Structural Analysis – Shemot 18
"Yitro's Visit"

Broader Context

Step 1 – Boundaries of the Unit

"Yitro's Visit" (18:1-27)

  • Frame – Shemot 18 is a self-contained unit framed by Yitro's arrival and departure.1
  • Characters – Yitro and Moshe are the main protagonists throughout the chapter and the only speakers. In the surrounding chapters, in contrast, the nation plays a more active role.
  • Plot – The unifying motif of the entire chapter is Yitro's interest and concern regarding the welfare of Moshe and the people. This theme is repeated numerous times – see vss. 1,8,9,14,17,23.

Step 2 – Division into Scenes

I. "Reunion" (18:1-12)
II. "Yitro's Advice" (18:13-26)
Aftermath: Yitro's Departure (18:27)

  • Chapter 18 may be divided into two main scenes – verses 1-12 and verses 13-26.2 Verse 27 closes the entire unit.3
  • Plot – In the first scene of Chapter 18, Yitro and Moshe speak about the good (הַטּוֹבָה) that Hashem did (עָשָׂה אֱ-לֹהִים, עָשָׂה ה‏'‏) for the nation, while in the second they discuss what is not good (לֹא טוֹב) about what Moshe is doing (הוּא עֹשֶׂה, אַתָּה עֹשֶׂה, עֲשֹׂהוּ, תַּעֲשֶׂה‎) to the nation.4
  • Timing – The time marker, "And it happened on the next day" (18:13), divides the chapter into two scenes. See Chronology for the time frames of each scene.5

Step 3.1 – Subdivision of Scene I

A. "News & Arrival" (18:1-7)
B. "Conversation" (18:8-12)

  • The first half of the chapter can be subdivided into two subscenes – verses 1-7 and verses 8-12.6
  • Parallels – Each subscene opens with Yitro hearing of the wonders that Hashem has done for the Children of Israel (v.1 – וַיִּשְׁמַע יִתְרוֹ... חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה אֱ-לֹהִים, v.8 – וַיְסַפֵּר מֹשֶׁה לְחֹתְנוֹ אֵת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה ה'‏). In each, the report is then followed by the actions of taking (וַיִּקַּח) and coming (וַיָּבֹא) (vss. 2,5,7,12) – see Literary Analysis for elaboration.
  • Characters – In Subscene A, Yitro hears from an unidentified source about what has happened to Moshe and the nation, while in Subscene B, he hears from Moshe directly. For a detailed comparison and analysis, see Two Accounts.
  • Setting – The first subscene moves from Midyan to Moshe's tent, while the second transpires in Moshe's tent.7
  • Ending – At the conclusion of the first subscene, Moshe goes out to greet Yitro, while at the end of the second subscene, Aharon and the elders of Israel come to honor Yitro.8

Step 3.2 – Subdivision of Scene II

A. "Problem" (18:13-18)
B. "Proposal" (18:19-23)
C. "Implementation" (18:24-26)