Where’s Huldah? Missing (Female) Prophet in Come Follow Me

If you are a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (LDS), you’ve heard this story often at Sunday School:

God’s chosen people fall into apostasy. The prophet warns them that wickedness leads to destruction. They counsel with the prophet and repent. They follow the prophet.

This is a favorite narrative of the authors of the Church’s Come Follow Me curriculum. But what if that same story could also be written this way?

God’s chosen people fall into apostasy. A woman warns them that wickedness leads to destruction. They counsel with a woman and repent. They follow a woman.

This week the Come Follow Me curriculum covers 2 Kings 17–25. The prophet in this Bible story happens to be a woman, Huldah. As I was preparing my lesson plan, I was disappointed to find that the Come Follow Me manual did not even mention Huldah, although it covered Josiah, the king who sought her counsel, in detail.

I gave the curriculum authors the benefit of the doubt. I understand that everything that is written in the scriptures will not fit into a two-page Sunday School lesson outline. The scriptures are just too long. In my version of this lesson plan, I found myself having to skip the story of Hezekiah, even though he was a great guy and a really swell king. I didn’t include him simply for lack of space.

But I was determined to include Huldah. She is after all, the prophet in this story, not to mention the only prominent female character. Because there are so few women heroes in the scriptures, I try to highlight the women who are there. I wish the Come Follow Me curriculum writers cared about representation like I do, but I understand that they may have other priorities. Just because they didn’t include Huldah doesn’t mean there was any malicious intent to the snub.

Screenshot of the all-male cast of the film, “Josiah and the Book of the Law” by the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The lesson plan in Come Follow Me links to a 12-minute video produced in 2011 called Josiah and the Book of the Law, a pretty long film for a story that only covers two chapters of scripture. It’s a high-quality video. Great production values. Entertaining. But oddly, set in a fictional version of Palestine in which virtually every inhabitant is male. Male characters who only had one or two lines to say in the Biblical text feature prominently in the film. The narrator, a fictional character who could have been of either sex, is a man. Except for one brief scene near the end, every extra in the film is male. But Huldah, who gives a lengthy speech that fills a high proportion of the Biblical text, and—oh yeah—is the prophet in this story, is not in the film. No actress portrays her. The male characters do not even mention her. She has vanished without a trace.

The Come Follow Me manual suggests supplementing the scriptural text with a 1976 talk by Church President Spencer W. Kimball, How Rare a Possession—the Scriptures! It’s a nice talk. Motivational. In his sermon, President Kimball told King Josiah’s story in his own words. His rendition of the story was thorough, yet skipped the part about Huldah.

I had now studied three official sources from the LDS Church interpreting the the story of King Josiah and the prophet Huldah, created in three different media formats in three separate decades, and all managed to tell King Josiah’s story while skipping the climax where Josiah hearkens to the prophet. This does not seem like a simple case of editing for length. Huldah’s exclusion is intentional.

Why is the LDS Church afraid of Huldah? Are they afraid we will notice that a female prophet can lead just as well as a man? That we will wonder why women were prophets in the scriptures, but our modern church doesn’t allow them to be? That young girls in our Sunday school classes will look to Huldah as a role model and hope to be like her someday: a woman with authority in the church?

Maybe they can’t bear the thought that after studying Huldah, our takeaway could be, “Follow a woman.”

If you would like a Sunday School lesson plan in which Huldah’s story is not redacted, you can check out mine: Come Follow Me: 2 Kings 17–25 “He Trusted in the Lord God of Israel” …and so did she.

After watching the church video about Josiah, I found this excellent post about it, Female Voice and the Prophetess Huldah, written by Ryan Thomas at Patheos in 2014. Recommended reading:

April Young-Bennett

April Young Bennett is the author of the Ask a Suffragist book series and host of the Religious Feminism Podcast. Learn more about April at aprilyoungb.com.

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17 Responses

  1. Beth Young says:

    STudy and teach the scriptures. Give a slight glance at the CFM. Dismess the agendas of the Q15 and their close-mindedness toward women. They simply can’t be leaders for us, if they ignore us. And they do.

  2. Heidi says:

    “What are they afraid of?” is a really good question–an old, never-answered question that could be asked of virtually every biblical writer, redactor and interpreter starting with the very first one. What exactly is the harm of a woman being smart and literate and able to speak with God and give counsel? Does it diminish the work or authority of other prophets that there was a prophetess who could also do their work? These are of course rhetorical questions; we all know the (wholly unsatisfying) answers to them.
    For my final project in my religious studies program, I wrote a midrash about Huldah: “The Gospel of Huldah the Prophetess.” It started out just amplifying her role in this story, which is significant, as Josiah’s reform was a really big deal, but once I started writing it turned into a plea for more women, for God-She, for the sins of the people to be recognized as the silencing of women. It was one of those moments when I didn’t realize how much I was hurting until it all just started pouring out.
    Thank you for talking about Huldah. With as few named women in the Hebrew Bible as there are, we should be shouting their names every time they’re mentioned. Ignoring them altogether is spiritual malpractice.

  3. Suddenly I’m looking forward to Sunday School.
    And it’s good of you to try and give them the benefit of the doubt. As good as some seem to think I am, I’m not -that- good.
    She’s -going- to get mentioned, even if the teacher isn’t planning on it.

  4. nicolesbitani says:

    Thank you so much for this post. So often we don’t even know who or what is missing when we stick to official Church summaries.

  5. tennesea says:

    Excellent post April — thank you for articulating so well what’s so obviously and fundamentally broken in our Church regarding the gross inequality that will continue to hamstring our growth and progress, especially with the rising generation that has little tolerance for the old-school, institutional sexism so deeply and comfortably rooted in our (boomer+) Mormon DNA. As an old boomer father of 3 wonderful and bright women who have each left the Church over issues like this, my heart aches for our collective loss.

    • Tracy says:

      Hi Tennesea, I’ve seen your comments on Exponent posts before. Thank you for identifying yourself here as “an old boomer father of 3 wonderful and bright women” and recognizing that their leaving the Church is our (the Church’s) collective loss.

      I (along with my two sisters) am the daughter of “an old boomer father”, but unlike you, he is not able/willing/wanting to see his daughters the way you see yours. None of us have left the Church, but my feminism is a thorn in his side and something to scoff at and dismiss. I am only speaking for myself here (not for my sisters)… My father did not teach me to claim and rely on my own personal authority/connection to deity; he brought me up to rely on male/priesthood holding intercessors, most notably himself. And he did not model a relationship with my mother that empowered my mother, but rather disempowered her, and thus me as well.

      It can be so painful being a woman in the Church, especially when those close to us do not see and/or do not want to see the blatant sexism and the ways in which girls and women are hindered by the Church in their spiritual development and progress. It is so wonderful to see that you truly see and value your daughters and women in general. Thank you.

  6. Kathryn Wylie says:

    I listen to several podcasts on the Come Follow Me lessons. One that teaches verse by verse and doesn’t skip anything is Unshaken by Jared Halvorsen, an Institute teacher. I learned about Huldah from him, and am very sad she is left out of the official lesson manual. The church still doesn’t seem to get that women are tired of being left out! And that they are not our only source of information.

  7. anitawells says:

    Thanks for pointing out this omission, which bothered me as well. And is especially poignant since Josiah eliminated the Asherah worship and a lot of feminine aspects from scripture (which Lehi, Nephi, and his asherah/tree of life vision countered). Interestingly, however, I know Huldah is used as an LDS temple new name—I have a distinct memory of waiting in the chapel for a session and showing a friend where the scripture verses about Huldah were since she had no idea what the new name was. So she’s not completely forbidden…

  8. Matt says:

    One of the sad truths is that this has been so “normal” for so long that often we don’t even see it until someone points it out. On a positive note, the Maxwell Institute Podcast covering this CFM lesson did right by the Prophet Huldah!

  9. Laurie says:

    The church produced a lengthy video on the Salt Lake Temple for its 100th anniversary (1990?). It was told through the voice of the then-prophet teaching the temple history to his grandson. It had not a single woman in it, but for photo of the prophet’s wife sitting on the table. For a split second it showed women sewing the temple drapes. It is disheartening that over 30 years later during the rise of feminism, the church is still producing videos which eliminate women. Such overt male-centricity is shocking in the 21st century.

  10. Dani says:

    Thank you so much for writing this! When I was reading the chapter that mentions Huldah, at first I thought the name was familiar but I couldn’t remember who she was. Then I read that she was a prophet and it made me glad to see a prophet who was a woman. I looked her up on the church’s website and there was barely any info. The only thing was a mention in a manual saying that she was a prophetess and it specifically mentioned it means she had the gift of prophecy and that this gift is something any member can have. I was so disappointed by that explanation, the downplaying of the Hulda’s title and achievements. So I went to other sources to find out about Huldah, where they actually do her justice. It’s not an ordinary thing for the king’s men to seek out Huldah as a prophet. She was a real prophet and it’s very disappointing when people in our church try to downplay it.

  11. Moss says:

    We watched that video today. Not only was Huldah absent, but women in general. There may have been one or two in a crowd scene, but that’s it.

    The other fun thing is watching people twist themselves into knots trying to explain how Huldah could speak for Jehovah and have received revelation for the Kingdom of Judah. I saw one person credit Oaks’s ‘Two Lines Of Authority’ talk to try and say Huldah was receiving revelation using the personal line of authority that all women and non-members have- a form of the ‘priesthood of all believers’ that Paul spoke of. This is absurd. She is doing something one would have to be Prophet to do in 2022, priesthood keys and all. This is clearly one of the places where the modern church just doesn’t map onto ancient scripture.

  12. Bailey says:

    Thank you for writing this. I am going to use it in my family scripture study. I am so, so tired, weary, exhausted from being in a church that overlooks women. I wonder if any women are a part of writing the CFM manuals? My daughters notice and already question if there is a place in church for them.

  13. The Grand Scoobah says:

    Excellent write up! I would have loved to sit through your lesson. This case feels like one more example of the Priesthood Correlation Committee using their power to control the narrative in LDS materials to erase women and anything that represents a potential challenge to their policies of exclusively patriarchal ecclesiastical polity. I remember seeing similar sorts of maneuvers last year before I stopped dissecting the CFM curricula: https://tokensandsigns.org/fascinating-priesthood-oaths-and-covenants-for-patriarchal-dominance/

  14. Marianne says:

    I think one of the biggest issues is not that the powers that be might have nefarious intentions, but that they just don’t even notice. It simply does not occur to them that in this case, the story of Huldah the prophet is important or relevant or necessary. It demonstrates a lack of insight, empathy, and caring beyond the male self. It’s disheartening, because it’s incredibly hard to push back against because those carrying out the benevolent patriarchy don’t necessarily have ill intentions and often shut down and throw up walls when their lack of attention is brought to light. But the result is the same. Women are erased and men are not taught that women can hold authority as important leaders.

  15. Sharlee Mullins Glenn says:

    This is excellent. Thank you. I, too, devoted a significant amount of time to Huldah in my lesson for the 16-17-year-olds in our ward yesterday.

    Of course, there is also the very problematic fact that King Josiah and the Deuteronomists basically purged Asherah from both the written records and the temple.

  16. Matt says:

    The fact that Huldah was left out three times in one lesson reminds me of a quote by Ian Flemming, author of the James Bond books. “Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action.” It certainly feels deliberate to me.

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