Appendix XV. The Location of Sychar, and the Date of Our Lord’s Visit to Samaria.

(Book III. ch. viii.)

I. The Location of Sychar.

Although modern writers are now mostly agreed on this subject it may be well briefly to put before our readers the facts of the case.

Till comparatively lately, the Sychar of Jn 4 was generally regarded as representing the ancient Shechem. The first difficulty here was the name, since Shechem, or even Sichem, could scarcely be identified with Sychar, which is undoubtedly the correct reading. Accordingly, the latter term was represented as one of opprobrium, and derived from ‘shekhar’ (in Aramaean shikhra), as it were, ‘drunken town,’ or else from ‘sheqer’ (in Aramaean shiqra), ‘lying town.’ But, not to mention other objections, there is no trace of such an alteration of the name Sychar in Jewish writings, while its employment would seem wholly incongruous in such a narrative as Jn 4. Moreover, all the earliest writers distinguished Sychar from Shechem. Lastly, in the Talmud the name sokher, also written sikhra, frequently occurs, and that not only as distinct from Shechem, but in a connection which renders the hypothesis of an opprobrious by-name impossible. Professor Delitzch (Zeitschrift fuer Luther. Theol. for 1856, 2 pp. 242, 243) has collected seven passages from the Babylon Talmud to that effect, in five of which Sichra is mentioned as the birthplace of celebrated Rabbis – the town having at a later period apparently been left by the Samaritans, and occupied by Jews (Baba Mez. 42a, 83a, Pes. 31b, Nidd. 36a, Chull. 18b, and, without mention of Rabbis, Baba K. 82b, Menach. 64b. See also Men. x. 2, and Jer. Sheq. p. 48d). If further proof were required, it would be sufficient to say that a woman would scarcely have gone a mile and a half from Shechem to Jacob’s well to fetch water, when there are so many springs about the former city. In these circumstances, later writers have generally fixed upon the village of ’Askar, half a mile from Jacob’s Well, and within sight of it, as the Sychar of the New Testament, one of the earliest to advocate this view having been the late learned Canon Williams. Little more than a third of a mile from ’Askar is the reputed tomb of Joseph. The transformation, of the name Sychar into ’Askar is explained, either by a contraction of Ain Askar, ‘the well of Sychar,’ or else by the fact that in the Samaritan Chronicle the place is called Iskar, which seems to have been the vulgar pronunciation of Sychar. A full description of the place is given by Captain Conder (Tent-Work in Palestine, vol. 1 pp. 71 etc., especially pp. 75 and 76), and by M. Guérin, ‘La Samarie,’ vol. 1 p. 371, although the latter writer, who almost always absolutely follows tradition, denies the identity of Sychar and ’Askar (pp. 401, 402).

II. Time of Our Lord’s Visit to Sychar.

This question, which is of such importance not only for the chronology of this period, but in regard to the unnamed Feast at Jerusalem to which Jesus went up (Joh_5:1), has been discussed most fully and satisfactorily by Canon Westcott (Speaker’s Commentary, vol. 2 of the New Testament, p. 93). The following data will assist our inquiries.

1. Jesus spent some time after the Feast of Passover (Joh_2:23) in the province of Judaea. But it can scarcely be supposed that this was a long period, for – 

2ndly, in Joh_4:45 the Galileans have evidently a fresh remembrance of what had taken place at the Passover in Jerusalem, which would scarcely have been the case if a long period and other festivals had intervened. Similarly, the ‘King’s Officer’ (Joh_4:47) seems also to act upon a recent report.

3rdly, the unnamed Feast of Joh_5:1 forms an important element in our computations. Some months of Galilean ministry must have intervened between it and the return of Jesus to Galilee. Hence it could not have been Pentecost. Nor could it have been the Feast of Tabernacles, which was in autumn, nor yet the Feast of the Dedication, which took place in winter, since both are expressly mentioned by their names (Joh_7:2, Joh_10:22). The only other Feasts were: the Feast of Wood-Offering (comp. ‘The Temple,’ etc., p. 295), the Feast of Trumpets, or New Year’s Day, the Day of Atonement, and the Feast of Esther, or Purim.

To begin with the latter, since of late it has found most favour. The reasons against Christ’s attendance in Jerusalem at Purim seem to me irresistible. Canon Westcott urges that the discourse of Christ at the unnamed Feast has not, as is generally the case, any connection with the thoughts of that festival. To this I would add, that I can scarcely conceive our Lord going up to a feast observed with such boisterous merriment as Purim was, while the season of the year in which it falls would scarcely tally with the statement of Joh_5:3, that a great multitude of sick people were laid down in the porches of Bethesda.

But if the unnamed Feast was not Purim, it must have been one of these three, the Feast of the Ingathering of Wood, the Feast of Trumpets, or the Day of Atonement. In other words, it must have taken place late in summer, or in the very beginning of autumn. But if so, then the Galilean ministry intervening between the visit to Samaria and this Feast leads to the necessary inference that the visit to Sychar had taken place in early summer, probably about the middle or end of May. This would allow ample time for Christ’s stay at Jerusalem during the Passover and for His Judaean ministry.

As we are discussing the date of the unnamed Feast, it may be as well to bring the subject here to a close. We have seen that the only three Feasts to which reference could have been made are the Feast of Wood Offering, the Feast of Trumpets, and the Day of Atonement. But the last of these could not be meant, since it is designated, not only by Philo, but in Act_27:9, as ‘the fast,’ not the feast νηστεία, – not ἑορτή (comp. LXX., Lev_14:29 etc., Lev_23:27 etc.). As between the Feast of the Wood Offering and that of Trumpets I feel at considerable loss. Canon Westcott has urged on behalf of the latter reasons which I confess are very weighty. On the other hand, the Feast of Trumpets was not one of those on which people generally resorted to Jerusalem, and as it took place on the 1st of Tishri (about the middle of September), it is difficult to believe that anyone going up to it would not rather have chosen, or at least remained over, the Day of Atonement and the Feast of Tabernacles, which followed respectively, on the 10th and 15th days of that month. Lastly, the Feast of Wood Offering, which took place on the 15th Ab (in August), was a popular and joyous festival, when the wood needed for the altar was brought up from all parts of the country (comp. on that feast ‘The Temple and its Services,’ etc., pp. 295, 296). As between these two feasts, we must leave the question undecided, only noting that barely six weeks intervened between the one and the other feast.