Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Who Was Jethro?

Alice C. Linsley

Jethro was a priest of Midian, a region closely associated with the Horite rulers of Edom (Genesis 36). The region bears the name of one of Abraham's sons by his cousin wife Keturah (Genesis 25:1-6).

Jethro or Yitro is a descendant of Abraham and a priest who gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage (Exodus 2:20–21). The priests were a caste and they practiced endogamy (marriage between priestly lines). Priests only allowed their daughters to marry the sons of priests. Moses' father was a Horite priest in Egypt. This is evident from his marriage pattern.

Later, when Moses returns from Egypt, Jethro brings him his wife and their two children (Exodus 18:5) and there in the desert "Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, offered a burnt offering and other sacrifices to God; and Aaron and all the elders of Israel came and ate with Moses' father-in-law in the presence of God." (Exodus 18:12)

During the time of Moses' sojourn in Midian, his first wife was probably living in Egypt. She is his Kushite bride and his half-sister. Typically, the first wife was taken when the Horite ruler was a young man.

While Jethro is with Moses he see that Moses is struggling with a heavy responsibility and gives him useful advice on how to govern (Exodus 18:17ff). Invited by Moses to stay with the Israelites, Jethro declines and returns to the land of Midian where he serves as a priest of YHWH (Numbers 10:29–30). Exodus 18:9 says that Jethro rejoiced (vayihad Yitroat the Lord's faithfulness to his fellow Habiru/Hebrews.

Elie Wiesel wrote, "One can see Jethro clearly: His demeanor is surely elegant, sincere, irreproachable. He is present only when needed. He speaks only when asked. Everything he does, he does without guile. He never thinks of taking advantage of his position as first counselor to the great leader Moses. No one would ever accuse him of nepotism." (From "Supporting Roles: Jethro")

Wiesel draws his information and ideas from the midrashic literature, which asserts that Jethro converted to the Jewish faith. He is called Ger shel emet— a convert to the truth. Of course, Jethro lived before the emergence of Judaism and he was a kinsman of Moses' father Amram. He instructed Moses in righteous leadership. There is nothing in the Biblical text to suggest that he was an idolater or that he held a religion different from Aram and Abraham. Midrash puts these words in Jethro’s mouth: “I have served many idols; there is no god I have not served; but none can compare to the God of Israel.” To emphasize his worth, midrash compares Jethro to Esau the Elder. He was a Horite also. Esau the Elder and Esau the Younger lived in Edom.
Among Abraham's people the initial Y designated a ruler. This was common among the Habiru or Hebrew and suggests that Yitro is to be counted among them. Many of the Biblical Habiru have names that begin with Y. Some examples are Yaqtan (Joktan), Yacob (Jacob), Yitzak (Isaac), Yosef (Joseph), Yishai (Jesse), and Yeshua (Joshua/Jesus). The Y was a solar cradle that indicated the ruler-priest appointed by the overshadowing of the Sun. Yitro is also called Ru-el, meaning "friend of God." According to Jewish tradition Yitro's descendants became leaders in the Great Sanhedrin.

Related reading: Zipporah's Flint Knife; Wells and Brides; The Daughters of Horite Priests; Moses' Wives and Brothers; Two Named Esau; Are Rabbinic Interpretations of the Bible Accurate?; The Priests of Midian


  1. How do we negotiate the English "Y" with the Hebrew " י " (Yod)?

  2. Did not Jethro offer the first sacrifice of the Jewish covenant at Mt. Sinai referred to earlier in Exo 3:18
    "And they shall hearken to thy voice: and thou shalt come, thou and the elders of Israel, unto the king of Egypt, and ye shall say unto him, The LORD God of the Hebrews hath met with us: and now let us go, we beseech thee, three days' journey into the wilderness, THAT WE MAY SACRIFICE TO THE LORD OUR GOD." ?

  3. English comes from German and the German renders the ancient lexeme Y as J. The Greek renders the ancient Y as I/i. Please read the article on the Urheimat of the Canaanite Y. It is here: http://biblicalanthropology.blogspot.com/2014/01/the-urheimat-of-canaanite-y.html

    Lexemes preceded letters. A lexeme is a symbol that represents a whole complex of related ideas. Similar to Egyptian hieroglyphs.

    Thanks for the reference concerning Jethro on Mt. Sinai.

  4. Hello Alice

    I like the topic. I want to know who are horites now? Are they the same people as the past?


  5. Jews call their ancestors "Horim" and the English variant of Horim is Horite. Abraham, Job, Amram, Moses, Elkanah, Samuel - all were Horites. They were called Habiru in ancient texts. Habiru is Hebrew in English. The Habiru (Hapiru, Opiru) were a caste of royal priests who spread out of the Nile Valley into Mesopotamia, Southern India, Pakistan, Bactria, Anatolia, Nepal, and Cambodia. Among them were the Ainu who moved out of the Nile Valley into Western China, Northern Japan and Eastern Canada via the British Isles, Finland, Greenland and Labrador. This movement out of Africa has been verified by linguistic, archaeological and genetic studies. The Ainu are in Haplogroup X (MtDNA), regarded as one of the oldest genetic lines.

  6. The tribe of Amran is also still located in the region of Kush in the Yemenite Tihama. In fact most people mentioned in the Genesis lived and this region before moving back into Africa. The Beli Zaghawa or Banu Baliyy came in and spread early Judaism across Africa. THey are the Kenites from whom came the early Himyaritic peoples i.e. peoples of Hamor in the Wadi Kanauna or Lowland of the Kanaanites located in southwest Arabia. : )


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