Fokkelman, Jan P., Narrative Art in Genesis, (Assen: Van Gorcum, 1975), p. 235.
Fokkelman argues that this matzevah is intended to be a concrete “postfiguration of the theophany” at Beth-El, an eternal vertical symbol of the connection to God first experienced by Jacob as the ladder in his dream. See Narrative Art in Genesis, pp. 66–68.
The Rabbis later read this phenomenon into a biblical verse in Ecclesiastes (10:5), which they understood (more literally than they might have) as speaking of “an error which issues from a ruler.” Although it is not the contextual meaning of the verse, it is true to the biblical mindset. According to this mindset, Jephthah must sacrifice his daughter to fulfill his vow: “If you deliver the Ammonites into my hands, then whatever comes out the door of my house to meet me on my safe return…shall be the Lord’s and shall be offered by me as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30, 31), and even Ahasuerus’s misbegotten genocidal decree to permit the nations to “destroy, massacre and exterminate” the Jews (Esther 3:13) cannot be revoked, but only counteracted (Esther 8:8). The Rabbis not only understood the biblical point of view here, but themselves subscribed to some version of it, at least to the extent that it appears as a motif in some legends in the Talmud and Midrash (for example, Palestinian Talmud Shabbat 14d and Babylonian Talmud Ketubot 23a).
In the second-century B.C.E. pseudepigraphic book of Jubilees, it is said that “they gave up the strange gods and that which was in their ears and which was on their necks, and the idols which Rachel stole from Laban her father she gave wholly to Jacob” (Jubilees 31:1–3). But the import of this statement seems to have eluded the author of Jubilees. Josephus relates that “while [Jacob] was purifying his company accordingly, he lit upon the gods of Laban, being unaware that Rachel had stolen them; these he hid in the ground beneath an oak…” (Antiquities, (xxi) (2)–(3)). Again, however, the momentous implications of this, given his oath before Laban, are not drawn. Finally, Fokkelman (Narrative Art in Genesis, 1975), in commenting on the purification prior to revisiting Beth-El, states in passing that the Jacob-God relationship “may no longer be clouded by the presence of teraphim and other foreign gods,” and thus that the household gods of Haran must suffer the definitive humiliation of being put underground. How Jacob got the teraphim, and the effect that would have had on him, seems again to have been missed.
This much has been understood by some, but by no means all, commentators. Many understood the interpolation of 48:7 as an apology to Joseph for not burying Rachel in the ancestral tomb in Hebron, even as Jacob extracted an oath from Joseph that he would bury him there (see, for example, Rashi, Rashbam, ibn Ezra, and Ramban). This explanation fails because Jacob’s instructions to Joseph to bring his body back to Hebron were given in a previous conversation (recorded in chapter 47), and the present conversation concerned only Jacob’s adoption of Ephraim and Manasseh.