Tag Archives: ishmael

Ishmael’s Daughter(s) and the Riddle of Esau’s Wives

In my previous post on the twelve sons of Ishmael, I left out at least one of Ishmael’s most important children: his daughter, or perhaps, his daughters. Their story is tied to Esau, Jacob’s brother, and chronologically comes later in the biblical narrative, but in the interest of keeping the Ishmael family together, I want to discuss it now. And what the story lacks in narrative, it gains in confusion: Genesis is simply unclear about exactly how many wives Esau had, what their names were, and who their parents were. And, depending on how you read it, Ishmael could have been blessed by one daughter who married Esau, or two. And before you dismiss that out of hand, remember that Jacob himself married two daughters of Laban, so it is entirely reasonable for Esau to also marry sisters.

A complicated tale that involves wading through bible genealogies? Where do I sign up!? Read on for more.

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Ishmael’s Children and Descendants

Ishmael by James Tissot (Source: Wikimedia Commons)The story of Ishmael is the next to come to a close, in the middle of Genesis 25. But before he passes away at the ripe old age of 137, the bible tells us a bit more about his children. Ishmael’s family, like Abraham’s children with Keturah, don’t factor into the biblical story directly. Instead, they are the founders of twelve more tribes of Canaan that the post-exodus Hebrews will have to deal with upon their return.

These are the names of the sons of Ishmael, listed in the order of their birth: Nebaioth the firstborn of Ishmael, Kedar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael, and these are the names of the twelve tribal rulers according to their settlements and camps.
Genesis 25:13-16

I thought it would be fun, just like I did with Abraham’s kids, to look at what the bible says about each of these twelve tribes and how they impacted our story, in big and small ways. One omission from this list, is Ishmael’s daughter (Mahalath, otherwise known as Basemath), but that story is complicated enough that I’m going to save it for another time.

I know that genealogies bore some of you to tears, but I love them and the way little connections are sprinkled throughout the bible, if you care to look for them. They make me feel like it’s all part of one connected story, rather than   bumps along the road to Jerusalem. Every story is important, though some are more fun than others.

Twelve more tribes for Ishmael! Read on for more.

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My Favorite Moment in Genesis – Isaac and Ishmael at Peace

In the bible as in life, sometimes the best things come in small packages. Hidden between two boring genealogies in Genesis 25 is a three line mini-story that is one of my favorite moments in Genesis. Here it is:

Then Abraham breathed his last and died at a good old age, an old man and full of years; and he was gathered to his people. His sons Isaac and Ishmael buried him in the cave of Machpelah near Mamre, in the field of Ephron son of Zohar the Hittite, the field Abraham had bought from the Hittites. There Abraham was buried with his wife Sarah.
Genesis 25:8-10

The story is profound in its simplicity: Isaac and Ishmael, two half-brothers who did not get along, come together in peace to bury their father. It’s an amazing story of forgiveness that I think says a lot to us still today. Read on for more.

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Much Ado About Camels… in the Bible

Somehow in all my reading of Genesis, I missed one of the great controversies of the bible: camels. Dromedaries appear in several Genesis stories, but most notably in the story of Isaac and Rebekah. In this story, Rebekah waters Abraham’s camels and fulfills a prophecy to be Isaac’s wife. I never thought twice about camels in biblical times, but science disagrees. Robert Alter summarizes the controversy best:

Archeological and extrabiblical literary evidence indicates that camels were not adopted as beasts of burden until several centuries after the Patriarchal period, and so their introduction to this story would have to be anachronistic.

Robert Alter, The Five Books of Moses

Rather than point at camels as an indication that the bible is “wrong”, I argue that the rarity of camels fits the biblical narrative. The authors may even connect Abraham to the rise of camels in all of Canaan. Read on for more.

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Can Bible Stories Be Spiritually True, But Factually False? (Ishmael and Isaac’s Ages)

The Bible overall, but especially Genesis, is a collection of stories. These stories were stitched together (either by man or God, it doesn’t matter) to make theological or historical points. I’ve made a big deal out of ages and timelines in the last couple of posts because I love facts. I love nuggets of information that I can hold on to and draw context with. Genealogical tables, lists of place names, and timelines all fascinate me in the bible and I’ve done posts about all three.

The truth is though, that sometimes it seems like the author didn’t care about all of that. Some stories appear to be spiritually true more than they are historically true, or even true relative to other stories. This happens in the Proverbs (some of which directly contradict each other), this happens in Numbers (the inflated population figures), and it happens in Genesis. The ages of Isaac and Ishmael is one of those “truths”.

What do I mean? Well, I guess you’ll have to keep reading…

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Marriage in the Bible – Part 3: Polygamy

No discussion of biblical marriage can be complete without the major elephant in the room: polygamy. Though modern Jews and Christians hold that marriage should be like Adam and Eve, one man and one woman, early Jews thought otherwise well into the post-Christian era. Echos of this practice still exist today in Islam as well as a few very fringe Mormon groups. (Mormonism as a whole outlawed the practice around forty years after the religion’s founding.)

If you are just joining us, this week in honor of my first wedding anniversary, I’m doing a post every day about a different aspect of marriage in the Torah. Monday was marriage in the creation story. Tuesday was Levrite marriage. Today, I’m digging into polygamy.

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Lech-lecha – Abraham’s New Covenant (snip-snip)

We end Lech-Lecha on some really high notes. I was feeling for a while that the bible’s authors would be taking Abram down a peg, but I have clearly misremembered so far. As it stands, Genesis 17 ends with Abram’s head held high, he wins favor for his first son, a promise of a second son, and he only had to cut off the tip of his penis to get it! Sounds like a bargain to me.

Let’s think on that. This IS a bargain, isn’t it? Not in the sense that it’s inexpensive, but this is the third repetition of the Abraham covenant (from Genesis chapters 12 and 15), but the first that clearly stipulates that there is a cost associated. In Genesis 12, Abram’s condition was that he leave Haran and his father and journey to Canaan. In Genesis 15, God doesn’t require any conditions at all. (If anything, Abram is bargaining some conditions with God.)

More after the break.

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Lech-Lecha – Three’s a Crowd

After spending the last several chapters lifting up Sarai and Abraham, the bible then takes a very surprising turn. Sarai is a woman that was clearly one of the most beautiful of her age. Abram is a fantastic warrior-king and strategist who goes to war against impossible odds to save his kinsmen. But we discover something new: Sarai is jealous and abusive and Abram is a whipped man.

More after the break…

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Lech-Lecha – Go! Go! Go!

I’m now unapologetically behind: there’s just more to learn in each portion than you can possibly learn in a week. So at this point, I will continue at my own pace and see where I get. With luck, I’ll catch up to the calendar once we get out of the dense stories of Genesis and into the long legal tractates. Not very likely, but why not dream?

This portion, only the third one, is notable for the introduction of the First Family of Judaism (and the other Abrahamic religions): Abram, his wife Sarai, her maid Hagar, his nephew Lot, and his first son Ishmael. But more importantly than that, the title of this portion is the first reference to the undisputed focus of the Torah: Israel.

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