The people of Zarahemla are known as the “people of Mulek” in later Book of Mormon passages because Mulek, a son of Zedekiah, was among them (see Mosiah 25:2; Helaman 6:10). They are also commonly referred to as Mulekites in Church literature, although the name is never used in the Book of Mormon. They had left Jerusalem at the time “Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried captive into Babylon” (Omni 1:15). The Bible records that the army of the Chaldees “slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes” (2 Kings 24:7). The Book of Mormon tells us that his sons were slain “all except it was Mulek” (Helaman 8:21). Josephus wrote that Zedekiah took his wives and his children, and his captains and friends, and with them fled out of the city. The Babylonians “overtook him not far from Jericho” and the friends and captains “dispersed themselves; some one way and some another, and every one resolved to save himself; so the enemy took Zedekiah alive, when he was deserted by all but a few, with his children and his wives, and brought him to the king [Nebuchadnezzar].”
Since Zedekiah was made the puppet king of Judah at age twenty-one, and reigned eleven years, he would have been thirty-one or thirty-two at the time of his capture by the Babylonians. Thus his children would not have been very old at the time (see 2 Kings 24:7). Based on these facts, some postulations have been made:
According to Jewish tradition, the number of his sons who were slain by the order of Nebuchadnezzar was ten.
Assuming that Zedekiah was married at the early age of eighteen, his oldest child could not have exceeded twelve or thirteen years of age at the time of his death (sic-captivity). If ten of his sons were slain, and in the meantime he had a family of daughters, as is well attested, then there is a high probability that Mulek was a mere infant at the time he escaped … male babies were not counted among the sons or men of Israel as such and were the subjects of a special immunity, along with women and girls… .
It is at once apparent that where the word all is not used … the narrative is even weaker, and it is perfectly proper to reach the true sense by inferring “they slew the sons of Zedekiah who did not escape.
That one escaped is not too surprising after all. Remember, Zedekiah was only thirty-two at his capture. All his children must have been pre-adolescent. Mulek might very well have been a disguised infant whom devoted servants spirited out of the Babylonian grasp. Possibly he was in the company of the “king’s daughters” when they finally reached Egypt along with Jeremiah (see Jeremiah 41:10; 43:6).
While these postulations of why Mulek was not killed with Zedekiah’s other sons are very probably true, we do know what the Book of Mormon tells us is true. Mulek was not slain. The voice of the Lord told the three special witnesses of the Book of Mormon that the plates “have been translated by the gift and power of God, … wherefore, we know of a surety that the work is true” (The Testimony of the Three Witnesses, in the front of the Book of Mormon. See also D&C 6:17; 17:6; 18:2–3).
The importance of the Lord sending Lehi’s sons to obtain the plates of brass (1 Nephi 3:2–4) is shown by the Mulekites having “brought no records with them.” The first effect of having no records was “their language had become corrupted.” The second effect was more serious: “they denied the being of their Creator” (Omni 1:17). Amaleki records that “the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews” (v. 14). The plates were apparently a major factor in teaching the people of Mulek the Nephite language, about the Creator, and the uniting of the two people under Mosiah (vv. 18–19).
Whether they journeyed into the wilderness (v. 16) from the area of Jericho where Josephus tells us they scattered, or whether they went into Egypt with Jeremiah, as suggested above, is not known. However, that they 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” (v. 16), was in fulfillment of biblical prophecies.
Ezekiel was given a parable and its interpretation of the downfall of King Zedekiah and his being taken captive into Babylon (see Ezekiel 17:1–21). An addendum to that parable stated:
22 Thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also take of the highest branch of the high cedar, and will set it; I will crop off from the top of his young twigs a tender one, and will plant it upon an high mountain and eminent:
23 In the mountain of the height of Israel will I plant it: and it shall bring forth boughs, and bear fruit, and be a goodly cedar: and under it shall dwell all fowl of every wing; in the shadow of the branches thereof shall they dwell.
24 And all the trees of the field shall know that I the LORD have brought down the high tree, have exalted the low tree, have dried up the green tree, and have made the dry tree to flourish: I the LORD have spoken and have done it. [Ezekiel 17:22–24]
The highest branch of the high cedar [king of Judah] was to have a young twig [son of the king] taken off and planted in a high mountain of Israel (Omni 1:22 above). There it was to bear fruit and be a goodly cedar and dwell in the shadow of the branch of Israel (v. 23 above). The high mountain of Israel is the land of America. It was given to “a remnant of the house of Joseph” by the Father, as stated by Jesus when he came to visit the Nephites in America (3 Nephi 15:12–13). The planting of the young twig was to dwell in the “shadow of the branches” (Omni 1:23 above). The branches would be the two branches of Joseph: Manasseh (Lehi; see Alma 10:3) and Ephraim (Ishmael; see JD, 23:184), who came to America in fulfillment of father Jacob’s prophecy of Joseph “whose branches [would] run over the wall” (Genesis 49:22). The merging of the people of Mulek with the Nephites (Mosiah’s people), under the leadership of Mosiah as their king, placed them under the shadow of their branches. In a later merger, the Nephites and the Mulekites combined were not as numerous as the Lamanites. Thus they dwelt in the shadows of both the Nephites and the Lamanites (see Mosiah 25:1–4). The Lord “brought down the high tree [the nation of Judah], (and) have exalted the low tree [the young twig of the king, Mulek]” as Ezekiel prophesied (v. 24 above). The rest of the verse (24) “have dried up the green tree [the nation of Judah], and have made the dry tree to flourish [the young twig of the king, Mulek]” are examples of Hebrew parallelism, repeating the same message as the previous verses.
Elder Orson Pratt gave a similar interpretation of Ezekiel 17:22–23:
When Zedekiah, king of Judah was carried away captive into Babylon, the Lord took one of his sons, whose name was Mulek, with a company of those who would hearken unto His words, and brought them over the ocean, and planted them in America. This was done in fulfillment of the 22 and 23 verses of the seventeenth chapter of Ezekiel … By reading this chapter, it will be seen that the Jews were the “high cedar,” that Zedekiah the king was the “highest branch,” that the “tender one” cropped off from the top of his young twigs, was one of his sons, whom the Lord brought out and planted him and his company upon the choice land of America, which He had given unto a remnant of the tribe of Joseph for an inheritance, in fulfillment of the blessing of Jacob and Moses upon the head of that tribe.
Father Bernardino Sahagun, a catholic priest who spent his life among the Central American people in the sixteenth century A.D., gives the following account:
Concerning the origin of this people the account which the old people [ancient inhabitants] give is that they came by sea from toward the north … and they came along the coast and disembarked at the port of Panuco, which they call Panco, which means “place where those who crossed the waters arrived.” … These people came looking for an earthly paradise … and they settled near the high mountains they found.
Note that Sahagun says they crossed the waters and settled near the high mountains, which correlates with the Ezekiel prophecy.
The escape of the party that included Mulek also fulfilled a prophecy of Isaiah: “And the remnant that is escaped of the house of Judah shall again take root downward, and bear fruit upward: For out of Jerusalem shall go forth a remnant, and they that escape out of Jerusalem shall come up upon mount Zion: the zeal of the Lord of hosts shall do this” (JST, Isaiah 37:31–32). The prophecy of Ezekiel concerning the Mulekites is supported by the prophecy of Isaiah, the Book of Mormon, the record of Josephus, and sixteenth-century accounts of the ancient inhabitants of Central America. “At the mouth of two witnesses, or at the mouth of three witnesses, shall the matter be established” (Deuteronomy 19:15).