“Now Jacob came safely to the city of Shechem, which is in the land of Canaan, when he came from Paddan-aram, and camped before the city. He bought the piece of land where he had pitched his tent from the hand of the sons of Hamor, Shechem’s father, for one hundred pieces of money. Then he erected there an altar and called it El-Elohe-Israel” (Genesis 33:18-20).
“And He had to pass through Samaria. So He came to a city of Samaria called Sychar, near the parcel of ground that Jacob gave to his son Joseph; and Jacob’s well was there. So Jesus, being wearied from His journey, was sitting thus by the well. It was about the sixth hour.
There came a woman of Samaria to draw water. Jesus said to her, ‘Give Me a drink.’ For His disciples had gone away into the city to buy food. Therefore, the Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘How is it that You, being a Jew, ask me for a drink since I am a Samaritan woman?’ (For Jews have no dealings with Samaritans). Jesus answered and said to her, ‘If you knew the gift of God, and who it is who says to you, ‘Give Me a drink,’ you would have asked Him, and He would have given you living water.’
She said to Him, ‘Sir, You have nothing to draw with and the well is deep; where then do You get that living water?’ You are not greater than our father Jacob, are You, who gave us the well, and drank of it himself and his sons and his cattle?’ Jesus answered and said to her, ‘Everyone who drinks of this water will thirst again; but whoever drinks of the water that I will give him shall never thirst; but the water that I will give him will become in him a well of water springing up to eternal life.'
The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, give me this water, so I will not be thirsty nor come all the way here to draw.’ He said to her, ‘Go, call your husband and come here.’ The woman answered and said, ‘I have no husband.’ Jesus said to her, ‘You have correctly said, ‘I have no husband’; for you have had five husbands, and the one whom you now have is not your husband; this you have said truly.’ The woman said to Him, ‘Sir, I perceive that You are a prophet. Our fathers worshiped in this mountain, and you people say that in Jerusalem is the place where men ought to worship.’
Jesus said to her, ‘Woman, believe Me, an hour is coming when neither in this mountain nor in Jerusalem will you worship the Father. You worship what you do not know; we worship what we know, for salvation is from the Jews. But an hour is coming, and now is, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth; for such people the Father seeks to be His worshipers. God is spirit, and those who worship Him must worship in spirit and truth.’
The woman said to Him, ‘I know that Messiah is coming (He who is called Christ); when that One comes, He will declare all things to us.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I who speak to you am He.’
At this point His disciples came, and they were amazed that He had been speaking with a woman, yet no one said, ‘What do You seek?’ or, ‘Why do You speak with her?’ So the woman left her waterpot, and went into the city and said to the men, ‘Come, see a man who told me all the things that I have done; this is not the Christ, is it?’ They went out of the city, and were coming to Him“ (John 4:4-30).
This passage shows a beautiful example of reconciliation between Samaritans and the Jews.
Jesus was uncompromising with the truth when He said, " you do not know what you worship, we worship what we know, for the salvation is from the Jews." He also sets a new ideal for all: "the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth."
The longtime rival and competition between the Jewish and Samaritan peoples began in the times of Ezra (4:1-5) during rebuilding of the Temple. Natives of the North wished to build the Temple with the newcomers to the Land - the Jews.
But Ezra refused because many of the Northerners were intermarried with the Gentiles. Then a leader of Samaritans decides to build a rival temple on Mount Gerizim, the Mount of Blessing and the hatred and hostility between the two nationalities continued. The Hasmonean King John Hyrcanus completely destroyed Samaritan temple. The Jewish Roman historian Flavius Josephus tells us:
"(Hyrcanus) had taken the city... he was not contended with doing that only, but he demolished it entirely."
The hostility continued in the time of Jesus,
“Do not go into the way of the Gentiles, and do not enter a city of the Samaritans. But go rather to the lost sheep of the house of Israel" (Matthew 10:5).
The parable about Good Samaritan was rather an exception than a rule during the time of Jesus.
“Jesus said: ‘A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead. A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side. So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. He went to him and bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn and took care of him. The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’ he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’
Which of these three do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” The expert in the law replied, ‘The one who had mercy on him.’ Jesus told him, ‘Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:30-37).
Here at the well, Jesus reconciles the two by setting a new level in relationship with God and among both groups.
The famous well associated with the Gospel narrative is in the South East of the Biblical city Shechem. Arabs call it Nablus, most likely after Flavia Neapolis, the name given to the city by Roman Emperor Vespasian. The name of the well in Arabic is Bir Ya'akub and Frear to Iakov in Greek. The Gospel of John calls the place Sychar and the etymology of that name remains obscure.
The ancient Church Father Eusebius mentions the well in his manuscript called the Onomasticon which is a geographical description of the Holy Land. Another important witness of the well’s existence is that of Jerome who lived in the Land in the 4th to 5th century.
Rabbinical scholars do not consider Jacob’s Well holy or authentic based on the absence of the Old Testament sources. In Genesis 33, the region is identified but there is no mention of a well.
Perhaps the identification and veneration of the site began during the period of the Byzantine Christian period of the Land or possibly earlier. The first church here was built in 384 AD but destroyed during the Samaritan revolt against the Byzantine Empire in either 484 AD or or 529 AD. Emperor Justinian rebuilt the church in 565AD but again it was completely destroyed by the earthquake in 749 AD. Crusader Queen Melisande rebuilt the church once again in 1131–1153 AD.
The church and well were rediscovered din 1838 by Edward Robinson, American Christian biblical scholar, researcher and author known for his book, Biblical Researches in Palestine, and was known as the “Father of Biblical Geography.” In 1860, the Greek Patriarchy rebuilt and renovated the church but it was destroyed by another strong earthquake in 1927.
In 1935, a British team established the depth of the well at 41m (135 feet). The church was reconstructed in the 1990s and named after the same Samaritan woman, Photina, the traditional name given to her by Eastern Christians.
Throughout history, the site of Jacob’s Well has been a site of contention between the Jews and Christians, both claiming it as a sacred place. Tragedy struck on November 29, 1979, when Father Archimandrite Philoumenos, the guardian of the Monastery of Jacob's Well, was murdered with a hatchet by a mentally ill Jewish man from Tel Aviv. Greek Orthodox Patriarchate of Jerusalem declared Father Philoumenos a saint thirty years after his death and he is buried beside the alter in the Church.