Zarahemla was a central city in the Book of Mormon times. It was not initially settled by the Nephites, the primary group of whom the Book of Mormon is about. Nor is there any reason to believe that it was settled during the days of the Jaredites. It was instead settled by a group of Jews who arrived in America after the ransacking of Jerusalem by the forces of King Nebuchadnezzar. A surviving son of King Zedekiah – Mulek – was in the party of settlers. The people called themselves the “People of Zarahamla”.
When Jerusalem was captured by the Babylonians, King Zedekiah was also arrested, had his eyes put out, his sons killed, and he spend the rest of his days in prison in Babylon.
2 Kings 25 : 6-7
6 So they took the king, and brought him up to the king of Babylon to Riblah; and they gave judgement upon him.
7 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.
The Book of Mormon tells us of a son of King Zedekiah who survived. The details of how this could have been are not made known to us. Perhaps a wife of the king was pregnant at the time of the arrest. Perhaps the wife and son fled quickly with this youngest son – we do not know. The name of the son is Mulek. This is what we do know.
21 And now will you dispute that Jerusalem was destroyed? Will ye say that the sons of Zedekiah were not slain, all except it were Mulek? Yea, and do ye not behold that the seed of Zedekiah are with us, and they were driven out of the land of Jerusalem? …..
Omni 1 : 12 – 22
12 Behold, I am Amaleki, the son of Abinadom. Behold, I will speak unto you somewhat concerning Mosiah, who was made king over the land of Zarahemla; for behold, he being warned of the Lord that he should flee out of the land of Nephi, and as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord should also depart out of the land with him, into the wilderness—
13 And it came to pass that he did according as the Lord had commanded him. And they departed out of the land into the wilderness, as many as would hearken unto the voice of the Lord; and they were led by many preachings and prophesyings. And they were admonished continually by the word of God; and they were led by the power of his arm, through the wilderness until they came down into the land which is called the land of Zarahemla.
14 And they discovered a people, who were called the people of Zarahemla. Now, there was great rejoicing among the people of Zarahemla; and also Zarahemla did rejoice exceedingly, because the Lord had sent the people of Mosiah with the plates of brass which contained the record of the Jews.
15 Behold, it came to pass that 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.
16 And they journeyed in the wilderness, and 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.
17 And at the time that Mosiah discovered them, they had become exceedingly numerous. Nevertheless, they had had many wars and serious contentions, and had fallen by the sword from time to time; and their language had become corrupted; and they had brought no records with them; and they denied the being of their Creator; and Mosiah, nor the people of Mosiah, could understand them.
18 But it came to pass that Mosiah caused that they should be taught in his language. And it came to pass that after they were taught in the language of Mosiah, Zarahemla gave a genealogy of his fathers, according to his memory; and they are written, but not in these plates.
19 And it came to pass that the people of Zarahemla, and of Mosiah, did unite together; and Mosiah was appointed to be their king.
20 And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God.
21 And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.
22 It also spake a few words concerning his fathers. And his first parents came out from the tower, at the time the Lord confounded the language of the people; and the severity of the Lord fell upon them according to his judgments, which are just; and their bones lay scattered in the land northward.
30 And it (Bountiful) bordered upon the land which they called Desolation, it being so far northward that it came into the land which had been peopled and been destroyed, of whose bones we have spoken, which was discovered by the people of Zarahemla, it being the place of their first landing.
Helaman 6 : 10
10 Now the land south was called Lehi, and the land north was called Mulek, which was after the son of Zedekiah; for the Lord did bring Mulek into the land north, and Lehi into the land south.
The Meaning of Word Mulek
In both Hebrew and Phoenician, the three letters MLK (מלך) are how you spell the word king.
Hugh Nibley relates the name to his royal origins, and states: “The word ‘malek’ is ‘king’ but the word ‘mulek’ [mulaik] means ‘dear little king’. The Mulekites were the people who had the little king with them; they were rather proud of that.”
Of the Mulekites, he says they are the “Mulekiah, which means ‘the king people'”. (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mulek)
Discussing the Two Options of Mulek’s Journey
Option 1: Mulek and a group of Jews are taken by Phoenicians to Ireland with the prophet Jeremiah and then to America – taking them into the Saint Lawrence, near Cumorah, and eventually finding their way to the Mississippi using a route similar to one followed by early French Explorers to America (see The Mound Builders by Robert Silverberg). Zarahemla was their stop.
Option 2: No trip to Ireland. They came up the Mississippi to what is now Iowa – across from Nauvoo – Zarahemla.
Option 3: Multiple trips were made by the Phoenicians bringing several groups of people to Zarahemla.
My personal preference or belief is option 1 as it takes into consideration the stories in the Irish Annuls of Jeremiah going to Ireland with the daughters of Zedekiah. One daughter marries into royalty in Ireland. The journey continues on to America. Option 1 is more consistent with Alma 22:30. I also believe that several trips by the Phoenicians were made to this land – Option 3.
History and the Phoenicians
The Phoenicians were a sea-faring people at this time who made wealth based on international trade. Phoenicia was not a nation. It was a group of independent city-states, who primarily were of modern Lebanon. This would include Tyre, Sidon, Byblos, Akkadia, and Beirut. Some Phoenician cities were not in modern day Lebanon. One example is Carthage which was in modern day Tunisia. Historians know that the Phoenicians were boat builders and did so for nearly 1000 years and possibly much longer than that. They were suppliers of the Cedars of Lebanon. They were also skilled craftsmen. In fact, when King David wanted a palace, he called on the King of Tyre. These people helped David build his palace and also provided supplies and expertise in building the temple and palace of King Solomon. Around 605 BC, Phoenicians were commissioned by the Egyptian Pharoah Nico II to sail around Africa (Sanford Holst, Phoenicians, page 261). At 587 B.C., it was most likely these same people who provided assistance to the Jews under their time of duress. It only makes sense that it would have been the Phoenicians who carried a group of Jews, including Mulek, to a land far away – a land only the Phoenicians were aware of. The only other group of people known in history that had the technology at this time for significant ocean travel were the Greeks, but they were not so close to the Jews as the people of Tyre and Sidon were.
As history shows, the people of Tyre also had a huge problem with Babylon. In history, King Nebuchadnezzar ransacked Jerusalem (587-586 BCE) and carried the Jews away into captivity. About this same time, the armies of Babylon waged a 13 year war on the Phoenician Island city of Tyre (586-573 BCE). This is where the untold history comes in.
The story of the journey of the rescued Jews is unknown. Did they go to Tyre or stay in Tyre for a time? Did they go to Egypt? Did they have a journey to Ireland as some report happened per the Annals of Ireland (Jeremiah in Ireland)? Possibly. We do know that per the Book of Mormon record, a group of them came to the new world – they came to America.
In general, the travels of the Phoenicians were kept secret. Where they went and how far they went is speculated on. The Phoenicians were a literate people, yet the existence of their records is sparsely retained. Most of their history is told by other nations – the Greeks, the Romans, the Babylonians. But one thing that is certain in their history is that they were very secretive of their journeys. There is evidence that the Phoenicians may have established trading posts in America, and made several journeys to this land. For the evidence, look to Poverty Point and look to the copper mines in the Great Lakes areas.
Now let’s get back to the Jewish refugees. The untold story could have happened different ways. Some Heartlanders believe they first entered by the Saint Lawrence straightway and travelled the Great Lakes. It was there in the Great Lakes area where they met with Coriantumr – the last Jaredite. As the journey continued, they navigated the lakes and rivers prior to coming south on the Mississippi. Soon they stopped at the Des Moines Rapids and established the land there.
One may question whether such a journey could have been reasonably taken. Let me quote the following paragraph from The Mound Builders written by Robert Silverburg.
Frenchmen moving westward along the St. Lawrence River discovered the upper Mississippi in the middle of the seventeenth century. About 1672, France commissioned the explorer Louis Joliet to investigate the Mississippi; he took with him Jesuit MissionaryJacques Marquette, and they embarked down the Mississippi on May 17, 1673. They saw no sign of Indian life on the river until they were as far south as the present site of Quincy, Illinois. There they came upon friendly Indians, visited several villages, and went on.(Source: The Mound Builders, Robert Silverburg, Chapter One)
There are some Heartlanders who theorize that the Phoenicians simply took the Jews North up the Mississippi and stopped at the Des Moines rapids and established the land right across the river from where Nauvoo is located. This does not explain the encounter with Coriantumr who survived the final Jaredite battle nearly 1000 miles away, but not all details are always explained.
The Meaning of the Name Zarahemla
About a week ago, the word Zarahemla all came together for me – in fact, there are two meanings to the name and both are very relevant to its history. One meaning is Phoenician and the other meaning is Hebrew. In my inquisitiveness, I looked up the Phoenician words first. Then I found a different website already reporting the Hebrew meaning here: https://evidencecentral.org/recency/evidence/wordplay-on-zarahemla. The Hebrew meaning is “Seed of Compassion”. The word seed is not plural. Had it been plural, the city would be called Zaramhemla. But the Hebrew words are זֶרַע or Zera (seed) and חֶמלָה or Hemla (compassion) – the translations here are taken from Google Translate. Seed may be interpreted as “child”. In other words, “Child of Compassion”.
So if we are just relying on the Hebrew translation, it is a bit odd. Why would someone call themselves, and their community, and their king – Seed of Compassion? When you take in the Phoenician meaning and the additional history of how they got to America, it makes perfect sense.
The book, The Grammar of the Phoenician Language, written by Zellig Harris, published in 1936 includes a glossary. Below are screenshots taken from this glossary to show the translation of the word Zarahemla in Phoenician.
Zar means Tyre in Phoenician.
Hem means Lives in Phoenician.
La(y) means “The Strong One” in Phoenician.
Tyre Lives Strong
In Phoenician, Zarahemla means Tyre Lives Strong.
The Untold Story
Now for the untold story. While journeying to the land of America, the Phoenician Sea Captain and the rest of the Phoenicians were worried for their own home land. They knew that King Nebuchadnezzar was trying to take their lands. They were aware that their land may not be recognizable by the time they returned. As the sea captain travelled the mighty Mississippi, he called it Sidon, named after the mighty Phoenician city of Sidon. When they selected the land for the settlement of the Jews, he called the land “Tyre Lives Strong”. The Jews on board heard this. But what they heard was “Seed (Child) of Compassion” – the Hebrew meaning. What a fitting name. It was such a good name, they named their land and their king exactly as proclaimed by their sea captain. The chosen name was ZARAHEMLA.
Phoenician Vessel Restoration
Now a plug for my friends over at the Heartland Research Group. They now own the 600 BC Phoenician vessel replica built and sailed by Phillip Beale. They are restoring this vessel for purposes of placing it in a museum in Montrose, Iowa. Montrose Iowa is on the opposite side of the Mississippi River from Nauvoo. When the museum and restoration of the vessel are complete, if you are standing on the temple grounds in Nauvoo, you will see it across the river. They could use your help during the summer months working on the construction of the ship. For more information, visit https://phoenicia.rocks.