Timelines Get Confusing. So Who Lived When?
Depending on when you attended seminary you may be familiar with this bookmark or one similar to it. I love the symbolism here that showed the cultural crossovers between the Mulekites and the Nephites and then the Nephites and the Lamanites. Looking back something this bookmark didn’t do the best job at was conveying a sense of size or duration of the Jaredite Nation.
Comparatively speaking the Jaredites were actually in the promised land a lot longer than the Nephites. Nearly double the amount of time. Perhaps if we modify the bookmark like this, we get a better idea of the length of time.
Nephite or Mulekite, Whos Culture Dominated?
When looking at the Missouri, Iowa, Illinois, Indiana, and Ohio regions, better known as the Havana Hopewell Region, as the settings for the Lands Northward and keeping that in mind while studying the Book of Mormon a new picture starts to form. One of a group of Nephites leaving their homes and their city to travel to an unknown land after the lord warns Mosiah, father of Benjamin, that their people are in danger and must leave.
As the Nephites leave their home and travel northward they eventually come across the People of Zarahemla (keep in mind the term Mulekites is never actually used to describe them in the Book of Mormon). The ruler of the People of Zarahemla is a man named Zarahemla. These people were likely far more numerous than the Nephites. Keep in mind their ancestors arrived there, settled there, and never left. Compared to the Nephites who had to leave the Land of their First Inheritance and then generations latter leave the Land of Nephi. Omni 1:14 tells us
“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.”
A written record was very important to these people. So Zarahemla hands leadership of his people over to Mosiah because Mosiah has not only a written language (something the people of Zarahemla had lost) but because Mosiah can also trace his lineage back a dozen generations. Zarahemla can orally trace his lineage back to Mulek but has no written evidence to support this. He recognized Mosiah’s kingship.
This detail becomes a bit more important latter when considering how many times in later generations Mulikite men with claims to being blood descendants of Zarahemla attempt to assert themselves as rules and kings over the people in the land of Zarahemla and the land of Bountiful. Suddenly the “Nephite Culture” we read about in Alma and Helaman are less Nephite influenced and far more Mulikite influenced.
Where Did the Mulekite Culture Come From?
Based on King Zedekiah’s age at the time Jerusalem was destroyed and knowing that Mulek was his youngest son and only child to survive, we can assume Mulek was a fairly young child if not a baby. In any case, he was not a king or a ruler who would have had followers to carry him away in secret. We know King Nebuchadnezzar made it a point to have the entire royal family killed, but missed one. Muleks escape is not one of a prince being carried away by his devoted people. It’s a baby who was probably being cared for by a wet nurse outside of the palace. Perhaps there was even a Babylonian who sympathized with the child and assisted in their escape (keep in mind Zedekiah was a puppet king for Nebuchadnezzar who had already besieged Jerusalem once. He probably left people behind to keep an eye on things).
So we have Hebrews and Babylonians but who else might have been part of that journey. Possibly their trade partners the Egyptians? A possible theory is that the Phonecians, who had established trade from the dead sea along the entire coast of Africa and back up to the Mediterranean and were already capable of making trips to North America, brought them to the promised land. Had the Phonecian vessel made stops along the way perhaps Africans made the journey as well. So Hebrews and Babylonians and maybe Egyptians and Phonecians and Africans. Its starting make sense why the Mulekites had such a hard time with written language with that many people and that many cultures.
(Photo from Book of Mormon Evidence Website)
But what about people they found when they arrived?
But I Thought the Jaredites Died Out Before The Mulekites Arrived?
Well so did I. Or at least that’s the narrativize I had in my head growing up. Going back and reading the scriptures there are only a few things that we know for sure.
1st) Coriantumr was found by the people of Zarahemla at some point.
“Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons.”
2nd) Limhi’s rescue party found the records Either wrote in a land covered in bones and destruction.
“And they were lost in the wilderness for the space of many days, yet they were diligent, and found not the land of Zarahemla but returned to this land, having traveled in a land among many waters, having discovered a land which was covered with bones of men, and of beasts, and was also covered with ruins of buildings of every kind, having discovered a land which had been peopled with a people who were as numerous as the hosts of Israel.”
(Image from LDS Media Library)
So Let’s Look At Timelines.
Mosiah 8:8 takes place about 121 B.C according to the dating in the Book of Mormon. So let’s start there. We know the land “was covered with bones of men, and of beasts”. A quote from Science ABC says “based on a wide range of … factors, bone can last for a few months to a few geologic eras”. Not overly helpful other than to say that Limhi’s rescue party could have arrived only months after the Jaredites final battle dating it in 121 B.C.
A great answer was given to this same question posed on Stack Exchange and gives us a date range of 10 to 40 years. More helpful but still pretty wide and not specific enough without taking into account the environment.
For this one, we were lucky enough to speak with geologist Randall Mickle at Serpent Mound in Ohio. We only got to speak with him briefly but possed the question “roughly how long would it take an exposed skeleton to decompose due to the environment only”. In the Ohio region, he estimated maybe 50 years tops. We asked what about the Great Lakes region to which he responded maybe twice that assuming no preservation techniques where used. The cold he explained actually preserves far better and in fact, they have found nearly entirely intact mammoth remains some with tissue still on them frozen in the great lakes where they were buried by archaic man.
So that gives us a range of maybe 100 years prior to Limhi’s expedition that the final battle of the Jaredites took place. That’s only 220 B.C at the most. That means for at least 400 years the Nephites, the Mulekites, and the Jaredites all lived on the same continent together. Now if you put a mountain range between the Nephites and the other two it makes more sense why they may have had limited contact. But the Mulekites with only planes between them and the last remnants of the Jaredite nation ….
It seems to me there’s a pretty good chance the two groups interacted and traded, maybe even intermarried. Which fits pretty well with the shared culture archeologists are finding between the Adena and the Hopewell who inhabited some of the same areas. In short, the Mulikites brought a lot of culture and tradition with them but adopted a lot more from the locals when they arrived. So when the Nephites in the land of Zarahemla are following tradition, some of it may very well have been a Jaredite tradition.
Most recent copy of the Book of Mormon Timeline Bookmark on the LDS website
A first-hand account of a member of the Phoenicia Expedition