In re-reading through Exodus I came across 2 people that are called Moses' father-in-law Exodus 2:18-21 states it is Reuel:

2:18 So when they came home to their father Reuel... 2:21 Moses agreed to stay with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses in marriage.

But a little later in chapter 3 it says his father-in-law is Jethro

3:1 Now Moses was shepherding the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, the priest of Midian...

So which one? In the second scripture the word חתנו (khaw-than') is used and when I did a Strong's search it said

1) to become a son-in-law, make oneself a daughter's husband 1a) (Qal) wife's father, wife's mother, father-in-law, mother-in- law (participle) 1b) (Hithpael) to make oneself a daughter's husband

But in chapter 2, Reuel gave Zipporah to Moses in marriage. Is it possible Mosses had an additional wife that is not named? If he had an additional wife and father-in-law, why did he only ask Jethro permission to return to Egypt, and not Reuel?

4:18 So Moses went back to his father-in-law Jethro and said to him, “Let me go, so that I may return to my relatives in Egypt and see if they are still alive.” Jethro said to Moses, “Go in peace.”


It was not uncommon for people in the Bible to go under multiple monikers. Abram was also known as Abrham (Gen 17:5), Sarah was also known as Sarai (Genesis 17:15), Jacob was also known as Israel (Genesis 35:10) and so forth. This simply appears to be another one of those instances.

Names in Hebrew culture often had significance and names were often changed as a result of that significance and most linguistic reference indicate that Reuel meant "Friend of God". This name would clearly be consistent with his role as the priest of Midian. Being a priest would imply that he was close to or a friend with God.

It is also possible that רַעַ was not meant to be attached to וּ and that this was actually a transliteration of Jethro's Egyptian name. This would make רַעַ a transliteration name of "Ra" (the egyptian word for sun and the sun god of Egypt) and וּאֵל. Unfortunately, I am not adept in Egyptian Heirogliphics and the Coptic lanugage to be able to determine if רַעַ (uel) has meaning in Egyptian or would be non-sensical. In the latter case, we should also consider that the name is syncretic and the name refers to both Ra and אֵל (El), the Hebrew god.

Likewise, Jethro means abundance and this would be consistent with Jethro's ownership of flocks (in addition to his day-job as priest) and ability to employ others to watch over his flock (Exodus 3:1) which tends to indicate his wealth, though we are not given the size of his flock.

Simply put, like so many others in scripture, Jethro and Reuel were the same person who was known by two different names.

  • This is not uncommon, but in all the cases of double-naming you mention (a) it involves a member of the Hebrew race, (b) God explicitly renames the person. The latter cannot be found in the bible; the first is debatable considering Reuel/Jethro is from Midian. I'm not saying that what you claim isn't possible, but your last paragraph expresses an unfair certainty. The documentary hypothesis mentioned by Dick Harfield resolves this problem as well, for example. – user2672 Nov 14 '16 at 10:14
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    Not so. Peter was also called Simon, Esther was also called Hadassah. Joseph was also called Zaphenath-Paneah. Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah were also called Belteshazzar, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego. None of these names were given by God. While Documentary Hypothesis or some version of it is undoubtedly true, the redactor almost certainly would have cleared up simple errors such as this and ensured consistent naming. – James Shewey Nov 14 '16 at 20:06
  • Simon was renamed Simon Peter by Jesus. Esther had two names due to the multicultural context. As for the others, I don't know. All I'm saying is that having two names is one possibility, not the only. Do you have references for the claim that a redactor would clear up inconsistent naming? Then there are several other minor inconsistencies that could have been cleared up, like how many pairs of clean animals are saved in Gn. 7. Redactors may have been reluctant to 'clear up simple errors' as they were copying holy texts. – user2672 Nov 14 '16 at 21:34
  • Again, all I want to say that while this is one possibility, it is not the only one. I suggest you reword the last paragraph such that it allows for other theories. – user2672 Nov 14 '16 at 21:35

There is no need to attribute this to multiple authors, in fact the discrepancy can be easily explained by better understanding the term חׂׂתֵן that is used in all the above verses. Although most translators choose to interpret this term to refer to Moses's father-in-law exclusively, some scholars believe that this term is non-specific and refers to all the woman's male relatives. Thus all Tziporrah's blood relatives would all be referred to, in the Bible, as חׂׂתֵן.

Name differences: Reuel (2:18); Jethro (3:1). In the previous chapter Moses’ father-inlaw was called Reuel, while here he is referred to as Jethro and in Numbers 10:29 as Hobab (see Judg 4:11). The difficulty can be resolved once the ambiguity of the terminology is recognized. The term designating male in-laws is nonspecific. The term referred to a woman’s male relatives and could be used for her father, brother or even grandfather. Most solutions take account of this. Perhaps Reuel is the grandfather head of the clan, Jethro is the father of Zipporah and technically the father-inlaw of Moses, and Hobab is the brother-in-law of Moses, Jethro’s son. Alternatively, Jethro and Hobab could both be brothers-in-law, and Reuel the father.

IVP Bible Background Commentary, Old Testemant: Exodus

The Ibn Ezra in his commentary to Numbers (10:29) keenly noticed the non-specificity of this term and correctly postulates (to resolve the contradiction) that it sometimes refers to a brother-in-law as well!

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    Indeed, the ASV translation renders it as "brother in law" when discussing Hobab. – Alex Jun 6 '18 at 5:18

It is difficult to explain the different names given for Moses' father-in-law if we assume, according to tradition, that Moses was the author of the Book of Exodus. This is resolved within the Documentary Hypothesis, which attributes Exodus to multiple authors. As originally proposed by Wellhausen, the Documentary Hypothesis is no longer accepted by the majority of biblical scholars as definitive but, with the identification and correction of the methodological problems that plagued earlier scholarship, it is regaining its place as a viable, productive and current approach to the Pentateuch.

According to this hypothesis, the J (Yahwist) source referred to Moses' father-in-law as Reuel or Hobab, whereas the E (Elohist) source referred to Moses' father-in-law as Jethro.

The Documentary Hypothesis does much to explain the existence of two or more different names for Moses' father-in-law, but which is historically correct? The answer to this question ultimately depends on whether Moses was a real, historical person. In turn, the answer to this can be based on whether the stories written about him can be regarded as historically true, and the strong consensus of scholars is that there was no Exodus from Egypt as described in the Bible. Carol A. Redmount says, in 'Bitter lives',published in The Oxford History of the Biblical World, page 63, the biblical Exodus account was never intended to function or to be understood as history in the present-day sense of the word. If the Exodus never really occurred as described in the Bible, then there was no biblical Moses and therefore no father-in-law. The question of what the father-in-law's name was becomes unanswerable.

  • Very good answer, I do accept the Documentary hypothesis as something viable. It does answer many of the discrepancies found in the bible. I really think the hypothesis has gained a new found following because it has been revamped to a newer definition. – seedy3 Nov 3 '15 at 1:44
  • I did some research to find the Hobab connection, I see that in Judges 4:11 it says Hobab was his father-in-law, and then Numbers 10:29 states that Reuel was Moses' Grandfather-in-law through Hobab . Interesting. – seedy3 Nov 4 '15 at 0:01
  • @seedy3 That kind of thing happens all the time with oral legends, which is what this was before finally being written down. – Dick Harfield Nov 4 '15 at 0:12
  • As much as I do understand that, it always amazes me that the scribe writing the stories down would not have noticed the differences. Which makes me then wonder if these stories were not a collection of "holy" writings, but more a collection of traditions to preserve them for future generations. Albeit I do know that many of them were laws, and held a holy status, in early times, books like Deuteronomy and Leviticus. But Gen, Ex and others were just oral traditions to start out. – seedy3 Nov 4 '15 at 0:19
  • @seedy3 The preservation of disparate traditions and opinions is a key element of Jewish theology, consistently, from the OT to this day. That's what holiness is in Judaism, preservation, respect. Opinions are winnowed and melded over periods of generations, but there is no effort to remove literary inconsistencies or to edit out opposing views within the accepted faith community. The textual development and the development of the corpus of texts is more legalistic than ideological. Understanding this relation to text is key to making sense of the content of the OT. – Abu Munir Ibn Ibrahim Nov 13 '16 at 3:50

In Numbers 10:29 and Judges 4:11 Moses's father in law is named Hobab, and Hobab is the son of Reuel.

Numbers 10:29

And Moses said to Hobab the son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses' father-in-law, "We are setting out for the place of which the LORD said, 'I will give it to you.' Come with us, and we will do good to you, for the LORD has promised good to Israel." (ESV translation)

Judges 4:11

Now Heber the Kenite had separated from the Kenites, the descendants of Hobab the father-in-law of Moses, and had pitched his tent as far away as the oak in Zaanannim, which is near Kedesh. (ESV translation)

Thus, Reuel is not the father in law of Moses, but the grandfather in law of Moses. Why then does Exodus 2:18 refer to the father of the girls Moses met (which included his future wife, Zipporah) as Reuel, if he was actually their grandfather?

One suggestion offered by the ancient rabbis in their midrashic commentary Sifrei to Numbers 10:29 is that (in accordance with Numbers and Judges) Reuel was the grandfather, but is referred to as the father because it is common for children to refer to their grandfather as father.

A clear example of a grandfather being referred to as father is Genesis 32:9

And Jacob said, "O God of my father Abraham and God of my father Isaac, O LORD who said to me, 'Return to your country and to your kindred, that I may do you good,' (ESV translation)

While this resolves the contradiction of Reuel vs Jethro, it leaves us with the same question of Hobab vs Jethro. Though the question here did not ask about this, the same rabbinic commentary suggests that Hobab and Jethro were two names for the same person (in fact, according to one rabbi there, Reuel too is just another name for the same person).

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    Doesn't this just introduce another problem, that Moses's father in law now has the two names of Jethro and Hobab? – curiousdannii Jun 6 '18 at 0:03
  • @curiousdannii Indeed, they mention there that Hobab and Jethro are two names for the same person. – Alex Jun 6 '18 at 0:08
  • @curiousdannii Edited to elaborate address your concern. – Alex Jun 6 '18 at 5:20

They are the same person. Reuel may have been his personal name whereas Jethro could have been his title.

Exodus 2:16-18 Now the priest of Midʹi·an had seven daughters, and these came to draw water and to fill the troughs to water their father’s flock. 17 But as usual, the shepherds came and drove them away. At this Moses got up and helped the women and watered their flock. 18 When they came home to their father Reuʹel, he exclaimed: “How is it that you have come home so quickly today?”

Numbers 10:29 Then Moses said to Hoʹbab the son of Reuʹel the Midʹi·an·ite, the father-in-law of Moses: . . .



-- Reuel [Ex. 2:18] means "friend of El" and is the true name of Moses father-in-law. -- Jethro [Jeter] means "Excellencey" and is Reuel's title. -- Hobab is the first-born of Reuel [Nu 10:29]. -- After Reuel went back to Midian [Ex. 18:27] he died. Hobab remained with Moses. -- After Reuel died, Hobab [the first born] became the role of family patriarch, which included becoming Moses father-n-law [Judges 4:11].

  • Can you please edit this to add more supporting evidence? – curiousdannii Nov 14 '16 at 0:10

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