Biblical Studies Hagar
Nyasha Junior
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 August 2019
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 August 2019
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780195393361-0270


Hagar is a biblical character in the book of Genesis. She has an important role as wife of Abram/Abraham and mother of Ishmael. As such, she is an important figure within Judaism, Christianity, and Islam. In Genesis 16, she is introduced as an Egyptian slave woman who belongs to Abram’s wife Sarai. Since Sarai is unable to conceive, she gives Hagar to Abram as a wife so that she may have children through Hagar. After Hagar conceives, Sarai perceives a change in Hagar who “looked with contempt on her mistress” (NRSV). Sarai complains to Abram who permits Sarai to do as she pleases. Sarai “dealt harshly” (NRSV) with Hagar who runs away. While in the wilderness, Hagar has an encounter with a messenger of the Lord. This messenger tells her to return to Sarai and to submit to her. Also, he promises to multiply her offspring. He instructs her to name him Ishmael (God hears). She names the Lord “El-roi” (God who sees), and well where this encounter took place was called “Beer-lahai-roi” (well of the living one who sees me). When she returns, she bears a son to Abram, who was eighty-six years old at the time. In Genesis 21, Sarah, having borne Isaac, tells Abraham to cast out Hagar and Ishmael. Abraham is distressed, but God tells him to accede to Sarah’s request as Isaac will be Abraham’s heir. Also, God promises that Ishmael will become a great nation as he is Abraham’s offspring. Abraham sends them away and they wander in the wilderness. After the water in the skin is gone, Hagar sits away from Ishmael and prays not to see his death. God hears Ishmael and promises Hagar that Ishmael will become a great nation. God opens her eyes and she sees a well. Ishmael grows up and becomes an expert bowman. Hagar obtains a wife for him from Egypt. Although Hagar does not appear by name in the Qurʾan, she is known within Islam as the mother of Ishmael. Also, she is traditionally considered to be an ancestor of the Prophet Muhammad.


Hagar is both a minor character and an important figure within Genesis. She is the mother of Abraham’s first-born son, and she experiences a theophany and names God. Commentaries on Genesis provide historical and literary context regarding the Abraham stories and the role of Hagar within those stories. The materials selected provide a point of departure for research on the larger book of Genesis. Gunkel 1997, Westermann 1984–1986, Speiser 1964, and Brayford 2007 are more technical commentaries for specialists. Brueggemann 1982 is more reader-friendly than other more technical commentaries, although it focuses on Christian perspectives. Alter 1996 and Moyers 1996 provide the most accessible discussions of the text. (See also Genesis).

  • Alter, Robert. Genesis: Translation and Commentary. New York, W.W. Norton, 1996.

    Focuses on rendering a translation that emphasizes the narrative art of the book of Genesis. Offers limited commentary on literary issues.

  • Brayford, Susan. Genesis. Septuagint Commentary Series. Leiden, The Netherlands: E. J. Brill, 2007.

    Provides an introduction to the Septuagint and English translation and commentary on the Greek text of Codex Alexandrinus.

  • Brueggemann, Walter. Genesis: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching. Atlanta: John Knox Press, 1982.

    Highlights issues primarily related to Christian theology for teachers and preachers. Emphasizes the notion of “call” through the “prehistory” as well as the Abraham, Jacob, and Jacob narratives.

  • Gunkel, Hermann. Genesis. Translated by Mark Bibble. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1997.

    Published originally in 1901, this is an important work in the development of source criticism and form criticism. Emphasizes the final form of the text.

  • Moyers, Bill. Genesis. 1996.

    Ten-part public television series on key texts within Genesis. Hosted by journalist Bill Moyers. Suitable for general audiences without extensive knowledge of biblical texts. Book and companion discussion guide are also available.

  • Sarna, Nahum M. Genesis: The Traditional Hebrew Text with the New JPS Translation. Philadelphia: Jewish Publication Society, 1989.

    Includes Hebrew text and English translation. In conversation with Jewish sources and commentaries.

  • Speiser, Ephraim A., ed. Genesis. Anchor Bible 1. Translated by E. A. Speiser. Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1964.

    Detailed, technical commentary that stresses links between biblical texts and ancient Near Eastern parallels.

  • Westermann, Claus. Genesis. 3 vols. Translated by John J. Scullion. Minneapolis: Augsburg Publishing House, 1984–1986.

    This exhaustive treatment of Genesis includes three volumes: Genesis 1–11; Genesis 12–36; and Genesis 37–50. Foundational work in the development of form criticism.

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