For a book that deals so much on the meaning of the character’s names, it is odd that Hagar’s cannot be identified with any certainty. Some scholars have seen a connection between it and an Egyptian word for concubine, but it’s a minority view at best. Some Rabbinic commentaries indicate she was the Pharaoh’s daughter. She is described as a sip-ha meaning maidservant, attendant to the mistress of the house; in chapter 21 she is identified as ama, a slave woman, indicating her station has worsened. The term used when Sarai gave her to Abram to use as a wife is isha, meaning either wife or concubine; the usual word for concubine, pilegesh, is never used of Hagar. A few commentators identify Hagar with Keturah, the woman Abraham marries after the death of Sarah.
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”.
Since the 1970s, the custom has arisen in Israel 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.
**The Angel of the LORD. **
The “angel of YHWH” appears 58 times in the OT, and the “angel of God” appears 11 times. Sometimes the term designates a messenger from God, and sometimes the divine presence itself. Some Johannine Christian scholars over the ages have considered it to be the pre-incarnate Christ. The angel appears to Hagar by the spring on the way to Shur, probably on the southern border of Canaan, on the road to Kadesh-barnea, near the border to Egypt; in other words, no small distance. He tells her “I will greatly multiply your descendants [seed] so that they will be too many to count.” Hagar is the only woman to receive such a prophecy. All other times it’s a man: Abraham, Isaac or Jacob.
Ishmael means “God hears”. Even though Hagar is told to name him this, he’s actually named by Abram. He is called “a wild donkey of a man” or “a wild ass (onager) of the steppes”. He will “live to the east of his brothers” or possibly “live in defiance of all his brothers”.
Maidservants and slaves used as wives:
cf. Hammurapi’s Code #146: “When a free man married a priestess and she gave the female slave to her husband and she has then borne children, if later that female slave has claimed equality with her mistress because she bore children, her mistress may not sell her; she may mark her with the slave-mark and count her among the slaves.” (2nd Millenium BCE)
An old Assyrian marriage contract (2nd millennium, BCE) states: “Laqipum took in marriage Hatala, the daughter of Enishru. In the country Laqipum shall not taken in marriage another woman, but in the city of Ashshur he may take in marriage a priestess. If within two years she has not procured offspring for him, only she may buy a maid-servant, and even later on, after she procures somehow an infant for him, she may sell her whenever she pleases.”
A later (1st millennium BCE) Assyrian text: “If Subetu does not conceive, does not give birth, she may take a maidservant as a substitute and in her position she may place her. Subetu will thereby bring sons into being and the sons will be Subetu’s sons. If she loves the maidservant, she may keep her. If she hates her she may sell her.”
The tribe of the Ishmaelites lived on the Arabian desert, SE of Canaan. Ishmael and Hagar being taken to Mecca by Abraham in Islamic texts is an important part in the story of Ishmael, as it brings the focus to Mecca and is the beginning of Mecca’s sanctification as a holy area. Islamic tradition says Abraham was ordered by God to take Hagar and Ishmael to Mecca, and later Abraham returned to Mecca to build the Kaaba.
In many of these accounts, the angel Gabriel (Jibral) guides them to the location of the Kaaba, at which point Abraham builds it and afterwards, leaves the other two there (other versions discussed below say the construction of the Kaaba occurred later and that Ishmael took part in it). Generally, it is said that Hagar asks Abraham who he is entrusting herself and Ishmael to as he leaves them. He answers that he is entrusting them to God, to which Hagar then makes a reply that shows her faith, stating that she believes God will guide them. Hagar and Ishmael then run out of water and Ishmael becomes extremely thirsty. Hagar is distressed and searches for water, running back and forth seven times between the hills of Al-Safa and Al-Marwah. Hagar is later remembered by Muslims for this act during the Hajj, or pilgrimage, in which Muslims run between these same hills as part of the Sa’yee. When she returns to Ishmael, she finds either him or an angel scratching the ground with their heel or finger, whereupon water begins flowing and Hagar collects some or dams it up. This spring or well is known as Zamzam. At some point, a passing tribe known as the Jurhum sees birds circling the water and investigates. They ask Hagar if they can settle there, which she allows, and many versions say as Ishmael grew up he learned various things from the tribe. There are numerous versions of this story, each differing in various ways. According to Islamic tradition, both Hagar and Ishmael are buried in Mecca.