May we not venture to render the well of Sychar? We meet with both the place and name in Bava Kama; "There was a time when the sheaf" [of the firstfruits] "was brought from Gaggoth Zeriphin, and the two loaves" [those which were to be offered by the high-priest] "from the valley of the well of Sychar." So give me leave to render it. Gloss; "The sheaf was wont to be fetched from places in the neighbourhood of Jerusalem; but now, the fruits having been destroyed by war, they were fain to fetch it afar off."
Take, if you will, the whole story: "It is a tradition among the Rabbins, that when the Asmonean family mutually besieged one another, Aristobulus without, and Hyrcanus within, every day they that were besieged within let down their money by the wall in a little box, which those that were without received, and sent them back their daily sacrifice. It came to pass that there was an old man amongst them skilled in the wisdom of the Greeks, that told them, 'So long as they within perform their worship, you will never be able to subdue them.' Upon this, the next day they let down their money, and the besiegers sent them back a hog; when the hog had got half up the wall, fixing his feet upon it, the land of Israel shook four hundred leagues round about. From that time they said, 'Cursed be he that breedeth swine: cursed be he that teacheth his son the wisdom of the Greeks.' From that time the sheaf of the firstfruits was fetched from Gaggoth Zeriphin, and the two loaves from the valley Ein Sychar."
This story is told, with another annexed, in Menachoth: "When the time came about that the sheaf should be brought, nobody knew from whence to fetch it. They made inquiry, therefore, by a public crier. There came a certain dumb man, and stretched forth one hand towards a roof, and the other hand towards a cottage. Mordecai saith to them, 'Is there any place that is called Gaggoth Zeriphin, or Zeriphin Gaggoth?' They sent and found there was. When they would have offered the two loaves, but knew not where to get them, they made inquiry again by a public crier; the same dumb man comes again, and he puts one hand to his eye, and another hand to the hole of the doorpost where they put in the bolt. Quoth Mordecai to them, 'Is there such a place as Ein Sychar, or Sychar Ein?' They inquired, and found there was."
But what had Mordecai to do with the times of the Asmoneans? One of the Glossators upon this place makes this objection; and the answer is, That whoever were skilled either in signs or languages had this name given them from Mordecai, who, in the days of Ahasuerus, was so skilled.
And now let the reader give us his judgment as to name and place; whether it doth not seem to have some relation with our well of Sychar. It may be disputed on either side. I shall only say these things:
Menachoth, as before; "It is commanded that the sheaf be brought from some neighbouring place, but if it ripen not in any place near Jerusalem, let them fetch it elsewhere." Gloss: "Gaggoth Zeriphin and Ein Sychar were at a great distance from Jerusalem." So is our Sychar distant far enough indeed.
"Zariph, and Zeripha, denotes a little cottage, where the keeper of fields lodged." It is described by Aruch that "it was covered over with osier twigs, the tops of which were bound together, and it was drawn at pleasure from one place to another," &c.
Gloss in Erubhin: "They that dwelt in those cottages were keepers of sheep; they abode in them for a month or two, so long as the pasture lasted, and then they removed to another place." Gaggoth Zeriphin, therefore, signifies the roofs of little cottages: and the place seems to be so called either from the number of such lodges in that place, or from some hills there, that represented and seemed to have the shape of such kind of cottages.
Such cottages may come to mind when we read, Luke 2:8, of the shepherds watching their flocks by night. But this is out of our way.