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Interpreting Interpreter
Kingly Names; Kingly Ambitions

This post is a summary of the article “Proper Names and Political Claims: Semitic Echoes as Foundations for Claims to the Nephite Throne” by Lyle H. Hamblin in Volume 60 of Interpreter: A Journal of Latter-day Saint Faith and Scholarship. All of the Interpreting Interpreter articles may be seen at An introduction to the Interpreting Interpreter series is available at


The Takeaway

Hamblin identifies the names in the Book of Mormon that appear to be related to the root M-L-K—meaning “king” in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Arabic—outlining and cautioning against the often-monarchical ambitions of these figures, which begin with the appearance of the Mulekites and end with Moroni’s purge of the king-men.


The Summary

In this article, Lyle H. Hamblin provides a thorough exploration of the Book of Mormon’s Mulek-related names, focusing on those with plausible connections to the semitic root word M-L-K, or “king”, with variations that suggest possession or dominance. The Book of Mormon has as many as 14 such names, especially when our linguistic lens is broadened to more than just Hebrew (as supported by the mix of languages identified in Brian Stubbs’ Uto-Aztecan work). Hamblin analyses the timing of these names within the book, noting that they begin with the appearance of the Mulekites (who have a legitimate claim to the throne of David) and end when Captain Moroni “put[s] an end” to the king-men and their associated appellations (after which they seem to be replaced by Jaredite names).

This list of M-L-K names includes:

  • Amaleki1, the final narrator of the book of Omni, who may have been born after the merge of the Nephites and Mulekites.
  • Amaleki2, a probable descendant of the Mulekite king Zarahemla who journeys to check on those who returned to the land of Nephi.
  • Mulek son of the biblical king Zedekiah, first mentioned in Mosiah 25:2.
  • Amlici, the first name to appear after Mosiah2’s abolishment of the monarchy and his transition to a system of judges, a decision that may have been intended to prevent a Mulekite takeover. But only five years pass before Amlici attempts to use that system to reestablish himself as monarch, perhaps fueled by grievances with Alma’s rule as chief judge). After Amlici’s defeat, his followers make common cause with the Lamanites—a pattern that would continue with future dissenters. Hamblin suggests that Amlici was probably a Mulekite, but the usual pronunciation of the last syllable with an s sound makes its connection to the M-L-K root less likely (though the printer’s manuscript has examples of it with a k, as does one Arabic translation of the book).
  • Melek, in the land west of Sidon, a place where Alma preaches and that may have been predominately Mulekite.
  • Amulek, a non-Mulekite, but one that felt the need to specify his Nephite identity, perhaps because of the M-L-K implications of his name.
  • Muloki, Aaron’s companion on his mission to the Lamanites.
  • The Amalekites, another group of dissenters without explicit origins, but who build a city that Hamblin argues would be an appropriate Mulekite name (Jerusalem), and whose similarities to the Amlicites suggest a Mulekite connection.
  • Amalickiah, a Nephite who has no qualms changing his ethnic identification for political purposes, and whose brother drew on Mulekite support in waging their civil war.

Hamblin notes that the Book of Mormon equates these political struggles with spiritual struggles, and that political dissent is usually accompanied by dissent against the church and oppression of its members. Captain Moroni’s cleanse of the king-men may have been prosecuted in similarly spiritual terms. Hamblin suggests that these king men were mostly Mulekite, given their claims to noble birth, and after this purge M-L-K names are also discontinued. This change in naming convention is not unprecedented in the ancient world—in the Bible, names ending in -baal appear to disappear from Judah following Hosea’s prediction to that effect. Though various groups continued to dissent and fight against the Lamanites, the Mulekite identity appears to end after the widespread destruction in 3 Nephi.

Hamblin ends by presenting some unanswered questions about the use of M-L-K names in the text, such as why characters would have names that correspond to their role in the narrative and why their political motives are not more clearly explained in the text. He presents a variety of potential answers, noting that several options are plausible in each case (e.g., names being given natively to those of Mulekite descent, names being adopted for political purposes, or names being applied by Mormon for editorial reasons; political motivations being omitted due to space or spiritual considerations). Regardless of the true answer, the Mulekite influence on the narrative of the book is palpable, and remains relevant in our day, with Hamblin proposing that it highlights the danger of grievance-based propaganda. As he concludes:

Recognizing Mulekites as a source of consistent political complications during the reign of the judges highlight[s] the political skills and struggles of king Benjamin, king Mosiah2, Captain Moroni, and Mormon. Nephite-Mulekite struggles make the story of the Book of Mormon more coherent and comprehensible and prepare the reader to make applications to our lives and times.


The Reflection

Hamblin reinforces a lesson I keep learning as I work through Interpreter’s offerings: taking the Book of Mormon seriously will almost always pay dividends. Want to see if the text aligns with ancient legal practices? Sure, go for it! Want to posit a plausible scribal backstory for the alternative scriptural record mentioned passingly in the book? Not a problem. Want to meaningfully analyze how the word nevertheless is used? Why the heck not? That such analyses are not only possible but consistently produce profitable insights never ceases to astound me. The depth and texture of Hamblin’s proposed political undertones, based in large part on naming conventions, of all things, is yet another useful example. Somehow I doubt you could do the same thing with, say, the lineage of Dwarven or Numenorean kings in the Silmarillion—it’s a casually meaningful level of detail that artifice would have a hard time producing.

Hamblin also claims that the timeline of M-L-K names is not a coincidence, which strikes me as a claim that’s actually quantifiable. These names represent about 7% of the book’s 188 unique proper names. It’s possible to roughly estimate the likelihood of those names only being introduced in the 33% of the book (pages 140-317 out of 532) that spans Omni 1 to Alma 43. If Joseph was just introducing these names at random, it would be similar to rolling a 3-sided die 14 times, getting the same result each time. The probability of doing so would be p = 0.3314, or 2.0 x 10-7—about a 1 in 5 million chance. Though a more robust estimate could change this result somewhat, it lends credence to Hamblin’s intuition. I don’t think the distribution of M-L-K names is accidental. In the same vein, I don’t think their connection to the political ambitions of the Mulekites are accidental either. These were real people, with real agendas, real cultural and political habits, and I’m grateful the Lord has seen fit to let their authentic experiences inform my spiritual worldview.

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