According to Hasting’s Dictionary of the Bible, “There does not seem to have been any
inferiority in the position of the concubine as compared with that of the wife, nor was any
idea of illegitimacy, in our sense of the word, connected with her children.”
Jacob M. Myers, professor at Lutheran Theological Seminary and acknowledged Old Testament scholar, comments in his Invitation to the Old Testament:
Archaeological discoveries help us to fill in the details of the biblical narrative and to explain many of the otherwise obscure references and strange customs that were commonplace in Abraham’s world and time. For instance, the whole series of practices relating to the birth of Ishmael and the subsequent treatment of Hagar, his mother … all are now known to have been normal everyday occurrences regulated by law.
A Nuzi marriage contract provides that a childless wife may take a woman of the country and marry her to her husband to obtain progeny. But she may not drive out the offspring even if she later has children of her own. The child born of the handmaid has the same status as the one born to the wife.
Returning to the Alice in Wonderland perspective for a moment, what makes
more sense, anyway? Would God design a prophet to violate the same commandments he
bears from the Creator? Would God send a prophet with a “do as I say, not as I do” message? Doesn’t it make more sense for Abraham to have acted within the laws of his time by engaging Hagar in a lawful relationship?
Given the above evidence, the union between Ishmael’s parents was legal, God
endorsed Ishmael as Abraham’s son, and Ishmael was the first begotten. Look up Ismael
in the New Catholic Encyclopedia (the reference of those who would be most likely to
oppose, on ideological grounds, the piecing together of this puzzle), and there one finds
the following agreement: “Ismael (Ishmael), son of Abraham, Abraham’s firstborn …