Last modified on July 12, 2016, at 21:19


Expulsion of Hagar and Ishmael by Gustave Dore

Ishmael (Hebrew יִשְׁמָעֵאל, Yišmāʿêl; Arabic: إسماعيل, Ismā'īl; "God will hear") (2094 AM–2231 AM, or 1910 BC-1774 BC) was the first, but illegitimate, son of Abraham, credited to Sarah but actually born to Hagar. He is the progenitor of many Arab tribes. Islamic tradition holds that he is the direct ancestor of Muhammad and also that he, not Isaac, was the son that Abraham nearly sacrificed on Mount Moriah.



He was born in the eleventh year of Abraham's sojourn in Canaan. His birth mother, Hagar, had joined Abraham's camp during Abraham's brief stay in Egypt. Sarah, despairing of having a child of her own, asked Hagar to act as her surrogate. The Bible states that Abraham was 86 years old when Ishmael was born.[1]

The dispute on the year of Ishmael's birth follows from the more fundamental dispute concerning the year of the birth of Abraham.


When he was thirteen years old, he underwent the ceremony of circumcision, as part of Abraham's own covenant with God.[2] Then, within a year, a true miracle occurred: Isaac was born to Abraham and Sarah.[3] Thus Ishmael's position in the household was compromised. Ishmael arguably made his position untenable by openly mocking Isaac during the ceremony of Isaac's weaning, when Isaac was five years old and Ishmael nineteen. Sarah was much displeased, and Abraham, following further instruction from God, expelled Ishmael and Hagar from his camp.[4]

The two exiles had between them a loaf of bread and a bottle of water. In the then wilderness region of Beersheba, the water gave out. Hagar placed Ishmael a bowshot away from her, because she did not want to watch him die. But the pre-incarnate Jesus Christ visited her, assured her that they would both live, and even provided water from a miraculous well.

Thus they crossed the desert. Eventually Ishmael became an archer and married an Egyptian woman and had twelve sons.[5]

Descendants and Death


Ishmael had twelve sons, whose names are given in Genesis 25:12-16 . Altogether Ishmael lived for 137 years, and then died.[6]

12 Tribes of Ishmael

  • Nabajoth: Nabataean Arabs.
  • Kedar: Saudi Arabians and Iraqis.
  • Adbeel: Sinai Bedouins.
  • Mibsam: Eastern Saudi Arabians (merged with Mishma).
  • Mishma: Mesha in Yemen. (merged with Mibsam).
  • Dumah: Dumat al-Gandal.
  • Massa: Jordanians and Northern Arabians.
  • Hadar: Christian Jordanians, Syrians, and Hadramites in southern Arabia.
  • Tema: Taima in northern Arabia.
  • Jetur: Bahraini Arabs.
  • Naphish: Tunisian/Libyan Arabs (originally from Central Arabia merged with Carthaginians/Berbers).
  • Kedemah: Algerian/Moroccan Arabs (originally from Central and South Arabia merged with Berbers).

Wider symbolism

Paul mentioned, in writing to the Galatians, that Ishmael was a son "born after flesh," while Isaac was a "son of promise." Thus Ishmael, according to Paul, is a type of the original Abrahamic covenant, while Isaac is a type of the Christian covenant, the covenant of grace.[7]

Ishmael in Islam

For a more detailed treatment, see Qur'an.

The name of Ishmael nowhere appears in the Qur'an. However, later generations of Muslims came to insist that Ishmael, not Isaac, was the son that Abraham almost sacrificed on Mount Moriah.

Ishmael in popular culture

The name Ishmael is also familiar as that of the narrator of Herman Melville's novel Moby-Dick, the first sentence of which – "Call me Ishmael" – is one of the most famous in American literature.


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See also