Rachel and the Teraphim

This thought struck me while listening to the Torah so I’d like some feedback. The story given in the Torah is that as they’re leaving Rachel steals the Teraphim of Laban. No reason is given for why she takes them, but evidently they are extremely valuable to Laban because of his reaction to their theft. The traditional answer given for their theft is that Rachel wanted Laban to give up idolatry. This answer is a typical answer of the, “Heroes in the Bible are perfect school of thought. However there are several problems with this.
1. Why did Rachel wait until leaving if that was her intent?
2. Why did she keep the Teraphim?

We see that Laban searched Rachel’s tent the most thoroughly and we know from Shmeul 1 that the Teraphim were close enough to manshaped to pass for one.

My theory is that the Teraphim were some form of fertility symbol/god and that Rachel was reliant on them to give her a child.

Support for my theory: The Teraphim were man-shaped which does have some indication that they might have been a fertility idol. Laban searched Rachel’s tent most carefully  perhaps because she only had one child. This type of action wouldn’t be out of character for Rachel as we see from the story of the dudaiim. In addition it explains Jacob’s reaction to her request for him to pray for her. He said, “Am I in place of G-d,” because there is no indication that Rachel ever prayed to G-d herself. Finally the best indication is that  we see Rachel dying in childbirth. If we assume that it is because of some sin she did (a common assumption by commentators) then the one which stands out is stealing the Teraphim. If the reason she stole them was to keep her father from idolatry than it hardly seems death worthy (even if your husband curses you to die). However, if she took them because she had a belief in them it makes perfect sense why she would die for that crime.

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One Response to Rachel and the Teraphim

  1. Tobie says:

    I’m personally fond of the theory that they were used to divine, since that explains why should took them while running. Your theory is also coherent- a few small points: We have no proof in the text that he searched Rachel’s tent the hardest and the fact that she was able to sit of the idols means that they were quite small, which seems to be against the idea that they look just like people. (I mean, they could be tiny dolls, but that hardly helps in Shmuel) Also- why is Lavan- a man with, apparently, plenty of sons to help him chase- so obsessed with his fertility idols?

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