Jethro and Jewish Identity: Identity Negotiation In JewishBiblical 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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