The 12 Tribes of Ishmael
Most of us are familiar with the ancient story of Abraham and his desire to have a son. In the Biblical account of his story, Abraham first has a son through his 'handmaiden' Hagar. This son is named Ishmael and is Abraham's first born son. When Abraham's second son is born, this son named Isaac, is declared the 'son of promise.' The Jews today claim decent from Abraham through this second son, Isaac. Few people today, however, know what happened to the descendants of Ishmael. It is often assumed that they simply became the Arabs of the Middle East, but to most of us, our knowledge of them stops there. The Bible gives us the following record:

"But as for Ishmael, I have heard thee: behold I have blessed him, and will make him fruitful, and will multiply him exceedingly; twelve princes shall he beget, and I will make him a great nation." Genesis 17:20

"Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son, whom Hagar the Egyptian, Sarah's handmaid, bore unto Abraham: And these are the names of the sons of Ishmael, by their names, according to their generations: The firstborn of Ishmael, Nebajoth, and Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, and Mishma, and Dumah, and Massa, Hadad and Tema, Jetur, Naphish and Kedmah. These are the sons of Ishmael, and these are their names, by their towns and by their encampments; twelve princes according to their nations." Genesis 25:12-16

In 1932 my father, David J. Gibson set out to map the chronologies of the Bible, and in doing so he came across the puzzle of what happened to the sons of Ishmael. In order to complete his chronology mapping he began a life-long search for answers to this question. Ten years after his death, I took up the challenge and flew to the Middle East to continue the search. That search has now lasted over twenty years and has led me to many of the remote parts of Arabia. I have lived in the Empty Quarter of Arabia, climbed the mountains of Yemen, lived among the Howietat of southern Jordan, and crossed the burning deserts of Saudi. I have also spoken to many of the great archaeologists who work in the Middle East, and have examined countless books and thesis in pursuing answers to this question. Below is a brief summary of what my father started and what I have continued.

The Muslim understanding of how the Bedouin tribes originated is outlined in the chart below. (Some Bible scholars identify the Muslim Kahtan as the Biblical Joktan. See The Founding of the Nations Chart.)


Muslim chart from Adam to Arabian Tribes
Keohane, Alan, Bedouin, Nomads of the Desert, Kyle Kathi Ltd., London, 1994

The Biblical record of Ishmael gives us the names of the 12 sons, but no clue as to how they might be connected to the modern Bedouin Tribes. This list is given to us in Genesis 25 and is later repeated in I Chronicles 1:29-33.

"And these are their generations: the first-born of Ishmael, Nebaioth, then Kedar, and Adbeel, and Mibsam, Mishma, and Dumah, Massa, Hadad, and Tema, Jetur, Naphish, and Kedemah. These are the sons of Ishmael."

These sons eventually took wives, had children, and through these children, tribes were formed. These tribes made up the nations that dwelt from Havilah to Shur, and from Egypt to Assyria. The descendants of Ishmael, however, were not the sole tribes in the Arabian Desert. Other tribes emerged from other sources. Some of these became the people of South Arabia and others also wandered and settled in Arabia. For a chronology, see The Founding of the Nations Chart.

In the menu below we will examine the twelve sons of Ishmael, and try and determine what might have happened to them.













 Who were the Nabataeans?  The Muslim Invasion
 Arabia in Ancient History  The Crusades
 Early History  Rediscovery
 Middle History  The Hagarites/Gerrhaeans
 Late History  The Twelve Tribes of Ishmael
 The Fall of Petra
Nabajoth, Mibsam, Kedar, Adbeel, Mishma, Dumah,
Massa, Hadad, Tema, Jetur, Naphish, Kedemah
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