien (the Samaritan) towards a man who had been beaten and robbed, contrasting it with the pitiless attitude of a priest and a Levite who had “passed by on the other side” of the road.

At that time, Jericho was one of the cities designated for the residence of priests and Levites rostered for duty in the Temple, about 28 kilometres away. About 12,000 priests and Levites are believed to have lived there, and they were a familiar sight on the road.

 

Cleopatra wanted a perfume

In 35 BC the Roman politician Mark Antony made a gift of Jericho to his lover Cleopatra of Egypt. Cleopatra had coveted the oasis because she wanted to control the plantations of persimmon (now extinct), which produced a perfume that reputedly “drove men wild”.

Later Cleopatra leased Jericho to Herod the Great at an exorbitant fee that cost him almost half Judea’s income. After Mark Antony and Cleopatra died, Herod gained ownership of the city. He built a palatial residence and died there in 4 BC.

 

In Scripture:

Joshua captures Jericho: Joshua 6:1-21

Elisha purifies the spring: 2 Kings:19-22

Zacchaeus meets Jesus: Luke 19:1-10

Jesus heals Bartimaeus: Mark 10:46-52

The Good Samaritan: Luke 10:25-37

 

Administered by: Palestinian National Authority.

 

 

References

Charlesworth, James H.: The Millennium Guide for Pilgrims to the Holy Land (BIBAL Press, 2000)
Freeman-Grenville, G. S. P.: The Holy Land: A Pilgrim’s Guide to Israel, Jordan and the Sinai (Continuum Publishing, 1996)
Gonen, Rivka: Biblical Holy Places: An illustrated guide (Collier Macmillan, 1987)
Inman, Nick, and McDonald, Ferdie (eds): Jerusalem & the Holy Land (Eyewitness Travel Guide, Dorling Kindersley, 2007)
Kloetzli, Godfrey: “Jericho”, Holy Land, summer 2004.
Murphy-O’Connor, Jerome: The Holy Land: An Oxford Archaeological Guide from Earliest Times to 1700 (Oxford University Press, 2005)
Wareham, Norman, and Gill, Jill: Every Pilgrim’s Guide to the Holy Land (Canterbury Press, 1996)

 

External links

Jericho (BiblePlaces)
Jericho (Custodia Terrae Sanctae)
History of City (Jericho Municipality)
Jericho — The Winter Palace of King Herod (Israel Ministry of Foreign Affairs)
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