According to the book of Genesis, when Abraham first came to Beersheva, he dug a well and planted a Tamarix tree. The sandy, scorching hot outpost that Beersheva is at first sight, is also the historic gateway to water. Despite its location on the edge of the desert, Beersheva is a veritable wet oasis.
In order to understand this puzzling phenomenon, we must turn to the geomorphology of its terrain. On its surface, the Beersheva riverbed appears utterly dry. Apart from the occasional flashflood during the winter, most of the year it is an arid ravine of rocks and sand. Yet underground, there is a constant, though slow, flow of water. As the riverbed approaches the city of Beersheva, it crosses a ridge comprised of harder rocks, making it narrower. The top level of the underground current, now flowing through this natural bottleneck, rises – almost reaching the surface. Subsequently, even the shallowest of wells will quickly strike water, and trees need not grow deep roots to reach the elixir of life.
Abraham, who came from the water-rich region of the Euphrates in the regions of Urfa and Harran, possessed the knowhow of well digging when he came to Beersheva and the various stories around the importance of wells in Abraham’s time provide one explanation for the name of the city.
Abraham’s Well in the south-eastern part of the city is one of these ancient wells, even though the identification as from Abraham’s era can be archeologically questionable. In its current form, the well is from the Ottoman period. Yet at more than thirteen meters deep and nearly four meters in diameter, it almost certainly took advantage of an older existing well, most probably from the Byzantine era. Both a twelfth century CE Arabic stone inscription and the incised rope marks left by countless generations of people drawing water attest to its antiquity.
From the Bronze Age, Beersheva has been a city of wells. Abraham’s Well is the largest and most abundant of the lot. As the subsequent layers of civilization indicate, these plentiful water sources assured that it was always an attractive spot for settlement. Indeed, when General Allenby and his British Army conquered the city from the Ottomans in WWI, thirty-six active wells supplied the residents with water.