Jethro and Jewish Identity: Identity Negotiation In Jewish Biblical Interpretation Open Access

Lawrence, Beatrice Jane Wallins (2009)

Permanent URL: https://etd.library.emory.edu/concern/etds/9p290971z?locale=en
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Abstract

Abstract
Jethro and Jewish Identity: Identity Negotiation
In Jewish Biblical Interpretation
By Beatrice J. W. Lawrence
This dissertation examines the treatment of Jethro, Moses' father-in-law, in Jewish
biblical interpretation up to the 10th century CE. The particular focus of this examination
is Jewish identity, and how Jethro's non-Israelite identity in the Bible is addressed by
rabbinic exegetes. First, the author discusses the biblical texts pertinent to post-biblical
Jewish discussions of Jethro (comprising portions of Exodus, Numbers, Judges and 1
Chronicles). Then, the author presents and discusses the treatment of Jethro in Tannaitic
midrashim, later midrashim, Targums, and Talmudic materials. Certain themes--both
positive and negative--appear and reappear throughout the rabbinic texts examined in
this study. In each collection of texts, we find that Jethro is praised for his beliefs,
spiritual sensitivity and wisdom; honored for his hospitality to Moses; and lauded as a
Torah scholar, even the progenitor of a line of scholars. His connection to Torah,
however, does not supercede the fact that he is not an Israelite: Jethro is excluded from
the revelation of the Torah at Sinai. He is frequently viewed as a convert, both subtly and
directly, but little information is given about his conversion process. His idolatrous past
is frequently addressed, but often with hospitable overtones: Jethro is treated as a
paradigmatic convert because of the change he undertakes. Each body of literature also
contains traditions that record an unyielding ethnic distinction between Jethro and the
Israelites--even after he has converted, a boundary remains. The land of Israel was a
less significant marker of identity for the rabbis of the later midrashim and the Targums
than it was for the Tannaim. Though certain aspects of identity are afforded to Jethro
with relative consistency--Torah study and belief in YHWH--the problem of ethnicity
and lineage consistently places a barrier between Jethro and the Israelites. The later
midrashim demonstrate more extreme traditions in this regard; they are more radically
inclusive and more virulently exclusive than the Tannaitic midrashim, indicating the fact
that anxiety about boundaries continued to be a component of Jewish thought during the
rabbinic period, and continued to grow in significance with time.

Table of Contents

Table of Contents

Chapter 1: Introduction..............................................................................1

Chapter 2: Jethro in the Bible......................................................................46

Chapter 3: Jethro in Tannaitic Midrashim.......................................................93

Chapter 4: Jethro in Later Midrashim..........................................................127

Chapter 5: Jethro in the Targums...............................................................172

Chapter 6: Conclusions...........................................................................205

Bibliography.......................................................................................213
































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