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Bible Dictionaries

Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible

Ishmael

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ISHMAEL. 1. The son of Abraham by Hagar. His name, which means ‘May God hear,’ was decided upon before his birth ( Genesis 16:11 ). As in the case of the history of his mother, three documentary sources are used by the narrator. J [Note: Jahwist.] supplied Genesis 16:4-14 , E [Note: Elohist.] Genesis 21:8-21 , whilst Padds such links as Genesis 16:15 f., Genesis 17:18-27 , Genesis 25:7-10; Genesis 25:12-17 . For the story of his life up to his settlement in the wilderness of Paran, the northern part of the Sinaitic peninsula, see Hagar. At the age of thirteen he was circumcised on the same day as his father ( Genesis 17:25 f.). In Paran he married an Egyptian wife, and became famous as an archer ( Genesis 21:20 f.). No other incident is recorded, except that he was associated with his step-brother in the burial of their father ( Genesis 25:9 ), and himself died at the age of 137 ( Genesis 25:17 ).

Ishmael had been resolved into a conjectural personification of the founder of a group of tribes; but the narrative is too vivid in its portrayal of incident and character, and too true in its psychological treatment, to support that view. That there is some idealization in the particulars is possible. Tribal rivalry may have undesignedly coloured the presentment of Sarah’s jealousy. The little discrepancies between the documents point to a variety of human standpoints, and are as explicable upon the implication of historicity as upon the theory of personification. The note of all the recorded passions and promptings is naturalness; and the obvious intention of the narrative, with the impression produced upon an uncommitted reader, is that of an attempt at actual biography rather than at the construction of an artificial explanation of certain relationships of race.

In regard to the so-called Ishmaelites , the case is not so clear. Ishmael is represented as the father of twelve sons ( Genesis 25:12-16 , 1 Chronicles 1:29-31 ), and the phrase ‘twelve princes according to their nations’ (cf. Genesis 17:20 ) almost suggests an attempt on the part of the writer at an exhibition of his view of racial origins. A further complication arises from the confusion of Ishmaelites and Midianites ( Genesis 37:28 ff., Judges 8:24; Judges 8:26 ), though the two are distinguished in the genealogies of Genesis 25:1; Genesis 25:4; Genesis 25:13 . Branches of the descendants of the two step-brothers may have combined through similarity of habit and location, and been known sometimes by the one name, and sometimes by the other; but there was clearly no permanent fusion of the two families. Nor is it possible to say whether at any time a religious confederation of twelve tribes was formed under the name of Ishmael, or if the name was adopted, because of its prominence, for the protection of some weaker tribes. The scheme may have even less basis in history, and be but part of an ethnic theory by which the Hebrew genealogists sought to explain the relationships of their neighbours to one another, and to the Hebrews themselves. A dozen tribes, scattered over the Sinaitic peninsula and the districts east of the Jordan, because of some similarity in civilization or language, or in some cases possibly under the influence of correct tradition, are grouped as kinsmen, being sons of Abraham, but of inferior status, as being descended from the son of a handmaid. That the differences from the pure Hebrew were thought to be strongly Egyptian in their character or source, is indicated by the statement that Ishmael’s mother and his wife were both Egyptians. The Ishmaelites soon disappear from Scripture. There are a few individuals described as of that nationality ( 1 Chronicles 2:17; 1 Chronicles 27:30 ); but in later times the word could be used metaphorically of any hostile people ( Psalms 83:6 ).

2. A son of Azel, a descendant of Saul through Jonathan ( 1 Chronicles 8:38; 1 Chronicles 9:44 ). 3. Ancestor of the Zebadiah who was one of Jehoshaphat’s judicial officers ( 2 Chronicles 19:11 ). 4. A military officer associated with Jehoiada in the revolution in favour of Joash ( 2 Chronicles 23:1 ). 5. A member of the royal house of David who took the principal part in the murder of Gedaliah ( Jeremiah 41:1-2 ). The story is told in Jeremiah 40:7 to Jeremiah 41:15 , with a summary in 2 Kings 25:23-26 . It is probable that Ishmael resented Nebuchadnezzar’s appointment of Gedaliah as governor of Judæa ( Jeremiah 40:5 ) instead of some member of the ruling family, and considered him as unpatriotic in consenting to represent an alien power. Further instigation was supplied by Baalis, king of Ammon ( Jeremiah 40:14 ), who was seeking either revenge or an opportunity to extend his dominions. Gedaliah and his retinue were killed after an entertainment given to Ishmael, who gained possession of Mizpah, the seat of government. Shortly afterwards he set out with his captives to join Baalis, but was overtaken by a body of Gedaliah’s soldiers at the pool of Gibeon ( Jeremiah 41:12 ), and defeated. He made good his escape ( Jeremiah 41:15 ) with the majority of his associates; but of his subsequent life nothing is known. The conspiracy may have been prompted by motives that were in part well considered, if on the whole mistaken; but it is significant that Jeremiah supported Gedaliah ( Jeremiah 40:6 ), in memory of whose murder an annual fast was observed for some years in the month Tishri ( Zechariah 7:5; Zechariah 8:19 ). 6. One of the priests persuaded by Ezra to put away their foreign wives ( Ezra 10:22; cf. Ismael , 1E Esther 9:22 ).

R. W. Moss.

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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Ishmael'. Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/eng/hdb/i/ishmael.html. 1909.

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