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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
(Heb. Yishmeeli', ישְׁמְעֵאלַי, 1 Chronicles 2:17; 1 Chronicles 28:3, etc., plur.
יַשְׁמְעֵילם, usually Anglicized "Ishmeelites." q.v.), a descendant of Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar. Ishmaelites carried on a traffic with Egypt (Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:27; Genesis 39:1), and lived a wandering life as nomades at the eastward of the Hebrews and of Egypt as far as to the Persian Gulf and Assyria, i.e. Babylonia (Genesis 25:18), which same limits are elsewhere assigned to the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15:7); so also the names "Ishmaelites" and "Midianites" appear to be sometimes applied to the same people (Genesis 37:25; Genesis 37:27-28; Judges 8:22; Judges 8:24). In Genesis 25:18, it is said, "And they dwelt from Havilah unto Shur, that is before Egypt, as thou goest towards Assyria: and he died in the presence of all his brethren." As Ishmael's death had already been mentioned, and as the Hebrew term נָפִל, naphal-rendered "he died," properly he fell — is seldom used in the Scriptures in reference to " dying," except in cases of sudden and violent death, as when one "falls" in battle, the probability is that naphal here signifies that his territory or possession fell to him in the presence of all his brethren, or immediately contiguous to the borders of the territories in which the various tribes descended from Abraham or Terah had settled the Israelites, Edomites, Midianites, Moabites, Ammonites, etc. This interpretation is countenanced by the Sept. and Targums which have dwelt, and by the promise in Genesis 16:12 (comp. the similar phraseology in Joshua 23:4; Psalms 16:6). "The twelve sons of Ishmael, somewhat like the twelve sons of Jacob, then came so many heads of tribes (Genesis 25:13-15), which implies that in the next generation they spread themselves pretty widely abroad. It appears (Genesis 25:18) that the head-quarters of the race lay in the northern parts of the Arabian peninsula; but in process of time they would naturally stretch more inland, eastward and southward. That they also extended their journeying northwards is evident from the fact that the brethren of Joseph espied "a company of Ishmaelites coming from Gilead, with their camels bearing spicery, and balm, and myrrh, to carry it down to Egypt" (Genesis 37:25).
The company has afterwards the name of Midianites applied to it (Genesis 37:28), probably on account of its consisting of more than one class of people, Midianites also in part; but being first called Ishmaelites, we can have no reasonable doubt that these formed a considerable portion of the caravan party. The trade of inland carriers between the countries in the north of Africa on the one side, and those in southern and western Asia (India, Persia, Babylonia, etc.) on the other, is one in which sections of the Ishmaelitish race have been known from the remotest times to take a part. It suited their migratory and unsettled habits; and they became so noted for it, that others, who did not belong to the same race, were not infrequently called Ishmaelites, merely because they followed the Ishmaelitic traffic and manners. It is impossible to say how far the descendants of Ishmael penetrated into Arabia, or acquired settlements in its southern and more productive regions. As it is certain the Ishmaelitish mode of life has been always less practiced there, and a modified civilization is of old standing, the probability is that the population in those regions has little in it of Ishmaelitish blood. But, with all their regard to genealogies, the Arabic races have for thousands of years been so transfused into each other, that all distinct landmarks are well-nigh lost. The circumstance of Mohammed having, for prudential reasons, claimed to be a descendant of the son of Abraham, has led to an extension of the Ishmaelitish circle far beyond what the probable facts will bear out" (See ISHIMAL), 1.
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Ishmaelite'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/​encyclopedias/​eng/​tce/​i/ishmaelite.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.