Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ishmael was Not Abraham's Firstborn

Alice C. Linsley

According to the Septuagint (Greek Old Testament), Abraham had nine sons.  Four of these were firstborn sons: Joktan, Ishmael, Eliezar and Isaac, probably in that birth order. It is very likely that Abraham also had daughters, but they are not named in Genesis since only ruling sons are named.

Here is a list of the sons born to Abraham by his two wives: Sarah and Keturah, and by his two concubines: Hagar and Masek.

Sarah, daughter of Terah the Aramean (Gen. 20:12)
Isaac (Yitzak)

Hagar the Egyptian (Sarah’s handmaid)
Ishmael (Yismael), who was Egyptian since race/ethnicity was traced through the mother, as is true even today among Semitic peoples.

Keturah, daughter of Joktan the Afro-Arabian (Gen. 25)
Joktan – probably Keturah’s firstborn son

Masek, the Aramean/Syrian (She was likely Keturah’s handmaid.)
Eliezar of Damascus

Tribal Confederations

Reviewing this list of names we note a pattern of alliterative pairs between three sons: Yitzak, Yismael and Yishbak. This triad represents a tribal unit. Other tribal units are Jubal, Jabal and Tubal; Og, Gog and Magog, and Uz, Buz and Huz. However, not all tribal units are designated by alliterative pairs.

When twin sons were born it was important to determine which breached first; thus the midwife’s use of the scarlet cord (Gen. 38:28). Some name pairs suggest twins, such as Perez and Zerah, Dishon and Dishan (Horites, according to Gen. 36:21), and Letush and Leum (Dedanites, according to Gen. 25:3). Dedan is where the oldest Arabic texts have been found.

To Each Firstborn Son a Territory or a Settlement

Abraham actually had four firstborn sons: Joktan, Yismael (Ishmael), Eliezar, and Yitzak (Isaac), probably born in that order, although it is possible that Yishbak was the firstborn son of Keturah, but apparently he was sent away, which is the meaning of his name.

Joktan became the head of the Joktanite tribes of Arabia. Yismael became the father of the Sinai Bedouins. No sons are named for Eliezar. Yitzak fathered Yisreal (Jacob), Esau the Elder and Yishbak the elder. Esau and Jacob were contemporaries of Seir the Horite (Gen. 36).

The firstborn sons of wives were ranked above the firstborn sons of concubines. So Joktan ranked over Eliezar, and Yitzak ranked over Yishmael. Joktan would rule over the southern settlements of his maternal grandfather (Dedan, Ramaah and Sheba) and Yitzak would rule the northern settlements of his father Abraham (Hebron, Bethel and Shechem).

Analysis of the Genesis genealogical data indicates that the firstborn son of the cousin/niece wife ascended to the throne of his maternal grandfather. This is indicated by the consistent pattern of the cousin bride naming her firstborn son after her father. So Lamech (Gen. 5), the firstborn of Methuselah, was named ascended to the throne of Lamech the Elder (Gen. 4). Joktan, the firstborn son of Keturah, ascended to the throne of Keturah’s father Joktan. Esau, the husband of Oholibamah (Gen. 36) ascended to the throne of Esau the Elder, the son of Isaac.

The firstborn son of the half-sister wife ascended to the throne of his biological father. So Isaac was the heir of Abraham’s territory.

Going back to before Abraham, we find that Ramah and Nimrod ruled separate territories that had once been united under their father Kush. Asshur and Arpachshad ruled separate territories that had once been united under their father Shem. This is the marriage pattern by which the Kushite rulers spread quickly across the ancient Afro-Asiatic Dominion which extended from west central Africa to the Ganges River.

Likewise, Eber’s sons Peleg and Joktan ruled separate territories that had once been unified under their father. The division of territory in Peleg’s generation is noted in Genesis 10:25: “…it was in his time that the earth was divided.” This marks the emergence of two distinct Afro-Asiatic groups: Aramaens and Afro-Arabians.

Arabic, Hebrew and Aramaic are in the Afro-Asiatic language family. Old Arabian script appears as early as the eighth century BC, with regional dialects across the Arabian Peninsula and the Levant. The greatest concentration of Old Arabic texts is found at Dedan. Dedan's father was Abraham's son Joktan. Dedan's brother was Sheba the Younger. The Dedanites intermarried with the Egyptian Ishmaelites.

Firstborn Sons of Concubines

Had Sarah remained without a son, the rightful heir to Abraham’s throne would have been Eliezar (Gen. 15). The Masoretic and Greek texts do not agree on Eliezar. The Septuagint (Greek Old Testament) clearly states that he was a son of Abraham by Masek, but this is not found in the Masoretic text. This suggests a peculiar characteristic of this unique kinship pattern: the assignment of territories to the firstborn sons of concubines. If the pattern of Hagar and Masek is the same as the pattern of Bilhah and Zilpah, then Ishmael and Eliezar received settlements to govern and were included as the heads of clans along with Joktan, Yitzak, Yishbak, Midian, Medan, Zimran and Shuah.

Concerning Ishmael, his assignment of a settlement in or near Paran on the way to Egypt is indicated by these words: “This is the genealogy of Ishmael, Abraham’s son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah’s maidservant, bore to Abraham. And these were the names of the sons of Ishmael: the firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth, then Kadar, Adbeel, Mibsam, Mishma, Dumah, Massa, Hadar, Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedemah. These were the sons of Ishmael and these were their names, by their towns and settlements…” (Genesis 25:12-16).

It appears that firstborn sons of wives ruled territories while the firstborn sons of concubines ruled settlements as regional rulers in obedience to their brother kings. This is similar to the "nomes" of Egypt, where each was ruled separately by a tribal chieftain whose allegiance was to the high king or pharaoh. This sheds light on the relationship between Jacob's 12 sons, called the “12 Tribes of Israel.” The apportionment of land and settlements among Jacob’s sons likely followed this pattern with the firstborn sons of Rachel and Leah receiving territories and the firstborn sons of Jacob’s concubines receiving settlements within those territories.

Ishmael the Egyptian

Ishmael was Egyptian since race/ethnicity was traced through the mother and his mother was Egyptian. Ishmael married an Egyptian (Gen. 21:21) so his children were also Egyptian. That ethnic identity is traced through the mother is recognized even today, which is why the government of Egypt has made it illegal for Egyptian men to marry Jewish women.

Of the Ishmaelite clans, Tema or Teman is especially significant. We have a good deal of information about the Temanites. Jeremiah 49 links the Temanites with the Dedanites. According to Genesis 10:7 and 25:3, Dedan was descended from Kush and from Abraham by his cousin wife, Keturah. Dedan's father was Abraham's son Joktan. Dedan's brother was Sheba the Younger.

Isaiah 21:13 alludes to the "caravans of Dedanites" in Arabia, and Ezekiel 27:20 speaks of Dedan as supplying Tyre with precious things.

Dedan is associated with Uz in the hill country of Edom, Job's homeland. This is Uz the Elder, son of Nahor, whose grandson (by his daughter) was Uz the son of Dishan (I Chron. 1:42). Dishan was a son of Seir the Horite. Uz the Younger was Seir's grandson.

Eliphaz, the son of Esau the Elder, married Timna and he is called a "Temanite" in the Book of Job. Clearly, the name Timna has the alternative spelling Tema. Here is Seir's Horite family diagrammed using the data from Genesis 36:

Job of Uz was certainly a Horite and likely a contemporary of Esau the Younger. Uz, Buz and Huz represent a 3-clan Horite confederation based on kinship. The Horite confederation is not identified as Uz, Huz and Buz, but rather as Dedan, Tema and Buz. This means that the Ishmaelite clan of Tema intermarried with the Horite clans of Edom. Genesis 36 confirms this, listing Uz's grandson Dedan as a Horite ruler. Here we also find reference to Huz or Husham of the land of Tema (Gen. 36:34).

The oldest Arabic script emanated from the North Arabian oases of Tema and Dedan in the Hijaz. Tema is known by Arabs as Taima and lies about 70 miles north-east of Dedan. Tema, Dedan and Dumah were caravan stops along the trade route from Sheba to Babylon.

The Dedanites were famous for mining and the Timnah Valley in the southwestern Arabah, is rich in copper ore and has been actively mined since the 6th millennium BC. They dwelt in the caves of the hills and built shrines such as at Petra. Beno Rothenberg excavated a small Horite shrine dedicated to Hat-Hor at the base of Solomon's Pillars. It was built during the reign of Pharaoh Seti I at the end of the 14th century BC. This is further evidence that the Afro-Arabian Dedanites were kin to the Horites who venerated Hat-Hor, the virgin mother of Horus.

Dedanite men shaved their heads (Jeremiah 25:23), as did Horite priests. This suggests that this was a confederation of Horite priestly families who were probably also metalworkers. Aaron was likely a metal-working priest, which explains why the people appealed to him to fabricate a golden calf.

We have established that the Ishmaelites intermarried with the Temanite clan of Seir the Horite. They also intermarried with the Joktanites who lived in Southern Arabia. However, the Ishmaelite rulers were vassals of their half siblings who were the sons of Abraham’s wives. Ishmael, as a regional ruler in obedience to his brother kings, was known as a great archer and we are told that God was with him (Gen. 21:20).

In birth order, Ishmael was not Abraham’s first son nor was he the progenitor of all Arabs. The majority of Arabs are descendants of Abraham by Keturah who bore him six sons. The most prominent of these sons was Joktan, the father of Dedan (the region where the oldest Arabic scripts have been found). So while it may be claimed that Abraham is the father of most Arabs, not all Arabs are descendants of Abraham through Ishmael.

Genesis portrays Ishmael as a fiercely independent chief who resisted his subjugation. He is described as a “wild donkey of a man” who raised his hand against his brothers and lived his life “in defiance of all his kinsmen” (Gen. 16:12). Yet he stood at Isaac’s side at the burial of their father (Gen. 25:9).

Related reading:  Sent-Away Sons; The Afro-Arabian Dedanites, Peleg: Time of Division; Abraham and Job: Horite Rulers


Celika Rurherford said...

Hello my name is Celika,and I strongly disagree that Eliezer of Damascus was Abrams first son. In Genesis 15:2-4, Abram told God he had no seed and in vr4 God agreed. So maybe Eliezer was the first born in Abram's household, but it wasn't Abram's seed. God does not lie or cover for a lie.
Peace in Jesus name

Alice C. Linsley said...

Hello, Celika. Welcome to Just Genesis!

I agree that Eliezar was NOT Abraham's firstborn son. His firstborn son was probably Joktan (Yaqtan). The biblical evidence point to this.

As a biblical anthropologist, I have come to believe that the Bible is to be trusted.

Anonymous said...

You mention that Keturah is Abraham's cousin. Any documentation?

Alice C. Linsley said...

Keturah is Abraham's patrilineal cousin and this pattern is found with all the Horites in the Bible, including Abraham's father, Moses' father, and Samuel's father. The Horites ruler-priests had a distinctive marriage and ascendancy pattern.

Brock said...

I have to agree with one of the other comments that sources for your observations would be very valuable. Typically using other articles self authored is not considered valid documentation.

Since the Death of Sarah is documented in Gen 24:67 and Gen 25:1 states that " Then again Abraham took a wife, and her name was Keturah", it makes it difficult to imagine that any of Keturah's offspring could be considered older than any of Sarah's since her and Abraham are not married until after Sarah's passing.

As a Biblical Anthropologist, I am sure that you have a valid source for this discrepancy as I read it in the biblical record. If you would please share we would all be benefitted.

Alice C. Linsley said...

The mention of Keturah after the death of Sarah is not to be read as a chronology of events. This closes a story cycle.

Keturah was likely taken as a second (cousin) wife after Abraham consulted with the Moreh at the Oak and then headed south to Beersheba. She would have had her first born son Yaqtan before Yitzak/Isaac was born. Abraham's complaint was that he didn't have a proper heir, i.e., the first born son of the half-sister wife (in this case Sarah). See this:

The marriage and ascendancy pattern of the Habiru (Hebrew) rulers was fixed. They had two wives at the time they began to rule. The first wife was a half-sister and the second wife, taken later in life, was either a patrilineal cousin or niece. This same pattern pertained to Abraham's father, Abraham, Moses' father, Moses, and Samuel's father Elkanah. The pattern is traced using the cousin bride's naming prerogative. See this:

Brock said...

I apologize for what may appear hardheadedness, however, you responded to an earlier post that you were a biblical anthropologist and thus only used the Bible as your source of material.

However, what biblical source do you use to justify this conclusion that you wrote: "The mention of Keturah after the death of Sarah is not to be read as a chronology of events. This closes a story cycle."

In this response you cite no sources other than yourself and it seems difficult to validate your observations from biblical sources. I'm willing to consider upon your evidences but I /we need to have them to do so.

Alice C. Linsley said...


Would Abraham have broken the pattern of his Horim by marrying his cousin wife after the death of his half-sister wife? That is not likely, especially as he sought the kingdom/territory that God had promised to give him. To attain that, he needed to marry his second wife Keturah. The settlement of his two wives on a north-south axis was part of marking his territory.

There are many story cycles in Genesis. They have been identified in numerous commentaries on Genesis.

I've no qualms about referring to my writings when making observations since this research has been building upon itself for over 30 years.

Brock said...

Okay, thank you.

Sobona said...

Who was Yitzhak's second wife or other wife?

SHarris said...

isn't it Yoqshan?

Alice C. Linsley said...


Yitzak's first wife would have been a half sister, a daughter of Abraham and his cousin wife Keturah. His second wife was a patrilineal cousin, Rebekah. This is the pattern of all the Hebrew rulers.

Alice C. Linsley said...


Variants spellings include Joktan, Jokshan, Yaqtan, and Yaqshan. The initial Y reflects the appointment of the man to rule. See this: