Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary

By John J. Rousseau; Rami Arav | Go to book overview



According to the Gospel of John, Jesus met a woman from Sychar and was invited by the villagers to stay there.

Scripture Reference

John 4:5

General Information

Scholars have not agreed about the location of Sychar. It was first identified with the village of Askar, about one mile north of Jacob’s Well. This opinion was based on Epiphanus who named two different cities, Sychar and Shechem (Versio Antiqua, 253), on the report of the Bordeaux Pilgrim (333) who located Sychar one mile away from Shechem, and on a comment from Eusebius quoted by Jerome: “Sychar is before Neapolis (Nablus) near the piece of land given by Jacob to his son Joseph” (Di Situ et Nom. Loc. Hebi. 279; ca. 400). It was recognized that the name “Sychar” was the result of a transcription error: the Sinaitic Syrian text of John reads Shechem instead of Sychar, and Jerome had already reported the error in Quaest. in Gen. 373. The excavations of Tell Balatah, 1.5 miles southeast of Nablus in the eastern part of the passage between Mt. Ebal and Mt. Gerizim, showed that Sychar is to be identified with Balanos Sikimon, a nearby Samaritan place of worship. It appeared that Shechem and Sychar were one and the same city in the area of Jacob’s Well (see JACOB’S WELL), 40 miles north of Jerusalem and 5.5 miles southeast of Samaria.

Shechem played a prominent role in Israelite history in the Bible. Located in the hill country near the border between Ephraim and Manasseh (Josh. 20:27; 1 Chron. 7:28), at the foot of Mt. Gerizim, it is the first city of the Land of Canaan mentioned in Genesis. There Abraham encamped “at the oak of Moreh” and built an altar to the Lord (Gen. 12:6–7). According to Gen. 33:20 Jacob buried the “strange gods” there and built another altar at the same place. The book of Joshua reports that at the beginning of the Israelite settlement, Joshua called all the tribes there to renew their covenant with God (Josh. 8:30–35; 24:1–28). After Solomon’s death and the Israelite rejection of Rehoboam as king at Shechem, Jereboam became king and made the city his capital for some time (1 Kings 12:15). In postexilic times, Shechem was the chief city of the Samaritans, who erected their temple on nearby Mt. Gerizim. The Hasmonean John Hyrcanus destroyed the city and temple circa 107 B.C.E. (Josephus, Antiq. 13, 9.1/255). During the First Jewish War Vespasian set his camp near Shechem. A new city was built in the area and named Flavius Neapolis in his honor when he became emperor Flavius Vespasianus (69–79). The Mishnah (m. Menahot 10.2) indicates that wheat was brought to Jerusalem from Shechem.

Archaeological Data

Biblical Shechem has been identified with Tell Balatah as a result of the excavations undertaken by C. Watzinger (1907–9) and later by C. Watzinger, E. Sellin, et al under the auspices of the German Society of Scientific Research (1913–14, 1926–28, 1932, and 1934). Excavations were resumed from 1956 to 1973 by G. E. Wright on behalf of the Drew-McCormick Archaeological Expedition and the American Schools of Oriental Research. The excavators identified twenty strata at Balatah, from the Chalcolithic (3,600 to 3,200 B.C.E.) to the Hellenistic periods (330 to ca. 110 B.C.E.) They discovered elaborate fortification systems, large buildings, and quantities of artifacts. The Middle Bronze Age II (1700–1550 B.C.E.) was particularly well represented. The fortress-temple of that period, a monumental structure of 84 × 68 feet with walls 17 feet wide, is an impressive building. It has been suggested that this is the temple of Baal-berith (Judg. 9:46) and the “Tower of Shechem” destroyed by Abimelech (Judg. 9:45–49). During the Hellenistic period Shechem was a prosperous city that the Samaritans viewed to be the rival of Jerusalem. Its ruins yielded coins dating from the fourth century to 107 B.C.E., suggesting that the final destruction by John Hyrcanus (134–104) happened toward that later date. It was never restored, but a village was built near its site.

Implications for Jesus Research

By the first century C.E., neither a biblical nor a Samaritan Shechem existed. In its stead a small town, possibly the Sychar of John 4:4–6, was built at walking distance from Jacob’s Well, which was located at the intersection of two roads, one going east-west around Ebal, the other one oriented north-south leading from Jerusalem to Samaria and beyond. The author of the Fourth Gospel was apparently familiar with the topography of the region. He knew that Jesus’ route would have avoided the road to Samaria, a mostly gentile city renamed Sebaste by King Herod, and traveled eastward, leaving Ebal on the left. Even if the dialogue between Jesus and the Samaritan woman (see JACOB’S WELL) is not original, the story of Jesus’ journey and stay in the village cannot be dismissed as inauthentic. One of Josephus’ comments is relevant to Jesus’ journey: “It was absolutely necessary for those who would go quickly to pass through [Samaria], for by that road you may go in three days from Jerusalem to Galilee” (Life, 52).

Besides Luke’s references (Luke 10:33 and 17:16), two other passages in the Fourth Gospel imply that Jesus had some affinity with the Samaritans: John 8:48, “Are we not right in saying that you are a Samaritan and have a demon” (which could refer to magical practices); and John 11:54, “[Jesus went] to a town called Ephraim,” which originally could have been “a town in Ephraim,” the small town rebuilt near the ruins of Shechem, where he had been welcomed (see SAMARíA, SAMARITANS).


Campbell, E. F. “Shechem.” NEAEHL 4:1345–54.

Campbell, E. F. and J. F. Ross. “The Excavation of Shechem and Biblical Tradition.” BA 26 (1963): 1–27.

Cole, D. P. Shechem I. Winona Lake, Ind.: Eisenbrauns, 1994.

Fowler, M. D. “A Closer Look at the Temple of el-Berith at Shechem.” Palestine Exploration Quarterly 115 (1983): 49–53.

Geva, S. “A Fragment of a Tridacna Shell from Shechem.” Zeitschrift des deutschen Palastina-Vereins 96 (1980): 41–47.

Klamer, C. “A Late Bronze Age Burial Cave near Shechem.” Qadmoniot 14.53–54 (1982): 30–34 (Hebrew).

Magen, I. “Neapolis.” NEAEHL 4:135b-59.

Margain, J. “Un anneau samaritain provenant de Naplouse.” Syria 6 (1984): 45–47.

Shekhem (Nablus). Excavations and Surveys of Israel 2 (1983) : 90–92.

Stern, E. “Archaemenian Tombs at Shechem.” Qadmoniot 13. (1980): 101–3 (Hebrew). Levant 12(1980): 90–111. Toombs, L. E. “Shechem.” ABD 5:1174–86.

Wright, G. E. Shechem: A Biography of a Biblical City. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1965.


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Jesus and His World: An Archaeological and Cultural Dictionary
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Map of Palestine Key v
  • Title Page ix
  • Contents xi
  • Foreword a Down-to-Earth Jesus xiii
  • Acknowledgments xix
  • List of Abbreviations xx
  • List of Figures xxi
  • List of Tables xxiii
  • Introduction 1
  • Aenon and Salim 7
  • Agriculture, Cereals 8
  • Antonia, Pavement (Gabbatha, Lithostrotos) 12
  • Bethabara/Beth Araba/Bethany 14
  • Bethany 15
  • Bethlehem 16
  • Bethphage 18
  • Bethsaida 19
  • Boats 25
  • Caesarea Maritima 30
  • Caesarea Philippi (Banias) 33
  • Camps, Siege Banks 35
  • Cana 38
  • Capernaum (Capharnaum) [Hebrew, Kfar Nahum] 39
  • Cave of Letters 47
  • Chorazin 52
  • Coins and Money 55
  • Coins as Historical Documents 61
  • Construction, Cities 68
  • Crucifixion 74
  • Dead Sea Scrolls 78
  • Decapolis 85
  • Ephraim 87
  • Exorcism 88
  • Gadara, Kursi 97
  • Galilean Caves 99
  • Gamla, Gamala 100
  • Garden Tomb 104
  • Gennesareth (Hebrew, Ginosar) 109
  • Gethsemane 110
  • Golgotha, Traditional Site 112
  • Gospel of Thomas 118
  • Hebron 123
  • Herodium 124
  • Hippos/Susita 127
  • House 128
  • Jacob’s Well 131
  • Jericho 132
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s House 136
  • Jerusalem, Caiaphas’s Tomb 139
  • Jerusalem, City of David, Ophel 142
  • Jerusalem, Gehenna, Akeldama 145
  • Jerusalem, Herodian 146
  • Jerusalem, Herod’s Palace 151
  • Jerusalem, Kidron 152
  • Jerusalem, Pool of Bethesda 155
  • Jerusalem, Streets and Stairs 161
  • Jerusalem, Tombs 164
  • Jerusalem, Upper City 169
  • Jerusalem, Upper Room 173
  • Jerusalem, Walls and Gates 175
  • Jerusalem, Water System 180
  • Jordan River, Fords 183
  • Judean Caves 185
  • Machaerus (Hebrew, Makhwar) 187
  • Magdala (Hebrew, Migdal; Aramaic, Migdal Nunya; Greek, Taricheae) 189
  • Magic, Miracles 190
  • Masada 195
  • Medicine, Physicians 199
  • Moses’ Seat 203
  • Mount Gerizim 206
  • Mount Hermon 208
  • Mount of Olives 210
  • Mount Tabor 212
  • Nain (Hebrew Naim) 213
  • Nazareth 214
  • Ointments, Perfumes 216
  • Olive Oil Industry 220
  • Pantera’s Tombstone 223
  • Pontius Pilate’s Stone 225
  • Pottery and Glass 227
  • Qumran 233
  • Ritual Baths (Miqvaoth) 236
  • Samaria, Samaritans 240
  • Sea of Galilee (Yam Kinneret) 245
  • Sepphoris (Hebrew, Zippori) 248
  • Shepherding 251
  • Slaves and Servants 253
  • Sodom and Gomorrah 257
  • Son of Man 259
  • Stone, Stoning 263
  • Sychar-Shechem 267
  • Synagogues 268
  • Tannery, Leather 273
  • Tax and Tax Collectors 275
  • Temple, History, Description 279
  • Temple, Royal Stoa 288
  • Temple, Sacrificial System 291
  • Temple, Service and Ritual 296
  • Temple, Solomon’s Portico 303
  • Temple, Stairs and Gates 304
  • Temple, Treasury 309
  • Temple, Trumpeting Place 311
  • Temple, Warning Signs 312
  • Textiles, Dyeing 313
  • Tiberias (Hebrew, Tveria) 316
  • Traditional Healing 318
  • Tunic without Seam, Dice 324
  • Tyre and Sidon 326
  • Viticulture 328
  • Weapons 332
  • Weights and Measures 336
  • Wood, Furniture 339
  • Tables 343
  • Historical Synopsis 357
  • Glossary 361
  • General Bibliography 365
  • Index of Scriptures Cited 369
  • Index of Early Jewish Writings Cited 379
  • Index of Ancient Writers Cited 382
  • Index of Names, Places, and Subjects 385


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