Wednesday, August 16, 2006

Genesis 31 and the Teraphim Figurines

I mentioned in the last post that I am currently researching traditional African parallels to the role of the ancestral shades in the Hebrew Bible. Here is an artist's reconstruction of Gen 31:19, the shrine of the ancestors in the house of Laban, Rachel's father.

Similar consecrated niches within one's homestead are known in several cultures, including traditional African cultures. The Baganda people, centered in Uganda, traditionally kept such shrines to the ancestors in each home. The presence of the family spirits helped bind the family together in mutual respect and concern. The spirits' permanent connection with the family homestead anchored the family physically on their family land.

Rachel doubtless stole the teraphim figurines so as not to sever this very type of traditional family bonding.

By the same token, Laban's outrage at the theft of the teraphim (Gen 31:30) was doubtless due to their inextricable connection with his ongoing family line and with his family's fields and houses. As among the Baganda, the family spirits must never leave the family homestead!


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