Sep 3, 2008

Where Are All The Prophetesses?

I've been reading a book about the Bible and I was reminded of a question that I've always had but have never had answered.

What happened to prophetesses?

As we peruse the Bible and other historical books, it's easy to see that women's rights have come a long way. Back then, women had little say in anything and therefore I find it ironic that there were a few who held the status of "prophetess" (such as Anna, pictured at right), while today we have none. Why is that?

According to bible-history.com, "Women were not excluded from the prophetic office in the Old Testament, and were honored with the right of prophetic utterance in the New Testament. It should be noted, however, that women like Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Jdg 4:4) and Huldah (2 Ki 22:14) were not credited with the seer's insight into the future, but were called "prophetesses" because of the poetical inspiration of their speech. Among others mentioned as having the prophetic gift we find Hannah (1 Sam 2:1), Anna (Lk 2:36) and the four daughters of Philip (Acts 21:8,9)."

"Prophetess" is not listed in the LDS Bible Dictionary. However, "Anna" is, and she is called "prophetess," although no specifics in regards to her office are given.

Some things to consider:

a) Should prophetesses such as Anna and Hannah be held in the same regard as prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or even Thomas S. Monson? Or did they hold a "lesser" office or authority than these men?

b) Are prophetesses only needed if there isn't a man around who can be prophet?

c) Are prophetesses a thing of the past? If so, what made them irrelevant?

d) Could we have prophetesses in these modern days? Why or why not?

e) Are the General RS, YW, and Primary presidencies modern-day "prophetesses?"

7 comments:

Mormon Heretic said...

Great post! I am somewhat aware of some of the OT prophetesses, but thanks for more references! This has been something that I find quite intriguing.

I'd like to add on more to your list: Mary Magdalene, also known as the Apostle of the Apostles. It seems there is some evidence that she was a great leader in the days following Christ's death. It seems Paul's admonition that "women should be silent in church" was probably directed most at her.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Thanks for that interesting addition, MH. I had never heard of Mary Magdalene referred to as such.

I must admit, I've never been much of a feminist Mormon. I've never really cared about not being able to have the priesthood or the responsibility of being an apostle or a prophet. But as we look back in history, it makes me wonder why my sex automatically excludes me from being what Anna or Hannah were.

I can't recall ever reading anything in any LDS literature about prophetesses and why they don't exist now. Maybe the info is out there and I just haven't found it yet.

We need Bored in Vernal here, she might know! :)

Mormon Heretic said...

I'll try to answer your questions:

a) Should prophetesses such as Anna and Hannah be held in the same regard as prophets such as Isaiah, Ezekiel, or even Thomas S. Monson? Or did they hold a "lesser" office or authority than these men?

I think the scriptures are pretty ambiguous on this. From the scholars I know about, women were generally considered much lower than men. I doubt they would have held the Melchizedek priesthood as we know it. I suspect the term prophetess was a much looser term than we modern day mormons think of the term prophet today.

b) Are prophetesses only needed if there isn't a man around who can be prophet?

The apostle Paul said "Covet to prophesy." I think this applies to men and women, and it doesn't matter how many men are around. I know he said women should be quiet in church, but I think he was speaking with cultural bias.

c) Are prophetesses a thing of the past? If so, what made them irrelevant?

Men do not like women to rule over them, and I think there has been a pretty concerted effort over the centuries to suppress women. One need only look at the Pope's false allegation that Mary Magdalene was a prostitute as a way to discredit her and women as religious leaders.

d) Could we have prophetesses in these modern days? Why or why not?

Certainly. No power or influence can or ought to be maintained by virtue of the priesthood. I think God gives inspiration to men and women, and I think he is no respector of persons. Male and female, all are alike unto him.

e) Are the General RS, YW, and Primary presidencies modern-day "prophetesses?"

I suppose. This would be similar to my answer in part a. They would be prophetesses because they speak the truth, but not as one with authority. However, let me state that I have no problem with women gaining the priesthood. I think a female apostle would be a great thing. And if she went on to become prophetess, seer, revelator, and President, I don't have a problem as long as she maintains her Christian standards.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Hmmm.... great points, MH. I wonder then, is the priesthood ban on women man-made or the way the Lord really intended it?

I know there are so many theories as to why the blacks were denied the priesthood. We'll probably never know for sure, but one of the most predominant theories is that it was because we, as a Church, weren't ready for it because of our feelings towards blacks, not so much because the blacks did anything to not be deserving of the priesthood (another theory).

It's now 2008 and women's rights have come a long way, farther in some countries than in others, but we're probably still not quite there yet. Could it be that the Lord is withholding the priesthood from the sisters because the brethren aren't ready for it? Or maybe it has something to do with women, such as it's all Eve's fault. :)

I actually don't really care to have the priesthood myself at this point in my life, but I know some LDS women are really bothered by it. All we can do is really speculate, but I find it interesting to think about this stuff.

Bored in Vernal said...

Good questions. Interestingly, Eliza R. Snow was widely known as "presidentess, poetess, and prophetess in her day. She is the only modern-day prophetess I know of, since we do not consider our RS or auxiliary general presidencies as prophetesses.

"all we can really do is speculate..."
I do love to speculate about women and the priesthood. My opinion is that endowed LDS women hold the "priestesshood," which I think of as a bit different than women holding the priesthood. I see priestesshood as not being connected to ordinances or hierarchy, as priesthood is. I think it has more to do with charity, blessing, and healing. Currently this priestesshood is exercised through the prayer of faith. It is also seen in the temple initiatory. I think we as a Church are not using this gift to its full potential because we (collectively) fear it and because we have not been instructed in its proper use. Quite clearly, Joseph Smith restored this power to the earth. However, at the time of Brigham Young there was a retrenchment. The Relief Society was disbanded and BY insisted that he would not reinstate it. Eliza had some influence over him, and was able to convince him to soften his stance, so that the RS was reinstituted before his death. But priestesshood has not been fully recognized since Joseph's day.

Personally, I don't think there will ever be a "lifting of the ban" such as there was for black men. But I hope that soon a prophet or prophetess will arise who can teach us how to use the priestesshood endowed women already hold.

Jack Meyers said...

Hi FD, I just came across this old post while doing a search for something else, but I wanted to point something out. Concerning the entry you cited from Bible-history.com:

It should be noted, however, that women like Miriam (Ex 15:20), Deborah (Jdg 4:4) and Huldah (2 Ki 22:14) were not credited with the seer's insight into the future, but were called "prophetesses" because of the poetical inspiration of their speech.

Pure bullcrap. Deborah quite clearly predicts the future when she tells Barak that Sisera will be killed by a woman instead of him. (Judges 4:9) This prophecy is fulfilled when Sisera is killed by Jael wife of Heber the Kenite in v. 21. I'd bet money that your entry from bible-theology.com was written by complementarians, who have a need diminish the strong roles held by women in the Bible in order to justify their treatment of women today.

The Hebrew word for prophet was נָבִיא. The word for a female prophet was נְבִיאָה, same word with a feminine ending, implying that it was the same job. If anyone thinks that they were different jobs, the burden of proof is on them.

As to "where are the female prophets in Mormonism," you know, I had that question myself when I was a 17 year-old investigator of the church. I even wrote to Sheri Dew about it while she was in the RS General Presidency. Long story short, it's never been answered to my satisfaction, and probably never will be. The best answer I got was basically, "Even in the Bible there weren't female prophets in every age, so now is one of those ages that lacks female prophets."

What can I say. I'm still not crazy about the idea that male prophets are mandatory while female prophets are optional.

The Faithful Dissident said...

Jack, thanks for your comment! Like you, I don't feel this has ever really been addressed. I've searched LDS sources and there is practically nothing on the subject. I should schedule a post on Mormon Matters to readdress the topic because I'm really very curious. Thanks for reminding me about this post.

By the way, interesting profile. (Your name threw me off at first, as I assumed you were a man.) You're an evangelical Christian married to a Mormon? Fascinating! I'd love to hear how you got together and how you make it work. I once dated (unofficially) a Baptist, but I guess I was the "forbidden fruit" as a Mormon. :)