“The Mulekites,” Ensign, Mar. 1987, 60
A serious reader of the Book of Mormon will at some point likely ask himself how much is known about the Mulekites and about the role they played among Book of Mormon civilizations.
The thirty verses which comprise the Book of Omni, although written by five lesser-known authors, provide answers to many questions.
Just prior to his death, Amaleki completed the Book of Omni by briefly recording the account of King Mosiah’s discovery of the people of Zarahemla—the Mulekites. Without this brief record we would know little concerning the conversion of the Mulekites from an atheistic people into some of the most faithful Saints in the entire Book of Mormon.
One reason that readers of the Book of Mormon get confused about the Mulekites is that the name Mulekite is never used. Rather, various authors use three different appellations to refer to these people. Amaleki referred to them as the “people of Zarahemla,” after their leader Zarahemla. (Omni 1:14–15.) In the Book of Helaman, Nephi, son of Helaman, referred to them as “the seed of Zedekiah.” (Hel. 8:21.) And Mormon referred to the Mulekites by the name of Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah who came out of Jerusalem with them. (Hel. 6:10.)
The Lord has not fully revealed his purpose in leading this remnant, including a surviving heir to David’s throne, out of Jerusalem to be reunited with another chosen remnant, the Nephites. However, the limited account of their escape from Jerusalem and journey to the promised land clearly shows that it followed a divine plan. In fact, Zarahemla, the city founded by the Mulekites, became to the Nephites what Salt Lake City is to Latter-day Saints today.
The story of the Mulekites began in the days of Lehi and Jeremiah, prophets in Jerusalem at the time of the fall of the kingdom of Judah.
The tragic events leading up to the overthrow of King Zedekiah and the destruction of Jerusalem were foretold by many prophets. Nephi stated that “in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, … there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city of Jerusalem must be destroyed.” (1 Ne. 1:4.)
Even as early as 125 years before the captivity of Judah, the prophet Isaiah warned King Hezekiah:
“Behold, the days come, that all that is in thine house, and that which thy fathers have laid up in store unto this day, shall be carried into Babylon: nothing shall be left, saith the Lord.
“And of thy sons that shall issue from thee, which thou shalt beget, shall they take away; and they shall be eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” (2 Kgs. 20:17–18.)
With the exception of King Josiah, all of the kings following Hezekiah caused great wickedness in the kingdom of Judah. Perhaps the most infamous was King Mannaseh, who built altars for Baal or other heathen deities—some even in the temple—and “made his son to pass through the fire, and observed times, and used enchantments, and dealt with familiar spirits and wizards.” (See 2 Kgs. 21:3–6.) Perhaps worst of all, he shed innocent blood until it “filled Jerusalem from one end to another.” (2 Kgs. 21:16.)
During the reign of Jehoahaz, Pharaoh-nechoh came from Egypt and dethroned Jehoahaz and placed Jehoiakim (also known as Eliakim) on the throne. Jehoiakim had reigned only eleven years when Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, overthrew the Egyptian rule and took control of the Kingdom of Judah. Jehoiakim was left in power, but after three years he rebelled and was killed. His eighteen-year-old son Jehoiachin was then instated as king. Jehoiachin had reigned only three months when Nebuchadnezzar came up again to Jerusalem, besieged it, and took captives back to Babylon. He then left Mattaniah, renamed Zedekiah, in charge and returned to Babylon. (See 2 Kgs. 23:34–24:17.)
Zedekiah, the brother of Jehoiakim and the grandson of righteous King Josiah, was only twenty-one years old when he began his reign. Nebuchadnezzar was not a brutal conqueror and was willing to give Jerusalem every opportunity to prove their loyalty to his empire. (See F. J. Foakes and D. D. Jackson, The Biblical History of the Jews, Cambridge: W. Heffe and Son L.T.D., 1917, p. 322.) But Zedekiah was a weak leader, constantly influenced by anti-Babylonian factions in Jerusalem. These nationalistic leaders seemed to have made only a superficial covenant with Nebuchadnezzar, for in 593 B.C., shortly after the Babylonian armies had departed, ambassadors from Moab, Ammon, Edom, Tyre, and Sidon came to Jerusalem to plan a rebellion against Babylon. Zedekiah listened to these ill-informed friends and attempted to rebel against Babylon in 588 B.C.
Retribution followed swiftly. Nebuchadnezzar sent his armies against Jerusalem again. During the nineteen-month siege, Jeremiah went to Zedekiah with a promise from the Lord:
“If thou wilt assuredly go forth unto the king of Babylon’s princes, then … this city shall not be burned with fire; and thou shalt live, and thine house:
“But if thou wilt not go forth to the king of Babylon’s princes, then shall this city be given into the hand of the Chaldeans, and they shall burn it with fire, and thou shalt not escape out of their hand.” (Jer. 38:17–18.) Jeremiah’s promises apparently fell on deaf ears, for Zedekiah continued to listen to his nationalistic friends.
The city soon fell, and the Babylonian generals entered the gates. When Zedekiah saw them coming, he and his men of war fled out of the gate by the king’s garden and headed toward Jericho. The army pursued them and captured them at the plains of Jericho. The generals then took them up to Riblah, Nebuchadnezzar’s headquarters. There Zedekiah’s sons and the nobles of Judah were slain before his eyes. Last of all, Zedekiah’s eyes were put out and he was bound and taken to Babylon. (See Jer. 39:1–9.) In the words of Josephus, “After this manner … the kings of David’s race ended their lives, being in number twenty-one, until the last king.” (Josephus, trans. William Whiston, Grand Rapids, Michigan: Kregel Publications, 1974, p. 216.) Until the Book of Mormon was published in 1830, history had remained silent about any surviving son of the last of the twenty-one kings of Judah.
The Book of Mormon begins its story of the Mulekites where the Old Testament story of Zedekiah ends. Amaleki writes that Mulek, the son of Zedekiah and heir to the throne of David, came “out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.” (Omni 1:15.) Amaleki continues: “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.” (Omni 1:16; italics added.) The Book of Mormon chronologist dates this divinely arranged reuniting of these two escaped remnants of Jerusalem sometime between 279 B.C. and 130 B.C.
The Book of Mormon gives us some general proximities of the Mulekite, the Nephite-Lamanite, and the Jaredite civilizations (see figure 1): “Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek.” (Hel. 6:10.) Alma, in describing the city Bountiful, wrote that Bountiful was “so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed … , which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla the Mulekites, it being the place of their first landing.” (Alma 22:30.)
While abridging the Book of Ether, Mormon mentioned that the Jaredites were even north of the Mulekites: “And it came to pass that their flocks began to flee before the poisonous serpents, towards the land southward, which was called by the Nephites Zarahemla.” (Ether 9:31.) The stone containing the story of Coriantumr and the Jaredites that was discovered by the Mulekites also placed the Jaredite civilization north of Zarahemla. (See Omni 1:20–22.)
From these references, we surmise that Mulek and his people landed near the civilization of the Jaredites, settling south of them. There they dwelt until a group of righteous Saints led by Mosiah traveled northward and, upon discovering them, joined their society.
Key to Journeys
Mosiah leads righteous Saints to Zarahemla.
Zeniff and followers return to Lehi-Nephi.
Alma travels eight days to Helam, then twelve days to Zarahemla.
Limhi sends forty-three explorers to find Zarahemla; instead, they find the destroyed Jaredite civilization and return with the twenty-four gold plates of Ether.
Mosiah sends sixteen explorers to find Lehi-Nephi. The journey takes forty days.
Ammon leads King Limhi and his people back to Zarahemla. The journey takes “many days.”
The scriptural account of the uniting of Mosiah’s group with the Mulekites, referred to as the people of Zarahemla, explicitly shows that their meeting was no coincidence. In fact, it indicates that it was only the righteous who went with Mosiah to the land of Zarahemla. Amaleki says:
“Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—
“And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness, until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.” (Omni 1:12–13; italics added.)
Almost like two old acquaintances meeting after a long separation, the people of Mosiah and the people of Zarahemla “rejoiced exceedingly” to see each other. Part of their rejoicing was because “the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.” (Omni 1:14.)
It had been almost four centuries since the Mulekites had left Jerusalem until the people of Mosiah discovered them. During this time, the language of the Mulekites had so changed that the people of Mosiah could not understand them. Apparently, moral corruption had also attended the alteration of language—partly due to the fact that they had taken no scriptural record with them when they left Jerusalem:
“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.” (Omni 1:17.)
At first, one might ask, Why didn’t the Mulekites bring records, as the Nephites did? Perhaps under the circumstances of their escape there was no time to gather them—to return to the city would have meant death at the hands of the Babylonian army. Or perhaps there were few records available to take. (See Ensign, Jan. 1987, p. 22.)
Seeing the condition they were in, Mosiah set out to rectify the situation. He began by causing that the people of Zarahemla be taught in his language, undoubtedly so they could be taught the word of God from the records. (See Omni 1:18; see also Mosiah 1:3–7.)
“And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.” (Omni 1:19.)
During Mosiah’s reign, an interesting event occurred: a “large stone” was brought to Mosiah with engravings upon it, and he was able to interpret the writing by the power of God. From the stone, Mosiah learned of a man named Coriantumr and how his people, the Jaredites, were slain. This man was not new to the Mulekites, for they had found him, and he had lived with them for nine moons until he died. (See Omni 1:20–21.) This meeting had been prophesied of and divinely arranged. (See Ether 13:20–21.)
Perhaps one of the most well-known stories in the Book of Mormon is that of the people of King Benjamin. What is less well known is that the majority of these Saints were the more numerous Mulekites.
The Mulekites were initially introduced to the gospel under King Mosiah and then continued to be taught under his son, King Benjamin. Before his death, King Benjamin sent a proclamation “throughout all this land among all this people, or the people of Zarahemla, and the people of Mosiah who dwell in the land” to be gathered together for him to speak to them. (Mosiah 1:10; italics added.)
When they had gathered together near the temple built in Zarahemla, the Nephites and Mulekites offered burnt sacrifices according to the law of Moses and gave thanks to the Lord for bringing them out of the land of Jerusalem and appointing just men to teach them to keep the commandments of God. (See Mosiah 2:1–4.) King Benjamin then delivered the message that he had received from an angel concerning the birth, mission, and atonement of Jesus Christ. The people were filled with the Holy Ghost and received a remission of their sins, took upon them the name of Christ, and covenanted to keep God’s commandments.
This remarkable conversion came largely to a people who only a few generations earlier were a spiritually darkened, atheistic society.
The over-zealous attempt of Zeniff and his followers to reestablish a colony in Nephi-Lehi, the land of their fathers, brought two more groups of righteous Saints to the Mulekites—one led by Alma and the other by King Limhi. These additions not only added strength to the Church in Zarahemla, but the circumstances of their journeying to Zarahemla may provide us with some information concerning the approximate distances between the Lamanite-Nephite, the Mulekite, and the Jaredite civilizations.
After Alma began teaching and baptizing at the waters of Mormon, he and his followers were discovered by the servants of King Noah. Then, being warned of the Lord, they “fled eight days’ journey into the wilderness” and established the community called Helam. (See Mosiah 23:3, 19.) There they flourished until they were discovered by the Lamanites and wicked priests of King Noah. After many trials, the Lord delivered them, and they “traveled in the wilderness twelve days” until they arrived in the land of Zarahemla. (See Mosiah 24.) This would make the journey from the land of Nephi to the land of the Mulekites a total of twenty days.
Prior to Alma’s arrival in Zarahemla, the Nephite people in Zarahemla wearied Mosiah with requests to send an expedition to find out what became of the people of Zeniff, for they had heard nothing from them. Mosiah commissioned sixteen men, led by a Mulekite named Ammon, to go up to the land of Lehi-Nephi to inquire concerning their brethren.
Not knowing the route to take, the sixteen men, led by Ammon, wandered forty days until they arrived at the Land of Nephi. They were at first suspected of being enemies, but after gaining an audience with King Limhi and explaining their purpose in coming, the people rejoiced in anticipation of their release from Lamanite bondage. (See Mosiah 7.)
Ammon and his companions then learned of another expedition of forty-three men sent by King Limhi that had just returned not many days before from a search for Zarahemla. These forty-three explorers had found a destroyed civilization and feared the worst—they mistakenly thought that the land they had found was Zarahemla. Apparently, these men had traveled northward, but missed the land of Zarahemla. They kept traveling until they arrived at the land of the Jaredites and there found the twenty-four gold plates that Ether had left. (See Mosiah 8:7–9.) After the people of Limhi emigrated to Zarahemla and joined the church established there, Mosiah translated these plates through the use of “interpreters,” or seer stones, divinely preserved and empowered for just such a purpose. (See Mosiah 28:11–17.)
Thus, the once spiritually benighted and degenerate society of the Mulekites became the ecclesiastical and political capital of the Nephites, at least until the time of Christ. It became the center stake, as it were, for the righteous Saints. (See Alma 5:1; Alma 6:1; Alma 27:20.) Nephi, a prophet who lived just prior to the time Christ visited the American continent, underscored the prominence of the Mulekites by asking a simple question, yet one with profound meaning for our day as we reestablish the Church among the children of Lehi: “Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us?” (Hel. 8:21.)
What a joy it is for us to realize that as we teach gospel truths to the indigenous people in the areas of Book of Mormon heritage that we are offering gospel truths not only to the descendants of Lehi—but also to those of the colony of Mulek.
Illustrated by Gary Kapp