tribes of Ishmael, first born of Abraham
Most of us are familiar with
the ancient story of Abraham and his desire to have
a son. In the Biblical account of his story, Abraham
first has a son through his 'handmaiden' Hagar. This
son is named Ishmael and is Abraham's first born
son. When Abraham's second son is born, this son
named Isaac, is declared the 'son of promise.' The
Jews today claim decent from Abraham through this
second son, Isaac. Few people today, however, know
what happened to the descendants of Ishmael. It is
often assumed that they simply became the Arabs of
the Middle East, but to most of us, our knowledge of
them stops there.
The Bible gives us the following record:
"But as for Ishmael, I have heard thee:
behold I have blessed him, and will make him
fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly;
twelve princes shall he beget, and I will
make him a great nation." Genesis 17:20
"Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's
son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bore
unto Abraham: 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, and Mishma, and Dumah,
and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedmah.
These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their
names, by their towns and by their encampments;
twelve princes according to their nations." Genesis
These sons eventually took wives, had children, and
through these children, tribes were formed. These
tribes made up the nations that dwelt from Havilah
to Shur, and from Egypt to Assyria. The descendants
of Ishmael, however, were not the sole tribes in the
Arabian Desert. Other tribes emerged from other
sources. Some of these became the people of South
Arabia (Qahtanis) and
others also wandered and settled in Arabia.
More information is known about the dependence of
Ishmael's eldest son, Nabajoth than any of the
others. In the Bible, Qedar and the tribe of Nebayot
were renown for sheep raising. Isaiah 60:7. Their
names are frequently found together in Assyrian
Nabajoth is specifically mentioned by the Jewish
historian Josephus, who identified the
Nabataeans of his time
with Ishmael's eldest son. He claimed that the
Nabataeans lived through the whole country extending
from the Euphrates to the Red Sea, and referred to
this area as 'Nabatene,' or the area that the
Nabataeans ranged in. Josephus goes on to say that
it was the Nabataeans who conferred their names on
the Arabian nations. (Jewish Antiquities I.22,1)
Josephus lived and wrote during the time that the
Nabataeans were in existence, and supposedly, he
obtained his information directly from the
Nabataeans themselves. These Nabataeans spoke and
wrote an early form of Arabic and thus they were
often referred to as 'Arabs' by Greek and Roman
Ishmael’s second son, Kedar, also had his own sons.
The sons of Kedar became known as the Kedarites. The
Kedarites were the main military power of the sons
of Ishmael. Isaiah speaks of Kedar's 'glory and her
gifted archers.' (Isaiah 21:16-17) Ezekiel 27:21
associates Arabia with all of the princes of Kedar,
suggesting a confederation under their leadership.
During history, the Kedarites were in constant
conflict with the Assyrians. The Assyrians,
Neo-Babylonians, Persians and even the Romans
realized the importance of taking control of the
commercial routes in northern Arabia that were under
the dominion of the Kedarites (and later the
Nehemiah's opponent, 'Geshem the Arab' has been
identified as one of the kings of Kedar from the mid
fifth century BC. (based on a number of North
The children of Abdeel, Ishmael’s 3rd born became a
tribe bearing the same name of Adbeel and is often
identified with the people of Idibi'ilu of the land
of Arubu, who became subjects to Tiglath Pileser II
(744 - 727 BC). This Idibi'ilu was given the duty as
the Assyrian king's agent on the borders of Egypt.
His tribe was said to have dwelt far away, towards
the west. From this reference, some historians have
thought that the tribe of Adbeel lived in the Sinai.
Ishmael’s 4th and 5th sons, Mibsam and Mishma,
respectively, seem to have disappeared of the face
of the Earth, or just lost their independent
identities by intermingling with their cousins.
Dumah, his 6th son is mentioned in the Biblical
records as a city in Canaan (Joshua 15:52) It is
also associated with Edom and Seir in Isaiah 21:11
Dumah is generally identified by historians with the
Addyrian Adummatu people. Esarhaddon related how, in
his attempt to subdue the Arabs, his father,
Sennacherib struck against their capital, Adummatu,
which he called the stronghold of the Arabs.
Sennacherib captured their king, Haza'il, who is
called, King of the Arabs. Kaza'il is also referred
to in one inscription of Ashurbanipal as King of the
From a geographical standpoint, Adummatu is often
associated with the medieval Arabic Dumat el-Jandal,
which was in ancient times a very important and
strategic junction on the major trade route between
Syria, Babylon, Najd and the Hijaz area. Dumat el
Jandal is at the southeastern end of Al Jawf, which
is a desert basin, and often denotes the whole lower
region of Wadi as Sirhan, the famous depression
situated half way between Syria and Mesopotamia.
This area has water, and was a stopping place for
caravan traders coming from Tayma, before proceeding
on to Syria or Babylonia.
This strategic location effectively made Dumah the
entrance to north Arabia. This oasis was the center
of rule for many north Arabian kings and queens, as
related to us in Assyrian records.
The records of Tiglath Pileser III mention the
inhabitants of Mas'a and of Tema, who paid him
tribute. On the summit of Jebel Ghunaym, located
about fourteen kilometers south of Tayma in Jordan,
archeologists Winnett and Reed discovered some
graffiti texts mentioning the tribe Massaa,
Ishmael’s 7th, in connection with Dedan and Nebayot.
These texts refer to the war against Dedan, the war
against Nabayat and the war against Massaa.
Therefore, these tribes appear to have been close to
each other at this time. The tribe of Massaa is
possibly connected with the Masanoi of North Arabia
as mentioned by Ptolemy, Geography v18, 2.
Those holding to the theory that the Children of
Israel crossed the Red Sea into Arabia proper,
identify El Maser as the place where the Israelites
murmured. (Exodus 17:7, Deut 6:16,9:22,33:8)
As for Ishmael’s 8th son, Hadad, some historians
speculate that this tribe may have become known as
the Harar, or the Hararina people that lived near
the mountains northwest of Palmyra. It is also
interesting to notice that there is a Hadad tribe in
Arabia. Most of the Hadads are now Christians, and
are located throughout the Levant. (Eg: Jordan,
Syria, Lebanon, and Palestine).
Ishmael’s number nine, Tema, is connected to the
oasis city of Teyma which is usually associated with
the ancient oasis of Tayma, located northeast of the
Hijaz district, on the trade route between Yathrib
(Medina) and Dumah. Between Tayma and Dumah is the
famous Nafud desert. It is thought that the present
city of Tayma at the southwestern end of the great
Nafud desert is built on the remains of the ancient
oasis bearing the same name.
Tiglath Pileser III received tributes from Tayma, as
well as from other Arabian oasis. The Assyrian
records recall how a collation headed by Samsi,
queen of the Arabs was defeated. The coalition was
made up of Massaa, the city of Tayma, the tribes of
Saba, Hajappa, Badana, Hatti, and Idiba'il, which
lay far to the west. Once defeated, these tribes had
to send tribute of gold, silver, camels and spices
of all kinds.
The Assyrian king, Sennacherib even named one of his
gates in the great city of Nineveh as the Desert
Gate, and records that "the gifts of the Sumu'anite
and the Teymeite enter through it." From this we can
recognize Teyma as being an important place.
Around 552 BC, the Babylonian king, Nabonidus
(555-539 BC) the father of biblical Belshazzar
(Daniel 7:1) made the city of Tayma his residence
and spent ten of the sixteen years of his reign
During the Achaemenid period, the city probably
became a seat of one of the Persian emperors.
However, by the first century BC, the Nabataeans
began to dominate Tayma and it slowly became a part
of their trading empire.
Isaiah 21:13-14 Invites the people of Tayma to
provide water and food for their fugitive
countrymen, in an apparent allusion to Tiglath
Pileser's invasion of North Arabia in 738 BC.
Jeremiah 25:23 A prophecy against the oasis city
Job 6:19,20 Job laments at
his fall from wealth, and comments that the troops
of Tema and the armies of Sheba (Yemen) had hoped
for plunder, but now Job had nothing.
We have no information on
Ishmael’s remaining three sons, Jetur, Naphish, and