An Egyptian servant of Sarah, featured in the Genesis narratives about Sarah and Abraham. According to custom, Sarah, who was sterile, presented Hagar to Abraham so that Hagar might conceive and provide Abraham with an heir.

Two Hagar stories appear in the Bible. The first (Gen. 16.1–16) describes the expulsion of the pregnant Hagar from Sarah's household, her conversation in the wilderness with a messenger of God who urges her to return to the household, and the subsequent birth of her son Ishmael. In the second Hagar story (Gen. 21.8–21), set more than fourteen years later, when Sarah herself had at last borne a son (Isaac) and was celebrating the day of his being weaned, Hagar and Ishmael are cast out from Sarah's household into the wilderness. A divine messenger rescues them when their water supply runs out, and he proclaims that Ishmael will become a great nation.

The literary and chronological relationship of these two narratives is problematic, but certain themes common to both can be recognized. One is that Sarah is the dominant figure in the household with respect to management of domestic affairs, including determining the fate of household staff. In both narratives, Sarah makes a decision about Hagar's fate and Abraham acquiesces. Another theme is the tension between the main wife and a concubine or servant wife with respect to inheritance. Parallels with Babylonian laws suggest that Isaac, though born later, could still be considered firstborn. Sarah's desire to exclude Ishmael from any inheritance at all is partly to satisfy the narrative of Genesis 17, in which Sarah will be the mother of the covenantal heir; it may also reflect the difficult personal relations that arise when one son receives all.

A fourth theme involves the way in which disadvantaged individuals are portrayed as surviving and being blessed with the promise of great prominence. A final theme concerns the special role of Ishmael in biblical history. The Hagar stories establish the close relationship of the Ishmaelites (“the descendants of Hagar,” according to Bar. 3:23) to the Israelites, relegating them to a separate territory but recognizing that God has protected and sustained their eponymous ancestor, the son of Hagar and Abraham. Finally, the narratives, while making Hagar a heroic figure, are also sensitive to her vulnerability as a woman, a foreigner, and a servant.

Paul interprets the Hagar stories with a tendentious allegory in Galatians 4:21–31.

Carol L. Meyers