Genesis 17:25, How Old was Ishmael when Abraham Sent Him Away? Part II of II

And Ishmael his son was thirteen years old, when he was circumcised in the flesh of his foreskin.

//Yesterday, I provided verses that make it sound like Ishmael was an infant when Abraham sent him and his mother Hagar away into the desert. But if we back up four chapters to today’s verse, we read that Ishmael was 13 when he was circumcised. Sometime afterward, another son, Isaac, is conceived. We can figure that nine months after that, Isaac is born. At least 18 months after that, Isaac is weaned (Gen 21:18 – according to Jewish rabbinical tradition, weaning occurs between 18 months and 5 years). At this time, Hagar and Ishmael are still living with Abraham and Sarah (Gen 21:19). Finally, Sarah demands that Hagar be sent away.

So Ishmael is at least fifteen years old when this happens. Definitely not a baby in arms. Did Hagar really carry a 15-year-old boy on her shoulder off into the desert? Did she really lay him down under a shrub to let him die?

Most scholars recognize that we have two independent stories here about Ishmael. If you’re familiar with the Documentary Hypothesis, it is the priestly source which reports that Ishmael grew into a teenager while still with Abraham. It is the Elohim source which reports that he was sent away with his mother, probably as an infant. These two contradictory traditions should not be read as a single story.

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6 Comments

  1. What a wonderful gift you have undertaken to clear up these things. Do you know how many inconsistencies have actually turned people away from the bible… for good. You are a blessing Lee.

    • Lee Harmon

      :) thank you, Kathy!

      • Rod Horncastle

        Hmmmm? I say it is one perfect story. Be sure to read it carefully.

        So Abraham got up early the next morning, prepared food and a container of water, and strapped them on Hagar’s shoulders. Then he sent her away with their son, and she wandered aimlessly in the wilderness of Beersheba.

        So Lee, your whole problem with this story is because you assume Hagar put Ishmael on her shoulders? OR that a tired person in the wilderness was placed under a bush?

        Ishmael was (mockingly?) laughing during Isaac’s feast. Many scholars think Ishmael was 16 at this time.
        Lee you really do hate the Bible don’t you? So sad.

        • Lee Harmon

          Haha, Rod, yes, I’m quite aware of your bias against bible scholarship. And you know my usual counter: how sad that you hate what the Bible is so much that you try to turn it into a dry history book.

  2. to me, it sounds perfectly reasonable that it says abraham put supplies on ishmael’s back, not ishmael on hagars

    • Lee Harmon

      You are correct, John, that the wording is ambiguous. Here is the ESV:

      So Abraham rose early in the morning and took bread and a skin of water and gave it to Hagar, putting it on her shoulder, along with the child, and sent her away.

      What you will find in every translation, though, is that Abraham doesn’t send Hagar and Ishmael away. He sends just her away after giving her the boy, so Ismael’s young age is implied.

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