Glossary of Terms



Harper’s Bible Dictionary

edited by Paul J. Achtemier (San Francisco: Harper and Row, 1985)

You are strongly recommended to add to your library the excellent revised edition of Harper's Bible Dictionary titled, The Harper Collins Bible Dictionary, Revised Edition [book review], edited by Paul J. Achtemeier, with the Society of Biblical Literature (NY: Harper Collins, 1996). It is currently the best one-volume Bible dictionary in English, and it is available at Border's Books, Christian Science Reading Rooms,, or

Ishmael (Heb., ‘God has heard’).

1 The son of Abraham by the Egyptian handmaiden of Sarah whose name was Hagar (Gen. 16; 17; 21:1-21). He is especially celebrated in the Priestly source as one whom God would bless, multiply and make fruitful: ‘he shall be the father of twelve princes, and I will make him a great nation’ (Gen. 17:20). Ishmael is circumcised (Gen. 17:25) at the age of thirteen and thus brought into the covenant of circumcision (v. 10), but not into the ‘everlasting covenant,’ as Isaac is (v. 19). The latter covenant evidently pertains to possession of the land (v. 8). The high standing of Ishmael in the Priestly source is seen not only in his genealogy, but also in his comparative age, since old age is worthy of honor: Abraham is 175 years old (Gen. 25:7); Isaac is 180 years old (Gen. 35:28); Jacob is 147 years old (Gen. 47:28); Ishmael is 137 years old (Gen. 25:7); Sarah is 127 years old (Gen. 23:1); and Joseph is 110 years old (Gen. 50:26).

Also in the Yahwistic and Elohistic sources, Ishmael is favored of God. The angel of the Lord who guarded Isaac (Gen. 22:11-13), Lot (Gen. 16:16-19:28), and Joseph (Gen. 48:16) also protected Ishmael’s mother in her pregnancy (Gen. 16:6-14), and then protected both Hagar and Ishmael (Gen. 21:15-21). These sources reiterate that God will make Ishmael ‘a great nation’ (Gen. 21:18). But a great difference remains between the father and this son: compare the favorable promise to Abraham (Gen. 12:3) with the statement about Ishmael: ‘his hand [shall be] against every man and every man’s hand against him’ (Gen. 16:12). According to the Elohistic source Ishmael dwelt in the Wilderness of Paran (Gen. 21:21) and became an expert bowman (v. 20).

2 The son of Nethananiah, a man of royal blood and the assassin of Gedaliah, whom the Babylonians appointed ruler of Judah after the fall of Jerusalem (2 Kings 25:25).

3 Other royal, courtly, and priestly figures (1 Chron. 8:38; 2 Chron. 19:11; 23:1; Ezra 10:22).

The Old Testament Library: Genesis, Revised Edition

by Gerhard Von Rad (Philadelphia: Westminster, 1972, page 234)

[Gen 21:17-20] ...God's protecting hand will be over Ishmael from now on. But his way of life became different from that of the patriarchs. He became a bowman, i.e., he lived by hunting and plunder. Expressed in modern times, he became the ancestor of the Bedouins, the camel-nomads. His dwelling place in the almost sterile steppe between Palestine and Egypt determined his way of life. Also, the fact that he married an Egyptian woman indicates how far he had gone from the regulations of his father's house.

The Oxford Companion to the Bible

edited by Bruce M. Metzger and Michael D. Coogan (NY: Oxford University Press, 1993, page 329, article by Michael D. Coogan)


...In Muslim tradition, the Arabs trace their ancestry back to Abraham through Ishmael. Because Ishmael was circumcised (Gen. 17.25), so are most Muslims. And, analogous to Paul's reversal of the figures of Isaac and Ishmael (Gal. 4.24-26), Muslim tradition makes Ishmael rather than Isaac, the son Abraham was commanded to sacrifice.



Edited for by Robert Nguyen Cramer