GD Lesson 30: The LDS Church and Prophetesses

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GD Lesson 30: The LDS Church and Prophetesses

Next week in Sunday School my ward is covering Lesson 30 in the Old Testament Gospel Doctrine manual which includes the story of one of most important prophetesses in the Old Testament. This lesson includes the story of King Josiah and the book “found” in the temple. We previously wrote a post discussing the similarities between this anonymous book and anonymous literature presented as law in these latter-days here.

An interesting character appears in this story: Huldah.  Wikipedia says: “According to Rabbinic interpretation, Huldah and Deborah were the principal professed woman prophets in the Nevi’im (Prophets) portion of the Hebrew Bible“.

Huldah and Deborah should be discussed as examples of strong leaders and prophetesses. They should be presented as strong examples to your women  and young women. However both of these women are unfortunately marginalized in our church manuals.

Deborah the Prophetess

Deborah was a prophetess that appears in the book of Judges. She is the only female judge and a strong figure. Judges 5 is a poem that may be in the oldest passage of the Bible which, interestingly, portrays women fighting.

Jana Riess wrote an article a while back discussing the Church’s treatment of Deborah in the Gospel Doctrine manual. She wrote:

The manual gives the impressions that 1) Barak had received his commandment directly from God, and 2) he wanted his sidekick Deborah to come along to the battle as moral support. The manual then reinforces #2 by lauding Deborah as a ‘righteous friend’ and ‘true friend’ to Barak. Behind every good man, it seems, there is a good woman.

“What the manual subtly does is strip Deborah of any power the Bible gives her in her own right, by failing to mention her status as a prophetess and her leadership role as a judge. In fact, at no point does the manual even refer to her as a judge, let alone point out that she’s the only wholly righteous one in the entire Book of Judges.”

In the lesson Deborah was demoted to a “friend” and stripped of her power as a prophetess and leader.

I won’t go into more detail about Deborah as Jana said it nicely. Read more about what she wrote here.

Huldah the Prophetess

So, how do the Church manuals handle Huldah, the other “principal professed woman prophet” of Nevi’im? In the Gospel Doctrine manual we that

  • They do call her a prophetess (“Huldah the prophetess tells of the forthcoming desolation of Judah but prophesies that Josiah will not have to witness it” and “What did the prophetess Huldah say would happen to Judah”)
  • And as prophetess, the GD manual says, she tells what will happen to Judah and Josiah (“What did Huldah say would happen to Josiah?”)

So this is good, right? Yes, but…

As pointed out by the Faith Promoting Rumor blog, she is completely ignored in the 2011 church educational video “Josiah and the Book of the Law”. Read the post for more discussion.

Also, according to the Institute manual why did King Josiah ask her about the found book in the first place? The Gospel Doctrine manual doesn’t address this specifically, but the Institute manual does by citing a Bible commentary published in 1890. BTW they couldn’t find anything newer? (emphasis mine):

(19-9) 2 Kings 22:14–20. What Is the Significance of Huldah and Her Prophecy?

“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.” (Keil and Delitzsch, Commentary, 3:1:480.)

So, the reason King Josiah asks a woman to authenticate the found book is because none of the male prophets were around. The implication is then that had male prophets been around she certainly wouldn’t have been asked.

The idea expressed above reminds me of two examples of women being left out of things in the modern Church.

#1 Chieko Okazaki and The Proclamation on the Family

Lori Burkman wrote a nice article titled “Why aren’t the women included in this?” which is a quote from Chieko Okazaki to Church leaders asking why the General Relief Society leadership was not asked about (nor made aware of) the change in third hour lessons. Lori continues by saying

“The part of this interview that surprised me the most was finding out that the General Relief Society Presidency was not even notified that ‘The Family: A Proclamation to the World’ was in the works. They were not informed of it, they were not asked for consultation of any kind in its drafting, and they were not asked if there were specific concerns for women that might need to be included. When she was presented with the finished product, her response was as follows:

‘How come we weren’t consulted?'”

Lori continues by discussing how female Church leaders were similarly ignored during the crafting of The Proclamation on the Family. In response, Chieko Okazaki said: “Sometimes I think they get so busy that they forget that we are there”.

You can read more here, but you get the idea.

#2 Women and the sacrament

I have long felt that our young women would greatly benefit by being allowed to participate in church more visibly. Our young women need to see they are valuable to the ward and the Church. There are many ways this could be accomplished without changing “doctrine”, but one way would be by allowing women to participate more in the sacrament.

The sacrament is often described as the most sacred time of the week for Latter-day Saints. Unfortunately, only men are able to prepare, bless, pass, and administer the sacrament. Some of this is by scriptural charge and other is policy. I previously wrote a post titled “Women Should Be Allowed to Participate More in the Sacrament” demonstrating that women have previously participated in preparing the sacrament and that doctrinally they could be allowed to pass it–just not bless or administer it (at this time).

The precedence for this can be find in this article by BYU professor William G. Hartley (pages 129-130). In fact, while preparing the sacrament was ultimately listed as priesthood responsibility in 1933 (see article), women continued to prepare it through World War II when many men were away overseas. After the war, the policy was was more strongly set forth and in 1950 the Church News published a message from Church leadership saying that is was “preferred that [preparing the sacrament] not be delegated either to LDS girls or their mothers.” (emphasis mine)

Women Should Be Allowed to Participate More in the Sacrament

Conclusion

We, as a Church and as a people, can do better at recognizing and celebrating the female prophetesses in scripture by understanding their real roles and importance and by not demoting the status the scriptures give them. Unfortunately, the viewpoint that demotes women in scripture also demotes women in the modern Church by marginalizing their roles beyond even what our latter-day scriptures say.

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