Scala/Art Resource, NY

At Abraham and Sarah’s behest, Hagar and Ishmael have been cast out into the wilderness. As depicted in Hagar and the Angel by Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (1610–1665), Hagar despairs over Ishmael’s imminent demise. An empty water jug sits beneath her, and her child writhes with thirst. But Hagar is roused by the cry of an angel: “What troubles you Hagar? Fear not!” A well of water appears, and the survival of her son is assured.

As Curt Leviant notes, Ishmael’s brush with death, recounted in Genesis 21, bears striking parallels to the near-sacrifice of Isaac, known in Jewish tradition as the akedah, or binding of Isaac. The Bible employs similar expressions and the same word order to record the near-death experiences of both boys: Both accounts begin with God commanding Abraham to take action with regard to his sons. Once Isaac and Ishmael’s survival is assured by an angel, God gives a blessing and a promise of greatness to both children. Thus Abraham is elevated as the father of not one, but two, peoples.