Did the Mulekites really come from Jerusalem?

In the Book of Mormon, in Omni, Mosiah king of the Nephites flees the land southward and heads for a new home.  With him he brings the last stragglers who represent the descendants of Nephi, Sam, Zoram, Jacob and Joseph.  These people arrive at a very different location near the river of Sidon.  At this river they discover Zarahemla called the descendant of Mulek who had been a son of the last king of Judah.

From there on out these people are viewed as more Jewish people in the New world, they had lost their language, according to the Nephites and their culture.  They needed to be saved from there fallen state and in the Nephite language were taught the gospel and converted.

The problem with this story, it is hard to imagine.  The last king of Jerusalem, Zedekiah, was a puppet king who got a bit too full of himself and had been crushed by Nebuchadnezzar II.  In the biblical story Zedekiah and his followers were captured fleeing Jerusalem and all of his sons were killed and he had his eyes burned out and was taken to live in Babylon until he died.

If one of his sons, Mulek, did escape as it has been contested.  He might have done so with other family members, either before the seige at Jerusalem or during the flight, he would have to have gone north to the Phoenicians in Tyre or Sidon.   The Phoenicians were closest civilization near Judah who might have given him aid and comfort, as these articles here and here argue.

The Phoenicians appear to escape the problems of Judah and Israel as staging ground for Egyptians and wars for everyone else.  They make a reasonable candidate because they have the ship faring know how to take a group of people to a new land.  There are ideas that they might have even traded with ancient South America at one time.

Others have argued that this explanation may be weak.  That rather than the Mulekites coming from Jerusalem that may have been a Nephite misunderstanding or myth created to develop unity amongst two people who united.  Some argue that the Mulekites are Jaredites survivors.

Those outside of the community which believe in the book of Mormon see the new limited geography description as covering for lack of evidence.

However, we know from biblical archaeology that much of what we thought about the size of the Kingdom of Israel and the history of the Jewish people is sometimes mixed with political realities.  Which means some biblical text can be seen as redacted or framed by the later writers to fit their views.  So too has the book of Mormon been redacted by Mormon and Moroni.

So therefore the story of the Mulekites or even the understanding of Moroni and Mormon of how the various parties grew together is effected by this information.  Omni’s description of the origins of the people seems to win the day for all the rest of the Book.

15 Behold, it came to pass that Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.

16 And they journeyed in the wilderness, and were brought by the hand of the Lord across the great waters, into the land where Mosiah discovered them; and they had dwelt there from that time forth.

17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.

So according to Omni they could not understand each other, he says because the Mulekites language was corrupted but if one looks at what Moroni describes of the language of the book it is obvious they are not the only ones.

Accepting Omni’s word at face value. The Mulekites are descendants of Mulek a prince of Judah.

Yet one notes that Omni said they were very numerous.  So that they were much larger than the Nephites.  For them to immediately accept the Nephites means they very likely had a shift in leadership rather than a wholesale merger.  This may be because Zarahemla is without sons or maybe because the Nephites and the technological advancements or reading had given them an advantage.

Unfortunately we do not understand all the political ramifications of the wholesale take over of the people of Zarahemla by the Nephites.  So really one must ask if the idea of kinship bonds was forged by the Nephites to alleviate the political situation.  Benjamin or possibly even Mosiah is married to some daughter of Zarahemla, instant monarch, just add offspring.

If we are to ever come to grips with the historical as well spiritual aspects of the book of Mormon then I believe we will have to allow people the right to create a legacy which might be different than what was on the ground.  I think it is possible that the people of Zarahemla were not Mulekites or Jaredites, though a remnant could have been found in them.  In fact one might suspect that these people were Amerindians who lived in the area and were convinced of a new ancient origin, from almost four hundred years previous, through the political unification and cultural integration of the Nephites.

Of course this idea of taking the Book of Mormon as literal history and not just an out of time spiritual record has been discussed, here, here and here and even here (if I can ever find it I will add it later… sorry).

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8 Responses to Did the Mulekites really come from Jerusalem?

  1. Last Lemming says:

    Orson Scott Card makes a good case for the Mulekites not coming from Jerusalem at this link:

    http://www.nauvoo.com/library/card-bookofmormon.html

  2. Jon W says:

    Hey that is a pretty interesting article I will have to take a further look. My Google sense has failed my search for the blog with an article on redactors. However I am going to look for it again today.

  3. Seth R. says:

    Card’s argument is well worth a quick summary here.

    Basically, he thinks that King Zarahemla’s claim to descent from Mulek is basically a lying boast in an attempt to not be shown up by the culturally superior Nephites.

    King Mosiah leads the Nephites into this new land. They have a superior language and writing. Probably a superior cultural idea as well. And what is more, the Nephite leader claims authority direct from one God who is superior to any other gods the people of Zarahemla have yet known of.

    To King Zarahemla, this is basically a bid by Mosiah to take rulership.

    So he comes up with his own divine narrative in hopes of trumping Mosiah. He figures that if Lehi was so great, then Lehi’s king must be even greater. So, if he claims to be a descendant of that king, his claim will be greater.

    Some have noted that “Mulek” is not a particularly Israelite name. Under Card’s theory, that would be because Mulek wasn’t an Israelite name. It was the name of Zarahemla’s own ancestor, whom he links to Zedekiah in hopes of gaining more legitimacy as ruler than Mosiah has.

    The bid fails however, since Mosiah is able to point out that, whatever Zarahemla’s alleged ancestry, he has not been favored with the language to preserve the full extent of the divine narrative that Mosiah is heir to.

    Mosiah’s position remains stronger, and the Nephites assimilate Zarahemla society and culture into their own.

    Card theorizes that the tension from that first encounter remains however. He speculates that the incident with the “kingmen” is actually an uprising by the old political elites of Zarahemla whom Mosiah and company displaced.

    Anyway, it’s an interesting idea.

  4. While I find Card’s thoughts interesting I do think he is dead wrong. Just to put all this upfront-I am a writer (first book coming in 2 months) and Card’s essay just struck me as weak.(I would be blessed to have his success and insights) I was reading it because I was/still am doing a lot of research on Book of Mormon related subjects. (that upcoming book is Book of Mormon historical by the by–Heroes of the Fallen)

    I just could’nt buy Card’s assesment that perhaps old Zarahemla is trying to pull a fast one on Mosiah.
    “OH, you’re from another land? Well so am I, in fact I’m the great great grandson of Mulek.”
    No way. And here is my argument which I have written a historical fiction novel about.

    The Book of Mormon while as Joseph Smith said as having no Greek or Latin within it definitely has Greek names. Jesus Christ, Jonas, Judea, Timothy, Archeantus, Lachoneus, and a host of others ANTI-anything and I even suspect Manti to be a contraction of the Greek Mantinea. None of these names are present before meeting the Mulekites. So arguably they didn’t exist before meeting the Mulekites neither did Sidon for that matter. Nephites didn’t name it-Mulekites did!

    I wholly agreee with Card’s theory about king-men but that doesn’t have anything to do with whether they are from Jerusalem or not. What really got me going on this was Hugh Nibley mentioning Lachoneus is Greek for “Man from Laconia” which is the land of Sparta. At this time period there is every reason to believe that Zedekiah could have had Greek mercenaries-everybody did. Greeks fought Greeks at this time serving the Egyptians and Babylonians against each other.

    There is no good reason Zedekiah, a worldly king by all respects wouldn’t have had a few good Greek veterans in his service, and once the siege of Jerusalem happened they couldn’t leave if they wanted too.

    So in essence my personal belief is, Zedekiah had Greek mercenaries that at least a few of whom helped Mulek “the little king” escape from Jerusalem and likely go to Sidon and on to the Promised Land.

    IF we had a mixture of Israelites (Judah, Manassah etc) plus Phoenicians and Greeks, of course after 400 years with no written records Nephites won’t understand them. But they still had a legacy, they still knew where they were from.

    One of Card’s other arguments was besides the bloodline which I feel I have covered, was why isn’t there a Jewish tradition about the lost son Mulek?
    Why should there be if Zedekiah wasn’t popular-he wasn’t and if everybody already thinks he’s dead anyway. Josephus never mentions the actual names of Zedekiah’s sons, just that they are dead. Tamar and Scota, Zedekiah’s daughters are rumored to have escaped to Ireland but I never hear about Jews caring about that, just people from the U.K. and America.

    Since Mulek is derived from the Hebrew MLK and means a variety of kingly names (Moloch for one) and Mulek is “Little King” I doubt it was his real name anyway.

    Granted I could be wrong and this has been a quick late night extrapolation, but to my mind I have covered all my bases and I don’t stray from what the Book of Mormon says.

    The novel is “Bless the Child” and is told from a Spartan mercenaries perspective. Its fun to throw in Laban and Nephi to boot as well.

  5. Jon W says:

    Thanks David and Seth really interesting ideas, it is interesting to think about the origin of these people. Certainly the Phoenician angle is an interesting one I never really thought about before.

  6. Gerald Simon says:

    Many thanks for this article. I was visited by two Mormon missionaries today which got me searching Google for more information, which brought me to your blog. It’s a very interesting subject and I will certainly dive much deeper into all this. Thanks David, Seth and Jon too.

  7. Jon W says:

    Glad we could be of assistance Gerald, any time.

  8. Jacob says:

    Hello Jon,
    I recentley visited the Republic of Panama and was surprised to see the new archaelogical find in the mountains of Volcan Baru. It turns out they have discovered ruins and ancient artifacts that prove Mulek did migrate to Panama via a Phonencian´s ship.
    The new discovery is being reported on this link at http://thearkofthecovenantdiscovered.com/

    Jacob

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