Women Prophets: A Postscript

Music Ministry

In my post Miriam the Prophetess, I wrote that the three daughters of Heman, the seer and one of the Levitical leaders selected by David to be in charge of temple music, were prophets in the same ways that his sons were prophets. This view is based on the statement of 1 Chronicles 25:5-6:

“All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him; for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. They were all under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God” (NRSV).

But not all Bible translations accept this view. A few translations of these two verses exclude the three daughters from the prophetic ministry of music. Below is a sample of how some translations exclude the three daughters from participating in the music ministry of the temple. I will emphasize the sections in the verses where the translations differ.

New Revised Standard Version:

“All these were the sons of Heman the king’s seer, according to the promise of God to exalt him; for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. They were all under the direction of their father for the music in the house of the LORD with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of the house of God.”

The NRSV translation says that “They were all under the direction of their father,” thus including the daughters in the music ministry of the temple.

New International Version:

“All these were sons of Heman the king’s seer. They were given him through the promises of God to exalt him. God gave Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the LORD, with cymbals, lyres and harps, for the ministry at the house of God.”

The Holman Christian Standard Bible:

“All these sons of Heman, the king’s seer, were given by the promises of God to exalt him, for God had given Heman fourteen sons and three daughters. All these men were under their own fathers’ authority for the music in the LORD’s temple, with cymbals, harps, and lyres for the service of God’s temple.”

Both the New International Version and the Holman Christian Standard Bible exclude Heman’s three daughters from the music ministry of the temple by saying that “All these men were under the supervision of their fathers for the music of the temple of the LORD.”

The translation of the NIV and the HCSB are based on the words of verse 1 of chapter 25 in which it is said that David set apart the sons of the three great musicians of Israel to be in charge of the music in the temple:

“David and the officers of the army also set apart for the service the sons of Asaph, and of Heman, and of Jeduthun, who should prophesy with lyres, harps, and cymbals.”

The word “father” in the Hebrew text of 1 Chronicles 25:6 is singular: The Hebrew word ’aḇîhem literally means “their father.” The NIV has “their fathers” but the plural word for father is not in the text. The NIV has to use the plural “fathers” in a collective sense in order to include the men mentioned in verse 1 and in order to exclude the three daughters mentioned in verse 6. The HCSB also has the plural “fathers” even though the biblical text has a singular word “father.”

The whole issue is based on two different theological positions: the Egalitarian and Complementarian views of women in ancient Israel and in the church today.  The Egalitarian position affirms that both men and women are created equal and that both share responsibility in having dominion over God’s creation. The Egalitarian position also affirms that although sin created a distortion of this mutuality, that the gospel of Jesus Christ has abolished this distortion and that now both men and women are equally called to serve God.

The Complementarian position affirms that “Israel’s political and religious structures exhibit an almost exclusively male leadership, and this by God’s calling and command.” Therefore, since God has set apart men to hold political and religious leadership in Israel, it is evident to those who hold this position that the three daughters of Heman were not part of the music ministry of the temple.

The commentaries on the book of Chronicles take different positions on this issue. Ralph Klein in his commentary of Chronicles wrote: “The three daughters seem irrelevant in a description of Heman as the father of singers unless it hints that there were also female singers in the temple” (2006:482).

On the other hand, Knoppers, in his commentary on Chronicles wrote: “Each of the fourteen sons [of Heman] is mentioned, but the three daughters go unnamed. Nevertheless, both sons and daughters sing at the Temple” (2004:850).

There are several references in the Bible about women playing and singing in a cultic setting. These references are found in Exodus 15:20, Judges 11:34, 1 Samuel 18:6, and Jeremiah 31:4. Although most of these women appear in the early history of Israel, Carol Meyers has demonstrated that the absence of any mention of women musicians in the later period of Israel’s history is not evidence that women were not involved in the music of the temple (1991:25).

Thus, the biblical evidence goes against the NIV and the HCSB in their view that the word “father” in 1 Chronicles 25:6 should be interpreted collectively in order to include Asaph, Heman, and Jeduthun and his sons and to exclude the three daughters of Heman from the music ministry of the temple.

Personally, I believe that women were involved in many aspects of the religious life of Israel. Even though the Old Testament provides little information about these women, the absence of reference to their work is not to be assumed that women were not involved in many aspects of the religious life of Israel.

Claude Mariottini
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary

Studies on Women Prophets:

Women Prophets in the Hebrew Bible

Isaiah’s Wife

Deborah the Prophetess

Huldah the Prophetess

The Rabbis’ View on Huldah the Prophetess

Noadiah the Prophetess

The Nameless Prophetesses in the Book of Ezekiel

Miriam the Prophetess

Prophecy and the Spirit of God

Bibliography:

Klein, Ralph W. 1 Chronicles. Hermeneia. Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2006.

Knoppers, Gary N. 1 Chronicles 10-29. The Anchor Bible. New York: Doubleday, 2004.

Meyers, Carol. “Of Drums and Damsels: Women’s Performance in Ancient Israel.” Biblical Archaeologist 54 (1991): 16-27.

This entry was posted in 1 Chronicles, Prophetess, Prophets, Women and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

4 Responses to Women Prophets: A Postscript

  1. Craig Benno says:

    Claude. I believe we also need to draw on Anna the prophetess who is a great example of an inter-testament prophetess. We have the record where she took Jesus into her arms and prophesied over him at the temple. While we don’t know what official part she took in the cultic worship there – it appears she was certainly tolerated / accepted by the religious leaders as she had been ministering there for a long time.

    • Craig,

      I agree with you that Anna was a prophetess and that she probably had special relationship with the temple because, as Luke says, “she never left the temple.” The reason I did not mention Anna is because the focus of my studies are the women prophets of the Old Testament.

      I appreciate what you said in your comment.

      Claude Mariottini

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