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Both Jewish sources and Muslim sources seem to take for granted that at least some Arabs and/or Muslims are somehow descended from Abraham's son Ishmael (whether biologically or spiritually). See, for example, Mishneh Torah end of Hilchot Melakhim 11; Sefer HaIkkarim 4:42; Mefarshim to Genesis 37:27-28 and 39:1, etc. Though apparently there are traditions that some Arabs were descended from Yoktan/Joktan. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Qahtanite. Apparently some Arab authors record this tradition pre-Islam. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ishmael#Pre-Islamic_Arabia

How old is this identification really? What are the earliest Jewish sources to support that identification? Does it match up with any evidence contemporary to the Bible in the way that, for example, archeological sources show who Moab, Babylon, and the Hittites were? If it's a later tradition, are there good theories about who made the identification and why? Basically, I'm wondering whether someone contemporary to the Torah would have clearly understood Ishmael as an origin story of the Arabs or if that arose later, and if the latter, when and why.

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In Yeshayah (21:13-17) it refers to the families of “Teima” and “Keidar” - who were children of Ishmael (see Beraishis 25:13-15) - as dwellers of “Arav”

In the Tosefta (Berachos 4:14), it referrers to Ishmaelites as ״ערביים״, which translates nowadays as “Arabs”

However not all ״ערביים״ are from Ishmael - in Bava Metzia (86b) it seems that there were ״ערביים״ even before Ishmael.

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    +1 Good finds. The Tosefta is pretty clear this tradition is at least Tannaitic. I understand your point with Isaiah that Dedan is from Keturah and you are assuming Keturah = Hagar. However, there appear to be 2 different Dedan's: one from Ham and one from Keturah. Compare Genesis 10:7 with 1 Chron 1:33. Apparently there was an Arab kingdom named Dedan, but Wikipedia connects it to the Dedan from Ham rather than Keturah (doesn't give a source). I wouldn't be surprised if there are midrashim/perushim saying the 2 Dedans are the same. en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dedan_(Bible)
    – Avraham
    Apr 2, 2023 at 14:43
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    BTW at least on Sefaria the key phrase "[הלין דרכן של ערביים]" is in brackets. I'm not sure what that signifies, and clearly there needs to be some noun there. sefaria.org/Tosefta_Berakhot.4.14?lang=bi
    – Avraham
    Apr 2, 2023 at 15:59
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    @Avraham standard toseftas (printed in gemaras such as Vilna Chadash, Oz Vehadar, etc) have that in brackets with a notation by the Vilna Gaon that the correct version should be "אין דרכן של ערביים". The word הלין appears in the first printing of the Tosefta, hence the emendation by the GR"A. According to Rabbi Shaul Lieberman's edition of the tosefta, אין דרכן של ערביים appears in the most important MSS of the tosefta. It's certainly possible that the first printers of the tosefta had a manuscript that really read הלין, but according to the GR"A, that's a scribal error.
    – Harel13
    Apr 3, 2023 at 6:49
  • @Harel makes sense, thanks for the details. The important thing is that it sounds like the word "Arabs" is definitely part of the text.
    – Avraham
    Apr 3, 2023 at 7:41
  • @Avraham it is.
    – Harel13
    Apr 3, 2023 at 7:47

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