ISHMAEL (a Hebrew name meaning “God hears”), in the Bible, the son of Abraham by his Egyptian concubine Hagar, and the eponym of a number of (probably) nomadic tribes living outside Palestine. Hagar in turn personifies a people found to the east of Gilead (1 Chron. v. 10) and Petra (Strabo). Through the jealousy of Sarah, Abraham’s wife, mother and son were driven away, and they wandered in the district south of Beersheba and Kadesh (Gen. xvi. J, xxi. E); see Abraham. It had been foretold to his mother before his birth that he should be “a wild ass among men,” and that he should dwell “before the face of” (that is, to the eastward of) his brethren. It is subsequently stated that after leaving his father’s roof he “became an archer, and dwelt in the wilderness of Paran, and his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt.” But the genealogical relations were rather with the Edomites, Midianites and other peoples of North Arabia and the eastern desert than with Egypt proper, and this is indicated by the expressions that “they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur that is east of Egypt, and he settled to the eastward of his brethren” (see Mizraim). Like Jacob, the ancestor of the Israelites, he had twelve sons (xxv. 12-18, P), of which only a few have historical associations apart from the biblical records. Nebaioth and Kedar suggest the Nabataei and Cedrei of Pliny (v. 12). the first-mentioned of whom were an important Arab people after the time of Alexander (see Nabataeans). The names correspond to the Nabaitu and Kidru of the Assyrian inscriptions occupying the desert east of the Jordan and Dead Sea, whilst the Massa and Tema lay probably farther south. Dumah may perhaps be the same as the Domata of Pliny (vi. 32) and the Δούμεθα or Δουμαίθα of Ptolemy (v. 19, 7, viii. 22, 3)—Sennacherib conquered a fortress of “Aribi” named Adumu,—and Jetur is obviously the Ituraea of classical geographers.
“Ishmael,” therefore, is used in a wide sense of the wilder, roving peoples encircling Canaan from the north-east to the south, related to but on a lower rank than the “sons” of Isaac. It is practically identical with the term “Arabia” as used by the Assyrians. Nothing certain is known of the history of these mixed populations. They are represented as warlike nomads and with a certain reputation for wisdom (Baruch iii. 23). Not improbably they spoke a dialect (or dialects) akin to Arabic or Aramaic. According to the Mahommedans, Ishmael, who is recognized as their ancestor, lies buried with his mother in the Kaaba in Mecca. See further, T. Nöldeke, Ency. Bib., s.v., and the articles Edom, Midian. (S. A. C.)
- On Paul’s use of the story of Hagar (Gal. iv. 24-26), see Ency. Bib. col. 1934; and H. St J. Thackeray, Relation of St Paul to contemporary Jewish Thought (London, 1900), pp. 196 sqq.; Hagar typifies the old Sinaitic covenant, and Sarah represents the new covenant of freedom from bondage. The treatment of the concubine and her son in Gen. xvi. compared with ch. xxi. illustrates old Hebrew customs, on which see further S. A. Cook, Laws of Moses, &c. (London, 1903), pp. 116 sqq., 140 sq.
- The Ituraean archers were of Jetur, one of the “sons” of Ishmael (Gen. xxv. 15), and were Roman mercenaries, perhaps even in Great Britain (Pal. Expl. Fund, Q.S., 1909, p. 283).
- With Adbeel (Gen. xxv. 13) may be identified Idibi’il (-ba’il) a tribe employed by Tiglath-Pileser IV. (733 B.C.) to watch the frontier of Musri (Sinaitic peninsula or N. Arabia?).
- This is suggested by the fact that Ashurbanipal (7th century) mentions as the name of their deity Atar-Samain (i.e. “Ishtar of the heavens”).