Is it known what religious practices or philosophy was followed by Jethro before his conversion? I respect that he was simply a "pagan," but what philosophy did he adhere to that would allow him to be identified as a priest (in any context)?

  • IIRC correctly, the gemara (Sotah?) says he believed in an Egyptian idolatry but the targums explain "kohen" as "rabba" or chieftan.
    – rosends
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 0:02
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    Perhaps I am simply dense, but this question seems unclear. I never understood priesthood to be dependent on any philosophy, but on religious leadership and/or ministering certain rituals. A have heard Yithro was called a 'preist' because he worshipped every god in the world. Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 0:13
  • @NaftaliTzvi, which could be a perfectly good answer. I have no insight into why he was called a priest other than from my own background, which assumes there were others who looked up to him. Even the most basic organization (a group of people looking to one who teaches or leads) has a common philosophy. That's what I'm looking for.
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 0:43
  • I have often heard that Yisro had tried all the religions of the world at the time and finally settled with Judaism. Does anyone know the source for this? I guess what I'm getting at is that he belonged to all the religions before his conversion to Noahidism and then to Judaism later.
    – ezra
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 2:57
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    JBH, by 'philosophy', you are looking for a subset of paganism? i.e. you are asking what type of idolatry was practiced in Midian? @ezra Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:14

1 Answer 1


The pasuk calls him כהן מדין while the translation

Yisro 18:1

Now Moses' father in law, Jethro, the chieftain of Midian, heard all that God had done for Moses and for Israel, His people that the Lord had taken Israel out of Egypt.

Thus he was either the head priest of Midian, until he became ostracised for deciding it was false or a chief of the area.

Shmos 2:16

Now the chief of Midian had seven daughters, and they came and drew [water], and they filled the troughs to water their father's flocks.


Now the chief of Midian had: Heb. וּלְכֹהֵן מִדְיָן, i.e., the most prominent among them. He had abandoned idolatry, so they banned him from [living with] them. [From Exod. Rabbah 1:32, Tanchuma, Shemoth 11]

Rav Hirsch translates it as

Now the Priest of Midian had seven daughters ...

Note the usage of the Priest meaning the high priest of the local religion who had lost his position (as Rashi says) for deciding that it was false.

  • Do we know what that religion was? Or is it more likely that "chieftan" was the more likely translation, in which religion/philosophy really wasn't an issue?
    – JBH
    Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 2:54
  • @JBH We see that there are both ideas cited by different meforshim. That is why I showed both translations. It could be that Rav Hirsch is saying that the chief priest was also the chieftain or the chieftain was the head of the religion as in England where the Queen is the Head of the CHurch. Commented Oct 4, 2017 at 3:00

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