The translation of a Hebrew term that means “hole,” “pit,” or more often “well.” The difference between cistern and well often is not apparent. The innumerable cisterns, wells, and pools that exist in Palestine are evidence of the efforts of ancient people to supplement the natural water supply. The cistern of Palestine was usually a bottle or pear-shaped reservoir into which water could drain from a roof, tunnel, or courtyard. The porous limestone out of which the cisterns were dug allowed much of the water put into the cistern to escape. After 1300 B.C. cisterns began to be plastered, which resulted in a more efficient system of water storage. The mouth of a cistern was sometimes finished and covered with a stone. Some cisterns have been found with a crude filter to trap debris.
The biblical writers revealed that cisterns were used for purposes other than holding water. Joseph was placed in a “broken” cistern by his brothers (Genesis 37:20-29). The prophet Jeremiah was imprisoned in the cistern of Malchijah, King Zedekiah's son, (Jeremiah 38:6 NAS). In
Jeremiah 14:1, the pagan gods were symbolized as broken cisterns that could not hold water. Cisterns also served as convenient dumping places for corpses (Jeremiah 41:7,Jeremiah 41:9). See Waterworks; Wells.