Well (prop. בּאֵר , beer, φρέαρ, a dug source of living, though not running, water; but "well" is an occasional rendering in the A. V. likewise of בּוֹר, b6r, 2Sa 3:26; 2Sa 23:15-16; 1Ch 11:17-18; 2Ch 26:10, a "pit," i.e. cistern; also of מִעיָן, mayan, Jos 18:15; 2Ki 3:19,25; Ps 84:6, a "fountain;" of מָקוֹר, makior, Pr 10:11, a "fountain;" and even of 2, עִיַן, Ge 24:13,16,29-30,42-43,45; Ge 49:22, a living spring; and so of πηγή, Joh 4:6,14), . The difference between a well (beer) and a cistern (bôr ) consists chiefly in the use of the former word to denote a receptacle for water springing up freshly from the ground, while the latter usually denotes a reservoir for rain-water (Ge 26:19,32; Pr 5:15; Joh 4:14). SEE CISTERN. Both these Heb. words come from a root (בּוּר or בָּאִר) significant of digging, and are thus distinguished from a natural fountain. The formier (beer) is still represented by the Arabic bir, used in the same sense; but the latter (bôr) has in modern times given place to birket (=בּרֵכָה, ), which signifies an open pool of surface water. SEE TOPOGRAPHICAL TERMS.
The first well mentioned in Scripture is in "the wilderness," in the way to Shur, where Hagar sat down when fleeing from Sarai, which was afterwards called Beer-lahai-roi, "the well of him that liveth and seeth me" (Ge 16:14), between Kadesh and Bered. It is called both a "fountain" and a '"ell." The second well mentioned is also in connection with Hagar's history (Ge 21:19) in the wilderness of Beersheba. After this a good many wells are mentioned the wells of Beersheba, which remain to this day (Ge 26:25); the Mesopotamian well (Ge 24:11), at the city of Nahor; the wells in Gerar (Ge 26:15,18); the well Esek (ver. 20); the, well Sitnah (ver. 21); the well Rehoboth (ver. 22); the well in Haran (29:2); the wells of Elim (Ex 15:27); the well dug by the princes (Nu 21:35); the well of Nephtoah (Jos 18:15); the great well in Sechu (1Sa 19:22); the well of Bethlehem by the gate (2Sa 23:16); the well of a rod (Jg 7:1); Jacob's well, on the low slope of Gerizim (Joh 4:6).SEE FOUNTAIN.
The importance of wells is very great, especially in the desert, where the means of forming them are deficient, as well as the supply of labor necessary for such undertakings, which, after all, are not always rewarded by the discovery of a supply of water. Hence in such situations, and indeed in the settled countries also, the wells are of the utmost value, and the water in most cases-is very frugally used (Nu 20:17-19; De 2:6,28; Job 22:7). It is, however, not merely the value of the well itself, but certain other considerations that explain the contests about wells which we find in the histories of Abraham and Isaac (Ge 21:341; 26:15-22). The special necessity of a supply of water (Jg 1:15) in a hot climate has always involved among Eastern nations questions of property of the highest importance, and sometimes given rise to serious contention. To give a name to a well denoted a right of property, and to stop or destroy one once dug was a military expedient, a mark of conquest, or an encroachment on territorial right claimed or existing in its neighborhood. — Thus, the well Beersheba was opened, and its possession attested with special formality by Abraham (Ge 21:30-31). In the hope of expelling Isaac from their neighborhood, the Philistines stopped up the wells which had been dug in Abraham's time and called by his name, an encroachment which was stoutly resisted by the followers of Isaac (Ge 26:15-33; see also 2Ki 3:19; 2Ch 26:10; comp. Burckhardt, Notes on the Bed. 2, 185, 194, 204, 276). The Koran notices abandoned wells as signs of desertion (sur. 22). To acquire wells which they had not themselves dug was one of the marks of favor foretold to the Hebrews on their entrance into Canaan (De 6:11). To possess one is noticed as a mark of independence (Pr 5:15), and to abstain from the use of wells belonging to others, a disclaimer of interference with their property (Nu 20:17,19; Nu 21:22). Similar rights of possession, actual and hereditary, exist among the Arabs of the present day. "Wells," Burckhardt says, "in the interior of the desert, are exclusive property, either of a whole tribe, or of individuals whose ancestors dug the wells. If a well be the property of a tribe, the tents are pitched near it, whenever rain-water becomes scarce in the desert; and no other Arabs are then permitted to water their camels. But if the well belongs to an individual, he receives presents from all strange tribes who; pass or encamp at the well, and refresh their camels with the water of it. The property of such a well is never alienated; and the Arabs say that the possessor is sure to be fortunate, as all who drink of the water bestow on him their benedictions" (Notes on the Bed. 1, 228, 229; comp. Nu 21:17-18, and Jg 1:15).
It is thus easy to understand how wells have become in many cases links in the history and landmarks in the topography both of Palestine and of the Arabian Peninsula. The well once dug in the rocky soil of Palestine might be filled, with earth or stones, but was with difficulty destroyed, and thus the wadys of Beersheba, and the well near Nablius, called Jacob's Well, are among the most undoubted witnesses of those transactions of sacred history in which they have borne, so to speak, a prominent part. On the other hand, the wells dug in the sandy soil of the Arabians valleys, easily, destroyed, but easily renewed, often mark, by their ready: supply, the stations at which the Hebrew pilgrims slaked their thirst, or, as at Marah, were disappointed by the bitterness of the water. In like manner the stations of the Mohammedan pilgrims from Cairo and Damascus to Mecca (the Haj route) are marked by the wells (Robinson, 1, 66, 69, 204, 205; 2, 283; Burckhardt, Sy, Syia, p. 318, 472, 474; App. 3, 656, (660; Shaw, Trav. p. 314; Niebuhr, Descrip. de I'Alabie, p. 347, 348; Wellsted, Tasm. 2, 40, 43, 64, 457, App.).
Wells in Palestine are usually excavated from the solid limestone rock, sometimes with steps to descend into them (Ge 21:16; see Burckhardt, Syria, p. 232; Col. Ch. Chronicles 1858, p. 470). 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 (Robinson, 1, 204). This curb, as well as the stone cover, which is also very usual, agrees with the directions of the law, as explained by Philo and Josephus, viz. as a protection against accident (Ex 21:33; comp. Josephus, Ant. 4:8, 37; Philo, De Spec. Leg. 3, 27; 2, 324, ed. Mangey; see Maundrell, in Early Tray. p. 435). 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 A. V. weakens the sense by omitting the article (הִמָּסָך; Sept. τὸ ἐπικάλυμμα; Vulg. elamen). Sometimes the wells are covered with cupolas raised on pillars (Burckhardt, App. 5, p. 665).
A well was often covered with a great stone, which being removed, the person descended some steps to the surface of the water, and on his return poured into a trough that which he had brought up (Ge 24:11,15; Ge 29:3-10; Ex 2:16; Jg 5:11). There is, in fact, no intimation of any other way of drawing water from wells in Scripture. But as this could only be applicable in cases where the well was not deep, we must assume that they had the use of those contrivances which are still employed in the East, and some of which are known from the Egyptian monuments to have been very ancient. This conclusion is the more probable as the wells in Palestine are mostly deep (Pr 20:5; Joh 4:11). Jacob's Well near Shechem is said to be 120 feet deep, with only fifteen feet of water in it (Maundrell, Journey, March 24); and the labor of drawing from so deep a well probably originated the first reluctance of the woman of Samaria to draw water for Jesus: "Sir, thou hast nothing to draw with, and the well is deep." SEE JACOBS WELL. From this deeper kind of well the usual methods for raising water are the following: 1. The rope and bucket, or water-skin (Ge 24:14-20; Joh 4:11). When the well is deep, the rope is either drawn over the curb by the man or woman, who pulls it out to the distance of its full length, or by an ass or ox employed in the same way for the same purpose. Sometimes a pulley or wheel is fixed over the well to assist the work (Robinson, 1, 204; 2, 248; Niebuhr, Descr. de l'Arabie, p. 137, pl. 15; Col. Ch. Chronicles 1859, p; 350; Chardin, Voy. 4:98; Wellsted, Trav. 1, 280). 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. On the axis of the wheel revolves a second wheel parallel to it, with cogs which turn a third wheel set horizontally at a sufficient height from the ground to allow the animal used in turning it to pass under. One or two cows or bulls are yoked to a pole which passes through the axis of this wheel, and as they travel round it turn the whole machine (Nu 24:7; see Lane, Mod. Egypt. 2, 163; Niebuhr, Voy. 1, 120; Col. Ch. Chronicles 1859, p. 352; Shaw, p. 291, 408). 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 (Niebuhr, Voy. 1, 120, pl. 15; Robinson, 2, 22; 3, 89). 4. A method very common, both in ancient and modern Egypt, is the shaduf,
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. This is let down into the water, and, when raised, emptied into a, receptacle above (Niebuhr, Voy. 1, 120; Lane, Mod. Egypt. 2, 163; Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. 1, 35, 72; 2, 4). SEE IRRIGATION.
Wells are usually furnished with troughs of wood or stone (שֹׁקֵת; Sept. ποτιστήριον; Vulg. canalis), into which the water is emptied for the use of persons or animals coming to the wells. In modern times an old stone sarcophagus is often used for this purpose. The bucket is very commonly of skin (Burckhardt, Syria, p. 63; Robinson, 1, 204; 2, 21, 315; 3, 35, 89, 109, 134; Lord Lindsay, Trav. p. 235, 237; Wilkinson, Anc. Egypt. loc. cit.; comp. Ge 24:20; Ex 2:16). Unless machinery is used, which is commonly worked by men, women are usually the water-carriers. They carry home their water-jars on their heads (Lindsay, p. 236). SEE DRAWER OF WATER. Great contentions often occur at the wells, and they are often, among Bedawin, favorite places for attack by enemies (Ex 2:16-17; Jg 5:11; 2Sa 23:15-16). See Burckhardt, Syria, p. 63; Notes on the Bed. 1, 228; Col. Ch. Chronicles 1859, p. 473; Lane, Alod. Egypt. 1, 252; Robinson, 3, 153; Hackett, Illustr. of Scripto. p. 88-93. See WATER.