Manners & Customs: Wells
Wells in the Ancient World
The word "well" to the average native of Israel has meant "spring" or "fountain," but in the Bible account it often means "cistern." Actually the cistern has been a more common source of Israel's water supply than has the well. To drink water out of the family cistern was the proverbial wish of every Jew, and such was the promise that King Sennacherib of Assyria used to try and tempt the Jews into making peace with him. He said to them: "Make an agreement with me by a present, and come out to me, and then eat ye every man of his own vine, and every one of his fig tree, and drink ye every one the waters of his cistern" (II Kings 18:31; cf. Isaiah 36:16).
These family cisterns were often dug in the open courtyard of houses as was the case of "the man which had a well [cistern] in his court." At the time of year referred to this cistern was dry and so two men could easily be hidden therein (II Samuel 17:18-19). During the rainy season the rain water is conducted from the houseroofs to these cisterns by means of troughs. Usually the water is drawn up by means of a rope that runs over a wheel, and a bucket made of animal skins is fastened to the rope. Jeremiah used the picture of a cistern that leaked water, to illustrate one of his sermons: "For my people have committed two evils"; the prophet said of the LORD,
"They have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water" (Jeremiah 2:13).
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Jacob's well at Sychar was made famous by the incident of JESUS talking with the woman of Samaria there. There is nothing left at these wells that may be used for drawing water from a depth. Each woman who comes for water brings with her, in addition to the pitcher in which to carry the water, a hard leather portable bucket with a rope, in order to let it down to the level of the water.
The Samaritan woman had brought all this with her, but JESUS had no such equipment with him. Hence she said to him, after he had asked her for a drink: "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep" (John 4:11). In response to his request she drew from the well and gave him a drink.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Locations of Wells, Springs and Fountains
Israel Water Supply
WELLS, SPRINGS, OR FOUNTAINS WELLS AND THEIR LOCATION. In many cases wells have been depended upon for water in Palestinian towns through the years. Often the well is located outside the city walls, but sometimes the people are fortunate to have the well inside their town. Archaeologists have discovered at least two ancient cities in addition to Jerusalem, that brought water inside their city through a tunnel The city of Gezer had such a tunnel that lead from within the city to a water supply beneath. And the Canaanites at Megiddo, rather than go outside their city for water, sunk a shaft straight down to the level of the spring, and then dug a tunnel horizontally until they reached it. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Storing Water for the Home
Securing water for home use. We have already seen (Chapter 8) that it is the duty of the women to go to the well to get the family supply of water. This is carried by them in pitchers of earthenware either upon their shoulder or head. If larger supplies of water are needed, then the men carry such in sheepskin or goatskin "bottles." [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
The Well of the Oath
Famous wells and fountains of Scripture. Wells were dug by the early patriarchs in various places in the land of Canaan. The town of Beersheba was named after an event that happened at the time Isaac's servants dug a well there. The name means "The Well of the Oath," commemorating the covenant made between Isaac and Abimelech, which followed soon after the trouble over possession of wells at Gerar (Genesis 26). [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Well in Easton's Bible Dictionary
(Heb. beer), to be distinguished from a fountain (Heb. 'ain).
"beer" was a deep shaft, bored far under the rocky
the art of man, which contained water which percolated
the strata in its sides. Such wells were those of
Beersheba, etc. (see Gen. 21:19, 25, 30, 31; 24:11;
18-25, 32, etc.). In the Pentateuch this word beer, so
occurs twenty-five times.
Well in Fausset's Bible Dictionary
(See FOUNTAIN.) As ''Ayin, "fount," literally, "eye", refers
to the water springing up to us, so beer, "well," from a
root "to bore," refers to our finding our way down to it.
The Bir- and the En- are always distinct. The rarity of
wells in the Sinaitic region explains the national
rejoicings over Beer or the well, afterward Beer-Elim, "well
of heroes" (Numbers 21:16-17-18,22). God commanded Moses to
cause the well to be dug; princes, nobles, and people, all
heartily, believingly, and joyfully cooperated in the work.
Naming a well marked right of property in it. To destroy it
denoted conquest or denial of right of property (Genesis
21:30-31; Genesis 26:15-33; 2 Kings 3:19; Deuteronomy 6:11;
Numbers 20:17; Numbers 20:19; Proverbs 5:15). "Drink waters
out of thine own cistern, and running waters out of thine
own well," i.e. enjoy the love of thine own wife alone.
Wells and cisterns are the two sources of oriental
supply, each house had its own cistern (2 Kings 18:31); to
thirst for filthy waters is suicidal. Song of Solomon 4:12;
in Israel wells are excavated in the limestone, with steps
descending to them (Genesis 24:16). A low stone wall for
protection (Exodus 21:33) surrounds the brim; on it sat our
Lord in conversing with the Samaritan woman (John 4:6; John
4:11). A stone cover was above; this the woman placed on the
well at Bahurim (2 Samuel 17:19), translated "the woman
spread the covering over the well's mouth." A rope and
bucket or water skin raised the water; the marks of the rope
are still visible in the furrows worn in the low wall. See
Numbers 24:7, "he shall stream with water out of his two
buckets," namely, suspended from the two ends of a pole, the
usual way of fetching water from the Euphrates in Balaam's
Wells are often contended for and are places of
Bedouin attacks on those drawing water (Exodus 2:16-17;
Judges 5:11; 2 Samuel 23:15-16). Oboth (Numbers 21:10-11)
means holes dug in the ground for water. Beerlahairoi is the
first well mentioned (Genesis 16:14). Beersheba, Rehoboth,
and Jacob's well are leading instances of wells (Genesis
21:19; Genesis 26:22). They are sunk much deeper than ours,
to prevent drying up. Jacob's well is 75 ft. deep, seven
feet six inches in diameter, and lined with rough masonry; a
pitcher unbroken at the bottom evidenced that there was
water at some seasons, otherwise the fall would have broken
Well in Naves Topical Bible
The occasion of feuds
Between Abraham and Abimelech
Between Isaac and Abimelech
Isa 12:3; Joh 4:14
Jer 15:18; 2Pe 2:17
Well in Smiths Bible Dictionary
Wells in Israel are usually excavated from the solid
limestone rock, sometimes with steps to descend into them.
Ge 24:16 The brims are furnished with a curb or low wall of
stone, bearing marks of high antiquity in the furrows worn
by the ropes used in drawing water. It was on a curb of this
sort that our Lord sat when he conversed with the woman of
Samaria, Joh 4:6 and it was this, the usual stone cover,
which the woman placed on the mouth of the well at Bahurim,
2Sa 17:19 where the Authorized Version weakens the sense by
omitting the article. The usual methods for raising water
are the following:
1. The rope and bucket, or waterskin. Ge 24:14-20;
2. The sakiyeh, or Persian wheel. This consists of a
vertical wheel furnished with a set of buckets or earthen
jars attached to a cord passing over the wheel. which
descend empty and return full as the wheel revolves.
3. A modification of the last method, by which a
man, sitting opposite to a wheel furnished with buckets,
turns it by drawing with his hands one set of spokes
prolonged beyond its circumference, and pushing another set
from him with his feet.
4. A method very common in both ancient and modern
Egypt is the shadoof, a simple contrivance consisting of a
lever moving on a pivot, which is loaded at one end with a
lump of clay or some other weight, and has at the other a
bowl or bucket. Wells are usually furnished with troughs of
wood or stone into which the water is emptied for the use of
persons or animals coming to the wells. Unless machinery is
used, which is commonly worked by men, women are usually the
Well in the Bible Encyclopedia - ISBE
(1) (be'er; compare Arabic bi'r, "well" or "cistern";
usually artificial: "And Isaac's servants digged (dug) in
the valley, and found there a well of springing (margin
"living") water" (Gen 26:19); some times covered: "Jacob
.... rolled the stone from the well's mouth" (Gen 29:10).
Be'er may also be a pit: "The vale of Siddim was full of
slime pits" (Gen 14:10); "the pit of destruction" (Ps
55:23). (2) (bor), usually "pit": "Let us slay him, and cast
him into one of the pits" (Gen 37:20); may be "well": "drew
water out of the well of Beth-lehem" (2 Sam 23:16).
(3) (pege), usually "running water," "fount," or "source":
"Doth the fountain send forth from the same opening sweet
water and bitter?" (Jas 3:11); may be "well"; compare
"Jacob's well" (Jn 4:6). (4) (phrear), usually "pit": "the
pit of the abyss" (Rev 9:1); but "well"; compare "Jacob's
well" (Jn 4:11,12): "Which of you shall have an ass or an ox
fallen into a well" (the King James Version "pit") (Lk
14:5). (5) (krene), "wells" (Sirach 48:17), Latin, fons,
"spring" (2 Esdras 2:32).
(6) ayin), compare Arabic `ain "fountain," "spring": "the
fountain (English Versions of the Bible) which is in
Jezreel" (1 Sam 29:1); "In Elim were twelve springs (the
King James Version "fountains"] of water" (Nu 33:9); "She
(Rebekah) went down to the fountain" (the King James Version
"well") (Gen 24:16); "the jackal's well" (the English
Revised Version "the dragon's well," the King James Version
"the dragon well") (Neh 2:13). (7) (ma`yan), same root as
(6); "the fountain (the King James Version "well") of the
waters of Nephtoah" (Josh 18:15); "Passing through the
valley of Weeping (the King James Version "Baca") they make
it a place of springs" (the King James Version "well") (Ps
84:6); "Ye shall draw water out of the wells of salvation"
(Isa 12:3). (8) (maqor), usually figurative: "With thee is
the fountain of life" (Ps 36:9); "The mouth of the righteous
is a fountain (the King James Version "well") of life" (Prov
10:11); "make her (Babylon's) fountain (the King James
Version "spring") dry" (Jer 51:36); "a corrupted spring"
(Prov 25:26). (9) (mabbu`), (nabha`, "to flow," "spring,"
"bubble up"; compare Arabic (nab`, manba`, yanbu`)
"fountain": "or the pitcher is broken at the fountain" (Eccl
12:6); "the thirsty ground springs of water" (Isa 35:7).
(10) (motsa'), "spring," (yatsa'), "to go out," "the dry
land springs of water" (Isa 41:18); "a dry land into
watersprings" (Ps 107:35); "the upper spring of the waters
of Gihon" (2 Ch 32:30). (11) (nebhekh), root uncertain,
reading doubtful; only in Job 38:16, "Hast thou entered into
the springs of the sea?" (12) (tehom), "deep," "abyss";
compare Gen 1:2; translated "springs," the King James
Version "depths" (Dt 8:7). (13) (gal), (galal), "to roll";
compare Gilgal (Josh 5:9); "a spring shut up" (Song 4:12).
(14) (gullah), "bowl," "basin," "pool," same root: "Give me
also springs of water. And he gave her the upper sprigs and
the nether springs" (Josh 15:19); compare Arabic (kullat),
pronounced gullat, "a marble," "a cannon-ball."
As is clear from references cited above, wells and springs
were not sharply distinguished in name, though be'er, and
phrear are used mainly of wells, and `ayin, ma`yan, motsa',
mabbua` and (poetically) maqor are chiefly used of
fountains. The Arabic bi'r, the equivalent of the Hebrew
be'er, usually denotes a cistern for rain-water, though it
may be qualified as bi'r jam`, "well of gathering," i.e. for
rain-water, or as bi'r nab`, "well of springing water." A
spring or natural fountain is called in Arabic `ain or nab`
(compare Hebrew `ayin and mabbua`). These Arabic and Hebrew
words for "well" and "spring" figure largely in place-names,
modern and ancient: Beer (Nu 21:16); Beer-elim (Isa 15:8),
etc.; `Ain (a) on the northeast boundary of Israel (Nu
34:11), (b) in the South of Judah, perhaps = En-rimmon (Josh
15:32); Enaim (Gen 38:14); Enam (Josh 15:34), etc. Modern
Arabic names with `ain are very numerous, e.g. `Ainul-
fashkhah, `Ain-ul-chajleh, `Ain-karim, etc.
Well of Bethlehem
It was water from a Bethlehem well for which David in the wilderness longed. To appreciate his desire, one needs to know what thirst in the wilderness means, and also be acquainted with the cool water of the Bethlehem wells and cisterns. In the hillsides around Bethlehem are terraced vineyards, and most of these have a rock-hewn cistern located in them, which collects rain water in the winter months and preserves this water in a delightfully cool condition in the hot summer months.
The men of Bethlehem boast of their cool water. One man was given a drink, but expressed a longing for water out of his father's vineyard, saying that it was so cold that he couldn't drink an entire glassful without taking it away from his lips at least three times.
Thus David, stationed at the cave of Adullam, and living in the parched wilderness, and weary from fighting, said: "Oh that one would give me drink of the water of the well of Bethlehem. which is by the gate" (II Samuel 23:15). When three of his men risked their lives in fighting Philistines in order to secure for him some of this cool Bethlehem water, David "poured it out unto the Lord" (II Samuel 23:16). This was according to the ancient custom of a libation offering, or the pouring on the ground as an act of worship, wine, or oil, or milk, or honey, or water. Sometimes these drink offerings were poured by the Hebrews on the animal sacrificed to the LORD. In doing what he did, David was giving to the LORD the drink of water that had cost so much for the men to secure for him. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Well of Nazareth
Throughout the centuries the town of Nazareth has had put one main source for its water supply, a well or fountain that is located at the northwest extremity of the town. We may be fairly certain that Mary came here with her pitcher to draw water for her household use, and that here the boy JESUS often quenched his thirst. [Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
Wells Scripture - 2 Chronicles 26:10
Also he built towers in the desert, and digged many wells: for
he had much cattle, both in the low country, and in the
plains: husbandmen [also], and vine dressers in the mountains,
and in Carmel: for he loved husbandry.
Wells Scripture - 2 Kings 3:19
And ye shall smite every fenced city, and every choice city,
and shall fell every good tree, and stop all wells of water,
and mar every good piece of land with stones.
Wells Scripture - 2 Kings 3:25
And they beat down the cities, and on every good piece of land
cast every man his stone, and filled it; and they stopped all
the wells of water, and felled all the good trees: only in
Kirharaseth left they the stones thereof; howbeit the slingers
went about [it], and smote it.
Wells Scripture - 2 Peter 2:17
These are wells without water, clouds that are carried with a
tempest; to whom the mist of darkness is reserved for ever.
Wells Scripture - Deuteronomy 6:11
And houses full of all good [things], which thou filledst not,
and wells digged, which thou diggedst not, vineyards and olive
trees, which thou plantedst not; when thou shalt have eaten
and be full;
Wells Scripture - Exodus 15:27
And they came to Elim, where [were] twelve wells of water, and
threescore and ten palm trees: and they encamped there by the
Wells Scripture - Genesis 26:15
For all the wells which his father's servants had digged in
the days of Abraham his father, the Philistines had stopped
them, and filled them with earth.
Wells Scripture - Genesis 26:18
And Isaac digged again the wells of water, which they had
digged in the days of Abraham his father; for the Philistines
had stopped them after the death of Abraham: and he called
their names after the names by which his father had called
Wells Scripture - Nehemiah 9:25
And they took strong cities, and a fat land, and possessed
houses full of all goods, wells digged, vineyards, and
oliveyards, and fruit trees in abundance: so they did eat, and
were filled, and became fat, and delighted themselves in thy
Wells Scripture - Numbers 20:17
Let us pass, I pray thee, through thy country: we will not
pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither
will we drink [of] the water of the wells: we will go by the
king's [high] way, we will not turn to the right hand nor to
the left, until we have passed thy borders.
Women Going For Water
GOING OF THE WOMEN FOR WATER
It is the task of the women to go for the household water to the well or spring. And they do it today in many places in the East just like it was done when the Genesis account speaks of it being "the time of the evening, even the time that women go out to draw water" (Genesis 24:11). The women are trained to do this from girlhood, for Saul and his servant "found young maidens going out to draw water" (I Samuel 9:11). The chief time for doing this is in the late afternoon or evening, although it is often done early in the morning. Earthenware pitchers (Lamentations 4:2) are used for the purpose, and they have one and sometimes two handles.
It has been customary for Syrian women to carry the pitcher of water on their shoulder, although sometimes it is carried on the hip. Most Arabs of Israel carry it upon their head.
Scripture says that Rebekah carried her pitcher on her shoulder (Genesis 24:15). Carrying a pitcher of water was all but universally done by women. It must have been a picturesque sight to see them going and coming with the pitcher poised gracefully upon the head or shoulder. When JESUS instructed two of his disciples, "Go ye into the city, and there shall meet you a man bearing a pitcher of water: follow him" (Mark 14:13), that would be an easy way of identifying the person, for it is exceedingly uncommon to see a man carrying a pitcher of water, which is a woman's task.
When larger supplies of water are needed, men use large skins of sheep or goats for carrying the supply. The pitchers are reserved for the use of the women.25
There is nothing left at the well that may be used for drawing water from a depth. Each woman who comes for water brings with her, in addition to the pitcher in which to carry the water, a hard leather portable bucket with a rope, in order to let it down to the level of the water.26
The Samaritan woman whom JESUS met at Jacob's well had brought all this with her, but JESUS did not have such equipment with him. Hence she said to him: "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep" (John 4:11). In response to his request for a drink, she drew from the well and gave to Him.
[Manners And Customs of Bible Lands]
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