#38. Is Ishmael’s blessing conveyed by an angel of Yahweh to Hagar OR by God to Abraham? (Gen 16:10 vs Gen 17:20)


In #34-37 we looked at the contradictions in the Hagar-Ishmael story that were created as a result of a later editorial process that stitched together two once separate versions of the story, the Yahwist and Elohist. But there appears to be yet another textual tradition now preserved in Genesis that also told of the blessing of Ishmael. In this version we are given further details about Ishmael’s blessing, Abraham’s role, emphasis on “the eternal covenant,” and allusions to the Priestly creation account’s “be fruitful and multiply” (Gen 17:19-22)—all themes that we previously saw in P’s version of the Abrahamic covenant (#28). In other words, all of Genesis 17 is from the Priestly writer. The reconstructed Priestly text would be Genesis 16:3 + 16:15-16 + 17:1-27):

16:3And Sarai, Abram’s wife, took Hagar the Egyptian, her maid, at the end of ten years of Abram’s living in the land of Canaan, and gave her to Abram, her husband, as wife to him. 15And Hagar gave birth to a son for Abram, and Abram called the name of his son whom Hagar had borne Ishmael. 16And Abram was eighty years and six years old when Hagar gave birth to Ishmael for Abram…. [+ Gen 17]

We notice that the reconstructed text (16:3 + 15-16) forms a coherent and independent unite, focusing on themes elsewhere stressed in P: chronology, dates, marriage and settlement notices. These inserts do not necessarily contradict nor clash with the Yahwist text; they merely supplement it with additional details that the Priestly writer sought to stress. However, later in Genesis 17:15-22 the Priestly writer’s insert does clash with the earlier Yahwist text of chapter 16. And as we mused elsewhere, maybe his version was originally meant to replace the Yahwist version.

In Genesis 16:4-13—the Yahwist version—we are told that an angel of Yahweh visits Hagar in her plight and comforts her by conveying a blessing upon her yet unborn son that she is carrying (16:7-12), and the angel even names the unborn lad Ishmael because “Yahweh has heard your suffering” (#37). But then in Genesis 17:20 we are told that Yahweh, as El Shaddai (17:1), bestows this blessing on Ishmael by proclaiming it to Abraham (Gen 17:20), and in response to Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael (17:18). So the Priestly writer has created a whole different narrative context for this blessing, one that purposely switches the focus from Hagar to Abraham.

We might further conclude that the Priestly writer felt that there were elements in the Yahwist text that were not clear or needed to be emphasized (see also #28), such as the centrality of Abraham and the heightened emphasis on the eternal covenant, as we saw in Genesis 17:1-14. But there also seems to be a heightened desire to define clearly Ishmael’s blessing and to present it as part of the larger Abrahamic blessings, while conversely being more explicit on what’s left implicit in the earlier Yahwist text: It is the future son Isaac with whom the eternal covenant is established.

One thought on “#38. Is Ishmael’s blessing conveyed by an angel of Yahweh to Hagar OR by God to Abraham? (Gen 16:10 vs Gen 17:20)

  1. There were times when the Priestly Source went positively Orwellian, rewriting whole sections of text to redirect the point of view and to stress their own particular issues.
    Someday soon, when I have more time, I would like to discuss the concept of “El Shaddai” with you, but first, I need to see what else you’ve written about him.


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