the story in Genesis 31
theft of the household idols (teraphim), Laban's angry concern, and Jacob's
extravagant denial all point to the great importance that ancient man attached
to these objects. They were figurines, unusually small and in the shape of men
Their use in Israel continued into the days of the Judges 
Josephus reported that even in his day (first century C.E.) it was the custom
"among all people in the country to have objects of worship in their house
and to take them along when going abroad.
Rachel, therefore, may have felt it necessary to take household deities along
on her journey and decided to appropriate her father's idols. By doing this,
however, she left him without proper protection
hence his great anger.
Another interpretation gives
legal rather than religious reasons for Rachel's action. Nuzi records indicate
that teraphim were often symbols of property rights and family status. Their
possession could indicate that certain privileges had been confirmed by transmitting
the ownership of the teraphim (cf. the symbolism of the scepter or of keys to
a house). Thus, Jacob's possession of the teraphim might prove that he was no
longer Laban's servant and that he was, therefore, entitled to a part of the
latter's estate. If Jacob had not in law attained this position, Rachel by her
theft meant to assure it for him. Biblical tradition viewed Rachel as a resolute
woman who did not hesitate to take the law or what
she believed to be the law into her own hands.
She knew her husband's rights and she had ample reason to doubt that Laban would
voluntarily and formally transfer the images. That she might proceed in this
fashion apparently never occurred to Jacob. He either did not know the intricacies
of Hurrian law or was not aware of his wife's capacity for action.
We have already learned
of Rachel's consideration and charm at the time of her first meeting with
Jacob, of her agony over her barrenness, her jealousy over her sister's
good fortune, and of her attempt to utilize aphrodisiacs. We now see her
to be an independent woman. With the rift between Laban and Jacob widening,
she took the lead over her sister in siding with her husband instead of
her father, and in the moment of parting it was she again who was stirred
to decisive action. However, her impetuousness caused Jacob to make and
extreme and tragic oath.
Here the theme of retribution
many again be glimpsed. For while the Torah passes no explicit judgement on
Rachel's behavior, its tragic consequences will all too soon become evident.
The commentators who exculpate Rachel 
are therefore wide of the mark. Jacob's oath that whoever may be found with
the teraphim should not remain alive (Gen. 31:32) is exacted not by Laban, as
expected, but by God himself. Rachel dies in her next childbirth and is buried
by the roadside (Gen, 35:16-20).
She is the only Matriarch not interred in Machpelah, the gravesite of the other
Matriarch and Patriarchs.
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