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Huldah at the table: reflections on leadership and the leadership of women.

It follows from this argument that all are consecrated priests through baptism, that there is no true, basic difference between laymen and priest's, princes and bishops, between religious and secular, except for the sake of office and work, but not for the sake of status. They are all of spiritual estate, all are truly priests, bishops and popes. But they do not all have the same work to do.
  Martin Luther, To the Christian Nobility of the Gentian Nation
  Concerning the Reform of the Christian Estate (1)

I Women at the table--leadership in The Lutheran World Federation: a short history--a long way

Within the ecumenical landscape, The Lutheran World Federation (LWF) has had a considerable record of accomplishment regarding the ordination and participation of women. Women are ordained in 103 of the 140 LWF member churches. In 1992, the German pastor Maria Jepsen became the first Lutheran female bishop in the world. Today, Lutheran women serve their churches as bishops, presidents, and leaders in churches in Africa, Asia, Europe, North and South America.

It is estimated that five of the 178 delegates, who gathered at the LWF's founding assembly in Lund in 1947, were women. (2) Over the years, the participation of women at LWF assemblies has increased slowly, but significantly. In 1984, the Seventh LWF Assembly resolved that 40 percent of delegates to the Eighth LWF Assembly should be women, with a goal of 50 percent for subsequent assemblies. In 1972, the Office for Women in Church and Society (WICAS) was opened in the LWF Secretariat.

The Seventh Assembly, held in Budapest, was groundbreaking in terms of women's participation. "The resolution also called for at least a 40 percent representation of women on the Executive Committee, the appointed advisory/governing committees, and in the group of officers. It was also resolved that the Executive Committee should exert efforts to increase the number of women employed as programmatic and supervisory staff until there was at least 50 percent representation in these areas." (3)

These decisions were the result of countless discussions about the leadership of women in the church and the understanding of ministry at regional, national, and local levels. The understanding of the Lutheran concept of the "priesthood of all believers" played a key role in these debates.

The seed and the flower--from the priesthood of all believers to the ordained (pastoral) ministry

In Lutheranism, the understanding of leadership within the church is closely linked to the Reformation's rediscovery of the biblical concepts of "'vocation" and the "priesthood of all believers."

While these theological insights of the Reformation may have broken "the back of mediaeval clericalism," (4) they did not significantly alter the church's practice during the Reformation and post-Reformation periods. "They were there waiting like time bombs (seeds) to explode (flower) upon Christian praxis at some future date." (5) The flower the former LWF Assistant General Secretary for Ecumenical Affairs, Eugene L. Brand, refers to is the ordination of women and their leadership.

Priesthood--according to Martin Luther--is founded on baptism and belief. Before God all are equal: "There is no gradation between a believing peasant woman and a bishop in terms of their sanctity or closeness to God. Both of them are priests." (6) As the priestly concept derives from baptism and thus applies to all Christians, "No baptized person may be exempted from inclusion in the priesthood of all believers." (7) The priesthood of all believers has a christological (8) as well as a sacrificial and a service oriented dimension. (9)

It was just a matter of time until this "seed" would lead to the question about the relationship of the "priesthood of all believers," the "priestly ministry," and the ordained (pastoral) ministry or the ministry of word and sacrament.

As Brand points out, the "Lutheran concept of priestly ministry logically suggests a functional understanding of pastoral ministry. If the church's ministry is seen to involve the whole people so that all participate as priests, and if it is the vocational context which makes one's priestly ministry specific, then pastors would be Christian priests whose vocational context is ordained ministry. In other words, ordained ministry differs from other ministries only in function." (10)" He concludes: "On the basis of the participation in the baptismal priesthood, the assumption should be that, of course, the pastoral ministry is open to women (use as it is to men." (11)

Other key arguments in the debate on women's ordination are:

--the reference in Gal 3:28, "There is no longer Jew or Greek; there is no longer slave or free, there is no longer male and female; for all are one in Christ Jesus";

--the reference in John 1:14, the word (the divine logos) became sarx (flesh), not male (against the incarnation argument, that Jesus was a man) (12);

--and the church's eschatological nature: the church as the sign of the kingdom to overcome cultural boundaries and considerations that prohibit women's ordination or leadership.

Shaping the table

Eugene's Brand passionate essay in favor of women's ordination and leadership acknowledges that the question of women's ordination is only the tip of the iceberg: "The problem of women in the priestly ministries, by and large, seems to be that of more equal sharing with men, and not whether or not women may serve. Church councils and other governing groups often have only token female representation. Member churches still tend to send men to international meetings." (13)

The LWF is still challenged in terms of ensuring a 50 percent quota of female staff in programmatic and supervisory roles.

Erika Reichle, the first female director in the LWF, summarized spiritual challenges facing women called to lead as follows:
  It is still a daily experience of many women not [to] be listened to,
  to be ignored where power is involved, unless they are prepared to
  give up their identity and to accept that their gifts are used as
  instruments for the interest of others. Thus, women either stop
  trying to be heard, or they adjust, or they look for another arena.
  It will be illusory to think that real progress can be made within
  the LWF until the number of women in important positions is
  considerably higher. (14)

To be listened to, to be authentic ... these are spiritual quests for women, who hold executive and supervisory positions (our being) and are asking how to live our lives as women in this world (our doing). (15)

Women got through the door and found a place at the table, to use the image Christine Grumm, former LWF Deputy General Secretary, employed, but now we have to reshape the table "to accommodate our presence." (16)

Grumm's round table challenges forms of traditional leadership, "which depend only on the wisdom of a few to create the vision and solve the subsequent problems." Her vision of a round table community includes leaders, who "listen to the shared wisdom of those in and outside of the institution and then are able to articulate a vision which mirrors people's hopes and dreams."

The Lutheran concept of the priesthood of all believers is reflected in the image of the round table and its trust in the "shared wisdom," which St. Mary Benet McKinney describes in her book, Sharing Wisdom: A Process for Group Decision Making. "The Spirit, in order to share with us the very wisdom of God, promises to each of us a piece of wisdom ... No one can contain all the wisdom of God, for that would be to be God." (17)

Erika Reichle talked about women's spiritual quests. How does a woman find, make and take her role as woman within a male dominated environment? How can a woman be authentic as woman in her role as a director? How can a woman address issues related to equality, marginalization and discrimination towards women in her context? Where are role models for women in leadership positions?

During the past years, I have sought to integrate spiritual, theological resources with managerial and systemic organizational analysis as part of my day-to-day reflections, my decision-making processes and my presentations.

My reflections on Huldah are an excerpt from a longer article on women and leadership (18) focusing also on Miriam, Martha and Mary. Huldah, like the other women, is part of the Judeo-Christian narrative community (Erzahlgemeinschaft). In this essay I let myself be guided by the understand ingot the narrative community and the fluidity of the narrative which is necessary to adapt it to changing situations, such as the working environment and systemic organizational analysis--admittedly a rather unorthodox and experimental approach.

II Huldah Variations on Finding, Making, Taking the Role as a Woman
  So the priest Hil * ki'ah, A * hi'kam, Ach'bor, Sha'phan, and
  A-sai'ah went to the prophetess Hul'dah the wife of Shal'um son of
  Tik'vah son of Har'has, keeper of the wardrobe; she resided in
  Jerusalem in the Second Quarter, where they consulted her. She
  declared to them, "Thus says the LORD, the God of Israel: 'Tell the
  man who sent you to me, Thus says the LORD, I will indeed bring
  disaster on this place and on its inhabitants--all the words of the
  book that the king of Judah has read. Because they have abandoned mc
  and have made offerings to other gods, so that they have provoked me
  to anger with all the work of their hands, therefore my wrath will be
  kindled against this place, and it will not be quenched.'"

2 Kings 22:8-17

Biblicall Theological Reflections

Why Huldah? Much could be said about Miriam, the mediator, percussionist, lyricist, vocalist, prophet, theologian, and member of a leadership team, or about Deborah, the judge, who combines all forms of leadership--religious, military, juridical and poetical--and who leads in an era of decentralized power and ad hoc leaders (19) and "times of crisis and social dysfunction." (20)

I chose Huldah for several reasons:--her unique impact on Jewish as well as Christian traditions;

--her naming of the true word, which has become an important feature in my own reflections on leadership; and

--ambiguity in the interpretation of her role, which is typical for women holding leading positions.

Although biblical reference to her is limited, Huldah played a significant role for leaders of the synagogue and the church.

As Arlene Swidler says, "'The authority to pass judgement on this initial entry into the canon was given to a woman" (21)

According to Jewish tradition, Huldah conducted an academy in Jerusalem. (22) Huldah's example encouraged the early church to ordain women to sacred office. Phipps cites a prayer for deaconess ordination dated in the late fourth century. "Creator of man and woman, who filled Deborah, Anna, and Huldah with the spirit ... look upon your servant who is chosen for the ministry and grant your Holy Spirit." (23)

The example of Huldah led John Calvin to argue in favor of the government of women, and a century later the "Quakers became the first Christian denomination to advocate the equality of men and women," (24) referring to Huldah as one example.

Huldah inspired women in the nineteenth century, such as the Calvinist Elizabeth Stanton, who helped publish The Woman's Bible, one of the first attempts by women to evaluate the Judeo-Christian legacy's impact on women. It states:
  Her wisdom and insight were well known to Josiah the king; and when
  the wise men came to him with the "Book of the Law," to learn what
  was written therein, Josiah ordered them to take it to Huldah, as
  neither the wise men nor Josiah himself could interpret its contents
  It is fair to suppose that there was not a man at court who could
  read the hook; hence the honor devolved upon Huldah. (25)

Finding, Making, and Taking Roles

I. The Incident: The Discovery of the Book of the Law

To apply the "Finding, Making and Taking Roles" process as used in leadership formation to biblical texts has limitations. Dialogue and exchange is only possible on the basis of exegetical and historical interpretations and assumptions, The Scripture nevertheless gives a clear account of The critical incident.

During the reign of King Josiah of Judah, Shapan, Josiah's secretary, went to the temple to pay the craftsmen, who were renovating the Jerusalem Temple. The supervisors and craftsmen, who worked under the direction of Hilkiah, the high priest, were paid from donations. Hilkiah, who was asked to count the money, showed Shapan a script, which he called the "Book of the Law" and which he found in the Temple. Shapan read the book and then returned to the King. He read it Josiah, who became distressed, comparing the contents with the prevailing practices in the state of Judah. Josiah feared God's wrath. He commissioned his "top officers" (26) to find out whether the book's content was an authentic expression of God's will. They went to see the prophetess Huldah to get her assessment.

II. The System: The Era Josiah

Josiah was depicted as a reformer reviving the cultic innovations of Hezekiah and bringing to an end the counter-reformation of his grandfather Manasseh. (27) With the renovation of the Jerusalem Temple Josiah was restoring the purity of the Temple, and asserting the centrality of the sanctuary and its priesthood.

The renovation of the Jerusalem Temple had ideological and political dimensions. "In terms of national ideals, the assertion of the centrality of Jerusalem served to unify the country and strengthen the central government." (28)

The script obviously contained rules that went far beyond the reform Josiah was undertaking. Josiah was impressed by the scroll, but unsure of its divine authority. "If the scroll contained an authentic revelation from God, he would need to embark on much more sweeping reforms than he had anticipated." (29)

Hypothesis I

What was the reason for choosing Huldah? Was it to name the true word? The laws demanded radical changes in the religious and social spheres, which Josiah may not have been ready to address openly. Somebody else had to initiate the radical transformation.

The exclusive focus on Yahweh (mono-Yahwism), as reestablished by Josiah, needs to be visibly expressed within the social sphere. This also applies to the abolition of other cults, including the cult of Ba'al and Asherah, the demolition of sacred poles and pillars and the dismissal of the cultic personnel. (30) The challenge posed by the "Book of the Law," probably an early version of the book of Deuteronomy, is to achieve a proper balance between religious expression or cult and the social justice dimension (shalom).

Josiah is distressed by the content of the "Book of the Law" and seeks divine approval from Huldah, a representative of the powerless--women, children, and slaves. The "Book of the Law," as an early version of Deuteronomy, most certainly reflected deuteronomic concerns for widows, orphans, and aliens.

By calling on Huldah, Josiah safeguards the support of the powerless and marginalized in a radical transformation. Huldah dares to say aloud what others may have sensed already By canonizing the " Book of the Law," she provided Josiah with the crucial impetus and the purpose for his reform.

Hypothesis II

A second hypothesis is suggests that Huldah plays a crucial role in Josiah's unification attempts.

Duane L. Christensen suggests that Huldah represents the interests of a group, referred to as the "men of Anathoth," who sought to preserve the Ephraimite tradition. They were critical of the monarchy, which they ultimately held responsible for all that was wrong in ancient Israel--including the role of women. "The social stratification introduced by a new economic and political order, and the royal harem in particular, as introduced by Solomon, were responsible for subtle and far-reaching changes in the status of women." (31)

Huldah's act of "canonization" of the "Book of the Law" could therefore be interpreted as a "religious compromise which brought back the 'Moses group' ... It was this alternative view of Israel s ancient story that was in fact the more archaic." (32)

In its efforts to unify the country and strengthen the central government, Josiah needed the active involvement of this group. Huldah restores this marginalized tradition and places social justice at the center of the reform. The book of Deuteronomy corresponds to the point of view of this group. (33)

Hypothesis III

In recent years, Huldah's role has been scrutinized with more skepticism. Was she really the woman who brought about a "theological revolution"? (34) Or, was she a "deuteronomistic puppet," "validating the deuteronomic doctrine of 'exact retribution' about to fall on Judah" (35) (cf. 2 Kings 23), as Judith E. McKinlay suggests.

McKinlay asks, why Huldah, who only has this one great entrance? She comes to the conclusion, that "the deuteronomistic writers may have been employing her as a woman to set the Josiah reforms in train." (36) One of the features of Josiah's reform was the removal of the worship of Asherah, as the wife of Yahweh, whose cult was especially associated with women (cf. 2 Kings 23:7).

According to McKinlay, Huldah was set up to justify a particular cultural heritage. "Even a woman recognized the need for such action." (37)

Is that what happened with Huldah? McKinlay asks. "... I now see a Huldah standing there, facing those authoritative and high-ranking men, quickly getting into line and justifying an orthodoxy: the Asherah, the Baals et al., are to be silenced without question. Huldah's words are all that is needed. She, as a woman, has been used ... to give voice to a theological template that justifies the silencing of the feminine aspect of deity." (38)

Is there any evidence for this hypothesis? Probably the most striking evidence is that, despite her significant role at the beginning of Josiah's reform as well as in the canonization process of the Holy Scripture, she disappears completely from the biblical screen.

Huldah Comments: Somehow, I see truth in all three hypotheses. I also had this lurking feeling that Josiah's delegation may hare a hidden agenda.

I am used to being on guard. No wonder, among the court prophets I am the only woman.

It is possible, that they chose me--a woman--to verify the scroll, as it requested the abolishment of the asheras.

Josiah had already started his reform process and sooner or later during the renovation of the Temple, he would have given the order to remove the Ba'al and Asherah vessels, just like his great grandfather Hezekiah had done.

Indeed, you may accuse me of having justified the destruction of the asherahs. However, has the Asherah cult ever helped women to reach a higher status or social justice during the times of monarchy? I dare to say, No!

So, they may have chosen me to justify their future actions with regard to the holy places and the worship life, but when I saw the "Book of the Law," I realized its potential for addressing issues with regard to the marginalized in our society: the widows, the orphans, and the foreigners.

Josiah was mainly focusing on restoring the purity of the cult; my concern was how his religious reform could also have a positive impact on our society and our social system.

I am glad, that this scroll was found and that I--with the help of God--could recognize its true value. It laid the basis to a much more detailed text of law, with significant changes in both belief and worship as well as in social and moral values.

Review and Learning

Reflecting together with other women on Huldah brought back to us moments when we felt we were the "token woman":

--the only woman on the panel;

--the one brought in to balance gender representation.

From Huldah, women learn to seize these opportunities and turn them it into an authentic role, which serves the system in which we work.

Huldah is a biblical figure from whom we can learn. She was not afraid to speak out, to say unpopular things or initiate radical transformation. Although in danger of being used by the system, she was able to gain the necessary distance and "chooses life." (Deut 30:19)

This essay is dedicated to my trusted colleague and fellow LWF Cabinet member Karen Bloomquist, whom I would like to thank for the many years of close and fruitful cooperation at the Cabinet 'table.'


Boettcher, Reinhard. Leadership and Power in the Ministry of the Church. A resource for discussion. Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 2007.

Brand, Eugene L. "Vocation and Ministry." In In Search of a Round Table. Gender, Theology & Church Leadership, edited by Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997, 12-27.

Cady Stanton, Elizabeth. The Woman's Bible, edited and with an introduction by Dale Spender.Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 1985.

Christensen, Duane L. "Huldah and the Men of Anathoth: Women in Leadership in the Deuteronomic History." The Berkeley Institute of Biblical Archaeology & Literature (1984), (without page count).

Cucciniello Little, Violet. "Beginnings." In The Continuing Journey. Women's Participation in the Lutheran World Federation. Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 1992, 5-63.

Edelmann, Diana. "Huldah the Prophet--of Yahweh or Asherah?" In A Feminist Companion to Samuel and Kings, edited by Athalya Brenner. Sheffield: Sheffield Academic Press, 1994, 231-250.

Grindal, Gracia. "Women in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America." In Religions Institutions And Women's Leadership. New Roles Inside the Mainstream, edited by Catherine Wessinger. Columbia: University of South Carolina Press, 1996, 180-210.

Grumm, Christine. "In Search of a Round Table." In In Search of a Round Table. Gender, Theology & Church Leadership, edited by Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro. Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997 28-39.

Hollyday, Joyce. Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women, Social Justice and Us.Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994.

Horn, Siegfried H., McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. "The Divided Monarchy: The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel." Ancient Israel (1999), BAS Library (without page count).

Howard, Sue and Welbourn, David. The Spirit at Work Phenomenon. London: Azure, 2004.

Luther's Works (LW). Edited by Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House; Philadelphia: Muhlenberg Press, 1955-1986.

McCarter, P. Kyle, Jr. "The Religious Reforms at Hezekiah and Josiah." Aspects of Monotheism (1996), BAS Library (without page count).

McKinlay, Judith E. "Gazing at Huldah." The Bible and Critical Theory 1 (2005), 1-11.

Phipps, William E. "A Woman Was the First to Declare Scripture Holy." Bible Review, (April 1990), BAS Library (without page count). Reclams Bibellexikon, edited by Klaus Koch, Eckart Otto, Jurgen Roloff and Hans Schmoldt. Stuttgart: Philipp Reclam jun. 1982.

Swidler, Arlene. "In Search of Huldah." The Bible Today, vol. 98 (November 1978), 1780-1785.

Swidler, Leonard. Biblical Affirmations of Woman. Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1979.

Weinfeld, Moshe. "Deuteronomy's Theological Revolution." Bible Review (February 1996), BAS Library (without page count).

(1.) Jaroslav Pelikan and Helmut T. Lehmann, eds., Luther's Works (LW) (St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 1955-1986), 44:127, 129.

(2.) Violet Cucciniello Little, "Beginnings" in The Continuing/Journey: Women's Participation in The Lutheran World Federation (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 1992), 9.

(3.) Ibid., 50.

(4.) Eugene L. Brand, "Vocation and Ministry" in In Search of a Round Table: Gender, Theology and Church Leadership, Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro ed. (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), 12.

(5.) Ibid.

(6.) Reinhard Boettcher, Leadership and Power in the Ministry of the Church: A Resource for Discussion (Geneva: The Lutheran World Federation, 2007), 16.

(7.) Brand, 13.

(8.) "This is a spiritual priesthood held in common by all Christians, through which we are all priests with Christ." In: "The Misuse of the Mass," LW 36, 138.

(9.) "The Reformation concept of priesthood also suggests a sacrificial concept of vocation. In the tradition, priesthood and sacrifice are cognates. Our sacrifice, says St. Paul, is ourselves. That makes our priesthood total; it encompasses all of life and extends to every authentic aspect of creation. If our priesthood has its origin in the waters of baptism, then there is no occasion in our lives in which we are not an instrument of Christ's ministry ... Put in the language of cross-bearing ... rather the cross is laid on the world, in the context of one's family and social relationships, job obligations, civic responsibilities, etc. It is there that I minister; it is there that authentic cross-bearing occurs: it is there that I live out daily baptismal death and resurrection." Brand, 17ff.

(10.) Ibid., 19.

(11.) Ibid., 23.

(12.) Cf. Brand, 25: "It is the humanity of Christ, not the maleness of Jesus, which is important."

(13.) Brand, 25.

(14.) Christine Grumm, "In Search of a Round Table" in In Search of a Round Table: Gender, Theology and Church Leadership, Musimbi R.A. Kanyoro, ed. (Geneva: WCC Publications, 1997), 29ff.

(15.). Cf. Sue Howard and David Welbourn, The Spirit: at Work Phenomenon (London: Azure, 2004), 35.

(16.) Grumm, 28.

(17.) Ibid., 35.

(18.) Copies of the paper can be obtained from the author:

(19.) Cf. Hackett, 26.

(20.) Ogden Bellis, 116.

(21.) Arlene Swidler, "In Search of Huldah." The Bible Today 98 (November 1978), 1738.

(22.) Joyce Hollyday, Clothed with the Sun: Biblical Women. Social Justice and Us (Louisville: Westminster/John Knox Press, 1994), 149.

(23.) William E. Phipps, "A Woman Was the First to Declare Scripture Holy." Bible Review, (April 1990), BAS Library, (without page count).

(24.) Ibid.

(25.) Elizabeth Cady Stanton, The Woman's Bible, edited and with an introduction by Dale Spender (Edinburgh: Polygon Books, 1985), 81-82.

(26.) Ibid.

(27.) 2 Kings 21: 2ff: "For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hez* e*ki'ah had destroyed; he erected altars for Ba'al, made a sacred pole, as King A'hab of Israel had done, worshiped all the host of heaven and served them ... He built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the LORD ... he practiced sooth-saying and augury, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the LORD, provoking him to anger."

(28.), Siegfried H. Horn and P. Kyle McCarter, "The Divided Monarch: The Kingdoms of Judah and Israel" Ancient Israel (1999), BAS Library, (without page count).

(29.) Phipps.

(30.) Cf. 2 Kings 23:4-14.

(31.) Duane L. Christensen, "Huldah and the Men of Anathoth: Women in Leadership in the Deuteronomic History," The Berkeley Institute of Biblical Archaeology & Literature (1984) (without page count).

(32.) Ibid.

(33.) Cf. ibid.

(34.) Moshe Weinfeld, "Deuteronomy's Theological Revolution," Bible Review (February 1996), BAS Library, (without page count).

(35.) Judith E. McKinlay, "Gazing at Huldah," The Bible and Critical Theory 1 (2005), 4.

(36.) Ibid., 1.

(37.) Ibid.

(38.) Ibid., 5.

Karin Achtelstetter

Director and Editor-in-Chief of The Lutheran World federation Office for Communication Services and Professor at the Theological Faculty of Erlangen, Germany
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Author:Achtelstetter, Karin
Publication:Currents in Theology and Mission
Article Type:Essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2010
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