Huldah, the Prophet: Midrash and Aggadah
by Tamar Kadari
Huldah is one of the seven women prophets of Israel enumerated by the Rabbis: Sarah, Miriam, Deborah, Hannah, Abigail, Huldah and Esther (BT Megillah 14a); she is also mentioned among the twenty-three truly upright and righteous women who came forth from Israel (MidrashTadshe, Ozar ha-Midrashim [Eisenstein], p. 474).
Huldah was descended from Joshua son of Nun, as is alluded in II Kings 22:14, according to which she was “the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah son of Harhas”; and Jud. 2:9 states that Joshua was buried “at Timnath-heres” (BT Megillah 14a). Another tradition maintains that Huldah was one of the eight prophets and priests, including Jeremiah, who were descended from the harlot Rahab. This is derived from her identification as “the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah,” combined with the account of Rahab’s actions in Josh. 2:18: “you tie this length [tikvat] of crimson cord” (Sifrei on Numbers, 78). In an attempt to resolve these two traditions, the Talmud suggests that Rahab converted and became Joshua’s wife, so that Hulda is a decendent both of Rahab and of Joshua (Megillah, loc. cit.). For additional traditions concerning Rahab, see the entry: “Rahab.”
The midrash relates that Huldah was gifted with ruah ha-kodesh (the spirit of divine inspiration) by merit of her husband Shallum son of Tikvah, who was one of the outstanding individuals of his generation and who engaged in acts of kindness every day. He would sit at the entrance to the city and would revive any new arrival by giving him drink from a goatskin of water. According to the Rabbis, Shallum son of Tikvah is “the man” of whom II Kings 13:20–21 speaks. After Shallum’s death, according to the midrash, all Israel sought to repay him for his kindnesses and accompanied him to his grave. When they came there, they saw the legions of Moab, and they cast Shallum into the tomb of Elisha. Upon coming into contact with the latter’s bones, Shallum immediately came back to life. Afterwards a son was born to Huldah and Shallum, named Hanamel, who is Hanamel the son of Jeremiah’s uncle Shallum who features in Jer. 32:7 (Pirkei de-Rabbi Eliezer [ed. Higger], chap. 32).
In the Rabbinic account, three prophets were active in the time of Josiah: Jeremiah, Zephaniah and Huldah. Jeremiah would prophesy in the marketplaces, Zephaniah in the synagogues, and Huldah’s audience consisted of women. The Israelites ignored all this prophetic activity and did what was displeasing to the Lord (Yalkut Shimoni, Zephaniah, para. 566; R. David Kimhi on II Kings 22:14, in the name of the Rabbis).
In another tradition, Huldah lived during the time of Jeremiah and prophesied concurrently with him. Because they were related (see above), he did not take offense at her prophesying together with him, even though he was a more important prophet. When King Josiah found the Torah scroll in the House of the Lord, he sent messengers to the prophet Huldah, and not to Jeremiah, on the grounds that women are merciful (BT Megillah 14b). Josiah apparently hoped that Huldah would be more moderate in her revelations, or that her compassion would succeed in canceling the anticipated future tribulations. However, contrary to his expectations, Huldah uttered harsh prophecies to the king.
The Rabbis charge Huldah with acting arrogantly when she told King Josiah’s emissaries (II Kings 22:15): “Say to the man who sent you to me”; she should have honored the king and said to his representatives, “Say to the king.” Because of her haughty deportment, she was given a denigratory name, “huldah,” meaning “weasel” (even the Aramaic translation of her name—karkushta—sounds ugly) (BT Megillah 14b).
II Kings 22:14 has Huldah “living in Jerusalem in the Mishneh,” which the Aramaic Targum renders as “study hall,” i.e., academy, a place of Torah. Another view is that she taught the Oral Law (= the Mishnah) to the elders of the generation. According to another tradition, she would preach in public and expound all the subjects mentioned twice in the Torah, and revealed the punishments for those who act counter to the allusions and hidden things in the Torah. Huldah’s chamber, close to the Gazit Chamber, was open to the outside and closed in the direction of the Sanhedrin, out of modesty (see the midrashic traditions cited in Rashi’s commentary on II Kings loc. cit; and on II Chron. 34:22).
These traditions might possibly be connected with the Huldah Gates on the Temple Mount. The Tannaim assert that there were five gates to the Mount, two of which, known as the Huldah Gates, were the southern entrance to the Temple Mount (M Middot 1:3). The Holy One, blessed be He, took an oath that the Western Wall, the Priest’s Gate and the Huldah Gates would never be destroyed, until He restored them to their former glory (Cant. Rabbah 2:9:4).