“The People of Zarahemla Came Out from Jerusalem”

Alan C. Miner

In Omni 1:16 it says that, "The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah, king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon." In Mosiah 25:2, Mormon notes that Zarahemla was "a descendant of Mulek." According to John Sorenson, in order to understand the people of Zarahemla, we must understand the origins of Mulek; and in order to picture the origin of Mulek's group . . . we must understand Zedekiah's background.

In the years before Nephi begins his account, the small kingdom of Judah and her kings were tossed about by the winds and currents of politics and war among her three major neighbors, Egypt, Assyria, and Babylonia. Egypt and Assyria were allied against the newly resurgent Babylonians. The Assyrian power was soon destroyed and so by the year 605 B.C., the Egyptian army alone faced the Babylonians. By the year 601 B.C., although the Babylonians battled the Egyptians in Palestine and Egypt without decisive results, they did maintain dominance over Judah. So when Judah rebelled against Babylon in 598 B.C., a Babylonian army soon besieged Jerusalem. In 597 B.C., the Babylonians replaced the king of Judah with his 21 year old uncle named Zedekiah (earlier called Mattaniah--2 Kings 24:17). As time went on, however, the Babylonian forces withdrew to their country and Egypt seemed to gain strength. Contrary to the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah (Jeremiah 21; 28), Zedekiah made foolish political alliances with Egypt, and as a result the Babylonian army under King Nebuchadrezzar besieged Jerusalem. The walls of Jerusalem were breached in 586 B.C. (2 Kings 25:8-9). Massive looting followed and most of the population was deported to Babylonia. The temple was destroyed in mid-August (2 Kings 25:8-9). [For a more complete structure of events, see the commentary on 1 Nephi 1:4]

During the fall of the city or soon afterward, some Jews escaped (2 Kings 25:4, 26), particularly to Egypt (Jeremiah was among the refugees--Jeremiah 40:2-5; 43:7-8; 44:1), while others reached nearby Moab, Ammon, and Edom (Jeremiah 40:11). Zedekiah attempted to escape but was captured, and taken before Nebuchadrezzar. "And they slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes, and put out the eyes of Zedekiah, and bound him with fetters of brass, and carried him to Babylon" (2 Kings 25:7).

Zedekiah was twenty-one on his accession to the throne. Being a noble, he already had the economic resources to have possessed a wife and children at that time. After his accession, he took multiple wives in the manner of the kings of Judah before him (Jeremiah, in 38:22-23, refers to Zedekiah's "wives") so that when he was captured at age thirty-two, he might have had a considerable progeny. Nowhere in the Bible are the children of Zedekiah enumerated, let alone named, although we are told that he had daughters as well as sons (Jeremiah 43:6; 52:10). [John L. Sorenson, "The 'Mulekites'," in Brigham Young University Studies, Vol. 30 No. 3 (Summer, 1990): pp. 6-8]

Ariel Crowley states that according to Jewish tradition (Ginzberg, Leg. IV:292; VI:382-383) the number of Zedekiah's sons who were slain by the order of Nebuchadnezzar was ten. . . . However, in view of the total number of his children, there is a high probability that there were other male infants at the time he escaped. This probability is strongly supported by the quite uniform habit of distinguishing between sons and male infants in biblical accounts ("sons" as opposed to "little ones"). Examples are numerous: Numbers 16:27; 2 Samuel 15:22; 2 Chronicles 31:18; Esther 3:13; Deuteronomy 20:13-14. While instances might be multiplied, it seems thoroughly settled in the samples given that male babies were not counted among the sons or men of Israel as such and where the subjects of a special immunity, along with women and girls.

It is also important that the word sons in the notices of the death of the sons of Zedekiah excludes "the little ones" on biblical precedent. In other words, it is a common thing in the Bible for historians to use all-inclusive terms ("the sons of Zedekiah") without intending in the least to mislead the reader into thinking that this term included every son. Many examples closely paralleling the case of the sons of Zedekiah are easily found: 2 Kings 11;1,3,2; Jeremiah 39:6, 41:1; Numbers 31:7-18; Judges 6:1-6; 1 Samuel 15:20,3, 27:8-9, 30:5,17. etc. . . . It can also be shown that there are many instances in which even the word all must be construed to mean something less than "totality." (For a few examples, see 1 Kings 8:65,63; Jeremiah 33:34; 2 Chronicles 36:17; 1 Chronicles 10:6; etc.) It is apparent then, that where the word all is not used in regards to the slaying of the sons of Zedekiah (the expression being " . . . they slew the sons of Zedekiah . . ." -- 2 Kings 25:7), 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."

Having seen, therefore, that the existence of an exception in the escape of Mulek is within the proper sense of the record, it remains to be seen whether or not the mechanics of the escape are in any way indicated.

Little children . . . are universally the charge of their mothers and sisters. At the escape of Zedekiah from Jerusalem, his wives and daughters went with him. The historian Josephus details it thus: "When the city was taken about midnight, and the enemy's generals were entered into the temple, and when Zedekiah was sensible of it, he took his wives and his children, and his captains and friends, through the desert" (Josephus, Ant. X:VIII:2). When the pursuing soldiers caught up with the fugitives near Jericho, many of those who fled the city with Zedekiah "left him and dispersed themselves, some one way and some another, and every one resolved to save himself" (Josephus, Ant., X:VIII:2). Those were, as Dr. Clark said in his commentary on the passage (Clarke, Commentary) "most probably persons who belonged to the palace and harem of Zedekiah, some of them his own concubines and children."

The women with whom, as before demonstrated, would be found the "little ones" were remanded into the custody of Nebuzar-adan, the Chaldean general, and by him turned over to Gedaliah as puppet governor (Josephus, Ant. X:IX:4). When Ishmael, kinsman of the dead king, treacherously killed Gedaliah, he carried away with him the daughters of Zedekiah, toward the land of the Ammonites (Jeremiah 41:10), with "all the residue of the people." Johanan followed quickly in pursuit, whereupon the people who had gone with Ishmael joined forces with Johanan, and it is written that "the mighty men of war, and the women and the children" fearing to return to Jerusalem, departed to go into Egypt (Jeremiah 41:16-17).

It is made eminently clear therefore, that whether with the women who were turned over to Nebuzaradan, or behind in Jerusalem, or at Mizpah, the way was open for escape of one of Zedekiah's "little ones." Indeed the narrative of the escape of the "women and children" among whom were the daughters of Zedekiah, furnishes a probable record of the way it was accomplished.

There is a strange and mysterious passage of scripture which says, "A little one shall become a thousand, and a small one a strong nation: I the Lord will hasten it in his time" (Isaiah 60:22). Ariel L. Crowley, About the Book of Mormon, pp. 86-90]

According to research primarily by Robert Smith and Benjamin Urrutia which has been edited by John Welch, biblical scholars have recently had interesting things to say about a person named Malchiah. Jeremiah 38:6 speaks of a "dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech . . . in the court of the prison." But the Hebrew name here, MalkiYahu ben-hamMelek, should be translated "MalkiYahu, son of the king," the Hebrew work melek meaning "king."

Was this MalkiYahu a son of King Zedekiah? Several factors indicate that he was. For one thing, the title "son of the king" was used throughout the ancient Near East to refer to actual sons of kings who served as high officers of imperial administration. The same is certainly true of the Bible, in which kings' sons ran prisons (see 1 Kings 22:26-27; Jeremiah 36:26; 38:6) or performed other official functions (see 2 Kings 15:5; 2 Chronicles 28:7). Moreover, in view of the fact that the name MalkiYahu has been found on two ostraca from Arad (in southern Judah), the late head of the Department of Archaeology at Tel Aviv University, Yohanan Aharoni, said that "Malkiyahu is a common name and was even borne by a contemporary son of King Zedekiah."

But was this MalkiYahu the same person as "Mulek" referred to in Mosiah 25:2? Study of these names tells us he may very well be. In the case of Baruch, scribe of Jeremiah, for example, the long form of his name, BerekYahu, has been discovered on a seal impression by Nahman Avigad of the Hebrews University in Jerusalem. The full name has been shortened in Jeremiah's record to Baruch. . . .

A prominent non-Mormon ancient Near Eastern specialist declared recently of the Book of Mormon's naming "Mulek" as a son of Zedekiah, "If Joseph Smith came up with that one, he did pretty good!" He added that the vowels in the name could be accounted for as the Phoenician style of pronunciation. He found himself in general agreement that "MalkiYahu, son of the King" might very well be a son of King Zedekiah, and that the short-form of the name could indeed be Mulek. [Robert F. Smith, Benjamin Urrutia, and John W. Welch, "New Information about Mulek, Son of the King," in Reexploring the Book of Mormon, F.A.R.M.S., pp. 143-144] [See the commentary on Mosiah 25:2 for additional information]

Omni 1:15-16 The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem . . . into the land where Mosiah discovered them ([Illustration]): King Jehu's Stocking-Cap: This is an artist's drawing of King Jehu of Israel, depicting the type of caps which were worn by the people in Jerusalem about the time that Lehi and his associates migrated to America. Jehu dates approximately 200 years earlier than Lehi. Drawing by Ralph Harding. [Milton Hunter and Thomas Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 318-319]

Omni 1:15-16 The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem . . . into the land where Mosiah discovered them ([Illustration]): An Ancient American's Stocking Cap: Compare the stocking-cap and beard of the man of ancient Middle America, above with the stocking-cap of King Jehu of ancient Israel, p. 318. This Ulmec piece, dating about the time of Christ, is now in the National Museum, Mexico City. It was uncovered by Matthew W. Stirling in 1939-1940. etc. [Milton Hunter and Thomas Ferguson, Ancient America and the Book of Mormon, pp. 318-319]

Omni 1:15 The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem ([Illustration]): Cyrus Gordon, one of the great scholars on the Near East, sees Jewish features in this stela from the state of Veracruz. It dates perhaps a bit before Mormon's day. Gordon claims that the cord wrapped around the forearm of the major figure is arranged precisely like the ritual wrapping of the Judaic phylactery of medieval times. However most Mesoamericanist scholars, unacquainted with the Old World material, consider the scene simply to show preparation for a ritual Mesoamerican ball game. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 225]

Omni 1:15 The people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem ([Illustration]): Art historians apply principles derived from studies of art in other parts of the world to interpret pieces from Mesoamerica, place them in orderly sequences, and establish interconnections between styles. This famous ceramic disk, which shows a few Near Eastern features, comes from central Veracruz and dates between the seventh and tenth centuries. [John L. Sorenson, Images of Ancient America, p. 223]

Step by Step Through the Book of Mormon: A Cultural Commentary