Why Choose Huldah?

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by

Damien F. Mackey

“Most biblical commentators are puzzled that King Josiah chose Huldah to read and interpret the newly found scroll since the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah were both active at the time, Jeremiah being the more prominent of the two male prophets. Traditional commentators reason, the male prophets have books included in the canon but Huldah doesn’t. Therefore, it is assumed, she must have not been as renowned as the men”.

Robin Cohn

 

Introduction

 

We read in two virtually identical accounts, in 2 Kings 22:14-20 and Chronicles 34:11-28, about the consultation of the prophetess Huldah in relation to the discovery of a scroll of the Book of the Law uncovered during a repairing of the Temple in the time of King Josiah.

 

Here is the narrative of it from 2 Kings 22:14-20:

 

So Hilkiah the priest, and Ahikam, and Achbor, and Shaphan, and Asahiah, went unto Huldah the prophetess, the wife of Shallum the son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe; (now she dwelt in Jerusalem in the college;) and they communed with her.

And she said unto them, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, Tell the man that sent you to me, Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will bring evil upon this place, and upon the inhabitants thereof, even all the words of the book which the king of Judah hath read:

Because they have forsaken me, and have burned incense unto other gods, that they might provoke me to anger with all the works of their hands; therefore my wrath shall be kindled against this place, and shall not be quenched.

But to the king of Judah which sent you to enquire of the Lord, thus shall ye say to him, Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, as touching the words which thou hast heard;

Because thine heart was tender, and thou hast humbled thyself before the Lord, when thou heardest what I spake against this place, and against the inhabitants thereof, that they should become a desolation and a curse, and hast rent thy clothes, and wept before me; I also have heard thee, saith the Lord.

Behold therefore, I will gather thee unto thy fathers, and thou shalt be gathered into thy grave in peace; and thine eyes shall not see all the evil which I will bring upon this place. And they brought the king word again.

 

That King Josiah would send five of his top officials to consult Huldah the prophetess is a testimony to her greatness and her oracular importance.

Bobby Valentine has not missed this point in his fine article, “Huldah Who? The Forgotten Ministry of a Lady Prophet”: http://stonedcampbelldisciple.com/2006/06/27/huldah-who-the-forgotten-ministry-of-a-lady-prophet/

 

In response to the discovery of the “book of the Law” Josiah is alarmed. But he is not foolhardy. He needs to know if this work is authentic . . . If it is “true.” What Josiah does next fits well with what we know from Assyrian parallels of Esarhaddon and Nabonidus. When the king receives an oracle or an omen he would “double-check” it with another “god.” Josiah has just received bad news (an omen!) and wants to know if it is really the word of the Lord. So he “double-checks” so to speak with the Prophet Huldah.

So Josiah sends five men to “inquire of Yahweh.” Not just any men but some of the, if not the, most important men in the nation. It might pay to reflect on who these men are for just a moment:

1) Hilkiah the High Priest. The highest spiritual leader in the country.

2) Ahikam son of Shaphan. The Shaphan family is important in Judah. Ahikam is father of Gedaliah who becomes governor (2 Kgs 25.22)

3) Abdon (nothing known of him)

4) Shaphan the Secretary. He is basically the secretary of state or chief of staff for the king.

5) Asiah the king’s attendant.

These men are important in ancient Judah both theologically and politically. We should not miss this fact. ….

[End of quote]

 

After learning of the scroll, Josiah requested the prophetess Huldah to verify that it was the word of God.

What?

Why choose Huldah, who appears to be otherwise unknown in the Scriptures?

And why a woman? Why not one of the male prophets?

 

Robin Cohn has written on this, in “Rabbi Huldah” (http://robincohn.net/rabbi-huldah/):

 

Most biblical commentators are puzzled that King Josiah chose Huldah to read and interpret the newly found scroll since the prophets Jeremiah and Zephaniah were both active at the time, Jeremiah being the more prominent of the two male prophets. Traditional commentators reason, the male prophets have books included in the canon but Huldah doesn’t. Therefore, it is assumed, she must have not been as renowned as the men. ….

 

Bobby Valentine goes even further, referring to St. Paul’s sanction against women (op. cit.):

 

….

Where to Begin?

I have long been fascinated by the enigmatic figure of Huldah. I discovered Huldah in 1988 in an “OT” Survey class reading through the Bible. We never actually discussed her and I am not sure we could have done so. But I never forgot her.  She has been a poltergeist floating in my mind for nearly 20 years! Here was this woman placing a stamp of authenticity on Scripture, interpreting it and exercising authority over men . . . all at the same time! I did not know what to do with her. Since then I have been involved in many discussions regarding women in Scripture. Invariably I am told a woman never exercised authority over men with God’s approval because Paul forbade it. I then ask, “What about Huldah?”

The response is almost (without exception) “Huldah Who?”

 

This article from Patheos also discusses prophetess Huldah in relation to the rðle of women (http://www.patheos.com/blogs/faithpromotingrumor/2014/04/female-voice-and-the-prophetess-huldah/):

 

Female Voice and the Prophetess Huldah

 

April 11, 2014 ….

 

There has been a lot of talk lately about gender equality and whether women have real voices in the church vis a vis the all male priesthood. Of course, the standard position of church leaders is that women are equally valued and that their perspectives are given full and appropriate consideration given the divinely ordained channels of revelation to the regularly constituted authorities. But somehow this rhetoric that “women are equally valued and listened to” has not been able to allay the growing perception and opinion of many that women are unequal to men at both institutional and theological levels in [significant] ways.

 

So because of my interest in the Old Testament, I thought of another way of testing the church’s rhetoric about the place of women in the church. If the church claims that it values the voices and contributions of women on a par with men, how well does the church listen to the few voices of women that are already found in scripture and enjoy the authoritative seal of belonging to the standard works? Are THEY given full and appropriate consideration in our scriptural and doctrinal discussions? Admittedly, there are not many women figures in scripture and their roles are generally not as substantial as other male characters. But how we deal with these women and to what degree we remember their actions and contributions to scriptural history may tell us something about the place of women in our collective ecclesiastical consciousness.

 

A great example to consider is the prophetess Huldah. Do our Sunday School and church educational lessons do much remembering and memorializing of this key biblical figure? I recently watched the high quality film produced for church education in 2011 about Josiah and the Book of the Law and to my amazement the presentation of the story completely skips over the episode of Josiah’s consultation with Huldah. Most all of the major pieces of II Kings 22-23 are present, including Josiah’s childhood, the discovery of the scroll by Hilkiah, its delivery by Shaphan the scribe to the king, the idolatrous practices of the people of Judah under previous kings, Josiah’s repentance and institution of reform, and his death at Megiddo by the hands of Pharaoh Necho. But Huldah is nowhere to be found.

 

Why is this? What motivated completely removing Huldah the prophetess from the LDS redacted narrative of Josiah’s reforms? She is, after all, a critically important figure in the account and has more speech than any other character aside from Josiah in II Kings 22-23. When Josiah realizes that the people have gone astray after other gods and not followed the laws of the new found scroll of Torah, he instructs his servants to seek an oracle from Yahweh so that perhaps Yahweh’s anger would be averted. These servants then go to visit Huldah and she delivers a lengthy oracle that confirms the validity of the scroll of Torah, underscores Yahweh’s displeasure with the people, and promises Josiah that he will be blessed to die before Yahweh’s wrath breaks out in full (22:15-20).

 

One of the interesting things about Huldah’s oracle is how much it emphasizes that she is a direct representative of Yahweh. Uniquely, the prophetic introduction formula is repeated three times (“thus says the Lord,” vv. 15, 16, 18) and she speaks in first person as though the identification between her and the deity was seamless. In the broader Deuteronomistic narrative, Huldah is about as authoritative as it gets. ….

 

[End of quote]

 

That Huldah and her prophetic words can by no means be brushed aside, but must be taken very seriously indeed, is fully apparent from Bobby Valentine’s explanation of the structural significance of the Huldah narrative, a chiasm which “places [Huldah’s] work as the theological and structural center of the Josiah narrative”:

 

Setting of the Huldah Narrative

 

Huldah is extremely important to the history known as Joshua-Samuel-Kings and also Chronicles. Most of the names we think of when we hear the word “prophet” are not even mentioned by either of these histories. Jonah and Isaiah (“writing prophets”) are mentioned in Kings. Jeremiah is not, to my knowledge mentioned at all. In Chronicles, Isaiah is mentioned as is Jeremiah mentioned briefly as the author of a lament over Josiah (2 C 35.25) and in 2 C 36. 12, 21. He is never mentioned in connection with Josiah’s reform . . . But Huldah is given considerable space (comparatively) by both Kings and Chronicles.

 

As we shall see the Huldah narrative is central not only to the Josiah episode but to the entire structure of Chronicles (where I will spend most of my time). Here is a structural outline that highlights what I mean:

 

  1. Formulaic Introduction (34.1-2) B. Cultic Purification of Judah & Jerusalem (34.3-5) C. Cultic Purification of the North (34.6-7) D. Discovery of the Book (34.8-18) E. Prophecy of Huldah (34.19-32) D’ Implementation of the Book (34.29-32) C’ Cultic Purification of the North (34.33) B’ Celebration of the Passover (35.1-19) A’ Extended Formulaic Conclusion (35.20-36.1)

 

This structure, known as a chiasm (where the structure of the work forms a mirror), places [Huldah’s] work as the theological and structural center of the Josiah narrative. It stresses the authority of the prophetic word and scripture. The king and the people stand under the prophetic word.

 

 

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