Sunday, June 28, 2015

Who Were the Mulekites? Part I

Of all the peoples involved in the Land of Promise of which we have been told, the Mulekites are the least known and understood. While most of us know the basic story behind this group, we may not know who they really were, both before they arrived in the land of Promise, and afterward. As an example, Hugh Nibley, without a single reference in the entire scriptural record lays at the feet of the Mulekites the several Nephite insurrections, such as the King-Men rebellion. Several other Theorists blame all Nephite insurrections on the Mulekites. 
    So in taking a look at this group, first of all, the term “Mulekite” is never mentioned in the scriptural record, though the city of Mulek is mentioned several times and plays an important role in the Nephite-Lamanite wars. The man, Mulek, “the son of Zedekiah,” is mentioned only once (Helaman 6:10), though he was the forerunner of the Mulekite people who we know in the scriptural record as the “people of Zarahemla.”
Zedekiah (left), a name given him by Nebuchadnezzar (his Hebrew name was Mattanyahu, meaning “gift of God”), said to be the twenty-third king from Saul, and last king of Judah before the destruction of the kingdom by Babylon. He had been installed as king of Judah at the age of 21 by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar II, after a siege of Jerusalem in 597 B.C., and succeeded his nephew, Jeconiah, who was overthrown as king after a reign of only three months and ten days. It was during “the commencement of Zedekiah’s first year” that Lehi left Jerusalem (1 Nephi 1:4).
    In 589 B.C., Nebuchadnezzar lay siege to Jerusalem, which lasted about eighteen months. At this time, Zedekiah and his followers attempted to escape, making their way out of the city, but were captured on the plains of Jericho and were taken to Riblah, where his sons were put to death and his eyes were put out before Zedekiah was carried captive to Babylon where he remained a prisoner until he died.
    While the Bible gives us no proof of Mulek’s survival, there is some interesting language that leads to an understanding that not all of Zedekiah’s sons were killed. 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 Nebuchadnezzar 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. Though the word “all” is used several times to describe this event, the word “all” is left out in 2 Kings 25:7 when it reports only that “the sons" of Zedekiah were killed, leaving open the question whether all of his sons were slain. There is a clear distinction here between using the clarifier "all" in reference to the other subjects and not using it when talking about the sons of Zedekiah. It is not necessary that the author write "all but one" when referring to the death of the other sons.
    Secondly, although it is debatable, there is some evidence that "Malchiah the son of Hammelech" in Jeremiah 38:6 is a possible reference to Mulek in the Book of Mormon, for Hammelech is Hebrew for “The king.” So, accurately translated, Jeremiah 38:6 refers to "Malkiyahu son of the king." One can easily see how the author of these verses could have used "the king" rather than redundantly repeating Zedekiah's name. It is also suggested that the Book of Mormon name Mulek might be a shortened form of the biblical Hebrew Malkiyahu. In support of this possibility, it is noted that while Jeremiah's scribe is called Baruch in Jeremiah 36:4, a longer form of his name, Berekhyahu, appears on an ancient stamp seal impression.
    Hugh Nibley wrote about some ancient documents found in the city Lachish during the time of Lehi. Nibley explains: “Mulek is not found anywhere in the Bible, but any student of Semitic languages will instantly recognize it as the best-known form of diminutive or caritative, a term of affection and endearment meaning little king. What could they call the uncrowned child, last of his line, but their little king? And what could they call themselves but Mulekiyah or Mulekites?”
Whether or not that is all the case, the point is that the youngest son of King Zedekiah did survive Nebuchanezzar’s elimination of the Royal Family eleven years after Zedekiah became king. In fact, the publication of “The Babylonian Chronicles”—a series of tablets written by Babylonian astronomers (“Chaldaeans”), recording the major events in Babylonian history, gave evidence that the years of Zedekiah were measured in a non-accession sense. This reckoning makes year 598/597 (i.e., spring of 597 B.C.), the year Zedekiah was installed by Nebuchadnezzar according to Judah's Tishri-based calendar, to be year "one," so that the fall of Jerusalem in his eleventh year would have been in year 588/587 B.C., i.e. in the summer of 587 B.C.
    These Chronicles give 2 Adar (16 March) 597 as the date that Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem, thus putting an end to the reign of Jehoaichin. Thus, Zedekiah’s installation as king by Nebuchadnezzar can be firmly established as the early spring of 597, and in that first year, actually “the commencement” of that year (1 Nephi 1:4), Lehi was instructed to leave his home “at Jerusalem” and head into the wilderness (1 Nephi 2:2). Eleven years later, in the summer of 586 B.C., Zedekiah is captured, along with his sons and servants, on the plains of Jericho.
    At the time, Jerusalem was so fortified, that it could not be taken till famine rendered the besieged unable to resist. When Zedekiah learned that the Egyptians failed to prevent the Babylonians from Jerusalem’s defeat, he and his fighting men managed to slip out of the city during the night. Making their way cautiously through the line of surrounding forts, they hurried off to the east toward the Jordan Valley. 
As Jeremiah records it: Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war fled and went forth from the city at night by way of the gate between the two walls which was by the king's garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. And they went by way of the Arabah (the plain east of Jericho through which the Jordan River flowed).
    After the walls of the city were breached, the Chaldeans went into Jerusalem for the king and his household, but not finding him in his palace, some of the captured palace servants told them where Zedekiah had fled. When the escape of Zedekiah and the soldiers of the garrison was discovered, hot pursuit was made, since the honor of the great king Nebuchadnezzar required that his enemies should be brought captive to his presence.
Heading east across the Palins of Jericho toward the Jordan River and Moab beyond, Zedekiah was caught by Nebuchadnezzar’s army before he could escape across the river
    As the Chaldeans overtook Zedekiah on the plains of Jericho, a fertile tract of land on the right bank of the Jordan nears its embouchure (mouth), which was excellently watered, and cultivated in gardens, orchards, and palm-groves. It is probable, though not certain, that Zedekiah intended to cross the Jordan, and seek a refuge in Moab. No doubt his deserting army and generals had scattered into surrounding farms and homestead, seeking refuge themselves, for according to Josephus, Zedekiah’s army scattered, each man for himself, including his generals, and left the king with but a few.
    They captured Zedekiah and he was dragged in fetters up to the king of Babylon at Riblah in the land of Hamath (Antioch in Syria), where Nebuchadnezzar berated and criticized him, treating Zedekiah as a common criminal, not as a king. One by one his sons were brought in and slain in his presence, then his eyes were blinded; in fetters he was led off to Babylon and there thrown into prison for the rest of his days.
    An interesting paradox is shown here in the record of two prophets, one saying Zedekiah should be brought to Babylon (Jeremiah 32:5; 34:3), but the other said he should not see Babylon (Ezekiel 12:13). Yet, both were right, since Zedekiah had his eyes put out by Nebuchadnezzar, who had him then taken to Babylon—thus, he entered Babylon, but did not see it because he was blinded.
(See the next post, “Who Were the Mulekites? Part II,” for the continuation of this regarding Mulek, the youngest son of Zedekiah, and how he came to be in the Land of Promise and found the city of Zarahemla)

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