Evidence #102 | March 17, 2022

Mulek

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Scripture Central

Abstract

The Book of Mormon’s assertion that King Zedekiah had a son named Mulek is supported by linguistic and archaeological evidence.
Slaughter of the Sons of Zedekiah by Gustave Dore.

Mulek in the Book of Mormon

The Book of Mormon mentions that when Jerusalem was destroyed by Babylon, all of King Zedekiah’s sons were slain except Mulek (Helaman 8:21). Mulek somehow escaped from the city (presumably with a group of loyal Israelites) and sailed to the Americas,1 where his descendants eventually merged with a group of Nephites under the reign of King Mosiah (Omni 1:12–19). The name Mulek never shows up in the Bible, nor does the Bible mention that one of Zedekiah’s sons escaped from Jerusalem.2 

Mulek: A Shortened form of Malchiah

Some Latter-day Saint scholars have proposed that Mulek may be a shortened form of the biblical name Malchiah (Jeremiah 38:6),3 much like the name Mike is a shorted version of Michael in English.4 Precedent for this proposal can be seen in biblical names such as Baruch, which is short for Berekiah (spelled alternatively as Berekhyahu).5 In the case of Malchiah (transliterated as mlkyhw), it has been suggested that the suffix “iah” (yhw) may have been dropped, leaving only the consonants m-l-k. Because only consonants, and not vowels, were written out in ancient Hebrew, the shortened version of Malchiah (mlkyhw) would reasonably share the same spelling (mlk) as Mulek in ancient Hebrew.6

A Connection between Mulek, Malchiah, and Zedekiah

This potential linguistic link between Mulek and Malchiah is noteworthy because Malchiah is described as the son of a king in the King James Bible, just as Mulek is in the Book of Mormon. Jeremiah 38:6 says that the prophet Jeremiah was cast “into the dungeon of Malchiah the son of Hammelech” (emphasis added).7 In this passage, the translators of the King James Bible confusingly rendered Hammelech as a proper name when in fact it is simply a Hebrew title that means “the king.” This nuance is reflected in a number of modern Bible translations which describe Malchiah as “the king’s son,” rather than the “son of Hammelech.”

Moreover, because Zedekiah is the only king mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38,8 several scholars have concluded that the title Hammelech (“the king”) most likely refers to Zedekiah himself and therefore that Malchia was indeed his son.9 It logically follows, then, that the Mulek described as Zedekiah’s son in the Book of Mormon could very well be one and the same individual as Malchiah from Jeremiah 38:6. Yet, only a trained linguist familiar with Hebrew would recognize the plausible linguistic correspondence between the names Mulek and Malchiah, or that Malchiah (as mentioned in the King James Bible) was most likely a son of King Zedekiah, rather than the son of an unidentified individual called “Hammelech.”

Malkiyahu on a Stamp Seal

Seal of Mulek. Illustration by Jody Livingston.

In light of this potential Mulek/Malchiah connection, it is noteworthy that a small clay stamp seal bearing the name Malkiyahu ben hamelek was discovered in Jerusalem in the 1980s. Dating to the late 7th to early 6th centuries BC, “The oval-shaped stamp seal … was fashioned of bluish green malchite stone and is very small, measuring just 15 mm long by 11 mm wide (smaller than a dime) and only 7 mm thick.”10 Malkiyahu is simply a variant English spelling of the name Malchiah which shows up in Jeremiah 38:6, and ben hamelek means “son of the king.” Concerning the significance of this stamp seal, Jeffrey R. Chadwick has explained, “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.”11

 

Conclusion

Each of the abovementioned names—Malkiyahu from the stamp seal, Malchiah from Jeremiah 38:6, and Mulek from the Book of Mormon—are derived from the same ancient Hebrew root (mlk), they show up in the same time period, and they are the sons of a king. It is therefore reasonable to conclude that they might very well refer to the same individual and that that individual’s father was indeed King Zedekiah, as strongly implied in Jeremiah 38 and directly asserted in the Book of Mormon.

While this connection remains unproven,12 the Book of Mormon’s assertion that King Zedekiah had a son named Mulek is now supported by linguistic and archaeological evidence. Upon encountering these findings, the prominent biblical scholar David Noel Freedman reportedly exclaimed, “If Joseph Smith came up with that one, he did pretty good!”13

Book of Mormon Central, “Has An Artifact That Relates to the Book of Mormon Been Found? (Mosiah 25:2),” KnoWhy 103 (May 19, 2016).

Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 72–83, 117–118.

John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 50–51.

David Rolph Seely, “Review of Reexploring the Book of Mormon: The FARMS Updates of the 1990s,” Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 311–315.

Robert F. Smith and Benjamin Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek, Son of the King,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City, UT and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 142–144.

Omni 1:12–19Mosiah 25:2Helaman 6:10Helaman 8:21

Omni 1:12–19

Mosiah 25:2

Helaman 6:10

Helaman 8:21

  • 1 For a discussion of the plausible circumstances of this escape, see Jeffrey R. Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 12, no. 2 (2003): 82–82.
  • 2 2 Kings 25 speaks of Zedekiah’s sons being slain. Yet, unlike the all-inclusive descriptions given about many other details in this chapter (see vv. 1, 4–5, 9–10, 14, 23, 26), the relevant passage never specifies that all of Zedekiah’s sons were slain. It merely states that the Babylonians “slew the sons of Zedekiah before his eyes” (v. 7). This omission opens up the possibility that one of Zedekiah’s sons could have escaped, just as the Book of Mormon claims. See Robert F. Smith and Benjamin Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek, Son of the King,” in Reexploring the Book of Mormon: A Decade of New Research, ed. John W. Welch (Salt Lake City, UT and Provo, UT: Deseret Book and FARMS, 1992), 142. Furthermore, precedent for this type of omission can be seen in other biblical accounts. In 1 Samuel 31:2 it states that “the Philistines followed hard upon Saul and upon his sons; and the Philistines slew Jonathan, and Abinadab, and Malchi-shua, Saul’s sons.” A few passages later it is reported that “Saul died, and his three sons, and his armourbearer, and all his men, that same day together” (v. 6). This passage may give the impression that all of Saul’s sons died with him. However, a few chapters later the reader is informed that Saul had another son named Ishbosheth who apparently escaped execution, just like Mulek (2 Samuel 2:8–10). Thus, in each case the initial account of execution fails to mention the escape of a royal son.  
  • 3 See Smith and Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek,” 143.
  • 4 This analogy is given in Neal Rappleye, “‘Put Away Childish Things’: Learning to Read the Book of Mormon with Mature Historical Understanding,” 2017 FairMormon Conference, 15, online at fairmormon.org.
  • 5 See Pieter G. Van Der Veen, Robert Deutsch, and Gabriel Barkay, “Reconsidering the Authenticity of the Berekhyahu Bullae: A Rejoinder,” Antiguo Oriente, 14 (2016): 103. Because the stamp seal discussed in this article (bearing the name Berekhyahu) is analogous to the seal bearing the name Malkiyahu (discussed later in this evidence summary), Latter-day Saint scholars have drawn attention to it for the sake of comparison. See, for example, Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 74; Smith and Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek, Son of the King,” 143. More recently, the provenance of the Berekhyahu seal has been brought into question. See Yuval Goren and Eran Arie, “The Authenticity of the Bullae of Berekhyahu Son of Neriyahu the Scribe,” American Schools of Oriental Research 372 (2014): 147–158. Nevertheless, whether or not the seal itself is authentic is really of no consequence to the proposal that Berekhyahu is a longer version of the name Baruch. For instance, even though Lester L. Grabbe, Ancient Israel: What Do We Know and How Do We Know It?, rev. ed. (New York, NY: Bloomsbury/T&T Clark), 227 doubts the legitimacy of the Berekhyahu seal, he still validates the linguistic connection by concluding that if it were indeed genuine “the parallel to the biblical Baruch would be impressive.” Besides, as most recently argued in Van Der Veen, et al., “Reconsidering the Authenticity of the Berekhyahu Bullae,” 199–136, the grounds for viewing the artifact as a forgery may themselves be invalid. For the original studies on this seal, see Nahman Avigad, Hebrew Bullae from the Time of Jeremiah (Jerusalem: Israel Exploration Society, 1986), 28–29; Nahman Avigad, “Baruch the Scribe and Jerahmeel the King's Son,” Biblical Archeologist 42 (Spring 1979): 114–118.  
  • 6 The points summarized in this paragraph are derived from Smith and Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek, Son of the King,” 143; John A. Tvedtnes, John Gee, and Matthew Roper, “Book of Mormon Names Attested in Ancient Hebrew Inscriptions,” Journal of Book of Mormon Studies 9, no. 1 (2000): 51; Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 74.
  • 7 According to Chadwick, the Hebrew term translated as “dungeon” actually means “means a pit for
  • water storage, properly a cistern.” Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 80. See pp. 79–81 for the possible age of Malchiah and the plausibility of a cistern being named after him.
  • 8 Zedekiah is repeatedly referenced throughout this chapter. See vv. 5, 14–17, 19, 24. Moreover, Chadwick has argued that because “Zedekiah is mentioned by name in Jeremiah 38:5, it is probable that the scribe composing the text in the subsequent reference to Malkiyahu (v. 6) used the term ben hamelek rather than awkwardly repeating the royal name Zedekiah in a phrase like son of Zedekiah.” Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 79.
  • 9 See Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 79; Kenneth A. Kitchen, On the Reliability of the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans, 2003), 21. 
  • 10 Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 74.
  • 11 Chadwick, “Has the Seal of Mulek Been Found?” 83.
  • 12 See David Rolph Seely, review of Reexploring the Book of Mormon, ed. John W. Welch, Review of Books on the Book of Mormon 5 (1993): 315.
  • 13 Smith and Urrutia, “New Information about Mulek,” 144. Note that Freedman is identified only as a “prominent non-Mormon ancient Near Eastern specialist” in this article.  
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