Eldest son of Abraham by his concubine Hagar; born when Abraham was eighty-six years of age (Gen. xvi. 15, 16). God promised Abraham that His blessing should be upon Ishmael, who, He foretold, would beget twelve princes and would become a great nation (Gen. xvii. 18, 20). Ishmael was circumcised at the age of thirteen (Gen. xvii. 23-26). When Sarah saw Ishmael mocking her son Isaac, his brother, younger by fourteen years, she insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael and his slave-mother. Abraham reluctantly yielded, having provided them with bread and a bottle of water. Ishmael was about to die of thirst when an angel showed his mother a well, repeating to her at the same time that Ishmael would become a great nation. Ishmael dwelt in the wilderness, apparently, of Beer-sheba, where he became a skilful archer; later he settled in the wilderness of Paran, where his mother took him a wife from Egypt (Gen. xxi. 8-21). Both Ishmael and Isaac were present at the burial of their father, Abraham. Ishmael died at the age of 137. He had twelve sons, ancestors of twelve tribes that dwelt "from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest to Assyria" (Gen. xxv. 9-18).—In Rabbinical Literature:
The name of Ishmael is an allusion to God's promise to hear () the complaints of Israel whenever it suffered at the hands of Ishmael (Gen. R. xlv. 11). Abraham endeavored to bring up Ishmael in righteousness; to train him in the laws of hospitality Abraham gave him the calf to prepare (Gen. R. xlviii. 14; comp. Gen. xviii. 7). But according to divine prediction Ishmael remained a savage. The ambiguous expression in Gen. xxi. 9 (see Hagar) is interpreted by some rabbis as meaning that Ishmael had been idolatrous; by others, that he had turned his bow against Isaac. According to the interpretation of Simeon b. Yoḥai, Ishmael mocked those who maintained that Isaac would be Abraham's chief heir, and said that as he (Ishmael) was the first-born son he would receive two-thirds of the inheritance (Tosef., Sotah, v. 12, vi. 6; Pirḳe R. El. xxx.; Gen. R. liii. 15). Upon seeing the danger to Isaac, Sarah, who had till then been attached to Ishmael (Josephus, "Ant." i. 12, § 3), insisted that Abraham cast out Ishmael. Abraham was obliged to put him on Hagar's shoulders, because he fell sick under the spell of the evil eye cast upon him by Sarah (Gen. R. liii. 17).
Ishmael, left under a shrub by his despairing mother, prayed to God to take his soul and not permit him to suffer the torments of a slow death (comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 15). God then commanded the angel to show Hagar the well which was created on Friday in the week of Creation, in the twilight (comp. Ab. v. 6), and which afterward accompanied the Israelites in the wilderness (Pirḳe R. El. xxx.). But this was protested against by the angels, who said: "Why should Ishmael have water, since his descendants will destroy the Israelites by thirst?" (comp. Yer. Ta'an. iv. 8; Lam. R. ii. 2). God replied: "But now he is innocent, and I judge him according to what he is now" (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; Gen. R. l.c.; et al.). Ishmael married a Moabitess named 'Adishah or 'Aishah (variants "'Ashiyah" and "'Aifah," Arabic names; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 21; Pirḳe R. El. l.c.); or, according to "Sefer ha-Yashar" (Wayera), an Egyptian named Meribah or Merisah. He had four sons and one daughter. Ishmael meanwhile grew so skilful in archery that he became the master of all the bowmen (Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Gen. xxi. 20; Gen.R. liii. 20). Afterward Abraham went to see Ishmael, and, according to his promise to Sarah, stopped at his son's tent without alighting from his camel. Ishmael was not within; his wife refused Abraham food, and beat her children and cursed her husband within Abraham's hearing. Abraham thereupon asked her to tell Ishmael when he returned that an old man had asked that he change the peg of the tent. Ishmael understood that it was his father, took the hint, and drove away his wife. He then married another woman, named Faṭimah (Peḳimah; Targ. pseudo-Jonathan l.c.), who, when three years later Abraham came again to see his son, received him kindly; therefore Abraham asked her to tell Ishmael that the peg was good.
Ishmael then went to Canaan and settled with his father (Pirḳe R. El. l.c.; "Sefer ha-Yashar," l.c.). This statement agrees with that of Baba Batra (16a)—that Ishmael became a penitent during the lifetime of Abraham. He who sees Ishmael in a dream will have his prayer answered by God (Ber. 56a).
- Beer, Leben Abraham's nach Auffassung der Jüdischen Sage, pp. 49 et seq., Leipsic, 1859.
For the history of Ishmael, according to Mohammedan legend, see