Ishmael: A Wild Man

The Torah tells us just before the time that Ishmael is conceived that Hagar's son Ishmael would be a פרא אדם, pere adam, a phrase whose syntax literally means a wild one in the form of a man, although it is typically translated simply as wild man. (Genesis 16:12.)

The Ramban interprets פרא אדם in the following way:

The correct interpretation is that פרא אדם is a construct form meaning that he will be a wild-ass man accustomed to the wilderness going forth to his work, seeking for food, devouring all and being devoured by all. (Ramban: Commentary on the Torah, Vol 1, Genesis, Charles Chavel trans., Shilo Publishing House, New York, 1971, p 214.)

Rabbi Hirsch says that a wildman cannot bear constraint. He who has no constraint, will be contrary to and in everyone's face. We add that constraint here can also be understood as the constraint of reason. Rabbi Hirsch writes

He will quietly take up and maintain his [unreasonable] position in spite of all his brothers. Nobody will be his friend and still nobody will dare to oppose him. (Samson Raphael Hirsch, The Pentateuch, Genesis, Translation and Commentary, Isaac Levy trans., Judaica Press, Ltd, Gatehead 1989, p. 288)

The principal character traits of a wildman is power, passion and lust. Whatever a wildman does, it is done with power, a power over. And in the deed itself there is a hot-headed emotional passion and lust.

Rabbi Mandelbaum writes about the wild man.

Onkelos understand this statement to mean that Ishmael will rebel against all mankind. Ibn Ezra adds that Ishmael will be unrestrained among people. The Ramban says that these verses relate to Ishmael's offspring wreaking havoc on everyone, and vica versa. "His descendants will wage war against all the nations," he concludes.

Rabbi Weitzman quotes Rabbi Chaim Vital.

Other nations have always ruled over each other, but not Ishmael, who have always been desert nomads who have no regular contact with others. They are like robbers who go out to rob others and then return to their tents, as it says, "he will be a wild man". (Yechiel Weitzman, The Ishmaelite Exile, Jerusalem Publications, Jerusalem, 2006, p47.)

Targum Onkeos on this verse conveys the same idea. It translates "a wild man" as "one who kills people".

Regarding Ishmael, the Torah further tells us that

His hand would be against every man, and every man's hand against him. And over all his brothers he shall dwell. (Genesis 16:12.)

From this we understand two things. First that wherever the descendants of Ishmael go, they will be troublesome and aggressive. They will start fights and initiate struggles to have power over others. Second that one of the descendants of Ishmael will dominate and have power over the others.

Daniel Pipes, in his book In the Path Of God: Islam and Power, studies 50 countries in which Muslims live either as a majority or a minority. It made no difference whether they were Sunni Muslims or Shi'ite Muslims. The story was the same in each country. There was sectarian strife, violence, insurrection and terrorism: not once, but repeatedly.

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