Jacob's Well

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Jacob's Well
Jacob's Well 1839.jpg
"Jacobs Well at Shechem April 17th 1839", in The Holy Land, Syria, Idumea, Arabia, Egypt, and Nubia
Map showing the West Bank
Map showing the West Bank
Shown within the West Bank
LocationNear Tell Balata, West Bank
Coordinates32°12′43″N 35°16′40″E / 32.211944°N 35.277778°E / 32.211944; 35.277778
The Greek Orthodox St. Photini Church at Bir Ya'qub in 2008

Jacob's Well (Arabic: بئر يعقوب‎, Bir Ya'qub, Greek: Φρέαρ του Ιακώβ, Fréar tou Iakóv, Hebrew: באר יעקב‎, Be'er Yaaqov; also known as Jacob's fountain and Well of Sychar) is a deep well constructed from rock that has been associated in religious tradition with Jacob for roughly two millennia. It is situated a short distance from the archaeological site of Tell Balata, which is thought to be the site of biblical Shechem.[1]

The well currently lies within the complex of an Eastern Orthodox monastery of the same name, in the city of Nablus in the West Bank.[2][3]

Religious significance[edit]

Jesus and the Samaritan woman at Jacob's Well

Jewish, Samaritan, Christian, and Muslim traditions all associate the well with Jacob.[2] The well is not specifically mentioned in the Old Testament, but Genesis 33:18–20 states that when Jacob returned to Shechem from Paddan Aram, he camped "before" the city and bought the land on which he pitched his tent and erected an altar. Biblical scholars contend that the plot of land is the same one upon which Jacob's Well was constructed.[2][3]

Jacob's Well is mentioned by name once in the New Testament in a passage (John 4:5–6) which says that Jesus "came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the field which Jacob gave to his son Joseph. Jacob's well was there." [2] John's Gospel goes on to describe a conversation between Jesus and a Samaritan woman (called Photini in Orthodox tradition), which took place while Jesus was resting at the well after a tiring journey.[4] (John 4:7–15) The site is counted as a Christian holy site.


The writings of pilgrims indicate that Jacob's Well has been situated within different churches built at the same site over time.[2][3] By the 330s CE, the site had been identified as the place where Jesus held his conversation with the Samaritan woman, and was probably being used for Christian baptisms.[5] By AD 384, a cruciform church was built over the site, and is mentioned in the 4th century writings of Saint Jerome.[5] This church was most likely destroyed during the Samaritan revolts of 484 or 529.[5] Subsequently, rebuilt by Justinian, this second Byzantine era church was still standing in the 720s, and possibly into the early 9th century.[5]

The Byzantine church was definitely in ruins by the time the Crusaders occupied Nablus in August 1099; early 12th-century accounts by pilgrims to the site speak of the well without mentioning a church.[5] There are later 12th-century accounts of a newly built church at Jacob's Well. The first such definitive account comes from Theoderic, who writes: "The well ... is a half a mile distant from the city Nablus: it lies in front of the altar in the church built over it, in which nuns devote themselves to the service of God. This well is called the Fountain of Jacob."[5] This Crusader era church was constructed in 1175, likely due to the support of Queen Melisande, who was exiled to Nablus in 1152 where she lived until her death in 1161.[6] This church appears to have been destroyed following Saladin's victory over the Crusaders in the Battle of Hittin in 1187.[2][3]

In March 1697, when Henry Maundrell visited Jacob's Well, the depth of the water in the well measured 15 feet (4.6 m).[3][7] Edward Robinson visited the site in the mid-19th century, describing the "remains of the ancient church," lying just above the well to the southwest as a "shapeless mass of ruins, among which are seen fragments of gray, granite columns, still retaining their ancient polish."[8] Local Christians continued to venerate the site even when it was without a church. In 1860, the site was obtained by the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate and a new church, consecrated to St. Photini the Samaritan, was built in 1893 along with a small monastery.[9] The 1927 Jericho earthquake destroyed that building.

The dome of St. Photini Church at Bir Ya'qub, as photographed from inside in 2008

Since the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, Jacob's Well has been a site of contention between Christians and Jews. In November 1979, at a time of increased tensions on the West Bank, the custodian of the well, Archimandrite Philoumenos, was found hatcheted to death inside the crypt housing the well. The assailant, a mentally ill resident of Tel Aviv, was apprehended three years later and confessed to that slaying and others, including an assault on a nun at the monastery and the axe murder of a Jewish psychiatrist in Tel Aviv.[9][10][11][12] In 2009, the Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem declared Philoumenos a saint thirty years after his death.

Abuna (meaning "Father") Ioustinos, a well-respected Greek Orthodox priest in Nablus, later spearheaded a huge reconstruction project. Jacob's Well has since been restored and a new church modelled along the designs of the Crusader-era church houses the well inside it, in a crypt on a lower level.[6]

Physical description and location[edit]

The well in 1934
Jacob's Well in 2013. Photo taken with permission on a rare day the eucharist was not being celebrated.

Jacob's Well is located 76 meters (249 ft) from Tell Balata in the eastern part of the city of Nablus within the grounds of the Bir Ya'qub monastery.[2][6] The well is accessed by entering the church on the monastery grounds, and descending the stairs to a crypt where the well still stands, along with "a small winch, a bucket, ex-voto icons and lots of lit candles." Joseph's Tomb, a related site, is located just north of Jacob's Well in an Ottoman era building marked by a white dome.[13]

According to Major Anderson, who visited the site in 1866, the well has

"a narrow opening, just wide enough to allow the body of a man to pass through with arms uplifted, and this narrow neck, which is about 4 ft. long, opens into the well itself, which is cylindrically shaped, and opens about 7 ft. 6 in. in diameter. The well and upper part of the well are built of masonry, and the well appears to have been sunk through a mixture of alluvial soil and limestone fragments, till a compact bed of mountain limestone was reached, having horizontal strata which could be easily worked; and the interior of the well presents the appearance of having been lined throughout with rough masonry."[2]

Based on a measurement made in 1935, the total depth of the well is 41 meters (135 ft).[2]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Horne, 1856, pp. 50-51/
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h i Bromiley, 1982, p. 955.
  3. ^ a b c d e Hastings and Driver, 2004, pp. 535–537.
  4. ^ Becchio and Schadé, 2006. Listed under the entry for "Jacob's fountain".
  5. ^ a b c d e f Pringle and Leach, 1993, p. 258.
  6. ^ a b c "Bir Ya'qub (Jacob's Well)". PUSH (Promoting dialogue and cultural Understanding of our Shared Heritage. Archived from the original on 2008-12-15. Retrieved 2008-12-07.
  7. ^ Maundrell, p.105, p.106
  8. ^ Robinson and Smith, 1856, p. 132.
  9. ^ a b David Gurevich, and Yisca Harani. “Philoumenos of Jacob's Well: The Birth of a Contemporary Ritual Murder Narrative.” Israel Studies, vol. 22, no. 2, 2017, pp. 26–54. JSTOR, www.jstor.org/stable/10.2979/israelstudies.22.2.02.
  10. ^ "Charges Filed in Nablus Axe Murder Case". Jerusalem Post. 15 December 1982.
  11. ^ "TA eccentric 'confesses' to 1979 murders, police say". Jerusalem Post. 2 December 1982.
  12. ^ "Psychiatric Test for Confessed Slayer". The Jerusalem Post. 17 December 1982.
  13. ^ "Nablus, Holy Land". Atlas Tours. Retrieved 2008-12-07.


External links[edit]

Coordinates: 32°12′43″N 35°16′40″E / 32.21194°N 35.27778°E / 32.21194; 35.27778