17 March 2016

Huldah

Huldah is a very interesting person from 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34. Her basic story centers around her prophecy about the destruction of the wicked if they do not repent.  She is a woman who is called a prophet and she is consulted by religious and political leaders after a copy of the book of the law (probably Deuteronomy or what would become Deuteronomy) was found while the temple was being restored.  We know almost nothing about her but she is well worth talking about.

First, I want to talk about the problems with the way LDS manuals deal with Huldah, either now or in the past.  For the record, it isn't generally my intention to pick on the manuals with these posts, but instead to highlight positive things or omissions in what we teach.  But in this case, the way we've taught about Huldah is problematic and not only do we need to talk about her differently, we need to realize that what we've been doing isn't right.

The current Institute manual says this about Huldah:

Nothing further is known of the prophetess Huldah than what is mentioned here. All that we can infer from the fact that the king sent to her is, that she was highly distinguished on account of her prophetical gifts, and that none of the prophets of renown, such as Jeremiah and Zephaniah, were at that time in Jerusalem. Her [husband] Shallum was keeper of the clothes, i.e. superintendent over either the priests’ dresses that were kept in the temple … or the king’s wardrobe. 
This is from Karl Keil and Franz Delitzsch's 1866 Commentary.  Besides the obvious concern of using a reference from a Bible commentary that is 150 (!) years old, the assumptions made in this statement are insulting to Huldah and not supported by the text.  There is no reason to assume that Jeremiah and Zephaniah were unavailable, leaving the religious and political leaders with no other option than to consult a woman.  Their going to her is mentioned without comment, excuse, or explanation.  Since we might expect an explanation, its absence highlights the fact that it didn't need to be explained.  The Bible gives us no reason to assume that was astonishing. This paragraph of Huldah is harmful. That is the only mention of Huldah in that manual.

I can't quote from the old seminary manual that was replaced 2 years ago because it makes no mention at all of Huldah.  That manual details Josiah's actions but the verses about Huldah are quite blatantly skipped.  Unless a seminary teacher chose to teach about Huldah, seminary students didn't hear anything about her.

The current seminary manual says this:

Summarize 2 Kings 22:14–20 by explaining that a prophetess named Huldah recounted the scriptural prophecy of judgment against the wicked. She also prophesied that Josiah would be blessed because of his faithfulness to the Lord. Huldah was a prophetess in the sense that she had the gift of prophecy. This gift is available to all members of the Lord’s Church.
This is an improvement over the other two manuals and I hope seminary teachers now take the time to talk about Huldah. However, that isn't necessarily going to happen because there is also a 12-minute church video about Josiah which makes no mention of Huldah.  Of course any video will leave things out, but when women are so often ignored, including the women we do read about in the Old Testament, it is concerning to me that she is entirely left out in favor of a character who was created for the video.

The Old Testament gospel doctrine lesson makes no comment on Huldah's gender or the fact that she was consulted and there are questions that refer to her prophecies. That's obviously an improvement over the other three options.

Second, as with so many people in the Old Testament, there really isn't any way to be sure Huldah was a historical figure or not.  Usually I don't worry too much about that (unless someone insists that, say, Job's being a historical figure makes a huge difference today), but there are some interesting issues that come up if Huldah wasn't historical precisely because she is a woman.  It is possible that she was created to help justify the suppression of the worship of Asherah (more on that soon). Her being a woman and a prophet who promoted the book of Deuteronomy would have been significant because Asherah's worship was popular among women. I don't have strong feelings on this theory one way or the other and it's not something I'd bring up in a class about Josiah- it's hard enough just getting people to acknowledge Huldah's existence in the chapter and that gets into too much relatively obscure Biblical history. But it's interesting.

So, why should we talk about Huldah and how?  First, I think it's important to talk about nearly any woman in the scriptures because we ignore so many or assume they aren't there.  If we consistently talk about them in lessons, maybe we could at least stop saying there aren't any women (something that has been stated almost weekly in a women's OT scripture class I've been going to while we skip over all the women except Esther and Deborah).

Huldah is especially important to talk about because she is a prophet (and I prefer the translation prophet rather than prophetess- it's already been stated that she is a woman).  There are only a few women in the scriptures described as prophets and we should talk about them. Also, as I mentioned above, the leading religious and political figures of the came to her for prophecy, not just for advice.  We need to talk about that too.

I assume that one reason why some manuals dismiss Huldah or completely ignore her is that we don't really acknowledge that women can be prophets and we don't know how to deal with the ensuing questions that might be asked.  We shouldn't worry that talking about Huldah's role as a prophet will diminish anyone else who is a prophet, whether male or female.  In fact, it could be empowering for teenagers and adults to learn about Huldah and her prophecies.  This isn't "dangerous" in any way, especially if we understand how prophets and prophesying differed in the OT.  It's always good to talk about how different women have effected change and Huldah is an excellent example of this.  We can tell the stories from the Old Testament and talk about them and learn from them.

So let's read the verses about Huldah, talk about her role and her prophecies, discuss why she is important, and make sure that teenagers in particular hear that women in the Old Testament were influential leaders.

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