Female Voice and the Prophetess Huldah

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 signifiant 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.

Could it be that for LDS authorities there is something uncomfortable about this powerful prophetic female figure? Do they want to avoid raising thoughts in the minds of young people about the relationship between women and prophecy, thoughts that would perhaps lead to questions about the legitimacy of the status quo in the church, where we almost automatically distinguish between prophets and women in our discourse and church structure?

Challenging Church Leadership

The following is a reprint of a post originally written in Oct 2008.  Something reminded me of it and I decided to share it again.

Paul’s bitter dispute with Peter and James poses a problem for thinking about LDS notions of authority because it puts into tension church authority and moral and doctrinal issues. When true doctrine and church leadership are in conflict, how are we to make a choice between them? When our sense of what is moral conflicts with our leaders’ sense of what is moral, what are we supposed to do? Paul found himself in exactly this situation, and had to make a choice between his own sense of what was right and the views of his leaders who had been commissioned directly by Christ to take care of the church.
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Some non-arguments against ordaining women to the LDS priesthood

I’m sure all these things have been said before and better, but in order to satisfy my need to respond to some of the assertions presented as self-evident arguments against opening the LDS priesthood to women, I collect my responses here. Here are my top five non-arguments [with a sixth I couldn’t resist]:

1. Men and women are not the same.

2. Women have moral authority.

3. There is no scriptural precedent for ordaining women.

4. There is scriptural precedent for the denial of equal treatment of women.

5. Women have had the priesthood since 1844.

BONUS: Protests and complaints have never resulted in change or revelation.

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I am the newest BYU Prof!

Many of my close friends and family already know this, so it won’t be a surprise to them, but I am still giddy to announce that I have accepted a job at BYU Religious Education starting in Fall 2014.  Hiring decisions were recently made public, so I can finally share the good news with our readers.  My life-partner and I will be moving to Orem this July, so let us know where we can find a supportive ward!

I would like to share a bit of the back story about how all of this came to be.  Officials from BYU Religious Education approached many of us at the blog over the last few years acknowledging some of the concerns of the LDS graduate student community.  Out of these conversations they invited me to apply, and have actually created a special position for me funded by the office of the President to bring some of a new vision.  President Samuelson, as many observers have been reporting in national magazines, has been turning BYU into a secular liberal institution, and I am pleased to report that this trend will continue under President Worthen.

As part of these changes, I have been asked to put together some new courses. In addition to further side lining apologetics and promoting secular Mormon Studies in its place across Religious Ed, I am working on a new Religious Ed course on the collected works of Joanna Brooks, with possibly another that focuses on the podcasts and Facebook posts of John Dehlin!

FAIR and “These Are Our Sisters”

We’ve written quite a bit about apologetics in the past couple of years. Some of it has been quite critical, and some of it constructive.

FAIR is one of the prominent LDS apologetic organizations, and it has occassionally been the object of our criticism. The recent post on FAIR’s blog, “These Are Our Sisters,” however, deserves further attention; and a whole lot of praise.

The Joseph Story in Genesis and the Documentary Hypothesis

A basic first step in grasping the meaning of a biblical text as it may have been intended to be understood by its original authors is to establish something of its literary history. Most biblical texts developed over a long period of time, beginning with the earliest forms of the texts that served particular ideological purposes in their original historical contexts, then undergoing a succession of various literary and editorial adaptations by scribes and priests for the purpose of creating new textual entities to meet the ideological and religious needs of later periods, and finally a standardization process that led to the construction of a canon of sacred literature in Second Temple Judaism.

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The Problem of Gendered Voice in the Church Memo to leaders of Ordain Women

The non-accidental choice of the Church to issue the recent press release through a female spokesperson struck me as particularly problematic, but it may also be indicative of positive change on the horizon. For me the main issue relates to the deployment of the gendered voice of the author as a strategy in crafting the message, a strategy that might reveal itself under present circumstances as a logical quandary. [Read more...]

Things You Wouldn’t Think Might Go Together…


About last Friday or so I was sitting under my rock reading from Ehrman’s and Holmes’ Text of the New Testament: Essays on the Status Quaestionis, which happens to be about textual criticism. I am not making this up – it was chapter 17, Wasserman’s essay on criteria.  So anyway, word filtered in that the Maxwell Institute had a new book collecting all the NT apocrypha and giving high quality pictures of the same, etc., etc.

 And I thought to myself:  This is good news!  Textual criticism is concerned with the recovery of the oldest possible readings of ancient documents, including those of the Bible.  It’s pretty important in Classics, as well. Before anybody can get their so-called higher criticism on, they have to have a text – the best one possible. And before the textual critics can work, they have to have the best possible copies (pictures or transcriptions) of the texts.  Although I haven’t seen it, I suspect (hope) that’s what this latest book features.

 Personally, I find textual criticism fascinating, but it is tedious, painstaking work and sometimes not everyone appreciates this the way they might.  Rarely do the textual critics make pronouncements about Life, the Universe, and Everything but the exegetes who do are in reality indebted to textual critics.

 However, what I really want to mention is this:  In addition to providing us texts to work on, some aspects of textual criticism are also an excellent window into the world of early Christianity and into THE ASSUMPTIONS AND BIASES that are part of ours!   Yep, I’ve moved on from Status Quaestionis and into Eldon J. Epps’ Junia: The First Woman Apostle.  It’s a fascinating book, and quite accessible, too.   I’m just a few pages in, but I’m enjoying it immensely.

 Anyway, Epps is making the point that, with the 1927 edition of the critical Greek text of Romans 16, the female Junia became the male Junias.  Why?  According to one Hans Lietzmann, writing in 1906, the name must be male “because of the following statements” identifying the person as an apostle.  Yep.  Can’t be a woman because we KNOW that women can’t be apostles!  And, it stayed that way until 1970 or so. 

 Why did it finally change?  Ah, well, textual critics, of course, because the exegetes mentioned so far seem to have been quite satisfied about the whole thing!   And there you have it:  textual criticism as a means to social justice…

Friendly Fire on Mormon Scholars

While some corners of the LDS church’s intellectual health have been thriving, including in some aspects of church curriculum, the LDS Newsroom, Church History, the Maxwell Institute, and even BYU Religious Education and Deseret Book, other corners of the Church Educational System and the secretive committee that vets all potential hires, speakers, and academic boards at BYU, have been silently blacklisting, banning, and investigating LDS scholars. The anecdotal evidence is increasingly persuasive that there is a campaign in some quarters of the LDS church’s educational arms to marginalize LDS scholars of religion that are perceived to be too controversial. Some see a silver lining in continuing the trend that the most powerful and influential scholars of Mormonism will continue to exist outside of BYU and CES.  I hope that will not be the case.

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What is the Moral Lesson of Genesis?

Latter-day Saints are studying the Old Testament this year.  Unfortunately, many LDS readings of the Old Testament adopt a hermeneutic wherein the stories in Genesis provide moral role models.  It seems that we have come to see the scriptures as a kind of guide book for living a moral life, in spite of the fact that the stories never tell their readers to emulate any of the characters.  If we adopt this reading strategy, we miss important ways of engaging in moral reasoning, and quite frankly, misread the point of these stories entirely.

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