Nephi’s Zedekiah

This timeline (click on “timeline”) is centered on the date that Lehi, in the Book of Mormon, left Jerusalem in 601 BC. The dates for the Old Testament events in the timeline are from the work from Edwin R. Thiele15 and his book The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings16 which is the definitive work on the subject.

The only Book of Mormon event that can be dated directly to the Old Testament, as an anchor point, is Lehi’s departure1 from Jerusalem. Nephi in the Book of Mormon states that Christ would come 600 years2 from Lehi’s departure. The actual date for this event is 601 BC if one believes, as I do, that Jesus was born in 1 BC17. However, if Jesus was born somewhere within 2-4 BC, as some others believe, it does not materially affect the Book of Mormon timeline, except to shorten the period of Lehi’s prophetic ministry. The narrative of 1 Nephi in the Book of Mormon fits extremely well with the established Old Testament timeline chronology once we account for Nephi’s reference to the first year of the reign of Zedekiah3 as the beginning Lehi’s prophetic call.

Here are some of the issues:

  1. Lehi left Jerusalem in 601 BC. However, Mattaniah/Zedekiah did not become King of Judah until 597 BC. Lehi and Nephi would have never known the King Zedekiah whose original name was Mattaniah4.
  2. Lehi was a man of position and wealth, however by the time Mattaniah/Zedekiah was appointed king Nebuchadnezzar had already taken captives to Babylon three times and depopulated Jerusalem of all the men of wealth and skill5. Wealthy men like Lehi (and Laban for that matter) were no longer around at the beginning of the reign of Mattaniah/Zedekiah.
  3. The attitude of Laman and Lemuel throughout 1 Nephi was that Jerusalem could never be conquered6. They resented leaving Jerusalem, their family wealth, and thought they would have been happy7 had they not departed. This outlook is totally inconsistent with the reign of Mattaniah/Zedekiah since by then Jerusalem had fallen twice, and been besieged, looted, and conquered (but not yet destroyed) by Babylon.

Here are some possible solutions that have been suggested:

  1. The 600 year prophecy was given as only an approximate number of years.
    Answer: No, Nephi clearly states exactly 600 years, twice, and also said it was proclaimed by an angel from Heaven. Approximate years won’t do.
  2. They used a 360 or 365 day year and that accounts for the missing four years.
    Answer: No, surely the normal common, solar, seasonal years were meant as used throughout the Old Testament. A 360 or 365 day year still won’t make the dates come out right.
  3. Our modern dating of 597 BC for the first year of Zedekiah’s reign is incorrect.
    Answer: No, this date comes from Edwin R. Thiele, a proven and reliable expert in Biblical dating. It is also attested to by Babylonian chronicles that include verifiable astronomical events for correlation. There’s not much wiggle room with the date. It is correct beyond a reasonable doubt.
  4. Nephi simply made a mistake.
    Answer: No, while Book of Mormon prophets make no claim to perfection8, this is too big and obvious to be an error. Nephi surely knew what happened in the first year of Zedekiah’s reign. He was actually there, not us. And the 600 year prophecy9 is repeated twice in an authoritative manner. It can’t be a typo.
  5. There was another King Zedekiah.
    Answer: I believe that’s it! In 609 BC, Pharoah Necho II appointed Eliakim to the throne of Judah as his vassal. As was the custom of the time, he changed Eliakim’s name to Jehoiakim10 to indicate Eliakims subservience to Necho. However, in 605 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon completely defeated Necho at the Battle of Carchemish and then made Necho’s former vassals swear allegiance11 and pay tribute to Babylon instead of Egypt. Although there is no specific mention of it, Nebuchadnezzar would have given Eliakim a Babylonian designated (yet Hebrew) name just as he later did with Mattaniah (also renamed Zedekiah)12. Nebuchadnezzar had every reason to change Jehoiakim’s name as loyalties were tenuous at this period with many in Judah preferring Egypt over Babylon and wondering if they shouldn’t try to stick with Egypt. Nebuchadnezzar was definitely not ignorant politically and there is no way he would send the wrong signal by letting Eliakim keep an Egyptian designated throne name.

Jeremiah 27:1-3, gives us the clue that the Babylonian assigned name for Eliakim/Jehoiakim was indeed Zedekiah.

Jeremiah 27
1 IN the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying,
2 Thus saith the LORD to me; Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck,
3 And send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah;

The context of these verses is about messengers being sent to neighboring kingdoms with a message from God to submit to Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon. Eliakim’s Babylonian designated name would definately have been used in such a proclamation. Jeremiah 27:1 has long puzzled Bible scholars with the traditional consensus being that the statement “In the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim” must be a copyist error.

The evidence of Eliakim/Jehoaikim being called Zedekiah during part of his reign is very circumstantial as far as the Bible alone is concerned, but in the context of Book of Mormon history, the additional evidences are overwhelming. One can see from the timeline and from the Book of Mormon text that Lehi leaving Jerusalem at the beginning of Mattaniah/Zedekiah’s reign is just totally, totally out of context. We would have to accept that Nephi didn’t know what he was talking about throughout 1st and 2nd Nephi and we would also have to accept that there is a scribal copyist error in Jeremiah 27:1. Many modern Bible translations take it upon themselves to “correct the error” by just deleting Jeremiah 27:1. This is somewhat understandable, considering the Septuagint (ancient Greek Bible version) does not contain the verse. However, the Jeremiah 27:1 we have in the KJV Bible is consistent with the Masoretic (Hebrew) and Dead Sea Scrolls versions of Jeremiah. In fact, the whole context of the conversation going on in Jeremiah 27 would be non-sensical if the Zedekiah in verses 3 and 12 was Mattaniah/Zedekiah instead of Eliakim/Jehoaikim/Zedekiah. By the time Mattaniah was renamed Zedekiah, Eliakim/Jehoiakim/Zedekiah had been already executed by Nebuchadnezzar, Jehoiachin had been taken prisoner by Nebuchadnezzar and Jerusalem had fallen three times to the Babylonians. A careful reading of Jeremiah 27 shows that verses 1- 11 fit best in the time of Eliakim/Jehoaikim/Zedekiah. Verses 12-21 could fit with either Eliakim/Jehoaikim/Zedekiah or Mattaniah/Zedekiah (Note: Temple vessels were first taken when Daniel went to Babylon in 604 BC, Daniel 1:1-613). It is not until Verses 19-22 that we are definitely pulled in to the time frame of Mattaniah/Zedekiah. But guess what? Verses 19-22 of Jeremiah 27 are not in the Dead Sea scrolls version of Jeremiah! These verses are a later addition made to the Masoretic version of Jeremiah and are now known to be out of place.

Thanks to the Book of Mormon and the Dead Sea Scrolls, we must consider that Jeremiah 27:1 is not an error! One of the purposes of the Book of Mormon is to support and prove14 the Bible as originally written and it does so only 4 verses into 1st Nephi!



Postscript: I must credit John P Pratt18 for presenting the idea of Jehoiakim being Nephi’s Zedekiah. I have taken his insight and added my own considerations to form this post. Randall P. Spackman, a well known scholar with the Maxwell Institute has been critical of Pratt’s perspective, primarily citing lack of proof. See Jehoiakim Was Not Nephi’s Zedekiah19. However, Spackman doesn’t present any alternative hypothesis in the document cited. In other words, Spackman rejects Pratt but leaves the legitimate issues (anachronisms) unresolved. My position is that Pratt’s explanation is the one that best fits the facts, by far, whereas accepting Mattaniah/Zedekiah as Nephi’s Zedekiah is unsupportable — it can’t be made to fit the historical context in my opinion. Science is about finding the theory that best fits the facts. To me this means that, Jehoiakim is Nephi’s Zedekiah.


 


 

References

11 Nephi 2

1 FOR behold, it came to pass that the Lord spake unto my father, yea, even in a dream, and said unto him: Blessed art thou Lehi, because of the things which thou hast done; and because thou hast been faithful and declared unto this people the things which I commanded thee, behold, they seek to take away thy life.
2 And it came to pass that the Lord commanded my father, even in a dream, that he should take his family and depart into the wilderness.
3 And it came to pass that he was obedient unto the word of the Lord, wherefore he did as the Lord commanded him.
4 And it came to pass that he departed into the wilderness. And he left his house, and the land of his inheritance, and his gold, and his silver, and his precious things, and took nothing with him, save it were his family, and provisions, and tents, and departed into the wilderness.

21 Nephi 10 & 2 Nephi 25

8 And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.

19 For according to the words of the prophets, the Messiah cometh in six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem; and according to the words of the prophets, and also the word of the angel of God, his name shall be Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

31 Nephi 1:4

4 For it came to pass in the commencement of the first year of the reign of Zedekiah, king of Judah, (my father, Lehi, having dwelt at Jerusalem in all his days); and in that same year there came many prophets, prophesying unto the people that they must repent, or the great city Jerusalem must be destroyed.

42 Kings 24

17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
18 Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.

52 Kings 24

11 And Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came against the city, and his servants did besiege it.
12 And Jehoiachin the king of Judah went out to the king of Babylon, he, and his mother, and his servants, and his princes, and his officers: and the king of Babylon took him in the eighth year of his reign.
13 And he carried out thence all the treasures of the house of the LORD, and the treasures of the king’s house, and cut in pieces all the vessels of gold which Solomon king of Israel had made in the temple of the LORD, as the LORD had said.
14 And he carried away all Jerusalem, and all the princes, and all the mighty men of valour, even ten thousand captives, and all the craftsmen and smiths: none remained, save the poorest sort of the people of the land.
15 And he carried away Jehoiachin to Babylon, and the king’s mother, and the king’s wives, and his officers, and the mighty of the land, those carried he into captivity from Jerusalem to Babylon.
16 And all the men of might, even seven thousand, and craftsmen and smiths a thousand, all that were strong and apt for war, even them the king of Babylon brought captive to Babylon.
17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.
18 Zedekiah was twenty and one years old when he began to reign, and he reigned eleven years in Jerusalem.

61 Nephi 2

12 And thus Laman and Lemuel, being the eldest, did murmur against their father. And they did murmur because they knew not the dealings of that God who had created them.
13 Neither did they believe that Jerusalem, that great city, could be destroyed according to the words of the prophets. And they were like unto the Jews who were at Jerusalem, who sought to take away the life of my father.

71 Nephi 17

21 Behold, these many years we have suffered in the wilderness, which time we might have enjoyed our possessions and the land of our inheritance; yea, and we might have been happy.

8Ether 12

23 And I said unto him: Lord, the Gentiles will mock at these things, because of our weakness in writing; for Lord thou hast made us mighty in word by faith, but thou hast not made us mighty in writing; for thou hast made all this people that they could speak much, because of the Holy Ghost which thou hast given them;
24 And thou hast made us that we could write but little, because of the awkwardness of our hands. Behold, thou hast not made us mighty in writing like unto the brother of Jared, for thou madest him that the things which he wrote were mighty even as thou art, unto the overpowering of man to read them.
25 Thou hast also made our words powerful and great, even that we cannot write them; wherefore, when we write we behold our weakness, and stumble because of the placing of our words; and I fear lest the Gentiles shall mock at our words.
26 And when I had said this, the Lord spake unto me, saying: Fools mock, but they shall mourn; and my grace is sufficient for the meek, that they shall take no advantage of your weakness;
27 And if men come unto me I will show unto them their weakness. I give unto men weakness that they may be humble; and my grace is sufficient for all men that humble themselves before me; for if they humble themselves before me, and have faith in me, then will I make weak things become strong unto them.

91 Nephi 10:4 & 1 Nephi 19:8

4 Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world.

8 And behold he cometh, according to the words of the angel, in six hundred years from the time my father left Jerusalem.

102 Kings 23

34 And Pharaoh-nechoh made Eliakim the son of Josiah king in the room of Josiah his father, and turned his name to Jehoiakim, and took Jehoahaz away: and he came to Egypt, and died there.
35 And Jehoiakim gave the silver and the gold to Pharaoh; but he taxed the land to give the money according to the commandment of Pharaoh: he exacted the silver and the gold of the people of the land, of every one according to his taxation, to give it unto Pharaoh-nechoh.

112 Kings 24

1 IN his days Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came up, and Jehoiakim became his servant three years: then he turned and rebelled against him.

122 Kings 24

17 And the king of Babylon made Mattaniah his father’s brother king in his stead, and changed his name to Zedekiah.

13Daniel 1:1-6

1 IN the third year of the reign of Jehoiakim king of Judah came Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon unto Jerusalem, and besieged it.
2 And the Lord gave Jehoiakim king of Judah into his hand, with part of the vessels of the house of God: which he carried into the land of Shinar to the house of his god; and he brought the vessels into the treasure house of his god.

142 Nephi 29 & 1 Nephi 13

10 Wherefore, because that ye have a Bible ye need not suppose that it contains all my words; neither need ye suppose that I have not caused more to be written.
11 For I command all men, both in the east and in the west, and in the north, and in the south, and in the islands of the sea, that they shall write the words which I speak unto them; for out of the books which shall be written I will judge the world, every man according to their works, according to that which is written.

40 And the angel spake unto me, saying: These last records, which thou hast seen among the Gentiles, shall establish the truth of the first, which are of the twelve apostles of the Lamb, and shall make known the plain and precious things which have been taken away from them; and shall make known to all kindreds, tongues, and people, that the Lamb of God is the Son of the Eternal Father, and the Savior of the world; and that all men must come unto him, or they cannot be saved.

15Edwin R. Thiele

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edwin_R._Thiele

16The Mysterious Numbers of the Hebrew Kings

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Mysterious_Numbers_of_the_Hebrew_Kings

17Jesus was born in 1 BC

http://lds.org/ensign/1985/06/the-restoration-of-priesthood-keys-on-easter-1836-part-1-dating-the-first-easter?lang=eng

18John P Pratt

http://www.johnpratt.com/items/docs/lds/meridian/2000/lehi6apr.html#2.4

19Jehoiakim Was Not Nephi’s Zedekiah

http://www.bookofmormonchronology.net/uploads/3/7/7/6/3776503/appendix_i._part_3._zedekiah.pdf

2 Replies to “Nephi’s Zedekiah”

  1. That still leaves a huge unanswered question — why would the Kingdom of Judah refer to their king by a Babylonian name before Babylon came and sacked/took over the kingdom?

    1. Nebuchadnezzar wiped out the entire Egyptian army at Carchemish in 604 BC. Some accounts say he even chased down and killed the survivors of the battle. After this, the former vassals of Egypt thought it quite prudent to pay tribute (tax) to Babylon, which Eliakim reluctantly did for 3 years (2 Kings 24:1). Immediately after Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar took only a few high class citizens from Jerusalem to hold as hostages, and one of them was a young Daniel the prophet. In all, the Babylonians came 5 times to Jerusalem – 604 BC = peaceful entrance, 600 BC = partially destroyed by Babylonian mercenaries, 597 BC = peaceful entrance (but Eliakim dethroned and executed), 596 BC = city besieged and taken/looted, and then the “final” destruction in 585 BC when the city was burned, the temple razed, and the walls torn down.

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