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The Woman Who Began the Canonization of Scripture: Huldah – Shawna R. B. Atteberry
Oct 062010

Photo by Arnie/PhotoXpress

Did you know that the first person to declare written words as Scripture was a woman?

Her name was Huldah, and she was a prophet in Jerusalem during the reign of King Josiah. Her story is found in 2 Kings 22 and 2 Chronicles 34. During Josiah’s reign he tried to bring the people of Judah back to the worship of Yahweh, the one true Godde. He had idols thrown out of the temple then he authorized repairs to the temple. During the renovations a scroll was found and brought to the high priest and king. Neither one knew if it was Godde’s word. Josiah ordered the high priest to take the scroll to a prophet. Although there were noteworthy male prophets in Jerusalem at the time–Jeremiah, Zephaniah, and Nahum–Josiah sent the high priest to inquire of a female prophet, Huldah. Huldah verified the scroll was the word of Godde, and that it’s prophecies would happen. The scroll said that if Israel did not worship only Yahweh as Godde, they would lose their land and be sent into exile. Death and destruction would be the result of their disobedience. Huldah verified the Jewish people had passed the point of no return: both Jerusalem and the temple would be destroyed. But Josiah would be spared war and exile since his heart was grieved over the sin of his people. Huldah’s prophecy did happen within 35 years of this event. After Josiah heard her words, he stepped up his reforms and led the people in celebrating the first Passover that included all of the people since before the time of the judges (2 Kings 23:22).

Huldah was the first person to declare written words to be the word of Godde–Scripture. She was the first whose “words of judgment are centered on a written document as no others have been before her” (Claudia V. Camp, “1 and 2 Kings” in Women’s Bible Commentary, 115). She was the first to authenticate Scripture. Manuscripts had accumulated for years, if not centuries, but for the first time a prophet proclaimed the written word to be Godde’s word, and this prophet was a woman–the last female prophet before Judah falls to the Babylonians. Huldah started the process that would eventually give us canonized Scripture.

Efforts to marginalize Huldah’s leadership role claim her authority came from her husband. Huldah was married to Shallum who was the “keeper of the wardrobe” (2 Kings 22:14)–a royal position. But when the high priest and his entourage came to her home, they did not ask for her husband. According to Scripture these men were not embarrassed asking a woman about Godde’s will for their country. The high priest did not have an issue with a woman prophet. In fact, her gender was irrelevant in the text as was her marital status. Huldah was a religious leader in Jerusalem at that time, and the high priest had no problem going to her to confirm Godde’s word.

Did you know there are only eight verses in the Bible that discourage women from speaking and holding leadership positions in the church? Did you know there are thousands of verses in the Bible that tell the stories of women who were leaders in their homes, towns, and religious circles? Meet the women in the Bible who were religious & civic leaders, business women, & women who challenged both Jesus and Moses in What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School. What else didn’t you learn in Sunday School? Find out when you buy What You Didn’t Learn in Sunday School: Women Who Didn’t Shut Up & Sit Down from Wipf and Stock Publishers or Amazon.com today.

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  6 Responses to “The Woman Who Began the Canonization of Scripture: Huldah”

  1. Wonderful! I love to hear about people in the Bible, even though I don’t consider myself a Christian any more. So many fascinating people and stories. Thank you!

    • Oh good I’m glad. One of the reasons for the blog is to show people who aren’t Christian that we’re not all self-righteous blowhards.

  2. I spent two years at a Christian school that was teaching us that women in the Bible didn’t actually have authority, that it was somehow tied to the men they were married to or working with. The specific example I remember was Deborah. Apparently having a male sidekick made her the sidekick… or something. (It’s been a while since I’ve read Judges, so I can’t quite mock the lesson properly, forgive me)

    At the time, I wasn’t well-versed enough to be able to argue, but I knew it was wrong. It was just really hard to reconcile with what I understood about the Bible at that time.

    I’m pretty sure that same teacher glossed over what you just shared about Huldah, because that definitely didn’t come up in class (and it didn’t really stand out to me years later when I read Kings and Chronicles, perhaps some cultural bias at play?).

    What sucks is that people like my old teacher still wouldn’t listen to you because they can point to a single poorly-translated and context-divorced verse to prove that you don’t have the authority to teach them anything. They are paragons of scholarship.

    (stopping before I go off on a sarcastic tirade about my old school)

    • I didn’t have that problem in college: I went to college that had many women going into ministry. I mainly encounter it in churches, and I’m very concerned about all of the neo-patriarchal crap that is taking over the Christian dialogue of men and women in this country. Just because they are bullies who yell loudest, doesn’t make them right.

      • Wait, volume doesn’t correspond to rightness? 😉

        My knee-jerk response is, “What dialogue?” At the last church I called home (small; 30-40 people), the male pastor nominated a female to replace him when he moved away. Not only was she qualified — she had the paperwork from the denomination, the schooling, the rigorous study habits — but the pastor spent several weeks taking the congregation through the Bible, in-depth word studies and readings from commentaries to explain why it’s perfectly fine for a woman to be a pastor.

        Half the church left anyway, because they “just didn’t agree.” No attempt at a reasoned response or anything. It was disheartening.

  3. When taught about the bible, most emphasis are mostly on men. It’s great that you have featured Huldah in your article.

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