Friday, June 8, 2007

Bible Woman: Huldah

This week the Bible woman is a much more obscure character. She is Huldah, and she makes her only appearance in the Bible in the story of the high priest Hilkiah, who discovered the lost book of God while restoring the Temple. The story is told in Kings and in Chronicles.

The events take place under the reign of Josiah, who was king of the land of Judah. He reigned sometime in the seventh century B.C.E. Josiah was attempting to restore the worship of God in Jerusalem, and also to restore the Temple. During work on the Temple, the high priest Hilkiah discovered "the Book of the Law" and had it delivered to King Josiah.

When the king's secretary read aloud from the book, the king "tore his robes," because, as the king declared, "Great is the Lord's anger that burns against us because our fathers have not obeyed the words of this book; they have not acted in accordance with all that is written there concerning us."

The king wanted to find out everything he could about the book, so Hilkiah, together with members of the king's court, went to speak with Huldah: "the prophetess, who was the wife of Shallum son of Tikvah, the son of Harhas, keeper of the wardrobe. She lived in Jerusalem, in the Second District."

It's a quite remarkable moment. Besides Deborah, Huldah is the only other woman who is called a "prophetess" in the Bible. At this momentous discovery, she is the one that the high priest consults for guidance.

In answer to Hilkiah's query, Huldah begins by explaining that God is angry at the people of Israel because they have worshipped other gods: "This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: Tell the man who sent you to me, 'This is what the Lord says: I am going to bring disaster on this place and its people, according to everything written in the book the king of Judah has read. Because they have forsaken me and burned incense to other gods and provoked me to anger by all the idols their hands have made, my anger will burn against this place and will not be quenched.'"

Then, Huldah conveys a special message meant for the king, explaining that there is hope for the people of Israel because the king reacted with contrition when he heard the words of the book read to him: "Tell the king of Judah, who sent you to inquire of the Lord, 'This is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says concerning the words you heard: Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in my presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord. Therefore I will gather you to your fathers, and you will be buried in peace. Your eyes will not see all the disaster I am going to bring on this place.'" That is the end of the incident; nothing more is said about Huldah.

As often with Hebrew names, "Huldah" has a meaning: "weasel." In fact, I first became acquainted with Huldah when doing research for a project on weasels in folklore. Although northern Europeans often regard the weasel as a masculine creature, in many cultures the weasel is a quintessentially feminine creature, sometimes revered as a midwife (as in the birth of Heracles), but also feared as a witch (as, for example, in Apuleius). So, it is by no means surprising to find that this Hebrew prophetess has the name "Weasel."

The targum to this portion of Kings adds that Huldah had a school where she taught publicly. Legend then linked Huldah's school to the "Huldah Gates" in Jerusalem, so I thought I would include this image of the Huldah Gates to accompany this post. Meanwhile, if you want to read more about the lost book discovered by Hilkiah - the Book of Deuteronomy? - you can read more about that in the wikipedia article.

3 comments:

  1. Good entry. Miriam, sister of Moses, however was also termed a prophetess. It is probable that since there were these - then no doubt there were others. Just as there were many prophets in the days of the prophets who are not represented in a boo, there were probably many women who served as prophets but were not noted.

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  2. Absolutely! That's why I am so amazed by every woman's story that makes its way into the Bible... I figure it is the tip of the iceberg: for each story in the book, there were thousands of others that did not make it, although by all other criteria they would have been stories worthy of recording.
    This is a blog I have not kept for quite some time, but it is nice to know that people find their way here somehow or other! Thanks for your comment! :-)

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  3. Thanks for your info.
    here are more women called prophetess:
    prophetess Noadiah,
    prophetess Anna, the daughter of Phanuel
    the prophetess, mother of Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz.

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