|Easton's Bible Dictionary|
The rendering of a Hebrew word bor, which means a receptacle for water conveyed to it; distinguished from beer, which denotes a place where water rises on the spot (Jeremiah 2:13; Proverbs 5:15; Isaiah 36:16), a fountain. Cisterns are frequently mentioned in Scripture. The scarcity of springs in Palestine made it necessary to collect rain-water in reservoirs and cisterns (Numbers 21:22). (see WELL.)
Empty cisterns were sometimes used as prisons (Jeremiah 38:6; Lamentations 3:53; Psalm 40:2; 69:15). The "pit" into which Joseph was cast (Genesis 37:24) was a beer or dry well. There are numerous remains of ancient cisterns in all parts of Palestine.
Noah Webster's Dictionary
1. (n.) An artificial reservoir or tank for holding water, beer, or other liquids.
2. (n.) A natural reservoir; a hollow place containing water.
Int. Standard Bible Encyclopedia
CISTERN; WELL; POOL; AQUEDUCT
Use of Terms
2. Wells or Cylindrical Cisterns
3. Private Cisterns
4. Public Cisterns
5. Pools and Aqueducts
6. Figurative Uses
Several words are rendered by "cistern," "well," "pool," the relations of which in the King James Version and the Revised Version (British and American) are as follows:
Use of Terms:
"Cistern," bo'r (Jeremiah 2:13, etc.), or bor (2 Kings 18:31). The latter word is frequently in the King James Version translated "well." the Revised Version (British and American) in these cases changes to "cistern" in text (Deuteronomy 6:11 2 Chronicles 26:10 Nehemiah 9:25) margin (Jeremiah 14:3), rendered "pit" in the King James Version are changed to "cistern" the Revised Version (British and American) (the latter in the American Standard Revised Version only).
The proper Hebrew word for "well" is be'er (seen in Beer-sheba, "well of the oath," Genesis 21:31), but other terms are thus rendered in the King James Version, as `ayin (Genesis 24:13, 16, etc., and frequently), ma`yan (Joshua 18:15), maqor (Proverbs 10:11). ally changes to "fountain"; in Exodus 15:27, however, it renders `ayin by "springs," and in Psalm 84:6, ma`yan by, "place of springs." "Pool," 'agham (Isaiah 14:23, etc.; in the King James Version, Exodus 7:19; Exodus 8:5, rendered "ponds"); more frequently berekhah (2 Samuel 2:13; 2 Samuel 4:12, etc.). In Psalm 84:6 the cognate berakhah, is changed to "blessing."
In the New Testament "well" represents the two words: pege (John 4:6, 14; in the Revised Version, margin "spring"; 2 Peter 2:17; the Revised Version (British and American) renders "springs"), and phrear (John 4:11, 12). "Pool" is kolumbethra, in John 5:2, 4, 7; John 9:7, 11.
The efforts made to supplement the natural water supply, both in agricultural and in populated areas, before as well as after the Conquest, are clearly seen in the innumerable cisterns, wells and pools which abound throughout Palestine The rainy season, upon which the various storage systems depend, commences at the end of October and ends in the beginning of May. In Jerusalem, the mean rainfall in 41 years up to 1901 was 25, 81 inches, falling in a mean number of 56 days (see Glaisher, Meteorological Observations, 24). Toward the end of summer, springs and wells, where they have not actually dried up, diminish very considerably, and cisterns and open reservoirs become at times the only sources of supply. Cisterns are fed from surface and roof drainage. Except in the rare instances where springs occur, wells depend upon percolation. The' great open reservoirs or pools are fed from surface drainage and, in some cases, by aqueducts from springs or from more distant collecting pools. In the case of private cisterns, it is the custom of the country today to close up the inlets during the early days of the rain, so as to permit of a general wash down of gathering surfaces, before admitting the water. Cisterns, belonging to the common natives, are rarely cleansed, and the inevitable scum which collects is dispersed by plunging the pitcher several times before drawing water. When the water is considered to be bad, a somewhat primitive cure is applied by dropping earth into the cistern, so as to sink all impurities with it, to the bottom. The accumulation often found in ancient cisterns probably owes some of its presence to this same habit.
2. Wells or Cylindrical Cisterns:
It is necessary to include wells under the head of cisterns, as there appears to be some confusion in the use of the two terms. Wells, so called, were more often deep cylindrical reservoirs, the lower part of which was sunk in the rock and cemented, the upper part being built with open joints, to receive the surface percolation. They were often of great depth. Job's well at Jerusalem, which is certainly of great antiquity, is 125 ft. deep (see Palestine Exploration Fund, "Jerus," 371).
The discovery of "living water" when digging a well, recorded in Genesis 26:19 margin, appears to have been an unusual incident. Uzziah hewed out many cisterns in the valley for his cattle (2 Chronicles 26:9, 10 the Revised Version (British and American)), and he built towers, presumably to keep watch over both cattle and cisterns. Isaac "digged again the wells" which had been filled in by the Philistines (Genesis 26:18). Wells were frequently dug in the plain, far from villages, for flocks and herds, and rude stone troughs were provided nearby. The well was usually covered with a stone, through which a hole was pierced sufficiently large to allow of free access for the pitchers. A stone was placed over this hole (Genesis 29:10) when the well was not in use. The great amount of pottery found in ancient cisterns suggests that clay pots were used for drawing water (see Bible Sidelights, 88). Josephus (Ant., IV, viii, 37) elucidates the passage in Exodus 21:33 requiring the mouth of a "pit" or "well" to be covered with planks against accidents. This would seem to apply to wide-mouthed wells which had not been narrowed over to receive a stone cover. It may have been a well or cistern similar to these into which Joseph was cast (Genesis 37:24). In fact, dry-wells and cisterns formed such effective dungeons, that it is very probable they were often used for purposes of detention. From earliest times, wells have been the cause of much strife. The covenant between Abimelech and Abraham at Beersheba (Genesis 32) was a necessity, no less pressing then than it is now. The well, today, is a center of life in the East. Women gather around it in pursuit of their daily duties, and travelers, man and beast, divert their course thereto, if needs be, for refreshment; and news of the outer world is carried to and from the well. It is, in fact, an all-important center, and daily presents a series of characteristic Bible scenes. The scene between Rebekah and the servant of Abraham (Genesis 24:11) is one with frequent parallels. The well lies usually at some little distance from the village or city. Abraham's servant made his "camels to kneel down without the city by the well of water at the time of the evening, the time that women go out to draw water." Saul and his servant found young maidens going out of the city to draw water (1 Samuel 9:11). Moses helped the daughters of the priest of Midian at the well, which was evidently at some distance from habitation (Exodus 2:16).
3. Private Cisterns:
Private cisterns must be distinguished from public cisterns or wells. They were smaller and were sunk in the rocks within private boundaries, each owner having his own cistern (2 Kings 18:31 Proverbs 5:15). Ancient sites are honeycombed with these cisterns. A common type in Jerusalem seems to have been bottle-shaped in section, the extended bottom part being in the softer rock, and the narrow neck in the hard upper stratum. Many irregularly shaped cisterns occur with rock vaults supported by rock or masonry piers. Macalister tells of the discovery at Gezer of a small silt catchpit attached to a private cistern, and provided with an overflow channel leading to the cistern. It is an early instance of a now well-known method of purification. The universal use of cement rendering to the walls of the cisterns was most necessary to seal up the fissures of the rock. The "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13) probably refer to insufficiently sealed cisterns.
4. Public Cisterns:
Besides private cisterns there were huge public rock-cut cisterns within the city walls. The great water caverns under the Temple area at Jerusalem show a most extensive system of water storage (see Recovery of Jerusalem, chapter vii). There are 37 of these described in Palestine Exploration Fund, "Jerus," 217, and the greatest is an immense rock-cut cavern the roof of which is partly rock and partly stone, supported by rock piers (see Fig. 1, Palestine Exploration Fund). It is 43 ft. deep with a storage capacity of over two million gallons and there are numerous access manholes. This cistern is fed by an aqueduct from Solomon's Pools about 10 miles distant by road, and is locally known as Bahar el Kebir, the "Great Sea." One of the most recent and one of the most interesting rock-cut reservoirs yet discovered is that at Gezer. (SeePalestine Exploration Fund Statement, 1908, 96.) In this example, the pool of spring water is reached by a great rock-tunnel staircase which descends 94 ft. 6 inches from the surface. The staircase diminishes in size as it descends, and at its greatest, it is 23 ft. high and 12 ft. 10 inches wide. These proportions may seem unnecessarily large, but may be accounted for by the necessity for providing light at the water level. As a matter of fact, the brink of the pool receives the light from above. The work dates back to pre-Israelite times.
5. Pools and Aqueducts:
Open pools were common in every city. They were cut out of the rock and were built and cemented at points where occasion demanded. They were often of great size. The pool outside Jerusalem known as Birket es Sultan measures 555 ft. x 220 ft. x 36 ft. deep, and the so-called Hezekiah's Pool within the walls, is 240 ft. x 144 ft. x about 20 ft. deep. The latter probably owes its origin to the rock-cut fosse of early Jewish date. The Birket es Sultan, on the other hand, probably dates from the time of the Turkish occupation. They may, however, be taken as examples, which, if somewhat larger, are still in accord with the pool system of earlier history. Pools were usually fed by surface drainage, and in some cases by aqueducts from springs at some distance away. They seem to have been at the public service, freely accessible to both man and beast. Pools situated outside the city walls were sometimes connected by aqueducts with pools within the city, so that the water could be drawn within the walls in time of siege. The so-called Pools of Solomon, three in number (see Fig. 3), situated about 10 miles by road from Jerusalem, are of large proportions and are fed by surface water and by aqueducts from springs. The water from these pools is conveyed in a wonderfully engineered course, known as the lower-level aqueduct, which searches the winding contours of the Judean hills for a distance of about 15 miles, before reaching its destination in "the great sea" under the Temple area. This aqueduct is still in use, but its date is uncertain (see G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, 131, where the author finds reason for ascribing it to the period of Herod). The course and destination of another aqueduct known as the high-level aqueduct is less definite. These aqueducts are of varying dimensions. The low-level aqueduct at a point just before it enters the Temple area was found to measure 3 ft. high x 2 ft. 3 inches wide, partly rock-cut and partly built, and rendered in smooth-troweled cement, with well-squared stone covers (see Palestine Exploration Fund, Excavations at Jerusalem, 53). There are many remains of rock-cut aqueducts throughout Palestine (see Fig. 4) which seem to indicate their use in early Hebrew times, but the lack of Old Testament references to these works is difficult to account for, unless it is argued that in some cases they date back to pre-Israelite times. The great tunnel and pool at Gezer lends a measure of support to this hypothesis. On the other hand, a plea for a Hebrew origin is also in a measure strengthened by the very slight reference in the Old Testament to such a great engineering feat as the cutting of the Siloam tunnel, which is doubtless the work of Hezekiah. The pool of Siloam was originally a simple rock-cut reservoir within the walls, and was constructed by Hezekiah (2 Chronicles 32:30). It measures 75 ft. x 71 ft. It is the upper pool of Isaiah 7:3. A lower overflow pool existed immediately beyond, contained by the city wall across the Tyropoeon valley. The aqueduct which supplies the upper pool takes a tortuous course of about 1,700 ft. through the solid rock from the Virgin's fountain, an intermittent spring on the East slope of the hill. The water reaches the pool on the Southwest of the spur of Ophel, and it was in the rock walls of this aqueduct that the famous Siloam inscription recording the completion of the work was discovered.
Herod embellished the upper pool, lining it with stone and building arches around its four sides (see Palestine Exploration Fund, Excavations at Jerusalem, 154), and the pool was most likely in this condition in the time of Christ (John 9:6, 7). There are numerous other pools, cisterns and aqueducts in and around Jerusalem, which provide abundant evidence of the continual struggle after water, made by its occupants of all times (see G. A. Smith, Jerusalem, chapter v, volume I).
See also PIT; WELL, etc.
6. Figurative Uses:
Good wives are described as cisterns (Proverbs 5:15). "The left ventricle of the heart, which retains the blood till it be redispersed through the body, is called a cistern" (Ecclesiastes 12:6). Idols, armies and material objects in which Israel trusted were "broken cisterns" (Jeremiah 2:13, see above) "soon emptied of all the aid and comfort which they possess, and cannot fill themselves again."
G. A. Smith, Jerusalem; Palestine Exploration Fund Memoirs, Jerusalem vol; Wilson, The Recovery of Jerusalem; Macalister, Bible Sidelights; Palestine Exploration Fund Statement; Bliss and Dickie, Excavations at Jerusalem; Josephus.
Arch. C. Dickie
Cistern (21 Occurrences)
Genesis 37:22 Reuben said to them, "Shed no blood. Throw him into this pit that is in the wilderness, but lay no hand on him"-that he might deliver him out of their hand, to restore him to his father. (See NIV)
Genesis 37:24 and they took him, and threw him into the pit. The pit was empty. There was no water in it. (See NIV)
Genesis 37:28 Midianites who were merchants passed by, and they drew and lifted up Joseph out of the pit, and sold Joseph to the Ishmaelites for twenty pieces of silver. They brought Joseph into Egypt. (See NIV)
Genesis 37:29 Reuben returned to the pit; and saw that Joseph wasn't in the pit; and he tore his clothes. (See NIV)
Leviticus 11:36 Nevertheless a spring or a cistern in which water is a gathered shall be clean: but that which touches their carcass shall be unclean. (WEB JPS NAS RSV NIV)
1 Samuel 19:22 Then went he also to Ramah, and came to the great well that is in Secu: and he asked and said, Where are Samuel and David? And one said, Behold, they are at Naioth in Ramah. (See JPS NIV)
2 Samuel 3:26 When Joab had come out from David, he sent messengers after Abner, and they brought him back from the well of Sirah; but David didn't know it. (See RSV)
2 Kings 18:31 Don't listen to Hezekiah.' For thus says the king of Assyria,'Make your peace with me, and come out to me; and everyone of you eat of his vine, and everyone of his fig tree, and everyone drink the waters of his own cistern; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Proverbs 5:15 Drink water out of your own cistern, running water out of your own well. (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS YLT NAS RSV NIV)
Ecclesiastes 12:6 before the silver cord is severed, or the golden bowl is broken, or the pitcher is broken at the spring, or the wheel broken at the cistern, (WEB KJV ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV)
Isaiah 30:14 He will break it as a potter's vessel is broken, breaking it in pieces without sparing, so that there won't be found among the broken piece a piece good enough to take fire from the hearth, or to dip up water out of the cistern." (WEB JPS ASV DBY NAS RSV NIV)
Isaiah 36:16 Don't listen to Hezekiah, for thus says the king of Assyria,'Make your peace with me, and come out to me; and each of you eat from his vine, and each one from his fig tree, and each one of you drink the waters of his own cistern; (WEB KJV JPS ASV DBY WBS NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 6:7 As a well casteth forth its waters, so she casteth forth her wickedness: violence and destruction is heard in her; before me continually is sickness and wounds. (See JPS)
Jeremiah 38:6 Then took they Jeremiah, and cast him into the dungeon of Malchijah the king's son, that was in the court of the guard: and they let down Jeremiah with cords. In the dungeon there was no water, but mire; and Jeremiah sank in the mire. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 38:7 Now when Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, a eunuch, who was in the king's house, heard that they had put Jeremiah in the dungeon (the king then sitting in the gate of Benjamin), (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 38:9 My lord the king, these men have done evil in all that they have done to Jeremiah the prophet, whom they have cast into the dungeon; and he is likely to die in the place where he is, because of the famine; for there is no more bread in the city. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 38:10 Then the king commanded Ebedmelech the Ethiopian, saying, Take from hence thirty men with you, and take up Jeremiah the prophet out of the dungeon, before he dies. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 38:11 So Ebedmelech took the men with him, and went into the house of the king under the treasury, and took there rags and worn-out garments, and let them down by cords into the dungeon to Jeremiah. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 38:13 So they drew up Jeremiah with the cords, and took him up out of the dungeon: and Jeremiah remained in the court of the guard. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 41:7 It was so, when they came into the midst of the city, that Ishmael the son of Nethaniah killed them, and cast them into the midst of the pit, he, and the men who were with him. (See NAS RSV NIV)
Jeremiah 41:9 Now the pit in which Ishmael cast all the dead bodies of the men whom he had killed, by the side of Gedaliah (the same was who which Asa the king had made for fear of Baasha king of Israel), Ishmael the son of Nethaniah filled it with those who were killed. (See NAS RSV NIV)