ISHMAEL, Ish'ma-el, from Hebrew, signi fying "God hears," was eldest son of Abraham and Hagar, his handmaid (Gen. xvi, 15, 16).
Of him it was foretold (Gen. xvii, 18, 20) that he would beget 12 princes and become a great nation — a promise repeated (Gen. xxi, 18) to his mother when, driven from home by Sarah's attitude, both she and the lad were wandering in the territory south of Beersheba and death by thirst was near. Later he became an archer, dwelling in the wilderness of Paran, where Hagar "took him a wife out of the land of Egypt" (Gen. xxi, 21). In a later chapter (Gen. xxv, 9-18) it is stated that he died at the age of 137, having had, like Jacob, 12 sons, progenitors of 12 tribes that dwelt from "Havi lah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou guest to Assyria." Apart from the Biblical record few of the names have historical asso ciations. Among various identifications more or less plausible may be mentioned Nebaioth with the Nabatmans, Yetur with 'alma, whose archers were early Roman mercenaries; Kedar with the Kidru of the Assyrian inscriptions.
In the Midrash, the rabbis show how Sarah's disposition to Hagar was at first kindly but that Hagar's actions compelled a change. Ishmael's intercourse with Isaac is told with considerable minuteness at times, as when he invites his five year old brother to a contest with the bow and arrow and aims at the child in his duplicity. When Ishmael was at the point of death, God heard his prayer and caused a well to bubble forth that later was to refresh the Israelites on their journey through the wilderness. Beer's (Leben
Abraham) gives these and other anecdotes of the kind. His marriage, Abraham's first visit to his son and hc•y the son's wife repelled him and its consequences for her; the second visit three years later and how Ishmael at last went to Canaan and settled with his father; all this and more is narrated with an imaginative skill peculiar to the Midrash. In Arabic legend i Ishmael is no less a picturesque figure and the Koran adds to his importance for it calls him a prophet (Koran XIX, 55). His son Kedar is reported to have been an ancestor of hammed. It is characteristic of Mohammedan that Ishmael should be offered as a instead nstead of Isaac. (Weil's 'Leg. der pp. 85-93). It is doubtless due to the fact that Mohammed is claimed to be a de scendant of Abraham that Ishmael and the Ishmaelites received such exaggerated atten tion. Early associated with the caravan trade between Africa and southern and western Asia, we cannot tell historically how far the descendants of Ishmael entered Arabia and settled there, with its mixed population of thousands of years. Possibly the Bedouins in the deserts between Sinai Peninsula and the Persian Gulf are more entitled to claims of Ishmaelitish origin with their primitive and patriarchal form of life and ancient traditions.