All Sources -
Updated Media sources (1) About content Print Topic Share Topic
views updated


ISHMAEL , or, in Hebrew, Yishmaʿeʾl; eldest son of Abraham. Ishmael's mother was Hagar, an Egyptian slave girl whom Sarah gave to Abraham because of her own infertility; in accordance with Mesopotamian law, the offspring of such a union would be credited to Sarah (Gn. 16:2). The name Yishmaʿeʾl is known from various ancient Semitic cultures and means "God has hearkened," suggesting that a child so named was regarded as the fulfillment of a divine promise.

Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen by Abraham and expelled with his mother at the instigation of Sarah, who wanted to ensure that Isaac would be Abraham's heir (Gn. 21). In the New Testament, Paul uses this incident to symbolize the relationship between Judaism, the older but now rejected tradition, and Christianity (Gal. 4:2131).

In the Genesis account, God blessed Ishmael, promising that he would be the founder of a great nation and a "wild ass of a man" always at odds with others (Gn. 16:12). He is credited with twelve sons, described as "princes according to their tribes" (Gn. 25:16), representing perhaps an ancient confederacy. The Ishmaelites, vagrant traders closely related to the Midianites, were apparently regarded as his descendants. The fact that Ishmael's wife and mother are both said to have been Egyptian suggests close ties between the Ishmaelites and Egypt. According to Genesis 25:17, Ishmael lived to the age of 137.

Islamic tradition tends to ascribe a larger role to Ishmael than does the Bible. He is considered a prophet and, according to certain theologians, the offspring whom Abraham was commanded to sacrifice (although sūrah 37:99111 of the Qurʾān never names that son). Like his father Abraham, Ishmael too played an important role in making Mecca a religious center (2:127129). Judaism has generally regarded him as wicked, although repentance is also ascribed to him. According to some rabbinic traditions, his two wives were Aisha and Fatima, whose names are the same as those of Muammad's wife and daughter. Both Judaism and Islam see him as the ancestor of Arab peoples.


A survey of the Bible's patriarchal narratives can be found in Nahum M. Sarna's Understanding Genesis (New York, 1966). Postbiblical traditions, with reference to Christian and Islamic views, are collected in Louis Ginzberg's exhaustive Legends of the Jews, 2d ed., 2 vols., translated by Henrietta Szold and Paul Radin (Philadelphia, 2003).

Frederick E. Greenspahn (1987 and 2005)

views updated


ISHMAEL (Heb. יִשְׁמָעֵאל; "God hears," wordplays on the name occur in Gen. 16:11–12; 17:20; 21:13, 17), the first son of Abraham, born to him when he was 86 years old. Ishmael's mother was the Egyptian *Hagar, the maidservant of Sarah (Gen. 16). After Hagar had conceived, she became insolent toward her barren mistress, and Sarah treated her harshly. She fled to the wilderness but eventually returned and submitted to Sarah's torments, as commanded by an angel of the Lord. However, after the birth of Isaac many years later, Abraham, with divine consent, acceded to Sarah's demand and expelled Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 21). The relationships among Abraham, Sarah, and Hagar have analogs in ancient Near Eastern family law and practice. Ishmael is the eponymous ancestor of the *Ishmaelites. His circumcision at age 13 (Gen. 17:25) reflects a practice among Arabs of circumcision as a rite of puberty. The reference to him as a bowman (Gen. 21:21) reflects the tradition that Arabs were marksmen (Isa. 21:17). According to Gen. 25:9, Isaac and Ishmael together buried their father Abraham.

In the New Testament (Gal. 4:21–31) Paul treats the banishment of Hagar and Ishmael as an allegory for the replacement of God's old covenant with the Jews through law by God's new covenant with the Christians through promise.

[Yehuda Elitzur /

S. David Sperling (2nd ed.)]

In the Aggadah

Abraham tried to train Ishmael in the right way (Gen. R. 148:13), but failed, his excessive love for him causing him to "spare the rod and spoil the child" (Ex. R. 1:1). Abraham closed his eyes to Ishmael's evil ways and was reluctant to send him away (Gen. R. 53:12). Sarah, on the other hand, fully recognized the true character of Ishmael, for he dishonored women, worshiped idols, and attempted to kill Isaac (Gen. R. 53:11; Tosef. Sot. 6:6). He also mocked those who rejoiced at the birth of Isaac (Gen. R. 53:11). Ishmael is identified with one of the two lads who accompanied Abraham to the *Akedah. He was left behind with *Eliezer and the ass at the foot of Mount Moriah because he could not see the divine cloud which enveloped the mountain (Lev. R. 26:7). When abandoned by Hagar, Ishmael prayed for a quick end rather than a slow torturous death from thirst (pdre 30). The angels hastened to indict Ishmael, exclaiming to God, "Wilt Thou bring up a well for one whose descendants will one day slay Thy children with thirst?" Nevertheless, God provided the well that was created during the twilight of the Sabbath of Creation for Ishmael since he was at that time righteous, and God judges man "only as he is at the moment" (Gen. R. 53:14; pdre 30).

Ishmael's skill in archery was so great (Gen. 21:20) that he became the master of all the bowmen (Gen. R. 53:15). He married a Moabitess named Ayesha. When Abraham later visited them, Ishmael was away and his wife was inhospitable. Abraham thereupon left a message with her that Ishmael should "change the peg of his tent." Ishmael understood the message, divorced his wife, and married a Canaanite woman, Fatima. Three years later, when Abraham next visited, Fatima received him kindly and Abraham declared that the peg was good. Ishmael was so pleased with his father's approval that he moved his entire family to the land of the Philistines so that they could be near Abraham (p d re 30; Sefer Yashar, Va-Yera, 41a–b. Ayesha (ʿAiʾsha) and Fatima are the names of Muhammad's wife and daughter respectively, and the Midrash is obviously a late one). Ishmael became a genuine penitent at the end of his father's lifetime and he later stood aside out of deference for Isaac at his father's funeral (bb 16b). A man who sees Ishmael in a dream will have his prayers answered by God (Ber. 56b; cf. Gen. 21:17). Gradually Ishmael became identified not only as the ancestor of the Ishmaelites but also of the Arabs, who were often named Ishmael in the Middle Ages (see Ginzberg, Legends, 5, 223, 234).

In Islam

Ismāʿīl was a prophet (Sura 19:55; 21:85; 38:48), but it was only in *Medina that it became known to *Muhammad that he was the son of Abraham, one of the founders of the cult at the Kaaba in Mecca, one of the forefathers of the Arabs, and, like Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, one of the worshipers of Allah, even though he was neither Jew nor Christian (Sura 2:119, 127, 130; 3:78; 14:44; 19:55). In the tale of the binding (Sura 37:99–110) Muhammad identified the son who was to be sacrificed as Ishmael and, indeed, the opinions of the traditionalists were also divided on this subject (cf. *Isaac). It is related that a renowned traditionalist of Jewish origin, from the *Qurayẓa tribe, and another Jewish scholar, who converted to Islam, told the caliph Omar ibn Abd al-Azīz (717–20) that the Jews were well informed that Ismāʿil was the one who was bound, but that they concealed this out of jealousy (Tabarī, Taʾrīkh, 1:189; idem, Tafsīr, 23:54; Thaʿlabī, Qiṣaṣ, 77). Muslim legend also adds details on Hājar (Hagar), the mother of Ismāʿīl. After Abraham drove her and her son out, she wandered between the hills of al-Ṣafā and al-Marwa (in the vicinity of Mecca) in her search for water. At that time the waters of the spring Zemzem began to flow. Her acts became the basis for the hallowed customs of Muslims during the Ḥajj. According to Arab genealogists, Ismāʿīl was the progenitor of the northern Arabs, the *Mustaʿriba, i.e., Aramite tribes which were assimilated among the Arabs.

[Haïm Z'ew Hirschberg]


A. Musil, Arabia Deserta (1927), 477ff.; T.A. Montgomery, Arabia and the Bible (1934), 45ff.; H.Z. Hirschberg, Yisrael be-Arav (1946), 2ff. in the aggadah: Ginzberg, Legends, 1 (1942), 237–40, 263–9; 5 (1947), 230–3, 246–7. in islam: Heller, in: mgwj, 69 (1925), 47–50; J. Horovitz, Koranische Untersuchungen (1926), 91–92; H. Speyer, Biblische Erzählungen … (1961), 171–4; R. Paret, "Ismāʿīl," in: eis2, 4 (1978), 184–5 (incl. bibl.). add. bibliography: N. Sarna, jps Torah Commentary Genesis (1989), 148. See also bibliography to *Isaac.

views updated


ISHMAEL , son of Nethaniah son of Elishama, one of the military commanders in the period after the destruction of the First Temple (ii Kings 25:25; Jer. 41:1). Ishmael, a descendant of the Judahite royal family, assassinated *Gedaliah son of Ahikam (Jer. 40:13–14), who presided over the Judean puppet government set up by Nebuchadnezzar. It would appear that Ishmael's assassination of Gedaliah at Mizpah was both personally and politically motivated. Ishmael may have been jealous of Gedaliah, who had been appointed by the Babylonians as head of the remnant of the population in Judah, and therefore may have wished to kill him for that reason alone; but he could hardly have hoped that the Babylonians would reward him for the murder by appointing him in Gedaliah's stead. His only hope to gain a positive advantage lay in continued resistance to Babylon, which would, if successful, result in his succession to the throne of David. *Baalis, the king of Ammon, with whom Ishmael found refuge, apparently encouraged Ishmael, because Gedaliah was a collaborator whereas the Ammonites were in open revolt against Babylon (cf. Ezek. 21:24–27, and Zedekiah's attempt to flee across the Jordan, ii Kings 25:4–5), and not, as some scholars maintain, because they hoped that after the murder of Gedaliah, the Babylonians would punish the Judahite remnant and attach what was left of the territory of Judah to Ammon. After killing Gedaliah (and 70 other Israelites who had later come to Mizpah to worship), Ishmael attempted the forcible transfer to Ammon of the remnants of the Judean population left at Mizpah (Jer. 41:2–10). However, this plan was frustrated by *Johanan son of Kareah and the military commanders with him. They met Ishmael and his captives at Gibeon and took them back to Mizpah; only Ishmael and eight of his men escaped to the Ammonite king (Jer. 41: 11–15).


Bright, Hist, 310; Klausner, Bayit Sheni, 1 (19635), 55ff.; Ginsberg, in: A. Marx Jubilee Volume (1950), 366ff.; Yeivin, in: Tarbiz, 12 (1940/41), 261–2, 265–6; W. Rudolph, Jeremia (Ger., 1947), 685ff. add. bibliography: M. Cogan and H. Tadmor, ii Kings (ab; 1988), 326–27.

[Josef Segal]

views updated

Ishmael. Eldest son of the Jewish patriarch, Abraham, by his maidservant, Hagar. After the birth of Isaac, Ishmael and his mother were driven from the camp, because Isaac, rather than Ishmael, was the heir of the covenant (Genesis 16. 21). According to the Aggadah, Ishmael dishonoured women, worshipped idols, and tried to kill his younger brother (Gen.R. 53. 11; Tosef.Sot. 6. 6). He was said to be the ancestor of the Ishmaelites and, by extension, all the Arab peoples.

In Islam Ishmael (Ismāʿīl) is mentioned in the Qurʾān as one of the prophets (3. 84, 4. 163), and more specifically as a son of Ibrāhīm (Abraham) (14. 39). The two are said to have rebuilt the Kaʿba in Mecca and instituted the rites of ḥajj (pilgrimage). (2. 127–9).

views updated

Ishmael (Ĭsh´māĕl) [Heb.,=God hears], in the Bible. 1 Son of Abraham and Hagar; ancestor of 12 tribes in N Arabia. Through Sara's jealousy he and his mother were sent into the desert, where the angel of the Lord encountered them at a spring. Ishmael married an Egyptian and fathered 12 sons and a daughter. He was the half-brother of Isaac and was Esau's father-in-law. In Islam, Ishmael is considered a prophet. The spring is traditionally identified with a Meccan well near the Kaaba, which Muslims believe was built by Ishmael and Abraham. Muslims recognize Arabs as Ishmael's descendants, thus distinguishing them from the Israelites, the descendants of Isaac. The Bible does not clarify the peoples called Ishmaelites (or Ishmeelites); the term is generally regarded as referring to caravan traders. 2 In First Chronicles, descendant of Saul. 3 Ancestor of the Zebediah of Jehoshaphat's court in Second Chronicles. 4 Ally of Jehoiada in Second Chronicles. 5 Priest separated from his foreign wife in the Book of Ezra. 6 Assassin of Gedaliah.

views updated

Ishmael in the Bible, a son of Abraham and Hagar, his wife Sarah's maid, driven away with his mother after the birth of Isaac (Genesis 16:12). Ishmael (or Ismail) is also important in Islamic belief as the traditional ancestor of Muhammad and of the Arab peoples. In allusive use, Ishmael denotes an outcast.

Ishmael is the name of the narrator of Herman Melville's Moby Dick (1851; the novel opens, ‘Call me Ishmael’), the one member of Captain Ahab's crew who survives.

views updated

Ishmaelail, ale, assail, avail, bail, bale, bewail, brail, Braille, chain mail, countervail, curtail, dale, downscale, drail, dwale, entail, exhale, fail, faille, flail, frail, Gael, Gail, gale, Grail, grisaille, hail, hale, impale, jail, kale, mail, male, nail, nonpareil, outsail, pail, pale, quail, rail, sail, sale, sangrail, scale, shale, snail, stale, swale, tail, tale, they'll, trail, upscale, vail, vale, veil, wail, wale, whale, Yale •Passchendaele • Airedale •Wensleydale • Clydesdale •Chippendale • Coverdale • Abigail •galingale • martingale • nightingale •farthingale • Windscale • timescale •blackmail • airmail •email, female •Ishmael • voicemail • vermeil

views updated

Ishmael Any of several biblical figures, most notably Abraham's son by Hagar and half brother to Isaac. He fathered 12 sons and one daughter, who married Esau, Isaac's son.