Los terafines generalmente eran pequeñas figurillas humanas y con frecuencia se hacían de madera (1 Sam. 19: 13-16).
Las excavaciones efectuadas en el Cercano Oriente han permitido descubrir un gran número, hechas de madera, arcilla y metales preciosos. Algunas representan dioses masculinos, pero la mayoría son figurillas de deidades femeninas de 5 a 7,5 cm de largo.
Se usaban como dioses familiares o se colgaban del cuerpo de la persona como amuletos protectores. Puesto que la mayoría representan diosas desnudas cuyos rasgos sexuales están acentuados, probablemente se pensaba que promovían la fertilidad. Esta quizá sea la razón principal por la cual Raquel las deseaba (Gén. 31).
Textos cuneiformes de Nuzi, Mesopotamia, revelan que, en ocasión de la muerte del padre, los ídolos familiares eran heredados por los hijos adoptivos solamente cuando no estaban presentes los verdaderos.
Si un hombre tenía hijos, sus dioses no podían ser propiedad de sus hijas (Raquel no tenía derecho a los ídolos familiares de su padre, como lo admitió francamente Jacob - Gén. 31: 32).
Otros documentos hallados también en Nuzi indican que en la era patriarcal la posesión de los ídolos de la familia, tales como los que tenía Labán, le garantizaban a quien los tenía el título de las propiedades de su padre (ANET 219, 220). Probablemente ésta era la razón principal por la cual Labán estaba tan ansioso de recuperarlos (Gén. 31: 30, 33-35).
Fuente del texto: http://eltextobiblicoat.blogspot.com.es/2009/10/teraphim.html
Plural word of unknown derivation used in the Old Testament to denote the primitive Semitic house-gods whose cult had been handed down to historical times from the earlier period of nomadic wanderings. The translation of the term "teraphim" by the Greek versions, as well as its use in the Scriptures, gives an excellent idea of the nature of these symbols. Thus Aquila renders the word by "figures"; the Septuagint in Genesis by "images," in Ezekiel by "carved images," in Zechariah by "oracles," and in Hosea by "manifest objects" (δῆλοι). The Authorized Version often simply transcribes the word, as in Judges xvii. 5, xviii. 14 et seq., and Hos. iii. 4, but frequently translates it "images," as in Gen. xxxi. 19 et passim. The rendering "images" occurs in I Sam. xix. 13 also, "idols" in Zech. x. 2, and "idolatry" in I Sam. xv. 23.
The form of the word in Hebrew must be regarded as a plural of excellence. Just as "Elohim" denotes "gods" and "God," the form "teraphim" is applicable to each single object as well as to the entire class (comp. I Sam. xix. 13 and Gen. xxxi. 19). —Biblical Data: That teraphim were really images of human shape and of considerable size is plainly seen from I Sam. xix. 13, where Michal, the daughter of Saul, places one in David's bed in order to conceal his escape from her enraged father. It is furthermore evident that they were not too large to be easily portable, inasmuch as Gen. xxxi. 19 mentions that Rachel, without her husband's knowledge, stole the teraphim which belonged to her father, Laban, and, when she wished to conceal them, placed them among the camel's furniture and sat upon them (Gen. xxxi. 34)...
It will appear from the above quotations that the most important function of the teraphim, at any rate after the spread of the Yhwh cult over Israel, was that of divination. Evidently the images were used chiefly for oracular purposes, although nothing is known of the method of their consultation; it is probable, however, that they were used in connection with casting the sacred lot (comp. Zech. x. 2; Ezek. xxi. 26 [A. V. 21]). The mention of an ephod in connection with teraphim (Judges xvii. 5, xviii. 20) is a peculiar use of that word, which in these passages represents merely "a portable object employed or manipulated by the priest in consultation with the oracle" (comp. Moore, "Judges," p. 379, and see Judges viii. 27, which clearly describes an ephod as an object employed in divination). This use of the word seems to be quite distinct from that in the so-called P document (Ex. xxviii. 6 et seq.), where a high-priestly garment of the same name is referred to (see Ephod).
Such oracles were probably consulted down to a quite late date (comp. Hos. iii. 4, Hebr.: "for the children of Israel shall abide many days without a king, and without a prince, and without a sacrifice , and without a pillar , and without an ephod, and without teraphim"). The passage II Kings xxiii. 24, cited above, makes it evident that teraphim had survived in later Judah. The mention of teraphim in Zech. x. 2 may have been due to an archaizing tendency of the author of this section (see Zechariah), and would not in itself be sufficient evidence to prove that the teraphim cult had continued into the Greek period; if, however, this passage is taken in conjunction with the statement of Josephus ("Ant." xviii. 9, § 5) that the customof carrying house-gods on journeys into strange countries prevailed in his time in the Mesopotamian regions, it appears highly likely that the use of teraphim continued into the first Christian century and possibly even later.