According to Genesis 16, Ishmael was the son of the patriarch Abraham by the Egyptian handmaiden Hagar. When Abraham's supposedly barren wife Sarah finally bore Isaac, a rivalry developed between Sarah and Hagar and thus between the two half brothers, Isaac and Ishmael.
Cast out into the wilderness, Ishmael was the ancestor of the nomadic Arabian Ishmaelites, arranged, like the Israelites, into twelve tribes. Because Islam traces its lineage from Abraham through Ishmael and Judaism and Christianity trace their lineages through Isaac, Muslims, Jews, and Christians are all spiritual "children of Abraham."
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Ishmael (Hebrew, "may God hear"), in the Old Testament, the elder son of the Hebrew patriarch Abraham, and in Islamic tradition, an ancestor of the Arab peoples. His story (see Genesis 16, 21, 25) is interwoven with that of Isaac. Ishmael's mother was Hagar, Egyptian handmaid to Abraham's wife, Sarah, who was barren. In answer to her prayers, Sarah conceived and was delivered of a son, Isaac. Having thus satisfied Abraham, Sarah demanded that Hagar and Ishmael be driven away. Hagar and her son fled to the south. Ishmael settled in the wilderness, married an Egyptian woman, and became the progenitor of 12 tribes of desert nomads. The region occupied by these Ishmaelites included most of central and northern Arabia. Muslims regard themselves as the descendents of Ishmael and view Hagar as the true wife of Abraham, and Ishmael (or Ismail) his favored son. In this version, Ismail, not Isaac, was offered for sacrifice by Abraham.
(Septuagint 'Ismaél; Vulgate Ismahel, in 1 Chronicles 1:28, 20, 31).
The son of Abraham and Agar, the Egyptian. His history is contained in parts of Gen., xvi-xxv, wherein three strata of Hebrew tradition (J, E, P) are usually distinguished by contemporary scholars. The name "Ismael", which occurs also in early Babylonian and in Minæan, was given to the child before its birth (Genesis 16:11), and means: "may God hear". As Sarai, Abram's wife, was barren, she gave him, in accordance with the custom of the time, her handmaid, Agar, as concubine, in order to obtain children through her. Agar's conception of a child soon led to her flight into the wilderness, where the angel of Yahweh appeared to her, bade her to return to her mistress, and fixed the name and character of her future son. After her return to Bersabee, she brought forth Ismael to Abram, who was then eighty-six years old (xvi). Ismael was very dear to the aged patriarch, as is shown by his entreaty of God in Ismael's behalf, when the Almighty promised him a son through Sara. In answer to this earnest entreaty, God disclosed to Abraham the glorious future which awaited Ismael: "As for Ismael, I have also heard thee. Behold, I will bless him, and increase, and multiply him exceedingly: he shall beget twelve chiefs, and I will make him a great nation." Ismael was not the destined heir of the covenant; yet, as he belonged to Abraham's family, he was submitted to the rite of circumcision when the patriarch circumcised all the male members of his household. He was then a lad of thirteen (xvii). Abraham's tender love towards Ismael manifested itself on another occasion. He resented Sara's complaint to him, when, on the great festival given at the weaning of Isaac, she requested Agar's and Ismael's summary dismissal because she "had seen the son of Agar the Egyptian playing with [or mocking] Isaac her son". Ismael was Abraham's own "son", and indeed his first- born. At this juncture, God directed Abraham to accede to Sara's request, comforting him with the repeated assurance of future national greatness for Ismael. Whereupon the patriarch dismissed Agar and Ismael with a modicum of provision for their journey. As their scanty provision of water was soon exhausted, Ismael would have certainly perished in the wilderness, had not God shown to Agar a well of water which enabled her to revive the dying lad.
According to God's repeated promise of future greatness for Agar's son, Ismael grew up, lived in the wilderness of Paran, became famous as an archer, and married an Egyptian wife (xxi, 8-21). He became the father of twelve chiefs, whose names and general quarters are given in Gen., xxv, 12-16. Only one daughter of Ismael is mentioned in Holy Writ, where she is spoken of as one of Esau's wives (cf. Genesis 28:9; 36:3). The last incident known of Ismael's career is connected with Abraham's burial, in which he appears associated with Isaac (xxv, 9). Ismael died at the age of one hundred and thirty-seven, "and was gathered unto his people" (xxv, 17).
In his Epistle to the Galatians (4:21, sqq.) St. Paul expands allegorically the narrative of Ismael and Isaac, urging upon his readers the duty of not giving up their Christian freedom from the bondage of the Law. Of course, in so arguing, the Apostle of the Gentiles did not intend to detract in any way from the historical character of the narrative in Genesis. With regard to the various difficulties, literary and historical, suggested by a close study of the Biblical account of Ismael's life, suffice it to say that each and all will never cause a careful and unbiased scholar to regard that account otherwise than as portraying an ancient historical character, will never induce him to treat otherwise than as hypercritical every attempt, by whomsoever made, to resolve Ismael into a conjectural personality of the founder of a group of Arabic tribes. And this view of the matter will appear most certain to any one who compares the Biblical narrative with the legends concerning Ismael which are embodied in the Talmud, the Targum, and the other rabbinical works; while the latter are plainly the result of puerile imagination, the former is decidedly the description of an ancient historical figure.
Written by Francis E. Gigot. Transcribed by WGKofron. With thanks to St. Mary's Church, Akron, Ohio The Catholic Encyclopedia, Volume VIII. Published 1910. New York: Robert Appleton Company. Nihil Obstat, October 1, 1910. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York
See bibliography to ISAAC, to which may be added, DRIVER in HASTINGS, Dict. of the Bible, s. v. Ishmael; SELIGSOHN in The Jewish Encyclopedia, s. v. Ishmael.
Eldest son of Abraham by his concubine Hagar; born when Abraham was eighty-six years of age (Gen. xvi. 15, 16). God promised Abraham that His blessing should be upon Ishmael, who, He foretold, would beget twelve princes and would become a great nation (Gen. xvii. 18, 20). Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen (Gen. xvii. 23-26). When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son Isaac, his brother, younger by fourteen years, she insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael and his slave-mother. Abraham reluctantly yielded, having provided them with bread and a bottle of water. Ishmael was about to die of thirst when an angel showed his mother a well, repeating to her at the same time that Ishmael would become a great nation. Ishmael dwelt in the wilderness, apparently, of Beer-sheba, where he became a skilful archer; later he settled in the wilderness of Paran, where his mother took him a wife from Egypt (Gen. xxi. 8-21). Both Ishmael and Isaac were present at the burial of their father, Abraham. Ishmael died at the age of 137. He had twelve sons, ancestors of twelve tribes that dwelt "from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest to Assyria" (Gen. xxv. 9-18).
-In Rabbinical Literature:
The name of Ishmael is an allusion to God's promise to hear () the complaints of Israel whenever it suffered at the hands of Ishmael (Gen. R. xlv. 11). Abraham endeavored to bring up Ishmael in righteousness; to train him in the laws of hospitality Abraham gave him the calf to prepare (Gen. R. xlviii. 14; comp. Gen. xviii. 7). But according to divine prediction Ishmael remained a savage. The ambiguous expression in Gen. xxi. 9 (see Hagar) is interpreted by some rabbis as meaning that Ishmael had been idolatrous; by others, that he had turned his bow against Isaac. According to the interpretation of Simeon b. Yoḥai, Ishmael mocked those who maintained that Isaac would be Abraham's chief heir, and said that as he (Ishmael) was the first-born son he would receive two-thirds of the inheritance (Tosef., Sotah, v. 12, vi. 6; Pirḳe R. El. xxx.; Gen. R. liii. 15). Upon seeing the danger to Isaac, Sarah, who had till then been attached to Ishmael (Josephus, "Ant." i. 12, § 3), insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael. Abraham was obliged to put him on Hagar's shoulders, because he fell sick under the spell of the evil eye cast upon him by Sarah (Gen. R. liii. 17).
Ishmael, left under a shrub by his despairing mother, prayed to God to take his soul and not permit him to suffer the torments of a slow death (comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 15). God then commanded the angel to show Hagar the well which was created on Friday in the week of Creation, in the twilight (comp. Ab. v. 6), and which afterward accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness (Pirḳe R. El. xxx.). But this was protested against by the angels, who said: "Why should Ishmael have water, since his descendants will destroy the Israelites by thirst?" (comp. Yer. Ta'an. iv. 8; Lam. R. ii. 2). God replied: "But now he is innocent, and I judge him according to what he is now" (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; Gen. R. l.c.; et al.). Ishmael married a Moabitess named 'Adishah or 'Aishah (variants "'Ashiyah" and "'Aifah," Arabic names; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 21; Pirḳe R. El. l.c.); or, according to "Sefer ha-Yashar" (Wayera), an Egyptian named Meribah or Merisah. He had four sons and one daughter. Ishmael meanwhile grew so skilful in archery that he became the master of all the bowmen (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 20; Gen.R. liii. 20). Afterward Abraham went to see Ishmael, and, according to his promise to Sarah, stopped at his son's tent without alighting from his camel. Ishmael was not within; his wife refused Abraham food, and beat her children and cursed her husband within Abraham's hearing. Abraham thereupon asked her to tell Ishmael when he returned that an old man had asked that he change the peg of the tent. Ishmael understood that it was his father, took the hint, and drove away his wife. He then married another woman, named Faṭimah (Peḳimah; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan l.c.), who, when three years later Abraham came again to see his son, received him kindly; therefore Abraham asked her to tell Ishmael that the peg was good.
Ishmael then went to Canaan and settled with his father (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). This statement agrees with that of Baba Batra (16a)-that Ishmael became a penitent during the lifetime of Abraham. He who sees Ishmael in a dream will have his prayer answered by God (Ber. 56a).
Isidore Singer, M. Seligsohn, Richard Gottheil, Hartwig Hirschfeld
Jewish Encyclopedia, published between 1901-1906.
Bibliography: Beer, Leben Abraham's nach Auffassung der Jüdischen Sage, pp. 49 et seq., Leipsic, 1859.S. M. Sel.
-In Arabic Literature:
For the history of Ishmael, according to Mohammedan legend, see Jew. Encyc. i. 87, s.v. Abraham in Mohammedan Iegend; and Hagar. It may be added here that Ishmael is designated a prophet by Mohammed: "Remember Ishmael in the Book, for he was true to his promise, and was a messenger and a prophet" (Koran, xix. 55). Ishmael is, therefore, in Mohammedan tradition a prototype of faithfulness. He was an arrow-maker, and a good hunter. As a prophet, he had the gift of performing miracles. He converted many heathen to the worship of the One God. He left twelve sons. His son Kedar is said to have been an ancestor of Mohammed. Ishmael is reputed to have lived one hundred and thirty years; he was buried near the Kaaba. His posterity, however, became pagan, and remained so until they were brought back to Islam by Mohammed.
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