As I mentioned in my previous post, I have been overwhelmed by a lot of questions, especially in regards to my religion lately. Last week, we were taught a beautiful lesson in Relief Society about the prophetesses in the book of Judges. As soon as the topic was brought up, I knew I’d have to do some separation between the patriarchal position in which a lesson of this sort would inevitably be taught, and the literal interpretation of what is actually present in the scriptures.
The prophetesses found in the book of Judges were discussed with great admiration and respect within our little group of Relief Society sisters. Finally, there were prominent, inspired leaders that were easy to connect with and relate to. I was ecstatic- at last, I was feeling empowered during a church meeting, and as consequence, was actually engaged in the lesson (after I shared my excitement on the Young Mormon Feminists Facebook page).
I was so ecstatic because never in my 19 and a half years of membership in the LDS church had I even heard of these inspired women in the Bible. Admittedly, that’s partly due to my slack in scripture study, especially the Bible. If I’m honest, I don’t feel that we as a church focus enough on the bible. We have the Book of Mormon, ANOTHER testament of Jesus Christ, but I feel that sometimes we treat it as the only testament of Jesus Christ. Even so, I had Seminary classes in High School that were Bible based. We even had a whole year dedicated to the Old Testament. Even within that class, I can’t say I recall ever discussing the Prophetesses of the book of Judges.
Why? Because of the patriarchal structure of religion. Call me crazy, but it seems to me that these women have been purposely disregarded from Sunday school discussion, or any religious discussion for that matter. The discussion and recognition of powerful, inspired female leaders is so rare that it takes some of us two decades to even learn that they existed.
My testimony has been hanging by a thread these past few years as I realize more and more how misogynistic and patriarchal the church’s structure (perhaps, more fairly, culture) is. However, had I known of these prophetesses and been versed in what divine roles they played, and felt like I was in an atmosphere that was willing to help me investigate and answer my questions in regard to inspired women, perhaps my attitudes toward my church would be different.
I want to know why the term ‘prophetess’ is now extinct from our vocabulary. I want to know why the title of prophetess no longer exists, and if it will ever return.
I posted similar questions to these on my Facebook page, looking for others’ insights on the matter, and not surprisingly, the idea of a female prophet was instantly shot down. One ‘friend’ gave me the answer that ‘prophetess’ in Hebrew means “wife of the prophet.” However, we have no record that Deborah was even married, so I’m disregarding that explanation entirely.
Even throughout the lesson, the teacher (female) reinstated that these women were not literal prophets. However, their prophecies were fulfilled, and they received inspiration from God, so what about that makes them not literal prophets? The only way these women differ from ancient prophets is the fact that they were female.
Although it is frustrating and disheartening that female prophetesship is impermissible within my religion, and female leadership is very limited, I am choosing to believe that these women were literal prophetesses of God, in the purest sense of the word, and that gives me strength.