Moses’s father-in-law: Reuel, Hobab(?), Jethro


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Numbers 10:29 introduces Moses’s father-in-law as follows:

Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law. . .

According to this verse, it is not certain who Moses’s father-in-law really is. It might be Hobab or Reuel. Since Ex 2:18 says it is Reuel, we may have to assume the same here in Num 10:29. Then, Hobab is Moses’s brother-in-law. But that is not the only option. According to Judg 4:11, Moses’s father-in-law is Hobab. That is why it is not certain who Moses’s father-in-law really is in this sentence. What is more, Ex 3:1 says the father-in-law is Jethro, neither Reuel nor Hobab.

So unless we can prove that all these names point to one perso, we have to admit that there are three or even four different traditions about Moses’s father-in-law in the Hebrew Bible. Though we have only three names, there might have been an additional tradition, which has a Kenite person as the father-in-law since Judg 4:11 says Hobab is not a Midianite but a Kenite.

Because we have multiple traditions about Moses’s father-in-law, we cannot be certain of who the real Moses’s father-in-law is. So my concern here is to discern who Moses’s father-in-law more likely is in Num 10:29 specifically. I think Num 10:29 indicates Hobab as the father-in-law rather than Reuel. Here is why.

1. The first reason is simple. The verse introduces Hobab, not Reuel. The emphasis is made on Hobab. There is no reason to describe the father more than the main character Hobab.

2. The second reason is a bit complex. Other sentences that have similar structures give counterevidence to the idea that Reuel in Num 10:29 is the father-in-law. For example, Num 16:1 says,

Now Korah, son of Izhar son of Kohath son of Levi, betook himself. . . 2 to rise up against Moses,

This sentence is composed of a list of information about a person, Korah, that is, “son of Izhar, son of Kohath, son of Levi.” This piece of information does not indicate that Korah is the son of all three people. It must be understood that Korah is the son of Izhar, and Izhar is the son of Kohath, and Kohath is the son of Levi. The sentence does not repeat the names. It simply implies that the previous one is the next one’s son.

Since Num 10:29 has a similar structure, we can apply the way we did in Num 16:1: “Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law”

As you can see in the picture above, if we apply the reading method to Num 10:29, Reuel is the Midinite and the midinite becomes Moses’ father-in-law, which cannot be the case. Now, let’s see how the structure of Num 10:29 should be understood.

If one understands Reuel as Moses’ father-in-law in Num 10:29, he or she should utilize two methods at the same time shown below.

I think the way you understand the structure of the sentence should be consistent: that is, one should read this verse either like Num 16:1 or like the way I read. There is no reason to mix these two reading methods. Since the way we understand the structure of Num 16:1 does not apply to Num 10:29, the verse should be understood to indicate Hobab is the father-in-law.

3. The last reason, which supports that Hobab is the father-in-law in Num 10:29 is found in Gen 25:3 of LXX. Since LXX differs from Masoretic text of the verse, the evidence of this is relatively weak. 

According to Gen 25:3 of LXX, Reuel(Ραγουηλ) is the son(/ben/) between Abraham and Keturah. Keturah bore six sons, including Jokshan and Midian. Jokshan had Dedan, and Dedan had five sons, including Reuel. (According to the Masoretic text, Dedan had three sons.) So Reuel is his brother’s grandson to Midian, and Midian is the grandfather’s brother to Reuel. What is interesting about this genealogy is that after it introduces Reuel, it lists Midian’s sons. And then, the genealogy concludes, “these were the descendants(Hebrew word /ben/) of Keturah.” So Reuel and Midian are tied very closely as sons(/ben/) of Keturah. And since Reuel is chronologically close to Abraham, he becomes a tribal ancestor, perhaps the house of Reuel of Midinite for Moses’s generation. Then, the fact that Hobab is the son(/ben) of Reuel might mean he belongs to the house of Reuel of Midian, that is Hobab ben Reuel. If that is the case, the contradiction between Ex 2:18 (Reuel is the father-in-law) and Num 10:29 (Hobab is the father-in-law) is solved since Hobab can also be called ben Reuel or simply Reuel.

What still irritates me is that Judg 4:11 tells us the the father-in-law Hobab is not a Midianite but a Kenite. Unfortunately, this contradiction cannot be solved that easily unless we discover new sources of information.

3 thoughts on “Moses’s father-in-law: Reuel, Hobab(?), Jethro”

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