Jacob’s Well in Samaria
Jacob’s Well in Samaria – The History of the Samaritans
Jacob’s Well still exists in the ancient land of Samaria. Samaria was the land between Judaea and Galilee. In 722 BC, the Assyrians conquered this area and hauled most of the Israelites into captivity. According to Assyrian records, new inhabitants were brought in from the east, forming a new population. This mixture of indigenous Israelites with imported Assyrians is thought to be the beginning of the Samaritan people.
Later in the 6th century BC, when the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem to rebuild their temple, the new population of Samaritans in the north wasn’t invited to participate. They were considered “half-breeds,” with an impure mix of Judaism and “outside” religious customs.
So, after being snubbed, the Samaritans built their own temple on Mount Gerizim in Samaria about 330 BC. This became their holy mountain, and they changed some passages in the Hebrew Scriptures to reflect that. Simply, Jews and Samaritans didn’t get along ever since.
But, Jesus was a unique Jewish rabbi. It seems he made a point of travelling through the region from time to time, especially when he travelled between Galilee and Jerusalem. His message was for everyone -- including these so-called, “outcasts.”
Jacob’s Well in Samaria – The Samaritan Woman at the Well
Today, Jacob’s Well in Samaria lies within the monastery complex of the Eastern Orthodox Church in Nablus, a part of the Palestinian West Bank. Jacob’s Well is also about 250 feet from the archaeological ruins of ancient Shechem. Shechem has a long history in the Hebrew Scriptures, and was the first capital of the northern Kingdom of Israel.
On one occasion in the Gospels, Jesus had a conversation with a Samaritan woman by a well – Jacob’s Well. This well was already a sacred site at the time of Jesus, since Jacob, the grandson of Abraham, and his family and livestock drank from it.
The Gospel of John tells us:
So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about noon.
When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?”
The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)
Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”
“Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his livestock?”
Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”
The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.” (John 4:4-15)
Then Jesus revealed things to the woman that he couldn’t have known. How she had many husbands and was now living with a man that she wasn’t married to. He lovingly confronted her about her past, and she acknowledged her wrongdoing. The Samaritan woman repented of her past and told her townspeople that she had met the Messiah. Over the next two days, Jesus stayed with them and many believed what he had to say.
According to Christian Orthodox tradition, the Samaritan woman’s story at Jacob’s Well was so powerful that many became followers of Jesus, including her five sisters and two sons. The disciples heard of her experience with Jesus and came to baptize her, giving her the name “Photini,” meaning, “enlightened one.” Thus, the name of the Greek Orthodox Church in Nablus is “St. Photini the Samaritan.” Deep inside this church is the ancient site of Jacob’s Well in Samaria, which has been venerated by Christian pilgrims since the early 4th century AD.