Textual Variants – Shemot 18


The accompanying Main Table juxtaposes the Masoretic Text1 with three other textual versions: the 4Q22 paleoExodm scroll from Qumran,2 the reconstructed Hebrew vorlage of the Septuagint (LXX),3 and the Samaritan Pentateuch (SP).4 A comparison of these textual versions reveals many differences, ranging from individual letters to entire paragraphs. The analysis below will categorize them by their scope and explore their origins and patterns.

Delineating the relationship between all of these texts is complicated, as their degrees of correspondence to each other vary depending on the aspect under consideration. In broad terms, though, the Masoretic Text stands out from the other texts in four respects:5

  • Harmonization – The Masoretic Text does not reflect the harmonization tendencies that are present in all of 4Q22, LXX, and SP. There are, however, important distinctions between the latter three as to the extent and type of harmonization. Harmonization between different accounts of the same story is a feature most readily apparent in 4Q22 and SP, but it also appears in the manuscripts of the LXX which add ושטרים in 18:21. Harmonization of words in one verse to match another verse accounts for the vast majority of the word differences in the LXX,6 it is seen to a much lesser extent in SP, and is barely discernible (if at all) in 4Q22.
  • Plene and defective (מלא וחסר) – The Masoretic Text is much more חסר than 4Q22 and SP. The text of 4Q22 consistently contains the fullest spellings. While SP is missing many of the plene spellings of 4Q22, it is significantly fuller than the Masoretic Text. We do not have any data regarding the spelling in the Hebrew vorlage of the LXX.
  • Archaic or unusual forms – These appear in the Masoretic Text to a much greater extent than in 4Q22 or SP. We do not not have any data regarding the spelling in the Hebrew vorlage of the LXX.
  • Modification to remove difficulties – The Masoretic Text does not display the tendency evident in the LXX and SP to solve exegetical or theological problems by changing the text.

Multiple Verses

Interpolations from Devarim 1

In the Masoretic Text (and LXX), Shemot 18 records that Moshe's selection of judges ensues directly from Yitro's counsel, while Devarim 1 does not mention Yitro and depicts the initiative as coming from Moshe himself. To resolve this contradiction, both 4Q22 and SP Shemot 18 conflate the Shemot and Devarim accounts. According to their resulting composite story, after Moshe receives Yitro's advice, he first informs the nation that he can no longer carry their burden all alone and also obtains their approval for the proposed judicial system, and only then does he implement Yitro's suggestion.

  • Adjustments of person and tense – Since Shemot 18 uses the narrative voice while Devarim 1 records Moshe's first person retrospective account, 4Q22 and SP needed to adjust some of the verbs and tenses in the verses lifted from Devarim 1 in order to be able to merge the two stories.7 These alterations are highlighted in the expanded 18:24-26 Table which compares 4Q22 and SP Shemot 18 to the Masoretic Text of Devarim 1.8
  • Harmonization – 4Q22 and SP understand Shemot 18 and Devarim 1 to be speaking of the same event, and thus they harmonize them in order to eliminate their apparent contradictions (regarding the impetus for the initiative, the traits of the judges, and the mention of officers) – see Assistants Table.9 This feature is characteristic of both 4Q22 and the Samaritan Pentateuch.10

Multiple Words

What Yitro Heard

18:1 and 18:8-10 describe the accounts Yitro heard and his reactions. In contrast to the differences between these four verses found in the Masoretic Text (as well as in 4Q22 and SP), the version in the LXX eliminates much of the variation by harmonizing the verses.

  • Subtracting Moshe – In the Masoretic Text of 18:1, Yitro hears first and foremost about what God did for Moshe, while in 18:8 Moshe tells Yitro only about what Hashem did for Israel. The significance of this distinction is discussed in Two Accounts. In the LXX, however, the two reports are synchronized by omitting Moshe from verse 1.11
  • Yitro's dual blessing in 18:10 – According to the Masoretic Text of 18:1 which records that Yitro hears also about what God did for Moshe, the dual blessing of 18:10 "who has delivered you out of the hand of the Egyptians and out of the hand of Paroh; who has delivered the people from under the hand of the Egyptians" may be readily understood as referring first to Moshe and then to the nation. However, since the Septuagint expunged Moshe from 18:1, it is left with a redundancy in 18:10, requiring it to also delete half of the latter verse.
  • The hand of Paroh – According to the Masoretic Text of 18:10, Moshe is delivered "from the hand of Paroh,"12 while the people are delivered "from the hand of the Egyptians." Verses 8-9, in contrast, which speak only of the nation, therefore refer only to "the hand of the Egyptians." However, since according to the LXX all of the verses refer only to the nation, they are all harmonized to speak of both "the hand of Paroh" and "the hand of the Egyptians."13

Single Words


  • LXX 18:3 (some mss.) אביו – These manuscripts of the LXX supplies the missing pronoun, clarifying who called Gershom by his name.14
  • LXX 18:4 (some mss.) אמר – According to this version, the כִּי אָמַר in verse 4 parallels verse 3.
  • SP 18:7 למשה – The Masoretic Text (which reads just וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ) leaves some ambiguity regarding who bowed to whom.15 Perhaps to exclude the possibility of Moshe bowing to an idolatrous priest,16 the SP clarifies that it was Yitro who bowed to Moshe.17
  • LXX 18:16 להם – The Masoretic Text does not specify to whom Moshe makes known the laws, and whether this is connected to the parties coming for judgment in the first part of this verse. From the LXX it would seem that both parts of the verse are linked, and that Moshe is informing the litigants of the laws.18 The LXX reading harmonizes with והודעת להם in 18:20.
  • LXX 18:13,18 כל – The reading of the LXX harmonizes these verses with their parallels in 18:14,23.
  • LXX 18:20 הא-להים – The Septuagint's reading creates an exact match between verses 16 and 20 (את חקי הא-להים ואת תורתו).
  • 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:20 אשר – All three non-Masoretic Texts19 contain the fuller reading אשר ילכו בה, which also parallels the אשר יעשון at the end of the verse.
  • LXX, SP 18:21 לך – Both the LXX20 and SP present a fuller reading,21 but the text of 4Q22 appears to read like the Masoretic Text.22
  • LXX,23 probably 4Q22,24 18:21 אֹתָם – The addition of this word harmonizes verse 21 with its parallel in 18:25.25
  • LXX 18:21,26 perhaps 4Q22,27 ושטרים – If this is, in fact, the text of 4Q22, it is harmonizing 18:21 with the Qumran insertion in 18:25 of the passage from Devarim 1:9-18.28
  • LXX 18:24 לו – The LXX has a fuller reading.29


  • LXX 18:1 למשה וּ – See above under Multiple Words.
  • LXX 18:18 כי – LXX omits the connecting word כי.
  • LXX 18:25 ראשים – The omission of this word harmonizes the verse with its parallel in 18:21.30
  • 4Q22 18:27 לו – All other versions have a fuller text than Qumran.31


  • LXX 18:1a ה‏'‏ – The Septuagint reads ה‏'‏ in both parts of 18:1, and thus also harmonizes 18:1 with 18:8 – see discussion above of Multiple Words.32 See Names of God for an explanation of why the Masoretic Text employs different names of God in the two verses and in the two parts of 18:1 itself.
  • LXX 18:4 השני – The LXX assigns a numerical order to the two sons.33
  • LXX 18:4 מיד – The LXX reads "the hand of Paroh" instead of his "sword", as "the hand of Paroh" is found also in 18:8-10.34
  • 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:6 הנה – According to these three non-Masoretic versions,35 Moshe receives a report by messenger of Yitro's impending arrival, and the report speaks of Yitro in the third person.36 The Masoretic Text (אֲנִי) has Yitro speaking in first person, either via proxy or possibly in direct dialogue – see Yitro's Message.37 See below that the word order of חֹתֶנְךָ יִתְרוֹ depends on this issue.
  • LXX 18:14 יתר – The Masoretic Text reads Moshe's father-in-law (חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה), but the LXX reads Jothor (Ιοθώρ), possibly to identify him at the beginning of the new scene. See Character Titles for elaboration.38
  • 4Q22,39 LXX, SP 18:23 אל – The phrase עַל מְקֹמוֹ is rare in Tanakh. There are a number of other instances where LXX and/or SP read אל instead of the Masoretic Text's על‎.40
  • LXX, SP 18:25 עליהם – The Masoretic Text reads עֲלֵהֶם in 18:21, but עַל הָעָם in the parallel verse in 18:25. Both the LXX and SP harmonize the verses, reading עליהם in both.41 There is an orthographic similarity between the two variants.
  • LXX, SP 18:26 הגדול – While the Masoretic Text employs two different adjectives (הַגָּדֹל and הַקָּשֶׁה) in the parallel verses of 18:22 and 26, the LXX and SP harmonize between the verses, reading הגדול in both.42

Reversal of Word Order

  • 4Q14, LXX (some mss.) 18:6 יתרו חתנך‎ – 4Q14 and some manuscripts of the LXX place the name before the relationship, while the Masoretic Text, 4Q22, SP, and other manuscripts of the LXX all have the relationship first (חֹתֶנְךָ יִתְרוֹ). Generally, in the Torah, the name precedes the relationship when the narrator or a third party is speaking about one character's relationship to another. In contrast, the relationship precedes the name when the speaker is describing his own relationship to the person with whom he is speaking.43 For elaboration, see Character Titles. Thus, the order here should depend on whether or not Yitro is speaking in first person – see the discussion of 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:6 הנה above.
    • The Masoretic Text which reads אני and has Yitro speaking in first person, thus places the relationship חֹתֶנְךָ before the name יִתְרוֹ, as expected.
    • According to the LXX which reads הנה and thus records a third party report about Yitro's impending arrival, the name יתר should precede חתנך, as it in fact does according to some manuscripts.
    • 4Q22, SP, and the other versions of the LXX which read הנה but nonetheless read חתנך יתרו might maintain that this verse (like its parallel in Bereshit 48:2) is an exception to the general principle.
    • 4Q14 which reads אני but nonetheless follows that with יתרו חתנך may be influenced by the order of יִתְרוֹ חֹתֵן מֹשֶׁה in the surrounding verses.


Plene and Defective (מלא וחסר)

In Shemot 18, we have 27 cases of these differences between the Masoretic Text, 4Q22, and SP.44

  • In 17 of these cases, we have the text of 4Q22, and in all 17 its spelling is plene. These cases can be further subdivided:
    • In 13 of the 17,45 Qumran is the only version which is מלא.
    • In 2 cases,46 both 4Q22 and the Masoretic Text are מלא, but not SP.47
    • In 2 cases,48 both 4Q22 and SP are מלא, but not the Masoretic Text.
  • In 10 cases, the text of 4Q22 is lost, and we have only the discrepancy between the Masoretic Text and SP:
    • In 8 cases,49 SP is מלא but not the Masoretic Text.50
    • In 1 case,51 the Masoretic Text is מלא, but not SP.
    • In 1 case,52 the word has two syllables with the Masoretic Text being מלא only in the first syllable, while SP (and 4Q14) is מלא only in the second.

Archaic Forms

There are five cases in Shemot 18 where the difference between the Masoretic Text and SP may be the product of the preservation of a more ancient grammatical form:

  • SP 18:7 וישתחוי – SP uses this same spelling in all 12 occurrences of וַיִּשְׁתַּחוּ in the Torah.53
  • SP 18:18 עשותו – This is the only occurrence of עֲשֹׂהוּ in Tanakh.54
  • SP 18:19 הוי – This is the only case of הֱיֵה in Tanakh. Similarly, in the four additional cases where the Masoretic Text has וֶהְיֵה, SP reads והוי‎.55
  • SP 18:20 והזהרת – SP drops the final ה from the Masoretic וְהִזְהַרְתָּה‎.56
  • SP 18:20 אתם – SP omits the ה from the Masoretic אֶתְהֶם in our verse as well as the two other verses in Torah in which the form appears.57
  • LXX, SP 18:26 שפטו/וישפטו – See below under Additions / Omissions.

Additions / Omissions

  • LXX 18:1,2,5,6,9,10,12,14 יתר – See 4Q365 for a Hebrew text from Qumran that also reads יתר in its version of 18:14. יתר appears also in the Masoretic Text, but only in Shemot 4:18a. See the note in Yitro's Names for other examples of similar forms of the same name.
  • 4Q22 18:2 אחרי – SP adds a י to the Masoretic אַחַר, as it does in five other instances in the Torah.58
  • SP 18:6 אל/ל‎ – 4Q14 and 4Q22 read like the Masoretic Text.
  • LXX, SP 18:7 ויבאהו/ויבאם – The Masoretic Text (וַיָּבֹאוּ) presents Moshe and Yitro as equals entering together into the tent. 4Q14, SP, and Codex Vaticanus of the LXX which all read ויבאהו‎,59 present Moshe as the dominant character.60 Codex Alexandrinus of the LXX reads ויביאם, according to which Moshe's family remain in the picture – see Purpose of Yitro's Visit.
  • LXX 18:8 ואת – According to the LXX, the two halves of verse refer to different things. The Masoretic Text and 4Q14 do not have a ו.
  • LXX 18:9 ויחרד – The LXX employs ἐξέστη to translate the word ויחרד (tremble) in numerous additional instances.61 The Masoretic Text means something else entirely – see ויחד.
  • 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:13-14 – בקר/הבקר, ערב/הערב – The Masoretic Text reads מִן הַבֹּקֶר עַד הָעָרֶב in 18:13, but מִן בֹּקֶר עַד עָרֶב in 18:14. Each of SP and LXX harmonize the two verses, but in opposite directions. SP reads מן הבקר עד הערב in both verses (as does 4Q365), while the LXX reads מן בקר עד ערב in both (as does 4Q22 at least in 18:13).
  • SP 18:13-14 ועד – The Masoretic Text and LXX have a ו in neither verse, SP and some Masoretic manuscripts have a ו in both verses, while 4Q365 has a ו only in 18:14.
  • 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:16 ובאו/באו/ובוא – While the Masoretic Text reads בא which ostensibly refers to the matter (דבר), the other versions have an additional ו or two with the word then speaking of the litigants.
  • SP 18:16 והודעתיו – According to SP, the transmission of the laws is referring to the litigant.62
  • 4Q22, LXX, SP 18:21,25 ושרי – The LXX has a conjunctive ו for each of the last three terms in both verses, as does 4Q22 at least in verse 21. SP has a conjunctive ו between each pair of terms but not before שרי חמשים, while the Masoretic Text (and it would seem 4Q11, at least in 18:21) has a ו only before the last term. The Masoretic Text and SP are consistent between the verses.
  • SP 18:22 יביאון – SP reads יביאון with a final ן in verse 22, matching the word to its form in 18:26.
  • LXX, SP 18:26 שפטו/וישפטו – The Masoretic Text reads וְשָׁפְטוּ at the beginning of verse 26 but יִשְׁפּוּטוּ at the end of the verse.63 LXX and SP both harmonize between the parts of the verse, but in different ways. LXX reads ושפטו and שפטו (past tense), while SP reads וישפטו and ישפטו (future tense).


  • LXX 18:3,6 בניו‎, בניך – The Masoretic Text reads "her sons" (בָנֶיהָ) in verses 3 and 6 but "his sons" (וּבָנָיו) in verse 5 – see Who Accompanied Yitro for elaboration. In contrast, the LXX reads all three verses as speaking of his (Moshe's) sons.
  • LXX 18:6 עמו – The Masoretic Text, 4Q22 and SP read עמה. The LXX reading is possible only according to its reading of הנה (see above) which has the verse speaking of Yitro in the third person.64
  • LXX 18:12 עלת – The Masoretic Text, 4Q22 and SP have only a singular form of עֹלָה but a plural form of זְבָחִים‎.65 It is possible that only one burnt offering was required, but that many peace offerings were necessary to feed all of the invited guests. The LXX has a plural form also for the burnt offerings.66
  • SP 18:12 ומזקני – SP has only some of the elders joining.67
  • LXX 18:16 תורתו, LXX, SP 18:20 התורה – The Masoretic Text68 has the plural form of תּוֹרֹת in both verses, while the LXX has the singular form in both. SP reads a plural in 18:16, but a singular in 18:20.69

Reversed Order

  • SP 18:19 אעיצך – SP reads similarly also in Bemidbar 24:14. 4Q11 reads like the Masoretic Text.
  • LXX 18:19 דבריהם – While the Masoretic Text and SP have הדברים, in the LXX the ה becomes part of the possessive form.