"A Jew, Nephite and Jaredite walked into a bar..."Episode 31
Section 29: The Great Unfolding Plan
Welcome to ForeverLDS. This is Chris Heimerdinger. This is kind of a heady podcast today for true-blue “fans” of the Book of Mormon. I mean, we’re all fans. But today’s listeners might have to be superfans. Follow closely, and sometimes I’ll repeat ideas to make sure I’m being clear.
As a lead in, I’ll just say it’s fascinating to me—mind-boggling actually—how these three intermingling histories—the Jaredites, Nephites, and Mulekites—provide an unparalleled saga and complexity that easily competes with the intensity and intrigue of any civilization in history. I could add the Lamanites, but they likely deserve an entirely separate discussion, so we’ll stick with the three I mentioned. In any case, the intensity and intrigue is all there, brilliantly recorded in this 500-600 page volume called the Book of Mormon, page-count depends on which edition you’re reading.
Okay, the title of this is “A Tale of Three Kings.” The Jaredite King is Coriantumr. The Nephite King is Mosiah I. And the Mulekite, or Jewish King is—well, in this instance take your pick. It’s either Zedekiah, Mulek, or Zarahemla.
Much of this podcast was inspired by conversations I had years ago with Dr. Lawrence Poulsen, PhD., from Austin, Texas. If any ideas here are particularly interesting, it probably originated with him. I don’t remember. It’s been a while, but at the time our conversation got my head spinning. I wrote a blog on this topic in 2010, but after reading that again, it seemed wholly inadequate in getting across the depth of what Dr. Poulsen and I discussed. So I’m giving it another whirl.
Let me say again, as we say in virtually every ForeverLDS podcast, and as every other LDS podcaster says in their podcasts, Latter-day Saints don't need intellectual evidence for their religion. Spiritual confirmation is sufficient. But a lot has also been said lately about the relationship between the rational (the intellectual) and the spiritual, and how these two are not incongruous. They intersect, strengthen, and buttress each other. Rather than get into the details of that kind of philosophical discussion, let me just say, if intellectual evidence does have its place, and apologists were looking for yet another firm example demonstrating the authenticity of the Book of Mormon, the Book of Ether—alone—would serve as a striking exhibit in any courtroom—apologetic or legal.
This 15-chapter abridgment, usually just called Ether, is an exemplary text, even when separated out from the rest of the Book of Mormon. Had it been the invention of a fiction writer whose intent was to dupe mankind, it might qualify as one of the most compelling hoaxes in history. Of course, that’s exactly the kind of preternatural characterization that some fundamentalist anti-Mormons want to lay on the Book of Mormon. The only problem is its pervasive testimony of the divinity of Jesus Christ and the reality of His Atonement. Talk about a house divided against itself!
For me, the Book of Ether is one most imaginative 15 chapters ever composed. Its only competition might be other segments of the Book of Mormon. Even then, I believe, it radiates like a beacon!—not only for its spiritual content, but because its literary style is so unique. I can’t believe any fair-minded investigator—even one who remains a staunch skeptic of the overall Book of Mormon—could honestly say that the author of the Book of Ether is the same as the author(s) of other parts of the Book of Mormon. The Book of Ether is that distinctive.
Many readers perceive a stylistic difference just from 1 and 2 Nephi to Jacob. Even I noticed this the first time I read the Book of Mormon at age 18. Even my father—who (as an aside) passed away the same day that Mitt Romney lost the presidency—who never did join the LDS Church, but humored me enough to read 1 Nephi, 2 Nephi, and Jacob, volunteered the same fair-minded observation. He conceded that the dude who wrote the words of Nephi was a different dude than the writer of Jacob!
Wordprint studies conducted by statisticians at Berkeley—including non-Latter-day Saints—corroborated all this, by the way. Such studies demonstrate that the likelihood that the author of Nephi was the same individual who wrote Alma has an “unlikelihood factor” of 99.997%. Put another way, the chance that those two segments of the Book of Mormon had the same author has an improbability of 1.3 x 10-14th power. For those of us who really could never comprehend the math, that’s a rather high improbability. (Hilton, John L., "On Verifying Wordprint Studies: Book of Mormon Authorship", BYU Studies 30/3 (1990): 89—108).
With the Book of Ether, however, scientists and statisticians aren’t really necessary. Common sense!—in proportions adequate to match that possessed by the likes of myself or my father (and neither of us were ever accused of having much)—is enough to conclude that Ether was penned by its own author. Someone distinctive, further dissembling any argument that Joseph Smith could’ve possibly composed the Book of Mormon by his lonesome.
In fairness, Book of Mormon detractors as early as the 19th century began to reluctantly concede to a “multi-author” scenario (Tucker, Pomeroy, Origin, Rise, and Progress of Mormonism, 1867, pg. 75; Jockers, Witten, and Criddle, Reassessing Authorship of the Book of Mormon, Literary and Linguistic Computing 23:4, Dec. 2008, 465-491). Today the multi-author assumption is standard, even for skeptics and Church enemies. What’s not standard is any single explanation or theory as to how the Book of Mormon came about in the first place.
For believers, such intellectual exercises are unnecessary. We sought a confirmation of the volume's veracity through the Spirit and received it. As a result, it merely bemuses us that other earthlings fail to perceive that the Book of Mormon is a foundational testament of God's eternal love for His children.
Yet even dedicated Book of Mormon readers sometimes pass over the jewels and gems of Ether. Some might view the majority of this text the same as war chapters in the Book of Alma—i.e., a dull chronicling of battle scenes, kingly successions, rebellions, and spiritual retrenchments, alongside an eye-straining litany of unpronounceable personal and place names. An impatient reader might find much of Ether irrelevant compared to rich doctrinal treatises and sermons in other parts of the Book of Mormon.
However, an introspective reader will find Ether's record mesmerizing. Most would agree that the Lord, in guiding His prophets, Mormon and Moroni, would not have inclined them to include irrelevant material. Gratefully, the spiritual and intellectual rewards for focusing on the Book of Ether are huge.
For the purposes of this podcast, I’m not going to run down a check-off list of these rewards. Instead, I’d like to focus on the history of the Jaredites from the perspective of the Nephites and their contemporaries during a certain time period—the too-often ignored moment in the Book of Mormon when there is a sudden confluence of two—and probably three—separate and distinct cultures and civilizations.
Why don’t we discuss the preeminent events of this time period as much as we ought to? The answer to that is easy: Because most of the narrative that would have highlighted all this was contained in the 116 pages lost by Martin Harris!
Okay, as some are probably aware, I’ve already written mournfully about the loss of that text in other articles. I’ll do my best to stop moping and focus instead on the critical information that survived, most of which is preserved in 18 verses that comprise the latter half of the short entry in the Book of Mormon known as the Book of Omni.
Because the only record of these watershed events were the few verses written by Nephi’s distant descendent, Amaleki, it’s difficult for today’s Church members to fully appreciate how earthshattering and distressing these events, described specifically in verses 12 and 13, would have truly been for the remnant of faithful Nephite families who had just been forced by the Lamanites to abandon the only home they had known for the past 400 years—a place settled and established by the Prophet Nephi himself, with its temperate climate and sacred temple—to wander in the wilderness as refugees, until they were finally permitted to settle in the land and city of Zarahemla.
It’s in the midst of these events, I believe that we uncover the origins of Ether's overwhelming influence and impact on world history. It’s here, in these verses, that we first learn the of the existence of the Jaredites, a nation more ancient than the Nephites, who, like the Nephites, met with a devastating end much the same as the Nephites were destined to face a half-millennium later. And the pivotal moment where it all starts to unfold is in the short Book of Omni from the Small Plates of Nephi.
Reminder: The Small Plates were that part of the Book of Mormon kept exclusively by Nephi and his direct lineage descendants as a kind of spiritual journal. Theoretically, such a record might’ve endured the entirety of Nephite history, but the descendant we’ve already named—Amaleki—had no progeny—no bambinos. Therefore, he wisely turned the Small Plates over to the current monarch, King Benjamin, the son of Mosiah I, whom Amaleki believed was a "just man" who could be trusted to keep his lineage journal safe and sacred (Omni 1:25).
The words of Amaleki are brief, but complex. In 18 verses he introduces us to not just one group or tribe heretofore unmentioned, but two. Before Amaleki mentions the Jaredites (or, in Amaleki's words, the "people [of] Coriantumr" (Omni 1:21)), he introduces us to another clan called the "people of Zarahemla." This group, he reports, crossed the Atlantic Ocean at about the same time period that Lehi crossed the Pacific Ocean. Zarahemla's people proclaimed themselves descendants of King Zedekiah of Jerusalem by way of a prince named Mulek. Hence, the more common name pinned upon them by modern researchers—Mulekites. As a reminder, the name Mulekites is not in the Book of Mormon, perhaps for good reason, because it may be misleading. The people of Zarahemla appear to have a much wider genetic background than to just label them the descendants of Mulek. Wider even than just to say they these Jewish renegades intermingled with surviving remnants of the Jaredites, to say nothing of including those who arrived with Mulek, some of whom may not have been Jews at all. Complicated, I know. The Book of Mormon provides only glimpses to help us understand such things.
We’re reminded again, the volume is not a history book, even if history is embedded throughout its pages. A fascinating thing about this collection of scriptures is how its text radiates with so many hints, implied details, oh-so-subtle facts, and “between-the-lines” indicators of a culture as convoluted and labyrinthine as any other across the globe. Who’d go to such trouble if the intent was merely to dupe readers? Moreover, who could have done something so complex in the allotted time that history allows for the book’s translation and publication, even if Joseph Smith and/or Sidney Rigdon and/or other conspirators had started the project as children!
Because the Jews were not shipbuilders, it’s long been proposed that young Prince Mulek escaped the fate of his siblings and his father, Zedekiah, by fleeing Jerusalem in the opposite direction as the other refugees. This seems a reasonable assertion since Zedekiah and the other princes were captured on the plains of Jericho. Okay, common-sense question: Why would Zedekiah try to escape his Babylonian conquerors by fleeing east, along the main highway that leads straight to Babylon? I’m not a geographer of the region. Perhaps there’s a very logical explanation for this. But on the surface: What was Zedekiah thinking?!
Unless—and this is pure speculation—he was trying to throw off his pursuers by sending at least one royal heir in the opposite direction, toward the shores of the Mediterranean, into the hands of a people with whom the Jews had strong political ties, perhaps the seafaring Phoenicians. For a long time LDS scholars have proposed exactly this scenario. (“The Mulekites and the Phoenician Connection”, Douglas K. Christensen, bmaf.org/articles/mulekites_phoenician_connection__goble_christensen).
There are, however, other head-spinning possibilities. At this time in history there were other nations with impressive resumes of shipbuilding and ocean trade. Likely, you’ve never heard of these folks. They were called the Kushana (Yüeh-Chih) people from the Hindu Kush region who’d made their way into the lower Ganges. That’s right. These folks were from India, and they were engaged in maritime trade with the Mediterranean and even Southeast Asia, meaning Vietnam and Singapore. They were said to have traded horses, communicated with a distinctive Brahmi script, and were very old trading partners with Rome.
More on this later, and how it could interrelate with the Mulekites. As I said, the term "Mulekite" isn’t in the Book of Mormon. Still, I’ll apply it with the same broad brush as other LDS scholars, in a tradition similar to the way the Prophet Mormon applied labels like "Lamanite" and "Nephite", fully knowing that such distinctions were neither adequate nor accurate (see Jacob 1:13, Morm. 1:18).
What's curious to me about the Mulekites of this time period is their sudden, voluntary acquiescence to the Nephites and to the sovereignty of Mosiah I. The timing of Mosiah I’s discovery of the people of Zarahemla during his journeys with his band of Nephite refugees couldn’t have been more auspicious. The Mulekites had recently emerged from a state of political and social chaos. Zarahemla himself is never referred to as a king. He seems to have been more of a "community representative" who’d earned his kinsmen’s respect, but for whatever reason, was never granted the same authority as a monarch.
Amaleki reveals that the people of Zarahemla didn’t keep written records of their history in the Americas. At least none were among them at present. The Book of Omni seems to imply that the people of Zarahemla are, themselves, an offshoot of a tribe whose principle population may have remained nearer to the coastline where Mulek’s ship first landed. The people of Zarahemla, perhaps in consequence of the wars and upheavals that Omni describes in verse 17, had journeyed upriver and named the land and its primary settlement after Zarahemla. Amidst all this chaos, the people of Zarahemla had not only lost their religion, but had lost their language, or at least allowed it to become corrupted, and hence, had become illiterate (Omni 1:17).
It was in this state that the people of Zarahemla embraced the arriving Nephites with, as Amaleki describes, "great rejoicing" (Omni 1:14). Mosiah I proceeded to instruct them in the Nephite language (Omni 1:18), and in a relatively short period of time the indigenous population of Zarahemla rallied to the idea that Mosiah I ought to be their political and spiritual leader (Omni 1:12).
A natural question is . . . why? The text suggests much of this was precipitated by a sense of cultural identity and unity that the Nephites provided. However, for an independent group of people who spoke a different language, had their own unique culture, and centuries-old historical identity, to suddenly abandon independence and accept a foreign king, is surprising to say the least. I don’t want to undercut the power of the Gospel and whatever other charisma and advantages that the Nephites brought, but the idea that the people of Zarahemla abdicated self-rule, without a single dissenting voice, seems unlikely.
One factor more than any other was likely instrumental in bringing about this new paradigm: records. Written records. Specifically, the Plates of Brass (Omni 1:14). Zarahemla had at least preserved enough of his heritage to know that his ancestors had come from a place across the sea called Judea or Jerusalem. He could recite an oral genealogy of his fathers all the way back to the original colonists according to tradition and memory (Omni 1:18).
Mosiah I, on the other hand, brought something far better. Not just an oral tradition. He possessed plates. Mosiah’s records presumably bestowed upon the people of Zarahemla a cultural identity—a sense of “belonging”—that they must have craved desperately. This can’t be overstated. The Nephite possession of records explains most, if not all, of the sudden alliance that was established between them. The Brass Plates and other Nephite records explains why the people of Zarahemla accepted Mosiah I as their king, and why they accepted the Nephite people as their cultural, spiritual, and possibly technological superiors.
Oh, but history is never so simple. Later in the Book of Mormon, we learn that some Zarahemlaites were likely none too happy with this arrangement. In coming decades, this unhappiness would express itself in multiple rebellions inspired by factions who supported kings above the "rule of judges" introduced by King Mosiah I’s grandson, King Mosiah II. Such political philosophies might have struck some Zarahemlaites as weak, providing dissenters with a powerful talking point that they could take to the common people, use it to undermine the government, and possibly exploit what they perceived as a power vacuum for personal gain (see the Book of Mormon index and its references to "king-men" and "dissenters" for a more comprehensive array of how these terms played into the history Zarahemla for the next century and a half).
If you’ll recall, in the days of King Mosiah I a large engraved stone was brought to him with hopes that he might interpret it. Where was it brought from? The record doesn’t say, but we presume it was brought from outside of the city of Zarahemla because prior to this, King Mosiah I didn’t seem to know of its existence. We can’t even be sure who wrote it, where it was written, or why. But it’s safe to assume it was engraved by an earlier generation of Mulekites who still remembered how to write. It’s also possible that the stone was transported to Zarahemla from the same general vicinity where the last Jaredite king, Coriantumr, lived out the final months of his life.
As we’re told at the end of the Book of Ether, King Coriantumr slayed his arch nemesis, Shiz, at the Hill Ramah/Cumorah. In Omni 1:21 we’re told that King Coriantumr was “discovered” by the people of Zarahemla and dwelt among them for nine moons. Keep in mind, the information about Coriantumr’s association with people of Zarahemla did not come from Moroni’s abridgment of Ether. Amaleki learned about it from this large stone, or stela. Large stela with engravings and inscriptions can be found in abundance in Mesoamerica, though not so much outside of Mesoamerica.
At the conclusion of his record, the Prophet Ether references a command he received from God to "go forth" and witness that the "words of the Lord had all been fulfilled (Eth. 15:33)." These “unfulfilled” words referenced a specific warning that Ether personally delivered to Coriantumr, promising the king that "if he would repent . . . the Lord would give unto him his kingdom and spare his people—otherwise they should be destroyed, and all his household save it were himself" and that Coriantumr would live to see "another people receiving the land for their inheritance” (Ether 13:20-21).
Needless to say, King Coriantumr did not repent. He fought his enemies to the bitter end, slaying Shiz in a dramatic duel at the summit of the Hill Ramah, a location which would be renamed by the later cultures as the Hill Cumorah. So, at the end of his record, Ether reports his intention to follow Coriantumr to witness that all of the Lord’s words concerning Coriantumr should be fulfilled.
We’re not told if Ether became Coriantumr's traveling companion or kept his distance. In any case, he remained dedicated to his role as a witness until Coriantumr gives up the ghost 9 months after joining the Mulekite community.
The region where Coriantumr died was probably in the same area where Ether deposited his records of the Jaredites, which consisted of 24 gold plates. It’s interesting that we never hear about these 24 gold plates during the events of the Restoration. We hear about the breastplate, the Liahona, the Urim and Thummin, but nothing regarding Ether’s 24 plates. Maybe they were nabbed by enemies of the last Nephite prophet, Moroni. If Moroni was being chased, and he was carrying two heavy objects, he obviously wouldn’t have been inclined to drop his father’s record. So ditching the plates of Ether might have been a way for Moroni to preserve his life. Who knows?
Ether’s plates were initially translated by King Mosiah’s grandson, King Mosiah II, but perhaps not widely distributed until the days of Helaman, son of Alma. Remember? Alma commanded Helaman to distribute the contents of the 24 plates to his people, the Nephites, excepting those segments that outlined the secret oaths and combinations of the wicked (see Alma 37:21-30). No specific mention of this record is made again until Moroni is faced with the daunting task of condensing Ether's account by 99 percent so that he could include this abridgment along with his father’s abridgement of the Nephite records (see Ether 15:33).
Wrap your head around that for a sec. Moroni tells us that Ether “finished his record; (and the hundredth part I have not written) and [Ether] hid them in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them.” Moroni condensed all that information to 1/100th of its original length. That’s a Herculean editing assignment!
That part at the end about Ether hiding them up “in a manner that the people of Limhi did find them” refers, of course, to the expedition sent out by Limhi the Zeniffite to find the city of Zarahemla, but instead his explorers got lost and “traveled in a land among many waters” (Mosiah 8:8). As a consolation prize for not finding Zarahemla, at least they found the plates of Ether.
I’m well aware that this part of the Book of Mormon can seem confusing. Again, part of the reason for that is because we’re missing 400-plus years that were covered in Mormon’s abridgment of Nephite history during its first 500 years, or the 116 pages stolen from Martin Harris. Sorry, Martin, I know I’ve been hard on you for that, but uuughhh!
Suffice it to say, the story of the Zeniffites is kind of a sidebar in Nephite history, but it becomes pivotal in understanding the story of the Jaredites and the people of Zarahemla. In short, a passionate guy named Zeniff departed from Zarahemala with a bunch of followers who had the singular objective of winning back the land they felt the Lamanites had swiped from their ancestors. They established a city called Zeniff, and for a while it looked like their Lamanite neighbors were going to tolerate them. Unfortunately, as soon as they began to prosper, the true intentions of the Lamanites were revealed. They became brutal taskmasters, taxing half of whatever the Nephites produced, leaving them on the brink of starvation.
Finally, Zeniff’s grandson, King Limhi, decided maybe they’d be better off moving back to Zarahemla and reuniting with their brethren. Trouble is, the Lamanites had come to depend upon that cushy levy of half of the Nephite’s produce. If the people of Limhi had tried to just walk away, the Lamanites would have annihilated them without thinking twice. So Limhi tried a daring strategy—basically sending “messengers” to inquire of their brethren at Zarahemla if they might take on a role similar as the U.S. Cavalry and “deliver them out of bondage” (Mosiah 8:7).
Limhi launched an expedition of forty-three men to travel to Zarahemla. Here’s the problem: After three generations, nobody quite remembered the route back. Limhi's valiant band of adventurers become utterly disoriented, eventually finding themselves "among a land of many waters" with crumbling buildings, human and animal bones, and cankering swords (Mosiah 8:7-11, 21:25-28). The positive development, as I mentioned, which was pretty positive, was that they found the 24 gold plates that the Prophet Ether had hidden up 250-300 years earlier, or shortly after Coriantumr’s death (Ether 15:33). Keep that time lapse—250-300 years—in back of your mind. It will become important later.
Remember, the stone stela that Mosiah I translated and the 24 gold plates of Ether translated by his grandson, Mosiah II, are two separate documents. One engraved on stone, one on metal. Nevertheless, both records report at least some of the same material from Jaredite history.
Presumably, the stone stela interpreted by King Mosiah I was also a couple centuries old by the time it was delivered to him. Again, where did this stone come from? It’s unlikely that it was carved by Ether. He'd put all of his energies into etching the history of the Jaredites on those 24 gold plates. Since the stela records Coriantumr’s death, it also wasn’t written by Coriantumr, though I suppose he could have started the project, perhaps dictating his memoirs to a local engraver. The stela would have been written in the language of the inhabitants of the area where Coriantumr died, like a branch of the Mulekites who were still literate and could inscribe on stone, but it probably wasn’t etched in the environs of the city of Zarahemla. One proposition is that it was etched closer to the place where the Mulekites first landed. At the very least, it was etched in the vicinity where Coriantumr died, which logically was the same vicinity as the "land of many waters" where Limhi's expedition found Ether’s 24 plates. Not necessarily, but these are reasonable suppositions.
Let’s return to what I consider the most interesting question. As any Mesoamerican archeologist will attest, massive stela covered with engravings are hardly rare, and plenty date to the time period of the Nephites. So, considering that this thing was large, heavy, and probably a pain in the neck to transport, what was so important about bringing this particular stela to the feet of King Mosiah I in the city of Zarahemla? Sure, rumor was it’d reveal the details of this mysterious civilization called the Jaredites, whose last king, Coriantumr, had lived among their ancestors for 9 months and died. But so what? Who would’ve cared? Were the people of Zarahemla really all that curious about the dramatic story of the Jaredite destruction? And why bring this heavy stone to Mosiah? Why not bring Mosiah to the stone? Well, in fairness, newly appointed kings are likely rather busy, so that might explain why the stone had to be brought to Zarahemla.
It’s certainly natural for any people to want to know their history and genealogy—literate peoples, but also illiterate peoples, such as the Mandinka and other tribes in Africa made famous by Alex Haley in his book Roots, whose oral histories were carefully preserved by West African griots, individuals trained from childhood to memorize and recite the history of a particular village, sometimes speaking for three days without repeating themselves (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Griot).
This seems to be the kind of oral tradition practiced by Zarahemla himself, who recited “according to his memory” a genealogy of his fathers back to the time period of Prince Mulek (Omni 1:15, 18). A general statement in Omni says the people of Zarahemla “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” (Omni 1:16). Now, the term “land”. . . Not much we can conclude from that word in this context. Today we’d call all of America a “land”. In ancient times we might presume if you referred to a “land” you were referring to a smaller locality. But the Nephites referred to their ultimate destination in the New World as a “promised land”—a definition which was apparently reapplied to whatever plot of ground the Nephtes occupied. So this single verse doesn’t tell us much about the size of the “land” inhabited by the people of Zarahemla.
The reason I mention this is because there are reasons to believe “land” in this reference refers to a general occupation zone of all Mulekites and whatever polities they may have divided into since their arrival in the New World, and not necessarily just the district of the city or land of Zarahemla. Keep in mind, unless Zarahemla was nearly 500 years old, there was no “people of Zarahemla” at the time when his ancestors landed. There was no “people of Zarahemla” when Coriantumr the Jaredite was alive. Nephi’s descendant, Amaleki, who wrote this verse in Omni, was not a trained historian, nor is he identified as a prophet, although he does describe himself as a man of faith (see Omni 1:26).
Amaleki’s general territorial description might be sufficient to serve the purpose of the Small Plates, but honestly, his usage of the term “people of Zarahemala” can be confusing for a modern reader, especially when we look at a verse like Omni 1:21: “And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.” Again, Coriantumr lived about 400 B.C. Zarahemla lived about 121 B.C. So why does Amaleki say, “Coniantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla” if Zarahemla hadn’t even been born yet! In 400 B.C. the so-called “people of Zarahemla” did not exist, unless Zarahemla was an inherited name and the Zarahemla we’re talking about in Omni was Zarahemla the Sixth or something!
It would have been clearer if, instead of calling these folks who united with the Nephites the “people of Zarahemla”, Amaleki had just called them “the people who were associated with Zarahemla”. See the difference? After Amaleki labeled them the “people of Zarahemla”, everybody else followed the same pattern, including the Prophet Mormon and others. Modern readers infer this means that everybody called “the people of Zarahemla” were blood relatives of Zarahemla when they obviously weren’t. They were just those folks associated with, represented by, or the friends and neighbors of Zarahemla!
It’s sort of like saying, “The British are the people of Winston Churchill.” Does that mean all Brits are related to Churchill? No! And it doesn’t mean that here either. In verse 17, Amaleki calls the Nephites the “people of Mosiah”. Does that mean all Nephites who journeyed with Mosiah were blood relatives of Mosiah? Doubtful.
Sorry if it feels like I’m beating that horse to death. It’ll save much confusion later. And it reemphasizes why the Book of Mormon never uses the term “Mulekites”. The ship that carried Mulek to the New World surely had more passengers than just Mulek, and these people likely had kids! Added up, probably a lot more than Mulek!
It’s interesting that the Book of Mormon is actually very careful about not saying that Zarahemla was a direct descendent of Mulek. Look again at Omni 1:15: “. . . Mosiah discovered that the people of Zarahemla came out from Jerusalem at the time that Zedekiah king of Judah, was carried away captive into Babylon.” Now we might be getting a hint of why Zarahemla is never described as a king. He didn’t have the proper bloodline. The right genealogy. That doesn’t mean that others among the—quote—“people of Zarahemla”—unquote—didn’t have the right genealogy. Maybe they just couldn’t recite it like Zarahemla. Orrrr they felt such an important claim ought to be verified with written records. In a few minutes we’ll discuss why that might have been critical in light of events soon to unfold.
I listened to a podcast recently wherein the I nterpreter Foundation interviewed Don Bradley. Don Bradley is writing a book that I hope is soon released on the lost 116 pages. As I implied earlier, and as Don—Brother Bradley—confirms, we know a lot more about what was contained in those 116 pages than you might think. In this interview, Don expressed the opinion that Zarahemla was a direct descendant of Mulek. I can understand why someone might make that argument. Why recite an oral genealogy unless it eventually takes you back to the man himself—King Zedekiah? Not sure if that’s enough for me. In my view this genealogy could’ve been impressive enough if it led back to the captain of the ship. We just don’t know. The Book of Mormon doesn’t offer us further details about how Mulek got here. And, as I noted, Amaleki seems very careful not to call Zarahemla a direct descendant of King Zedekiah.
In this interview Don expressed the same befuddlement that I feel as to why the people Zarahemla so readily abdicated leadership to Mosiah I. Don’s theory had to do with Mulek being a descendant of Ephraim and Zarahemla being a descendant of Judah, and that God had decreed that things in the New World ought to be run differently . . .Not a particularly strong argument, but it is an argument, and until we know more, we’re all free to form our own opinions. I believe my perspective makes somewhat more sense. Maybe not. In any case, because I disagree with Don on this minor point doesn’t mean I’m not eagerly awaiting his book. (“The Lost 116 Pages with Don Bradley”, Podcast Interview, The Interpreter Foundation, Jan. 31, 2018. Don’s book will be titled The Lost 116 Pages, Rediscovering the Book of Lehi, Greg Kofford Books.)
Anyway, back to Amaleki. One of the last things Amaleki reports is that he, having no seed, turned over his personal records—the Small Plates of Nephi—to Mosiah I’s son, King Benjamin (Omni: 1:25).
Some might be surprised to discover that the Book of Mormon provides a surprisingly detailed physical description of the land of Zarahemla. These descriptions suggest that the city was situated some distance inland, built on the east bank of the River Sidon, but that the land itself covered considerably more territory, reaching its apex in about 65 B.C. with an estimated size roughly equivalent to the state of Utah. Roughly (See Alma Chapter 50).
Since the 1970s, and in some cases considerably earlier, proponents of a Mesoamerica geography model of the Book of Mormon have proposed that the River Sidon—the only river named in the Book of Mormon—is one of two rivers: the Usumacinta that runs primarily though Mayan territory, or the Grijalva, which starts in Mayan territory, then runs through Zoque and Zapotec territory, and finally through what’s considered the heartland of the Olmec. The “debate of the rivers” is a fascinating topic, but I really didn’t want to focus on that in this podcast. In the online version of this podcast, I provided a couple links outlining the details of one proposal and then the other. Personally, I favor the Usumacinta, a position I adopted very recently. Dang, if Kirk Magelby doesn’t make a compelling argument for proposals first developed by V. Garth Norman! It’s not perfect. Still got a few questions. But for the purposes of this podcast, the “which river” thing it’s sort of a moot point. Well, mostly moot. Just visit the links if you wanna know more. (For a detailed analysis of the Grijalva as the Sidon, see John L. and Janet F. Hilton, “A Correlation of the Sidon River and the Lands of Manti and Zarahemla with the Southern End of the Rio Grijalva (San Miguel)”, https://publications.mi.byu.edu/pdf-control.php/publications/jbms/1/1/S00008-A_Correlation_of_the_Sidon_River_and_the_Lands_of_Manti_and_.html. For an equally detailed proposal of the Usumacinta River as the Sidon River visit Kirk Magelby’s blogpage here: https://bookofmormonresources.blogspot.com/2012/03/usumacintasidon-correlation.html).
Again, when Limhi’s 43 explorers got lost and arrived in this watery region where they encountered the cankering battlefield and found Ether’s 24 plates, they were probably standing in the heartland of the Jaredites, which has long been proposed by LDS scholars as also being the heartland of the Olmec—a civilization whose history correlates remarkably with the Jaredites.
Presuming this large stela dates back to when the Mulekites could still read and write, and presuming it was first engraved in an area close to the last battleground of the Jaredites, and close to where King Coriantumr died, and where the Prophet Ether deposited his gold plates, a nice geographical fit for this location is the drainage basin between Campeche [Cum-petch’e] and Coatzacoalcos in the Mexican state of Tabasco right there along the Gulf of Mexico, between the Yucatan Peninsula and the main part of Mexico. Voila! It’s a not a perfect voila, because it’s still a fairly sizable piece of ground, but the region itself is relatively solid.
It’s implied in Omni 1:20 that Mosiah was not aware of the existence of this large stone tablet until years after his arrival in Zarahemla, after he taught the people of Zarahemla his language, after he and other Nephites converted many Zarahemlaites to the Gospel, and after Mosiah had earned sufficient respect to be appointed “king” of all the lands in the Zarahemla polity.
The exact reading of the verse is: “And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah [that is, during Mosiah’s reign], there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings upon it . . .”
As I said, the area where Limhi likely found the 24 gold plates is also the area that LDS and non-LDS scholars identify as the heartland of the people today referred to as “Olmeca” or “Olmecs”, whose civilization--the oldest advanced civilization in the Americas, experienced a dramatic, inexplicable, social or political upheaval and population decline during a period synonymous with the destruction of the Jaredites.
This might be one of the most longstanding and time-tested geographical proposal for the Book of Mormon—the archeological and dating correlation between the Olmecs and the Jaredites. I’ll only bore you with evidences published by non-Latter-day Saints. I could’ve added references from Dr. John E. Clark, who is also a foremost expert on Olmec civilization, and whose books and articles are footnoted in Wikipedia and seemingly every other site discussing the Olmecs, but that’d probably be considered cheating since he’s LDS.
The four principle Olmec sites in this region are La Venta, suddenly abandoned around 400-350 B.C. (Diehl, Richard, The Olmecs: America's First Civilization. Ancient peoples and places series, London: Thames & Hudson, 2004), San Lorenzo, which experienced a population decline beginning in 800 B.C., until it, too, was emptied of inhabitants around 350 B.C. (Pool, Christopher A., Olmec Archaeology and Early Mesoamerica, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2007), Tres Zapotes, although not outright abandoned, experienced some kind of major political or cultural shift about 400 B.C. (Pool, Christopher, “Kings of Cooperation”, https://www.archaeology.org/issues/249-1703/features/5300-olmec-tres-zapotes-government), and Laguna de los Cerros, whose decline roughly coincides with San Lorenzo and other sites, especially in the eastern perimeter of the Olmec civilization (Pool, Christopher, Ceramic production, resource procurement, and exchange at Matacapan, Veracruz, Mexico, Ph.D. Dissertation, Tulane University, New Orleans, 1990). As well, Llano del Jícaro, identified as the primary quarry site for those massive basaltic heads and other monuments, was no longer being utilized by sculptors and artisans by 400 B.C. (Gillespie, Susan D., “Llano del Jícaro: An Olmec Monument Workshop”, http://academia.edu/2763775/Llano_del_J%C3%ADcaro_An_Olmec_Monument_Workshop).
Keep in mind, the modern names of these sites are not their ancient names. These names either ascribed to them by archeologists or bestowed by later civilizations who occupied the same area. The name “Olmec” comes from the Nahuatl (Aztec) language meaning “rubber people” because this area has an abundance of rubber trees (https://www.britannica.com/topic/Olmec). So if we call a site La Venta instead of its potential Jaredite name—Lib—don’t get confused. Actually, it may not be the Jaredite city, Lib. But it may! It just may.
One thing the Book of Mormon makes clear is that the landing site of the Mulekites was, unlike Lehi, on the “east sea” (Omni 1:16), and not on the west sea (Alma 22:28).
Again, back to the most intriguing question: Presuming this stone was engraved in the vicinity where Coriantumr died and Limhi’s explorers found Ether’s plates, why were the people of Zarahemla seemingly so determined to transport this massive thing to Zarahemla for King Mosiah I to interpret it?
Here’s an idea. Maybe it’s an idea only a storyteller could conjure, but it’s plausible, and may reveal a motivation behind this episode that sheds considerable light and explains future developments and conflicts in Zarahemla. Those who first brought the stone to Mosiah I may not have even known it needed some kind of “translation”. They might’ve thought the literate Nephites could just read it.
Their eagerness to make its message public may not have merely been overwhelming curiosity about the extinct civilization of Coriantumr. Their motives might not have been altruistic at all. I’m guessing some of those associated with Zarahemla hoped its message would restore to Zarahemla’s people, whose ancestors likely intermixed with surviving Jaredite remnants, the rights of kingship, allowing them to revoke such rights from Mosiah I and the rest of these Nephite interlopers, giving this coveted authority back to the people of Zarahemla, who felt they deserved it. If the people of Zarahemla had lost their kingship rights due in large part to Nephite written records, maybe they hoped they could restore them with written records—their own written records! They hoped this stelae would restore a monarchial pedigree dating back to either Zedekiah or Coriantumr. Take your pick! Both were kings! And most importantly, neither were Nephites!
Do not underestimate motivations whose underlying objective is money or power. If those were the objectives of some for transporting this gnarly stone, it wouldn’t have mattered how much effort had to be expended to bring it to Mosiah I. The political ramifications were intense.
Let’s look at this situation realistically, from the perspective of the carnal, sensual, and devilish nature of human beings. I know Amaleki goes on and on about how happy the people of Zarahemla were to unite with the Nephites and how there was much rejoicing and popping of champagne bottles—or in the case of Mesoamericans, popping pottery vessels filled with balché—and happiness and goodwill abounded. For the most part, this might have been perfectly true, but from what we know about future political tensions in and around Zarahemla, such rejoicing was not universal. Some of the descendants of Mulek may have been keenly unhappy with this sudden abdication of sovereignty to these Nephites. They’d seriously hoped by publicizing their royal pedigree—in writing, writing on a big, beautiful stelae—it would allow them to give these Nephites the boot. That is, after requisitioning from them all the good stuff they brought—language, technology, records—but preserving the throne itself, the reins of power, for themselves and their people.
Records were everything. Records explain Zarahemla’s seemingly wimpy sellout and why he so gleefully offered the kingship to Mosiah I. It was those darn Brass Plates and other Nephite records and genealogies that traced Mosiah I's lineage back, not only to Lehi, but—as indicated in 1 Nephi 19:2—all the way back to Joseph of Egypt! That’s what had put the stamp of authenticity on Mosiah I's political and spiritual authority. Those lousy, cotton-pickin’ records! And a few Zarahemlaites—we don’t know how many—but a few undoubtedly felt snookered. They let this grudge fester and percolate for years until they could suppress it no longer.
Now, this should not imply that Zarahemla himself wasn’t a noble and humble individual who naturally vacillated toward Mosiah I's character and spirituality. But as I said, the timing for the Nephites was perfect. After emerging from a period of fractious warfare amongst themselves, most denizens of Zarahemla were in the mood for a king. They needed a king. And the prophet, Mosiah I, fit the bill.
Well, as we’re all aware, a couple decades later, the honeymoon was over. A few very vocal Mulekites began expressing buyer’s remorse. As well, consider the natural human failing that some Nephites may have flaunted their supposed "cultural superiority", which over time may have rankled the indigenous population to the core. However it may have “gone down”, the people of Zarahemla increasingly resented the status they felt had been heaped upon them, culminating in the emergence of such dissenters as Zerahemna, the people of Morianton, Amalickiah and the King-men, and beyond.
So the first failed attempt of the people of Zarahemla to reassert their kingship rights might be traced back to King Mosiah I and that large stone tablet that recounted the story of old King Coriantumr.
Okay, I’ve covered a lot of information. Sad to say, it’s not even the best stuff! But it’s a lot to chew on, and the nice thing is, I have the next part of this podcast written out, recorded, and ready to go. Reliable, consistent podcasts seem to be the way to go.
I must have the next dozen podcasts either written or in some stage of outlining. Then I want to do interviews with scholars and celebrities and friends. Next week, I’ll release the second part, which I’ll call, “A Jew, A Nephite, and a Jaredite walked into a bar . . .” Except, the punchline isn’t funny. It is, however—at least I hope—informative, edifying, and enlightening.
You know what I look forward to most next week? I will discuss an unfolding “movement”—that’s a good way to describe it—a “movement” among those whose beliefs are not aligned with our Church, which seems to be steadily gaining traction. It will blow your mind. It did mine. I would have never predicted anyone would attempt this approach to undermine the Gospel. But it’s precisely what its proponents appear to hope will happen.
It won’t. It’ll fail, I promise. But the concept is jaw-dropping. So with that teaser, let me remind listeners that the views expressed on ForeverLDS are not necessarily the views of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, and though some concepts may offer a new or unique perspective, they are in no way intended to be critical of the Church, it’s doctrines, or its leadership. If you like what we’re doing, please subscribe to the Forever LDS podcast on Apple Podcasts, Stitcher Radio or Google Play Music. Visit our site at ForeverLDS.com to submit comments on this and other episodes.
My friends, stay close to the Lord. If you don’t feel as close to the Lord today as yesterday, time for some self-introspection. Ask yourself, who moved? Until next time, this is your host, Chris Heimerdinger, and this is ForeverLDS.