ISHMAEL

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) -BIBLIOGRAPHY: 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 .

Encyclopedia Judaica. 1971.

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