Tag Archives: Samaria

Jacob’s Well — from Jacob to Jesus

Jesus came to Sychar, a city of Samaria, near the piece of land Jacob had owned (John 4:5; Genesis 33:19). The territory was apportioned to the descendants of Joseph, and Joseph was buried there at Shechem (Joshua 24:32). It was a place of great historic importance.

We are not able to speak with certainty regarding the location of Sychar. Some scholars associate the site with Shechem; others think it should be identified with the village of Askar which is located a short distance north. The traditional Jacob’s Well is located at Shechem in the valley between Mount Gerizim and Mount Ebal. The modern town of Nablus now fills this valley.

André Parrot says,

“Of all the ‘holy places’ of Palestine, none has more reason to be considered authentic than Jacob’s well. Indeed, there is no reason why its authenticity should be questioned” (Land of Christ 65).

Parrot describes the water as “cool and pleasant-tasting…drawn from a depth of 128 feet.” I have drunk the water several times, but in the past couple of decades my guides have advised against it due to pollution in the area.

The Samaritan woman said, “the well is deep” (John 4:11). Parrot reports the well is 128 feet deep. Murphy-O’Connor says it is 22.5 meters deep (about 74 feet). McGarvey cites several measurements mentioned in 19th century writers and reminds us that the well became filled with stones cast in by travelers trying to hear how long it would take a stone to hit the bottom (Lands of the Bible 283). He reports that the well was often dry.

There are numerous springs in the area of Shechem. Jacob, as a late-comer to the region, might have found it necessary to dig a well to assure water for his family and cattle.

A church was erected over the well about A.D. 380. The Crusaders built another church on the site in the 12th century. The property came under the control of the Greek Orthodox church in 1860. By the end of the 19th century the Greeks began a new church, but construction was halted during World War I. The last time I was at Jacob’s well (2000) construction had resumed and Murphy-O’Connor reports completion in 2007.

It has been difficult for groups to visit Jacob’s Well in recent years due to the situation in Nablus.

Jacob's Well. Most likely the well where Jesus met the woman of Samaria (John 4). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Jacob's Well. Most likely the well where Jesus met the woman of Samaria (John 4). Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

With this information, I leave it to you to study the great lessons of John 4. They are deep, too.

Final SBL report

Sunday afternoon I attended a session on Rome and Religion: A Cross-Disciplinary Dialogue. The featured speaker was Karl Galinsky, a distinguished professor of classics from the University of Texas. His topic was The Cult of the Roman Emperor: Uniter or Divider. Galinsky began by saying that he was pleased to see that New Testament scholars had finally discovered the “historic context of the New Testament.”

Galinsky emphasized that the Emperor cult existed. He said that we must not think of it as the prominent cult, but as being intertwined with the other cults known throughout the Roman Empire. Another speaker, Barbette Stanley Spaeth, cited evidence of the emperor cult in Corinth. I found the information significant in the study of the book of Revelation as well as the epistles of Paul.

A Travel Note: The photo below shows an inscription which is now displayed in the garden of the archaeology museum in Bergama, Turkey (ancient Pergamum; Revelation 3:12-17). The inscription states that Pergamum was metropolis of Asia and twice NEOKOROS. This last word was the one commonly used when a city of Asia Minor was awarded the right to build a temple to the Emperor. This type of information must be taken into account when we consider the setting of the Book of Revelation.

Inscription at Pergamum claiming that the city was twice NEOKOROS. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Inscription at Pergamum claiming that the city was twice NEOKOROS. Photo by Ferrell Jenkins.

Monday morning I attended another session on Biblical Lands and Peoples in Archaeology and Text. This one dealt with Samaria and the Samaritans. There were seven presenters. I especially enjoyed hearing Robert J. Bull of Drew University. Bull excavated a site called Tell er Ras on Mount Gerizim between 1964 and 1968 when it was under the control of the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. I enjoyed seeing his photos, drawings, and explanations. His work uncovered evidence of Hadrian’s temple in the early second century A.D. In more recent excavations Y. Magen claims to have discovered the Samaritan temple destroyed by John Hyrcanus. Magen was not present. Some of the speakers indicated that a final report has not been made by Magen and they did not comment on the matter.

This whole area is of great significance to students of the New Testament. The conversation between Jesus and the woman of Samarian dealt with this issue.

“Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.” (John 4:20).

John the Baptist and Samaria

I am in the process of preparing some material on John the Baptist in Biblical and Church History. There is a tradition that John was buried at Samaria. This is one of those late traditions that reflect the understanding of believers in the centuries following the time of John.

Jerome Murphy-O’Connor makes some comments on this in the fifth edition of The Holy Land. See our earlier reference to the book here.

Christian tradition very quickly (before 361) identified Samaria as the site of the infamous birthday party at which Herod Antipas had John the Baptist executed (Mark 6:17-29). With greater probability Josephus locates the murder at Machaerus in Jordan (Antiquities 18:119). This information, however, was not available to all Christians, and the much more accessible Samaria was associated with the name of Herod, who had held a wedding party there and much later executed two of his sons there. The fact that the two Herod’s were father and son would not have bothered the popular credulous mind. Two churches were built in John’s honour, one near Herod’s temple and the other in the modern village. (The Holy Land, 5th edition, 461)

Samaria is in the West Bank of Israel, under the Palestinian Authority. It has been impossible to visit Samaria on a regular basis for many years. My last visit was in 2000, but I was trying to use the “latest” in digital technology. The photos are not very good. Another thing to remember about important sites like this is that they are not well maintained. Here is a photo of the Church of St. John that I have scanned from a 1984 slide.

At the Biblical Studies Info Page I keep a list of good sources for photos (check Scholarly, then Photos). None of these have a photo of this site. On May 19, 2005, some scholars associated with the Studium Biblicum Franciscanum in Jerusalem made a visit to Sebaste (Samaria). There are several good photos of approximately 800 x 600 pixels, with commentary. These are stashed away in the archives of the web site. Perhaps you can access them here. These photos include the Iron Age site belonging to the time of the Divided Kingdom, and the Herodian and Roman site from the time of the New Testament (Acts 8).

Here is a comment from the Franciscan site about the two churches at Sebaste identified with John.

The Alleged Discovery of the Baptist’s Head. It is not known what happened to the head consigned to Herodias; but as early as the fourth century, stories begin to appear about the finding of the supposed relic. One such inventio took place in Sebaste in the place regarded as the Baptist’s prison. A church associated with this discovery was erected near the acropolis, while the large church containing the tomb was below to the east, in the cemetery area.

The cathedral from the mid-12th century, now a mosque, is said to enshrine the tomb of John the Baptist. The church is in the village of Sebaste. I am taking the liberty of showing you the photo of the exterior of the church from the SBF web site.