Son of Abraham and Hagar. A generally positive attitude toward Ishmael and thus toward his descendants is found in the Genesis traditions. He is the recipient of a special divine blessing (Gen 17.20) and is present at the burial of Abraham (25.9). Like Jacob, Ishmael is the father of twelve sons, the ancestors of twelve tribes (Gen 25.16). Another indication of the generally favorable view of this patriarch is the fact that several other later Israelites have the same name. There are, however, hints of ethnic tension in the narratives as well. Like Cain, Ishmael is depicted as an outcast and prone to violence (Gen. 16.12), and as a wanderer (note the opening words of Melville's Moby‐Dick). The Ishmaelites are elsewhere described as leading a typically nomadic life (Gen. 37.25; Ps. 83.6; 1 Chron. 27.30). The story of Ishmael and Hagar's separation from Abraham's household contains the kind of scurrilous sexual innuendo found elsewhere in J's etiological narratives concerning Israel's neighbors.

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 (see Aqedah).

Michael D. Coogan