Jethro and the"The Midianite Hypothesis"

Peter Kirk peterkirk at
Tue Jan 14 21:08:13 EST 2003

In partial defence of the hypothesis...

The account in Exodus, which is the only relevant one we have, does not
present Moses as a religious man, let alone having any personal
encounter with YHWH, until after he has met the priest Jethro and lived
with him for a long period, indeed 40 years according to the text. So
there is every likelihood that (if we take the account as historical)
Moses' religious ideas were shaped in part by those of his
father-in-law. Of course they were further shaped (according to the
account) by his experience at the Burning Bush. Also we do read (in
Exodus 18) that Moses took Jethro's advice on administration. This
doesn't imply that "Judaism an outgrowth of the Midianite religion", but
it does suggest significant cross-fertilisation.

The text may also suggest that Midianite religion was derived from the
monotheism of Abraham, for the Midianites are portrayed as descendants
of Abraham (Gen 25:2). So perhaps Jethro's influence was to bring Moses
from the Egyptian religion in which he had been brought up, no doubt,
back to the faith of his ancestors.

Of course all of this depends on a certain view of historicity which I
don't intend to debate in this forum.

Peter Kirk
peter.r.kirk at

> -----Original Message-----
> From: Matthew Miller [mailto:biblicalscribe at]
> Sent: 15 January 2003 07:36
> To: Biblical Hebrew
> Subject: [b-hebrew] Re: Jethro and the"The Midianite Hypothesis"
> Why not just believe what the ancient scriptures say? Surely the
> who
> were there and wroe it know more than arrogant, 20th Century
> who
> came along thousands of years later, no? MAtthew Miller
> "Invariably exacerbating and complicated verbage consistently effects
> me
> repulsion of prolific proportions."
> >From: Bill Rea <bsr15 at>
> >Reply-To: Bill Rea <bsr15 at>
> >To: Biblical Hebrew <b-hebrew at>
> >Subject: [b-hebrew] Re: Jethro and the"The Midianite Hypothesis"
> >Date: Wed, 15 Jan 2003 09:27:05 +1300 (NZDT)
> >
> >Christopher wrote:-
> >
> > >Years ago, we were told a hypothesis about Jethro, Moses'
> > >in Exodus.  The idea was that Moses' contact with Jethro, the
priest of
> > >Midian, may have formed his religious ideas. For example, Moses'
> > >encounter with the deity occurs while sojourning with Jethro in
> 3.
> > >This hypothesis implies Judaism an outgrowth of the Midianite
> > >which is certainly curious.
> > >
> > >Since I wasn't much of a student, perhaps this is a
misunderstanding on
> >my
> > >part.  Has anyone heard of this before?
> >
> >Yes, I have. There are problems with it, depending on your biases.
> >you're a maximalist the problems are that the whole of Genesis is
> >before Moses and YHWH has lots to do with people then. If you're a
> >minimalist then there was no Moses  to go visit with Jethro. Moses is
> >supposed to be a late creation to put a stop to the work of the
> >prophets.  Another widely held bias in scholarly circles is that the
> >Israelites were incapable of having an original thought, so scholars
> >are always trying to find where they borrowed their ideas from.
> >
> >A good rule of thumb is the number of hypotheses which fit the data
> >inversely proportional to the amount of data you have. But in the
> >Biblical arena it seems quite acceptable to discard data which
> >fit your hypothesis. We have some truly excellent exponents of that
> >technique on this list, I'm sure you'll encounter them.  So if you
> >discard everything which you don't like and only accept Moses'
> >encounter with Jethro then it becomes the only theory which fits
> >your facts.
> >
> >The only evidence we have for Moses meeting Jethro is in the Hebrew
> >Scriptures. Grab a concordance and in a few minutes you can find
> >and read all the evidence we have available to us.
> >
> >I'm sure you'll detect that I'm really cynical about all this. My
> >point is that you can have any answer you want and that answer tells
> >you more about your biases than anything else. I've even read that
> >Moses and Akenaten were the same person! A different answer, but one
> >born of the same bias that the Israelite people couldn't have had
> >an original thought.
> >
> >Bill Rea, Information Technology Dept., Canterbury  University  \_
> >E-Mail bill dot rea at canterbury dot ac dot nz                 </
> >Phone   64-3-364-2331, Fax     64-3-364-2332                   /)
> Zealand
> >Unix Systems Administrator                                    (/'
> >

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