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Issue #74 - 04/11
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Eli Dahan

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The teraphim in the Old Testament

In some of the Hebrew Bible stories, we meet household gods or idols, known to us as the teraphim. Their usage was  probably dual: to interpret problems for specific people in a specific time or to replace G-d, though it is forbidden in the Ten Commandments.
 Their first appearance is in Genesis 31:19-21, as written:

Laban, Jacob and Rachel

"וְלָבָן הָלַךְ, לִגְזֹז אֶת-צֹאנוֹ; וַתִּגְנֹב רָחֵל, אֶת-הַתְּרָפִים אֲשֶׁר לְאָבִיהָ.  וַיִּגְנֹב יַעֲקֹב, אֶת-לֵב לָבָן הָאֲרַמִּי--עַל-בְּלִי הִגִּיד לוֹ, כִּי בֹרֵחַ הוּא.  וַיִּבְרַח הוּא וְכָל-אֲשֶׁר-לוֹ, וַיָּקָם וַיַּעֲבֹר אֶת-הַנָּהָר; וַיָּשֶׂם אֶת-פָּנָיו, הַר הַגִּלְעָד"

"When Laban had gone to shear his sheep, Rachel stole her father’s household gods. Moreover, Jacob deceived Laban the Aramean by not telling him he was running away. So he fled with all he had, crossed the Euphrates River, and headed for the hill country of Gilead"

Here the reason that Rachel stole them is in order to prevent her father, Laban, to discover where she, Jacob and the rest of their new family escaped.

The next story exemplifies the disorder and anarchy in the promised land in the time of the judges, when every man is doing as he pleases. In Judges 17 we are reading a story about a person named Micah, who decided to create for himself a house of G-d and also appointed a priest for this house. In this house Micah put also the household idols. when the priest and the idols were taken from his house, he responded with those words in Judges 18:24-

An idol

" וַיֹּאמֶר אֶת-אֱלֹהַי אֲשֶׁר-עָשִׂיתִי לְקַחְתֶּם וְאֶת-הַכֹּהֵן, וַתֵּלְכוּ--וּמַה-לִּי עוֹד..."

He replied, “You took the gods I made, and my priest, and went away. What else do I have?

The gods he has made are the teraphim. Even though the entire story with Micah describes the anarchy in those days, one can learn about a forbidden ritual, which is specific and local.
When King Saul wanted o kill David, he sent his messengers to kill him. Michal, who was Saul's daughter, warned David from the death as written in 1 Samuel 19:11-16-

The teraphim

 " וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל מַלְאָכִים אֶל-בֵּית דָּוִד, לְשָׁמְרוֹ, וְלַהֲמִיתוֹ, בַּבֹּקֶר; וַתַּגֵּד לְדָוִד,מִיכַל אִשְׁתּוֹ לֵאמֹר, אִם-אֵינְךָ מְמַלֵּט אֶת-נַפְשְׁךָ הַלַּיְלָה, מָחָר אַתָּה מוּמָת.  וַתֹּרֶד מִיכַל אֶת-דָּוִד, בְּעַד הַחַלּוֹן; וַיֵּלֶךְ וַיִּבְרַח, וַיִּמָּלֵט.  וַתִּקַּח מִיכַל אֶת-הַתְּרָפִים, וַתָּשֶׂם אֶל-הַמִּטָּה, וְאֵת כְּבִיר הָעִזִּים, שָׂמָה מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו; וַתְּכַס, בַּבָּגֶד.   וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל מַלְאָכִים, לָקַחַת אֶת-דָּוִד; וַתֹּאמֶר, חֹלֶה הוּא.   וַיִּשְׁלַח שָׁאוּל אֶת-הַמַּלְאָכִים, לִרְאוֹת אֶת-דָּוִד לֵאמֹר:  הַעֲלוּ אֹתוֹ בַמִּטָּה אֵלַי, לַהֲמִתוֹ.  וַיָּבֹאוּ, הַמַּלְאָכִים, וְהִנֵּה הַתְּרָפִים, אֶל-הַמִּטָּה; וּכְבִיר הָעִזִּים, מְרַאֲשֹׁתָיו"

"Saul sent men to David’s house to watch it and to kill him in the morning. But Michal, David’s wife, warned him, “If you don’t run for your life tonight, tomorrow you’ll be killed.” So Michal let David down through a window, and he fled and escaped. Then Michal took an idol and laid it on the bed, covering it with a garment and putting some goats’ hair at the head.  When Saul sent the men to capture David, Michal said, “He is ill.” Then Saul sent the men back to see David and told them, “Bring him up to me in his bed so that I may kill him.” But when the men entered, there was the idol in the bed, and at the head was some goats’ hair"

One more time we see that this ritual is something that existed even in the house of the king of Israel. Only after the time of Hosea the prophet who mentioned those idols in his word (Hosea 3:4), we can see that there is a change in the people of Israel. Probably, until his time the usage of the teraphim was common as the usage of the bronze serpent was. Only in the days of King Josiah (2 Kings 23:24) and after the exile of the Israelites (Ezekiel 21:26, Zechariah 10:2) this ritual is being described as a sin.

In our Bible study this time, we have learned that the biblical word teraphim explained to us how the globalization and the influence of it were even in the old ages.As a Biblical Hebrew Teacher it is important for me to emphasize that also the Language among other topics had the same influence as well!

Main phrases of the post + transcription + translation























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