Expulsion of Ishmael and His Mother, by Gustave Doré
|Born||c. 2000 BCE
|Died||Desert of Paran|
Hagar hay'gahr (Hebrew: הָגָר, Modern Hagar Tiberian Hāgār, meaning "uncertain"; Greek: Άγαρ Agar; Latin: Agar; Arabic: هاجر; Hājar) is a biblical person in the Book of Genesis Chapter 16. She was an Egyptian handmaid of Sarai (Sarah), who gave her to Abram (Abraham) to bear a child. Thus came the firstborn, Ishmael, the patriarch of the Ishmaelites. The name Hagar originates from the Book of Genesis, is mentioned in Hadith, and alluded to in the Qur'an. She is revered in the Islamic faith and acknowledged in all Abrahamic faiths. In mainstream Christianity, she is considered a concubine to Abram.
Hagar in Genesis
This is a summary of the account of Hagar from Genesis 16,21
Hagar and Abram
Hagar was an Egyptian handmaiden of Sarai, the first wife of Abram, who served her mistress less than ten years since coming out of Egypt. Hagar was offered, by her mistress, to Abram to be as a second wife.
When Hagar realized that she was pregnant, she began to despise her mistress. Sarai sensed her slave's attitude which caused her to suffer greatly. Sarai then consulted her husband about the matter who gave her permission to do with Hagar as she saw fit. Sarai dealt with her harshly, which resulted in Hagar fleeing from Abram’s settlement. (Genesis 16:4-6)
Hagar fled into the desert on her way to Shur. En route, an angel of Yahweh appeared to Hagar at the well of a spring. He instructed her to return to Sarai her mistress, so that she may bear a child who "shall be a wild donkey of a man, his hand against everyone and everyone's hand against him, and he shall dwell over against all his kinsmen."
When Isaac was born to Sarah (Sarai), the relationship between Hagar and her mistress had come to a climax. At a celebration after Isaac was weaned, Sarah found the teenage Ishmael mocking her son. She was so upset by it that she demanded from her husband, who was now referred to as Abraham, to send Hagar and her son away. She declared that Ishmael would not share in Isaac's inheritance. Abraham was greatly distressed by his wife's words and sought the advice of God. Yahweh told Abraham not to be distressed but to do as his wife commanded because not only would Isaac carry the Abrahamic line, but a nation would come from the line of Ishmael as well. (Genesis 21:9-13)
Early the next morning, Abraham brought Hagar and Ishmael out together. He released Hagar and her son from being slaves of their household. Hagar would now be a free woman, and Ishmael a free man as a teenager. Abraham gave Hagar bread and water for a journey into the wilderness of Beersheba. She and her son wandered aimlessly until the bottle of water was completely consumed. In a moment of despair, she burst in tears. Her son then called to God and upon hearing him, an angel of Yahweh confirmed to Hagar that her son would become a great nation. A well of water then appeared so that it saved their lives. Hagar found her son a wife from her native home in the land of Egypt and they settled in the Desert of Paran. (Genesis 21:14-21)
Rabbinical commentators asserted that Hagar was Pharaoh's daughter. The midrash Genesis Rabbah states it was when Sarah was in Pharaoh's harem that he gave her his daughter Hagar as slave, saying: "It is better that my daughter should be a slave in the house of such a woman than mistress in another house". Sarah treated Hagar well, and induced women who came to visit her to visit Hagar also. However Hagar, when pregnant by Abraham, began to act superciliously toward Sarah, provoking the latter to treat her harshly, to impose heavy work upon her, and even to strike her (ib. 16:9).
Some Jewish commentators identify Hagar with Keturah, the woman Abraham married after the death of Sarah, stating that Abraham sought her out after Sarah's death. It is suggested that Keturah was Hagar's personal name, and that "Hagar" was a descriptive label meaning "stranger". This interpretation is discussed in the Midrash and is supported by Rashi, Gur Aryeh, Keli Yakar, and Obadiah of Bertinoro. Rashi argues that "Keturah" was a name given to Hagar because her deeds were as beautiful as incense (hence: ketores), and/or that she remained chaste from the time she was separated from Abraham—keturah [ קְטוּרָה Q'turah ] derives from Aramaic word for restrained. The contrary view (that Keturah was someone other than Hagar) is advocated by Rashbam, Abraham ibn Ezra, Radak, and Ramban. They were listed as two different people in the genealogies of 1 Chronicles.
In the New Testament, Paul the Apostle made Hagar's experience an allegory of the difference between law and grace in his Epistle to the Galatians (Galatians 4:21-31). Paul links the laws of the Torah, given on Mount Sinai, to the bondage of the Israelite people, implying that it was signified by Hagar's condition as a bondswoman, while the "free" heavenly Jerusalem is signified by Sarah and her child. Mount Sinai has been referred to as "Agar", possibly named after Hagar.
In Catholicism, Saint Augustine referred to Hagar as symbolizing an "earthly city", or sinful condition of humanity: "In the earthly city (symbolised by Hagar) ... we find two things, its own obvious presence and the symbolic presence of the heavenly city. New citizens are begotten to the earthly city by nature vitiated by sin but to the heavenly city by grace freeing nature from sin." (City of God 15:2) This view was expounded on by medieval theologians such as Thomas Aquinas and John Wycliffe. The latter compared the children of Sarah to the redeemed, and those of Hagar to the unredeemed, who are "carnal by nature and mere exiles".
Hājar (Arabic: هاجر), is the Arabic name used to identify the wife of the Islamic prophet Ibrāhīm (Abraham) and the mother of the prophet Ismā'īl (Ishmael). Although not mentioned by name in the Qur'an, she is referenced and alluded to via the story of her husband. She is a revered woman in the Islamic faith.
According to Muslim belief, she was the Egyptian handmaiden of Ibrāhīm's first wife Sara (Sarah). She eventually settled in the Desert of Paran with her son Ismā'īl.Hājar is honoured as an especially important matriarch of monotheism, as it was through Ismā'īl that the prophet Muhammad would come.
Neither Sara nor Hājar are mentioned by name in the Qur'an, but the story is traditionally understood to be referred to in a line from Ibrāhīm's prayer in Sura Ibrahim (14:37): "I have settled some of my family in a barren valley near your Sacred House." While Hājar is not named, the reader lives Hājar's predicament indirectly through the eyes of Ibrāhīm. She is also frequently mentioned in the books of hadiths.
According to Qisas Al-Anbiya, a collection of tales about the prophets, Hājar was the daughter of the King of Maghreb, a descendant of the prophet Salih. Her father was killed by Pharaoh Dhu l-'arsh and she was captured and taken as slave. Later, because of her royal blood, she was made mistress of the female slaves and given access to all of Pharaoh's wealth. Upon conversion to Ibrāhīm's faith, the Pharaoh gave Hājar to Sara who gave her to Ibrāhīm. In this account, the name "Hājar" (called Hajar in Arabic) comes from Ha ajruka, Arabic for "here is your recompense".
According to another tradition, Hājar was the daughter of the Egyptian king, who gifted her to Ibrāhīm as a wife, thinking Sara was his sister. According to Ibn Abbas, Ismā'īl's birth to Hājar caused strife between her and Sara, who was still barren. Ibrāhīm brought Hājar and their son to a land called Paran-aram or (Faran in Arabic, in latter days held to be the land surrounding Mecca). The objective of this journey was to "resettle" rather than "expel" Hājar. Ibrāhīm left Hājar and Ismā'īl under a tree and provided them with water. Hājar, learning that God had ordered Ibrāhīm to leave her in the desert of Paran, respected his decision. Muslims believe that God ordered Ibrāhīm to leave Hājar in order to test his obedience to God's commands.
Hājar soon ran out of water, and Ismā'īl, an infant by that time, began to die. Hājar panicked and ran between two nearby hills, Al-Safa and Al-Marwah repeatedly in search for water. After her seventh run, Ismā'īl hit the ground with his heel and caused a miraculous well to spring out of the ground. This is called Zamzam Well and is located a few metres from the Kaaba in Mecca.
The incident of her running between the Al-Safa and Al-Marwah hills is remembered by Muslims when they perform their pilgrimage (Hajj) at Mecca. Part of the pilgrimage is to run seven times between the hills, in commemoration of Hājar's courage and to symbolize the celebration of motherhood in Islam as well as the leadership of women. To complete the task, some Muslims also drink from the Zamzam Well and take some of the water back home from pilgrimage in memory of Hājar.
According to the Baha'i Faith, the Bab was a descendant of Abraham and Hagar. Hereby they believe God made a promise to spread Abraham's seed. The Baha'i Publishing House released a text on the wives and concubines of Abraham and traces their lineage to 5 different religions.
Arts and literature
Many artists have painted scenes from the story of Hagar and Ismael in the desert, including Pieter Lastman, Gustave Doré, Frederick Goodall and James Eckford Lauder. William Shakespeare refers to Hagar in The Merchant of Venice Act II Scene 4 line 40 when Shylock says "What says that fool of Hagar's offspring, ha?". This line refers to the character Launcelot, who Shylock is insulting by comparing him to the outcast Ishmael. It also reverses the conventional Christian interpretation by portraying the Christian character as the outcast.
Hagar's destitution and desperation are used as an excuse for criminality by characters in the work of Daniel Defoe, such as Moll Flanders, and the conventional view of Hagar as the mother of outcasts is repeated in Samuel Taylor Coleridge's play Zapolya, whose heroine is assured that she is "no Hagar's offspring; thou art the rightful heir to an appointed king."
In the nineteenth century a more sympathetic portrayal became prominent, especially in America. Edmonia Lewis, the early African American and Native American sculptor, made Hagar the subject of one of her most well-known works. She said it was inspired by "strong sympathy for all women who have struggled and suffered". In novels and poems Hagar herself, or characters named Hagar, were depicted as unjustly suffering exiles. These include the long dramatic poem Hagar by Eliza Jane Poitevent Nicholson (pen name Pearl Rivers), president of the Women's National Press Association; Hagar in the Wilderness by Nathaniel Parker Willis, the highest-paid magazine writer of his day; and Hagar's Farewell by Augusta Moore. In 1913 this was joined by the overtly feminist novel Hagar, by the American Southern socialist and suffragist Mary Johnston's.
A similarly sympathetic view prevails in more recent literature. The novel The Stone Angel by Margaret Laurence has a protagonist named Hagar married to a man named Bram, whose life story loosely imitates that of the biblical Hagar. A character named Hagar is prominently featured in Toni Morrison's novel Song of Solomon, which features numerous Biblical themes and allusions. Hagar is mentioned briefly in Salman Rushdie's controversial novel The Satanic Verses, where Mecca is replaced with 'Jahilia', a desert village built on sand and served by Hagar's spring. Hagar is mentioned, along with Bilhah and Zilpah, in Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale, a controversial dystopian novel which centres around the women whose duty it is to produce children for their masters, assuming the place of their wives. In the recent book of nonfiction, The Woman Who Named God: Abraham's Dilemma and the Birth of Three Faiths, by Charlotte Gordon provides an account of Hagar's life from the perspectives of the three monotheistic religions, Islam, Judaism, and Christianity.
Since the 1970s, the custom has arisen of giving the name "Hagar" to newborn female babies. The giving of this name is often taken as a controversial political act, marking the parents as being left-leaning and supporters of reconciliation with the Palestinians and Arab World, and is frowned upon by many, including nationalists and the religious. The connotations of the name were represented by the founding of the Israeli journal Hagar: Studies in Culture, Polity and Identities in 2000.
Several black American feminists have written about Hagar, comparing her story to those of slaves in American history. Wilma Bailey, in an article entitled "Hagar: A Model for an Anabaptist Feminist", refers to her as a "maidservant" and "slave". She sees Hagar as a model of "power, skills, strength and drive". In the article "A Mistress, A Maid, and No Mercy", Renita Weems argues that the relationship between Sarah and Hagar exhibits "ethnic prejudice exacerbated by economic and social exploitation". According to Susanne Scholz,
Enslaved, raped, but seen by God, Hagar has been a cherished biblical character in African-American communities. Womanist theologian Delores S. Williams explains:
The story of Hagar demonstrates that survival is possible even under harshest conditions.
- The African-American community has taken Hagar's story unto itself. Hagar has ‘spoken’ to generation after generation of black women because her story has been validated as true by suffering black people. She and Ishmael together, as family, model many black American families in which a lone woman/mother struggles to hold the family together in spite of the poverty to which ruling class economics consign it. Hagar, like many black women, goes into the wide world to make a living for herself and her child, with only God by her side.
Hagar bearing a child for an infertile woman is an example of what is now called surrogacy or contractual gestation. Critics of this and other assisted reproductive technologies have used Hagar in their analysis. As early as 1988, Anna Goldman-Amirav in Reproductive and Genetic Engineering wrote of Hagar within "the Biblical 'battle of the wombs' [which] lay the foundation for the view of women, fertility, and sexuality in the patriarchal society". Margaret Atwood's The Handmaid's Tale takes this feminist analysis into a futuristic dystopia.
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- Douglas, J. D. (editor); Merrill C. Tenney ; revised by Moisés Silva. Zondervan illustrated Bible dictionary ([Rev. ed.] ed.). Grand Rapids, Mich.: Zondervan. p. 560. ISBN 0310229839.
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- Apocalypse Secrets: Baha'i Interpretation of the Book of Revelation - Page 219, John Able MD - 2011
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- Quoted on p230 of Feminism-art-theory: an anthology, 1968-2000, by Hilary Robinson
- NYT review of Hagar by Johnston
- [Mary Johnston, Suffragist Marjorie Spruill Wheeler The Virginia Magazine of History and Biography Vol. 100, No. 1, "Working out Her Destiny": Virginia Women's History (Jan., 1992), pp. 99-118 (article consists of 20 pages) Published by: Virginia Historical Society Stable URL: http://www.jstor.org/stable/4249261]
- Oren Yiftachel, Launching Hagar: Marginality, Beer-Sheva, Critique, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva.
- Bailey, Wilma Ann Black and Jewish women consider Hagar, Encounter, Winter 2002
- Susanne Scholz, "Gender, Class, and Androcentric Compliance in the Rapes of Enslaved Women in the Hebrew Bible", Lectio Difficilior (European Electronic Journal for Feminist Exegisis), 1/2004 (see especially section "The Story of Hagar (Genesis 16:1–16; 21:9–21)".
- Goldman-Amirav, Anna (1988). "Behold, the Lord Hath Restrained Me from Bearing", Reproductive and Genetic Engineering: Journal of International Feminist Analysis Volume 1 Number 3.[dead link]