Book of Mormon Nuggets

Supplementing Jeff Lindsay's Book of Mormon Evidences page.

Nugget #6:
Mulek, Son of Zedekiah

Note: The following paragraphs were written before I learned of a most exciting discovery that may further confirm the plausibility of the Book of Mormon. I refer to the 1997 discovery of an ancient seal in Jerusalem that belonged to "Malkiyahu, the son of the King," which may be the same person as Mulek, son of King Zedekiah. The new information is referenced at the end of this page, in my 2004 Update.

According to the Book of Mormon, a son of King Zedekiah named Mulek escaped the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon and fled with others to the New World. Bible students have traditionally assumed that all of Zedekiah's sons were killed, so the Book of Mormon account goes against "common knowledge." But ancient evidence does not require that all Zedekiah's sons were killed.

Mulek plays a minor but important role in the Book of Mormon. His people's arrival in the New World is one of three recorded migrations from the Old World. His people, known as the Mulekites in the Book of Mormon, named their land Mulek after the king's son (Hel. 6:10) and would later join with the Nephites, who discovered the Mulekites. The chief city of the combined peoples was named after Zarahemla, a descendant of Mulek (Mosiah 25:2).

In terms of Book of Mormon evidence, recent scholarship from non-LDS circles suggests that Zedekiah probably did have a son named Mulek, providing a "direct hit" that Joseph Smith could not have fabricated without miraculously good luck. Here is an excerpt from Chapter 40 of Reexploring the Book of Mormon (ed. John Welch, Deseret Book Comp., Salt Lake City, UT, 1992, pp. 142-144), a section based on research primarily by Robert F. Smith, February 1984, and supplemented by Benjamin Urrutia. An excerpt follows:

The first clue of the existence and escape of Mulek, son of Zedekiah, can be found in 2 Kings 25:1-10, which reports that Nebuchadrezzar and "all his host" scattered "all the men" and "all [the king's] army" and burnt "all the houses of Jerusalem," and with "all the army" they destroyed the walls. In the midst of all this, however, 2 Kings 25:7 omits the word all when it reports only that "the sons" of Zedekiah were killed, leaving open the question whether all of his sons were slain.

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 word 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 [Rainey, 1975, pp. 427-432]. 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" [Aharoni, 1970, p. 22 - emphasis mine].

But was this MalkiYahu the same person as Mulek? 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 Hebrew University in Jerusalem [Avigad, 1979]. The full name has been shortened in Jeremiah's record to Baruch.

In view of this shortening, as in many other biblical names, there is no reason why a short form such as Mulek might not be possible....

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.

References cited:
Rainey, Anson, "The Prince and the Pauper," Ugarit-Forschungen 7 (1975): 427-432.

Aharoni, Yohanan. "Three Hebrew Ostraca from Arad," Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research 197 (Feb. 1970):16-42.

Avigad, Nahman, "Jerahmeel and Baruch: King's Son and Scribe," Biblical Archeologist 42 (Spring 1979): 114-118.

Curtis Wright's article, "Mulek" in the Encyclopedia of Mormonism (1991, pp. 469-470), suggests that "Mulek" can readily be derived from "Malkiyahu." Below is an excerpt from Wright, followed by a cautionary note from David Rolph Seely indicating that Wright's case is overstated, and that we the relationship between the two names doesn't actually follow currently known rules for shifts in Hebrew words.
Ancient Near Eastern sources affirm that during the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem, Mulek's father, Zedekiah, who was deserted by all who escaped, was captured with members of his family and a few courtiers. Nebuchadnezzar slew Zedekiah's sons and courtiers, put his eyes out, and deported him to Babylon (Josephus, Antiquities, 10.8.2). But his daughters, and presumably his wives, stayed at Mizpah until Gedeliah, a former minister with Babylonizing tendencies in Zedekiah's cabinet, was murdered by Ishmael, who then tried to deport the Mizpah colony. When pursued, Ishmael abandoned his captives and fled with eight men to Ammon. The people of Mizpah, including Zedekiah's women, headed for Egypt, fearful of Chaldean reprisals (2 Kgs. 25; Jer. 41- 43).

Mulek might have been away when the city fell; perhaps he eluded his captors at Jericho; the women could have hidden him (as Jehoshiba hid her nephew Joash of the royal line earlier [see 2 Kgs. 11:2-4]); he may even have been unborn, although he probably avoided captivity some other way. But nothing in the Bible or other known sources precludes the possibility of his escape from Jerusalem.

Concerning Mulek's existence, the Bible offers important evidence. Mulek is a nickname derived from melek (Hebrew, king), a diminutive term of endearment meaning "little king." Its longer form occurs in the Bible as Malkiyahu (in English, Malchiah), meaning "Jehovah is king." Malchiah is identified as "the son of Hammelech" in Jeremiah 38:6. But Hammelech is a translator's error, since ben-hammelek means "son of the king" and is not a proper name - a fact confirmed by the Septuagint (LXX Jer. 45:6). A fictive paternity thus obscures the lineage of Malchiah as the actual son of Zedekiah. It is also known that names ending in -yahu (in English, -iah) were common during the late First Temple period, that Zedekiah indeed had a son named Malkiyahu (Aharoni, p. 22), and that the familial forms of yahu-names were shorter than their "full" forms. The study of a seal owned by Jeremiah's scribe shows that his full name was Berekyahu (in English, Berechiah), although the biblical text uses only the shorter Baruch (Avigad). This is consistent with viewing the hypocoristic Mulek as the diminutive of Malkiyahu, since a is often assimilated to o or u in the vocalic structure of most Semitic languages. It is therefore possible that the Mulek of the Book of Mormon is "Malchiah, son of the king" mentioned in Jeremiah 38:6.

The link between these names is treated with healthy skepticism by Dr. David Rolph Seely of BYU in his review of John W. Welch, ed., Reexploring the Book of Mormon: the F.A.R.M.S. Updates in FARMS Review of Books, Vol. 5 (1993), pp. 305-316:
[A]s the Book of Mormon reveals, Zedekiah had a son named Mulek, who survived the destruction of Jerusalem and his father's death (Omni 1:15-16; Mosiah 25:2; Hel. 6:10; 8:21), and there is a possible reference to him in the Old Testament in the existence of one "Malkiyahu son of the king" (Jer. 38:6). It is quite remarkable that this biblical name of a possible son of Zedekiah shares the same root consonants with Book of Mormon Mulek. And it is certainly possible Mulek comes from or is related to the biblical name Malkiyahu. But this relationship cannot be explained by any known rules or parallels from comparative Semitics. In support of this relationship there are many attested phonological shifts in Semitic languages that cannot be easily explained, but the shift from Malkiyahu to Mulek is only hypothetical at this point since it is not attested in Semitic languages. Until further documentation, it remains as a tantalizing possibility which cannot be proved. (p. 314)
While we don't know if "Mulek" actually is derived from "Malkiyahu," the fact that an apparent son of Zedekiah had a name with the same root consonants.

However, other possibilities remain open. Scholars now recognize the possibility that someone could be called "son of the king" in the Bible without necessarily being a real biological son. One case is in Jeremiah 36:26, where the king sends Jerahmeel to arrest Jeremiah and his scribe, Baruch. The name Jerahmeel (KJV) is equivalent to Yerahme'el, which appears on an impression on clay seal from ancient Israel which Jewish scholar Jershel Shanks translates as "Belonging to Yerahme'el 'son' of the King" (H. Shanks, Jerusalem: An Archeaological Biography, 1995, pp. 107-108, as cited in the article "Was Mulek a 'Blood Son' of King Zedekiah?" in the FARMS publication Insights, vol. 19, no. 2, Feb. 1999, p.2). Shanks explains that he used quotes around the term "son" because it was not clear whether the term mean a biological son or son in some other sense, such as a royal official unrelated to the king or any male descendent of the royal family. Since King Jehoiakim was only 31 years old at the time referred to Jeremiah 36:26, it is unlikely that he would have had a son old enough to go arrest the prophet Jeremiah.

It may be possible that Mulek's description as a "son" of King Zedekiah in Helaman 6:10 and 8:21, as well as the apparent reference to Malkiyahu (Mulek) king of the son in Jeremiah 38:6, might not refer to a direct biological relationship. If so, the report of the execution of Zedekiah's sons in 2 Kings 25:7 could refer to his "blood sons," and not whatever kind of "son" Mulek was. Further, such a scenario might explain why the Mulekites were so willing to accept unification with the Nephites under the rule of King Mosiah even though they were apparently more numerous than the Nephites. If Mulek did not have a genuine claim to the throne of Judah, it might have been easier for his descendants to accept the rule of the impressive King Mosiah with all the trappings of real kingship (sacred relics like the Liahona, the plates of Nephi and Laban, the sword of Laban, and a high level of literacy and education that was missing among the Mulekites, who came to the New World without written records.)

By the way, The Lachish Letters, dating from Palestine in the 7th century B.C., also raise an intriguing possibility, discussed by Hugh W. Nibley in "Two Shots in the Dark" in Book of Mormon Authorship (Noel B. Reynolds, ed., Provo, Utah: FARMS, 1982), pp. 103-141. One important aspect of the Lachish Letters involves the apparent use of a little boy, apparently a descendent of Zedekiah, to carry confidential letters. Nibley suggests that this little boy could have been the one that escaped and was named Mulek - "little king" in Hebrew (pp. 117-119). And such a boy could have been a true biological son of the king, or a "son" in another sense.

Regardless of the plural possibilities, one thing is clear: the Book of Mormon account is highly plausible, and offers details consistent with modern scholarship in ways that seem to make Joseph Smith either a miraculously lucky guesser, or a miraculously blessed prophet who translated a genuine ancient record with the power of God.

2004 Update: Apparent Discovery of the Seal of Mulek, the Son of the King

Recently, an ancient seal was discovered in Jerusalmen bearing the title, "Malkiyahu the son of the king." This may very well be a seal from the Mulek, the son of King Zedekiah. This is entirely plausible based on what we know of ancient Israel and the information in the Book of Mormon and the Bible. Details of this discovery are provided by Jeffrey R. Chadwick, "Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?," Journal of Book of Mormon Studies, Vol. 12, No. 2, 2003, pp. 72-83.

Though the entire article should be read carefully to appreciate the possible significance of the find, here are the concluding remarks of Chadwick:

So was Mulek the "Malkiyahu the son of the king" mentioned in Jeremiah 38:6? Nothing in the Bible or the Book of Mormon negates this identification. And the evidence rehearsed above lends significant support to it. The m-l-k basis of both Hebrew names is clear, and the case of Berekhyahu/Baruch demonstrates that there is theoretical precedent for a person being called both Malkiyahu and Mulek--the one a longer, more formal version of the name with a theophoric yahu element [an ending based on an abbreviation of the divine name, YHWH], and the other a shorter form lacking that element but featuring a different vowel vocalization. Malkiyahu/Mulek would not have been killed by the Babylonians before Zedekiah's eyes, as were his brothers (all younger than himself), because as the king's oldest son and heir to the throne, he was likely sent to Egypt by his father well before the fall of Jerusalem and the capture of the royal family. Whether Mulek was sent to Egypt as a royal messenger or ambassador or in an effort to ensure his safety, it is unlikely that he could have taken all of his possessions with him to Egypt. Other men in Judah with the ben hamelek title are known to have possessed multiple stamp seals, and if Malkiyahu/Mulek did also it would have been easy for him to have left one behind. Some 2,570 years or so later, that seal was found by someone digging in Jerusalem and was surreptitiously sold. The stamp seal of "Malkiyahu son of the king" now in the London collection of Shlomo Moussaieff seems to be authentic. In answer to the question posed at the outset of this article--and the significance of this can hardly be overstated--it is quite possible that an archaeological artifact of a Book of Mormon personality has been identified. It appears that the seal of Mulek has been found.

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Created: July 29, 2001. Updated: May 15, 2004.
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