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This is a question to which we will not find an answer in the Bible. We are given the names of his 12 sons and told what area they lived in.

Genesis 25:12 Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s handmaid, bare unto Abraham: 13 And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth; and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, 14 And Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, 15 Hadar, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah: 16 These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations. 17 And these are the years of the life of Ishmael, an hundred and thirty and seven years: and he gave up the ghost and died; and was gathered unto his people. 18 And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest toward Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren.

We are also told that Ishmael was circumcised at the same time as his father when God made the covenant with Abraham. From this we might conclude that they would be a non-Jewish people that still practised male circumcision.

Genesis 17:23 And Abraham took Ishmael his son, and all that were born in his house, and all that were bought with his money, every male among the men of Abraham’s house; and circumcised the flesh of their foreskin in the selfsame day, as God had said unto him. 25 And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin. 26 In the selfsame day was Abraham circumcised, and Ishmael his son.

Abraham’s grandson Esau married a daughter of Ishmael.

Genesis 28:9 Then went Esau unto Ishmael, and took unto the wives which he had Mahalath the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife.

In Genesis 36 Mahalath is called Bashemath

Genesis 36:3 And Bashemath Ishmael’s daughter, sister of Nebajoth. 4... and Bashemath bare Reuel... 6 And Esau took his wives, and his sons, and his daughters, and all the persons of his house, and his cattle, and all his beasts, and all his substance, which he had got in the land of Canaan; and went into the country from the face of his brother Jacob... 8 Thus dwelt Esau in mount Seir: Esau is Edom.

From here I can only refer you to a Bible Dictionary.

From Smith’s Revised Bible Dictionary 2006


(לאעמשׁי, whom God hears: Ισμαηλ: Ismael), the son of Abraham by Hagar, his concubine, the Egyptian; born when Abraham was fourscore and six years old. {Genesis 16:15,16} Ishmael was the first-born of his father; in ch15 we read that he was then childless, and there is no apparent interval for the birth of any other child; nor does the teaching of the narrative, besides the precise enumeration of the sons of Abraham as the father of the faithful, admit of the supposition. The saying of Sarah, also, when she gave him Hagar, supports the inference that until then he was without children. When he "added and took a wife" (AV (Authorised Version) "Then again Abraham took a wife," 25:1), Keturah, is uncertain, but it is not likely to have been until after the birth of Isaac, and perhaps the death of Sarah. The conception of Ishmael occasioned the flight of Hagar; and it was during her wandering in the wilderness that the angel of the Lord appeared to her, commanding her to return to her mistress, and giving her the promise, "I will multiply thy seed exceedingly, that it shall not be numbered for multitude;" and, "Behold, thou [art] with child, and shalt bear a son, and shalt call his name Ishmael, because the Lord hath heard thy affliction. And he will be a wild man; his hand [will be] against every man, and every man’s hand against him; and he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren" (16:10-12).

Ishmael was born in Abraham’s house, when he dwelt in the plain of Mamre; and on the institution of the covenant of circumcision, was circumcised he being then thirteen years old (17:25). With the institution of the covenant, God renewed his promise respecting Ishmael. In answer to Abraham’s entreaty, when he cried, "O that Ishmael might live before thee!" God assured him of the birth of Isaac, and said, "As for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold, I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes {a} shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation" (17:18, 20). Before this time, Abraham seems to have regarded his first-born child as the heir of the promise, his belief in which was counted unto him for righteousness (15:6); and although that faith shone yet more brightly after his passing weakness when Isaac was first promised, his love for Ishmael is recorded in the narrative of Sarah’s expulsion of the latter: "And the thing was very grievous in Abraham’s sight because of his son" (21:11).

Ishmael does not again appear in the narrative until the weaning of Isaac. The latter was born when Abraham was a hundred years old (21:5), and as the weaning, according to eastern usage, probably took place when the child was between two and three years old, Ishmael himself must have been then between fifteen and sixteen years old. The age of the latter at the period of his circumcision, and at that of his expulsion (which we have now reached), has given occasion for some literary speculation. A careful consideration of the passages referring to it fails, however, to show any discrepancy between them. In, {Genesis 17:25} it is stated that he was thirteen years old when he was circumcised; and in 21:14 (probably two or three years later), "Abraham … took bread, and a bottle of water, and gave [it] unto Hagar, putting [it] on her shoulder, and the child, and sent her away." {b} Here it is at least unnecessary to assume that the child was put on her shoulder, the construction of the Hebrew (mistranslated by the LXX, with whom seems to rest the origin of the question) not requiring it; and the sense of the passage renders it highly improbable: Hagar certainly carried the bottle on her shoulder, and perhaps the bread: she could hardly have also thus carried a child. Again, these passages are quite reconcilable with ver. 20 of the last quoted chapter, where Ishmael is termed רענה, AV "lad" comp. for use of this word: {Genesis 34:19,37:2,41:12}

At the "great feast" made in celebration of the weaning, "Sarah saw the son of Hagar the Egyptian, which she had borne unto Abraham, mocking," and urged Abraham to cast out him and his mother. The patriarch, comforted by God’s renewed promise that of Ishmael he would make a nation, sent them both away, and they departed and wandered in the wilderness of Beer-sheba. Here the water being spent in the bottle, Hagar cast her son under one of the desert shrubs, {c} and went away a little distance, "for she said, Let me not see the death of the child," and wept. "And God heard the voice of the lad, and the angel of the Lord called to Hagar out of heaven," renewed the promise already thrice given, "I will make him a great nation," and "opened her eyes and she saw a well of water." Thus miraculously saved from perishing by thirst, "God was with the lad; and he grew, and dwelt in the wilderness; and became an archer." It is doubtful whether the wanderers halted by the well, or at once continued their way to the "wilderness of Paran," where, we are told in the next verse to that just quoted, he dwelt, and where "his mother took him a wife out of the land of Egypt." {Genesis 21:9-21} This wife of Ishmael is not elsewhere mentioned; she was, we must infer, an Egyptian; and this second infusion of Hamitic blood into the progenitors of the Arab nation, Ishmael’s sons, is a fact that has been generally overlooked. No record is made of any other wife of Ishmael, and failing such record, the Egyptian was the mother of his twelve sons, and daughter. This daughter, however, is called the "sister of Nebajoth," {Genesis 28:9} and this limitation of the parentage of the brother and sister certainly seems to point to a different mother for Ishmael’s other sons. {d}

Of the later life of Ishmael we know little. He was present with Isaac at the burial of Abraham; and Esau contracted an alliance with him when he "took unto the wives which he had Mahalath [or Bashemath or Basmath,]{Genesis 36:3} the daughter of Ishmael Abraham’s son, the sister of Nebajoth, to be his wife;" and this did Esau because the daughters of Canaan pleased not Isaac and Rebekah, and Jacob in obedience to their wishes had gone to Laban to obtain of his daughters a wife (28:6-9). The death of Ishmael is recorded in a previous chapter, after the enumeration of his sons, as having taken place at the age of a hundred and thirty-seven years; and, it is added, "he died in the presence of all his brethren" {e} (25:17,18). The alliance with Esau occurred before this event (although it is mentioned in a previous passage), for he "went … unto Ishmael;" but it cannot have been long before, if the chronological data be correctly preserved. {f}

It remains for us to consider, (1), the place of Ishmael’s dwelling; and, (2), the names of his children, with their settlements, and the nation sprung from them.

1. From the narrative of his expulsion, we learn that Ishmael first went into the wilderness of Beersheba, and thence, but at what interval of time is uncertain, removed to that of Paran. His continuance in these or the neighbouring places seems to be proved by his having been present at the burial of Abraham; for it must be remembered that in the East, sepulture follows death after a few hours’ space; and by Esau’s marrying his daughter at a time when he (Esau) dwelt at Beer-sheba: the tenor of the narrative of both these events favouring the inference that Ishmael did not settle far from the neighbourhood of Abraham and Isaac. There are, however, other passages which must be taken into account. It is prophesied of him, that "he shall dwell in the presence of all his brethren," and thus too he "died in the presence of all his brethren" (25:18). {g} The meaning of these passages is confessedly obscure; but it seems only to signify that he dwelt near them. He was the first Abrahamic settler in the east country. In 25:6 it is said, "But unto the sons of the concubines, which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts, and sent them away from Isaac his son, while he yet lived, eastward, unto the east country." The "east country" perhaps was restricted in early times to the wildernesses of Beersheba and Paran, and it afterwards seems to have included those districts (though neither supposition necessarily follows from the above passage); or, Ishmael removed to that east country, northwards, without being distant from his father and his brethren; each case being agreeable with. {Genesis 25:6} The appellation of the "east country" became afterwards applied to the whole desert extending from the frontier of Palestine east to the Euphrates, and south probably to the borders of Egypt and the Arabian peninsula. This question is discussed in art. Bene-Kedem; and it is interwoven, though obscurely, with the next subject, that of the names and settlements of the sons of Ishmael. See also Keturah, etc.; for the "brethren" of Ishmael, in whose presence he dwelt and died, included the sons of Keturah. {h}

2. The sons of Ishmael were, Nebajoth expressly stated to be his first-born, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, Kedemah; {Genesis 25:13-15} and he had a daughter named Mahalath (28:9), elsewhere written Bashemath or Basmath, {Genesis 36:3} the sister of Nebajoth, before mentioned. The sons are enumerated with the particular statement that "these are their names, by their towns, and by their castles; twelve princes according to their nations" or "peoples" (25:16). In seeking to identify Ishmael’s sons, this passage requires close attention: it bears the interpretation of their being fathers of tribes, having towns and castles called after them; and identifications of the latter become therefore more than usually satisfactory. "They dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest unto Assyria" (25:18), and it is certain, in accordance with this statement of their limits, that they stretched in very early times across the desert to the Persian Gulf, peopled the north and west of the Arabian peninsula, and eventually formed the chief element of the Arab nation. Their language, which is generally acknowledged to have been the Arabic commonly so called, has been adopted with insignificant exceptions throughout Arabia. It has been said that the Bible requires the whole of that nation to be sprung from Ishmael, and the fact of a large admixture of Joktanite and even Cushite peoples in the south and southeast has been regarded as a suggestion of scepticism. Yet not only does the Bible contain no warrant for the assumption that all Arabs are Ishmaelites; but the characteristics of the Ishmaelites, strongly marked in all the more northern tribes of Arabia, and exactly fulfilling the prophecy "he will be a wild man; his hand [will be] against every man, and every man’s hand against him," become weaker in the south, and can scarcely be predicated of all the peoples of Joktanite and other descent. The true Ishmaelites, however, and even tribes of very mixed race, are thoroughly "wild men," living by warlike forays and plunder; dreaded by their neighbours; dwelling in tents, with hardly any household chattels, but rich in flocks and herds, migratory, and recognizing no law but the authority of the chiefs of their tribes. Even the religion of Mohammad is held in light esteem by many of the more remote tribes, among whom the ancient usages of their people obtain in almost their old simplicity, besides idolatrous practices altogether repugnant to Mohammadanism as they are to the faith of the patriarchs; practices which may be ascribed to the influence of the Canaanites, of Moab, Ammon, and Edom, with whom, by intermarriages, commerce, and war, the tribes of Ishmael must have had long and intimate relations.

The term Ishmaelite (ילאעמשׁי) occurs on three occasions: {Genesis 37:25,27,28,39:1 Judges 8:24 Psalm 83:6} From the context of the first two instances, it seems to have been a general name for the Abrahamic peoples of the east country, the Bene-Kedem; but the second admits also of a closer meaning. In the third instance the name is applied in its strict sense to the Ishmaelites. It is also applied to Jether, the father of Amasa, by David’s sister Abigail. {1Chronicles 2:17} [Ithra; Jether]

The notions of the Arabs respecting Ishmael are partly derived from the Bible, partly from the Jewish Rabbins, and partly from native traditions. The origin of many of these traditions is obscure, but a great number may be ascribed to the fact of Mohammad’s having for political reasons claimed Ishmael for his ancestor, and striven to make out an impossible pedigree; while both he and his followers have, as a consequence of accepting this assumed descent, sought to exalt that ancestor. Another reason may be safely found in Ishmael’s acknowledged headship of the naturalized Arabs, and this cause existed from the very period of his settlement. Yet the rivalry of the Joktanite kingdom of southern Arabia, and its intercourse with classical and medieval Europe, the wandering and unsettled habits of the Ishmaelites, their having no literature, and, as far as we know, only a meagre oral tradition, all contributed, till the importance it acquired with the promulgation of El-Islm, to render our knowledge of the Ishmaelitic portion of the people of Arabia, before Mohammad, lamentably defective. That they maintained, and still maintain, a patriarchal and primitive form of life is known to us. Their religion, at least in the period immediately preceding Mohammad, was in central Arabia chiefly the grossest fetishism, probably learnt from aboriginal inhabitants of the land; southwards it diverged to the cosmic worship of the Joktanite Himyerites (though these were far from being exempt from fetishism), and northwards (so at least in ancient times) to an approach to that true faith which Ishmael carried with him, and his descendants thus gradually lost. This last point is curiously illustrated by the numbers who, in Arabia, became either Jews (Caraites) or Christians (though of a very corrupt form of Christianity), and by the movement in search of the faith of the patriarchs which had been put forward, not long before the birth of Mohammad, by men not satisfied with Judaism or the corrupt form of Christianity, with which alone they were acquainted. This movement first aroused Mohammad, and was afterwards the main cause of his success.

The Arabs believe that Ishmael was the first born of Abraham, and the majority of their doctors (but the point is in dispute) assert that this son, and not Isaac, was offered by Abraham in sacrifice. {i} The scene of this sacrifice is Mount ‘Araf t, near Mekkeh, the last holy place visited by pilgrims, it being necessary to the completion of pilgrimage to be present at a sermon delivered there on the 9th of the Mohammedan month Zu-l-Hejjeh, in commemoration of the offering, and to sacrifice a victim on the following evening after sunset, in the valley of MinS. The sacrifice last mentioned is observed throughout the Muslim world, and the day on which it is made is called "The Great Festival". Ishmael, say the Arabs, dwelt with his mother at Mekkeh, and both are buried in the place called the "Hejr," on the northwest (termed by the Arabs the north) side of the Kaabeh, and inclosed by a curved wall called the "Hateem." Ishmael was visited at Mekkeh by Abraham, and they together rebuilt the temple, which had been destroyed by a flood. At Mekkeh, Ishmael married a daughter of Mud d or El-Mud d, chief of the Joktanite tribe Jurhum, and had thirteen children (Mir-t-ez-Zem n, MS.), thus agreeing with the Biblical number, including the daughter.

Mohammad’s descent from Ishmael is totally lost, for an unknown number of generations to ‘Adn n, of the twenty-first generation before the prophet: from him downwards the latter’s descent is, if we may believe the genealogists, fairly proved. But we have evidence far more trustworthy than that of the genealogists; for while most of the natives of Arabia are unable to trace up their pedigrees, it is scarcely possible to find one who is ignorant of his race, seeing that his very life often depends upon it. The law of blood-revenge necessitates his knowing the names of his ancestors for four generations, but no more; and this law extending from time immemorial has made any confusion of race almost impossible. This law, it should be remembered, is not a law of Mohammad, but an old pagan law that he endeavoured to suppress, but could not. In casting doubt on the prophet’s pedigree, we must add that this cannot affect the proofs of the chief element of the Arab nation being Ishmaelite (and so too the tribe of Kureysh of whom was Mohammad). Although partly mixed with Joktanites, they are more mixed with Keturahites, etc.; the characteristics of the Joktanites, as before remarked, are widely different from those of the Ishmaelites; and whatever theories may be adduced to the contrary, we believe that the Arabs, from physical characteristics, language, the concurrence of native traditions (before Mohammadanism made them untrustworthy), and the testimony of the Bible, are mainly and essentially Ishmaelite.


{a} The Heb. rendered "prince" in this case, is אישׂנ, which signifies both a "prince" and the "leader," or "captain" of a tribe, or even of a family (Gesen.). It here seems to mean the leader of a tribe, and Ishmael’s twelve sons are enumerated in { Genesis 25:16} "according to their nations," more correctly "peoples," תומא.

{b} *The ambiguity lies in the AV, rather than the original. According to the Hebrew construction (though a little peculiar), the expression "putting on her shoulder" should be taken as parenthetic, and that of "the child" be made the object of the first of the verbs which precede. H.

{c} *This allusion to "the shrubs" of the desert brings out a picturesque trait of the narrative. The word so rendered (חישׂ) is still used in Arabic, unchanged. It is used, however, with some latitude, being a general designation for the shrubby or bushy plants. These shrubby plants, which are of various kinds, are called generally as we speak of "bushes." The kind, however, most in use, and more than any other specifically designated, is the Spartium junceum. This is a tall shrub, growing to the height of eight or ten feet, of a close ramification, but making a light shade, owing to the small size and lanceolate shape of its leaves. Its flowers are yellow, and its seeds edible. It grows in stony places, usually where there is little moisture, and is widely diffused. We should expect to find it, of course, in a "wilderness" like that of Beer-sheba. But whether we understand by חישׂ this particular plant, whose light and insufficient shade would prove the only mitigation of the heat of the sun, or, in general, a bush or shrub, the allusion to it in {Genesis 21:15} is locally exact, and explains why the mother sought such a shelter for the child. It might also be understood of Genista monosperma, the Retem of the Arabs, which furnished a shade to the prophet Elijah, {1Kings 19:4,5} and is spoken of in, {Psalm 120:4} and. {Job 30:4} This species is said to abound in the desert of Sinai, and is kindred to the , being, in fact, mentioned with it in. {#Job 30:4} G. E. P.

{d} According to Rabbinical tradition, Ishmael put away his wife and took a second; and the Arabs probably borrowing from the above, assert that he twice married; the first wife being an Amalekite, by whom he had no issue; and the second, a Joktanite, of the tribe of Jurhum (Mir-t ez-Zem n, MS., quoting a tradition of Mohammad Ibn-Is-h k).

{e} *The meaning is different in the Hebrew. The verb there is לפנ, and means not "died" but "settled" or "dwelt" = ןכשׁ, ..{Genesis 16:12} The statement is really made not of Ishmael, but of his descendants. Ishmael’s death is mentioned in ver. 17, but not in ver. 18. H.

{f} Abraham at the birth of Ishmael was 86 years old, and at Isaac’s about 100. Isaac took Rebekah to wife when he was 40 years old, when Ishmael would be about 54. Esau was born when his father was 60; and Esau was more than 40 when he married Ishmael’s daughter. Therefore Ishmael was then at least 114 (54 + 20 + 40 = 114), leaving 23 years before his death for Esau’s coming to him.

{g} Abraham at the birth of Ishmael was 86 years old, and at Isaac’s about 100. Isaac took Rebekah to wife when he was 40 years old, when Ishmael would be about 54. Esau was born when his father was 60; and Esau was more than 40 when he married Ishmael’s daughter. Therefore Ishmael was then at least 114 (54 + 20 + 40 = 114), leaving 23 years before his death for Esau’s coming to him.

{h} *Ishmael is not named in the N. T., but is directly referred to in the allegory, {Galatians 4:25 ff.} See addition under Isaac. H.

{i} With this and some other exceptions, the Muslims have adopted the chief facts of the history of Ishmael recorded in the Bible.

I hope you have found this helpful.

May God bless you,