ISHMAEL (Hebr. Yishma'el, "God hears"; LXX., Ismael): The son of Abraham by Hagar (q.v.), an Egyptian slave. He was born in the house of Abraham and was included in the covenant of circumcision (Gen. xvii. 25, P). Since, however, it was the will of God that Isaac should be the sole heir of the covenant blessings, the Lord commanded Abraham to accede to the demands of his wife Sarah that Ishmael be driven from the house. After this enforced flight, a divine revelation came to Hagar (Gen. xxi., E), as she was driven to despair for her son, who was dying of thirst in the "desert of Beersheba." That this vision is only another version of that recounted in chap. xvi. (Hupfeld, Dillmann and others) can not be maintained, since the details of the divine appearance are entirely different and there is also a difference between the chronology of P and that of E, the former (Gen. xvii. 25) making Ishmael at least fifteen years of age at the time, while E (Gen. xxi.) regards him as still a child of tender years (cf. the LXX. of xxi. 14 which says expressly: "and she placed the child upon her shoulder").

The especial importance of Ishmael lies in the relation of his descendants to Israel. They were to have no claim on the promised inheritance of the people of God, but were destined to multiply and spread. These descendants are characterized by the words of the angel concerning the ancestor himself (Gen. xvi. 12): "And he will be a wild man; his hand will be against every man, and every man's hand against him," thus sketching with a few strokes the spirit and manner of life of the Bedouins. According to Gen. xvi. 12, they were to dwell farther to the eastward than their brothers, and in fact they had possession of the desert east of Palestine, occupying also the country to the south, from the Persian Gulf to the northeastern boundary of Egypt. They spread put over the whole of northern Arabia, and therefore their ethnic designation, Ishmaelites, is used generally for the tribes of northern Arabia, including also the Midianites. Twelve peoples of northern Arabia are derived from Ishmael in Gen. xxv. 12 sqq. (P), where the genealogy is more ethnographic than is usually the case in the histories of the patriarchs. Ishmael is, however, a primitive personal name which occurs in ancient Arabic inscriptions, and in this case the leader gave his name to the tribe, although all the groups of peoples which are brought into connection with him were not his actual descendants. That Israel recognized its blood-relationship with these tribes rests upon a correct tradition. The Mohammedan Arabs, who proudly reckon Ishmael among their ancestors, say that he and his mother were buried n the Kaaba at Mecca (Abulfeda, Historia anteislamica, ed. H. O. Fleischer, pp. 24 sqq., Leipsic, 1831; E. Pocock, Specimen historiae Arabum, pp. 6-7, 177, 506-507, Oxford, 1806; B. d' Herbelot, Bibliothèque orientale, Maestricht, 1776, s.vv. "Hagar," "Ismael," "Ischak").


BIBLIOGRAPHY: Consult, besides the literature under ISAAC and ARABIA: A. H. Sayee, Higher Criticism and the Monuments, pp. 201-202, London, 1894; T. P. Hughes, Dictionary of Islam, pp. 216-220, ib. 1896; DB, ii. 502-505; EB, ii. 2211-2215; the appropriate sections in works on the history of Israel and the commentaries on Genesis.


CCEL home page
This document is from the Christian Classics Ethereal Library at
Calvin College. Last modified on 10/03/03. Contact the CCEL.
Calvin seal: My heart I offer you O Lord, promptly and sincerely