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Priest of Midian and father-in-law of Moses (Ex. iii. 1 et al.). In the account of the marriage of his daughter Zipporah to Moses (Ex. ii. 16-21), he is called "Reuel" ( = "God is his friend"; see also Hobab). Happening one day to be at the well where Jethro's daughters were drawing water for their flocks, Moses had occasion to defend them against some shepherds who attempted to drive them away. Jethro, out of gratitude, gave him his daughter Zipporah. After Moses and the Israelites had crossed the Red Sea Jethro went to Moses with the latter's wife and two sons (Ex. xviii. 1-5). When Moses told Jethro of all the miracles done for the Israelites by Yhwh, Jethro, rejoicing, exclaimed, "Now I know that the Lord is greater than all gods," and offered burnt offerings and sacrifices. Jethro advised Moses to appoint deputies to assist him to judge the Israelites and render his burdens lighter. After this Jethro returned to his own country (Ex. xviii. 8-27)
In Rabbinical Literature:
The different names of Jethro puzzled the Talmudists: some thought that his real name was "Hobab," and that Reuel was his father (see Hobab); others thought that his name was "Reuel," interpreting it "the friend of God" (see Jethro—Biblical Data, and comp. the view of some modern scholars, who hold that his name was "Reuel," and that "Jethro" was a title, "his Excellency"). According to Simeon b. Yo?ai, he had two names, "Hobab" and "Jethro" (Sifre, Num. 78). It is, however, generallyaccepted that he had seven names: "Reuel," "Jether," "Jethro," "Hobab," "Heber," "Keni" (comp. Judges i. 16, iv. 11), and "Putiel"; Eleazar's father-in-law (Ex. vi. 25) being identified with Jethro by interpreting his name either as "he who abandoned idolatry" or as "who fattened calves for the sake of sacrifices to the idol" (Ex. R. xxvii. 7; Mek., Yitro, 'Amale?, 1; Tan., Shemot, 11; comp. Targ. pseudo-Jonathan to Ex. vi. 25 and So?ah 44a).
Jethro together with Balaam and Job was consulted by Pharaoh as to the means for exterminating the children of Israel; and as he dissuaded Pharaoh from his design, he was recompensed in that his descendants, the Rechabites, sat with the Sanhedrin in the Temple (Sanh. 106a; Ex. R. i. 12; comp. I Chron. ii. 55). In Ex. R. xxvii. 5 it is said that Jethro and Amalek were consulted by Pharaoh, and that both advised him to throw the male children into the river; but, seeing that Amalek was excluded from both this and the future life (comp. Ex. xvii. 14), Jethro repented.
R. Joshua and R. Eleazar ha-Moda'i disagree as to Jethro's position in Midian: according to one, the words "kohen Midyan" mean that he was the priest of Midian; according to the other, "prince of Midian" (Mek. l.c.; Ex. R. xxvii. 2). The opinion that Jethro was a priest is met with in Ex. R. i. 35 and in Tan., Yitro, 5. It is further said (Ex. R. l.c.) that Jethro, having remarked that the worship of an idol was foolish, abandoned it. The Midianites therefore excommunicated him, and none would keep his flocks; so that his daughters were compelled to tend them and were ill-treated by the shepherds. This, however, is in conflict with another statement, to the effect that Jethro gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses on condition that their first son should be brought up in the worship of idols, and that Moses swore to respect this condition (Mek. l.c.; Yal?., Ex. 169).
Whether Jethro went to the wilderness before or after the Torah was given, and consequently what it was that induced him to go to the wilderness, are disputed points among the Rabbis (Zeb. 116a; Yer. Meg. i. 11; Mek. l.c.). According to some, it was the giving of the Torah; according to others, the crossing of the Red Sea dry-shod, or the falling of the manna.
Honored by Moses:
The manner in which Jethro announced his arrival to Moses is also variously indicated. According to R. Eliezer, Jethro sent a messenger; according to R. Joshua, he wrote a letter and tied it to an arrow which he shot into the camp. Moses did not go out alone to meet his father-in-law; but was accompanied by Aaron, Nadab, Abihu, and the seventy elders of Israel, in order to honor Jethro. Some say that even the Shekinah itself went out to meet him (Mek. l.c.; Tan., Yitro, 6). The words "wa-yi?ad Yitro" (Ex. xviii. 9), generally translated "and Jethro rejoiced," are interpreted by the Talmudists as "he circumcised himself"; or "he felt a stinging in his flesh"; that is to say, he was sorry for the loss of the Egyptians, his former coreligionists. By an interchange of the ? with the ?, the phrase would read "wa-yihad," meaning "he became a Jew" (Tan., Yitro, 5).
Jethro was the first to utter a benediction () to God for the wonders performed by Him for the Israelites (comp. Ex. xviii. 10). Such a thing had not been done either by Moses or by any of the Israelites (Sanh. l.c.; Mek. l.c. 2). Jethro knew that Yhwh was greater than all the gods (comp. Ex. xviii. 11), because he had previously worshiped all the idols of the world (Mek. l.c.; Tan. l.c.); but at the same time he did not deny to idols all divine power (Yal?., Ex. 269). According to R. Joshua, Moses purposely sent Jethro away in order that he should not be present at the revelation of the Law (comp. Ex. xviii. 27, Hebr.).