What the Maya did & didn’t say about 2012

Well, normally at this time I write about why I do not keep Christmas, and I will still try and do that – maybe tomorrow.  However, due to the work I have done over the last few months for the Tomorrow’s World telecast, magazine article, and the new DVD we’re offering, I have a new timely topic to discuss: The so-called Mayan doomsday date of December 21, 2012.

(Of course, you will note that it would have been timelier three days ago.  But those who know me probably – and sadly – are not surprised that I would think to do this a few days late!)

Some have wondered if the free DVD (and as of a few weeks ago, we’ve had 26,000 requests for the DVD already!) is simply a copy of the television program that I did on the topic.  No, it is not – it is a brand new, specially made, hour-long program on the 2012 hysteria and the biblical response to it.  It contains a number of details that the Tomorrow’s World television program did not have.

I’ve been told that about 8 minutes of my work had to be edited out to fit the time constraints of the DVD.  In addition, there was some material that I edited out, myself, before taping to try and make the program fit to time and to focus on those things that were most important to say.  With those things in mind, I thought it might be fun to include some of that excluded content here on my blog – sort of like a “special features” section of a DVD, except that it’s just me, and I’m not that special. 🙂

I can’t include the material that editorial had to cut for time, because I do not know what that was, yet (except one item: my comments concerning 2012er Daniel Pinchbeck, and I will try to include that in a later post when I know more about what was cut).  However, I can include some of the information that I had to cut, myself.  And from what I have seen, it is hard to find a concentrated discussion of some of these items out there, so maybe this will have value to some poor 2012-deluded soul who is looking for info and may come across it.

In particular, let me expand on something that – in the end – I only had time to allude to in the final version of my DVD script.  On the DVD, I make the following comment:

“There simply is no solid, legitimate support in the Mayan writings we have today that they viewed December 21, 2012 as a coming End of the World!  While some wish to say that the Maya foresaw December 21, 2012 as the end of life as we know it on planet earth, the climatic date in all of history, we have to admit that the Maya are strangely silent about the date.  It seems that modern man is more concerned about the date than the Maya ever were!”

Before saying this I refer to three objects that sometimes get attention in this regard: Monument 6 at Tortuguero, the Dresden Codex, and the later writings of the Chilam Balam.  The first of these I had time to say a little about in the presentation, but for the latter two I had no time at all and I only mentioned them in passing.  Let me add some detail here for the curious and to explain the basis for the assertions I make in the presentation.

[Though, before I do that, conscience compels me to say three fundamental things:

(1) Even if the Mayans did predict the world would end in 2012 – and all indicators are that they did not – it would be irrelevant in the larger scheme of things.  It is the God of the Bible who declares the end from the beginning (Isa. 46:10), and in the light of scripture the so-called-Mayan-but-actually-New-Age 2012 fantasies are just that: fantasies.  For mode details, request the DVD or go out to tomorrowsworld.org!

(2) Many mistakenly say that the Mayan calendar (as if they had only one) ends in December of 2012.  While likely an innocent mistake, this is false for several reasons.  For one, the Mayans had several calendars; when people speak of “the calendar” coming to an end, they are usually speaking only of what is called the Long Count Calendar, which reaches the end of a baktun in December 2012 according to many scholars.  More importantly, the Mayans, themselves, did not see even their Long Count Calendar as coming to an end.  Rather, like our own calendars at the end of a century or a millennium, their calendar simply keeps on going.  In fact, there are many Mayan inscriptions that indicate dates and anniversaries long after 2012 – an odd fact for a calendar that is supposed to “end.”

(3) Some scholars believe that the commonly used GMT correlation that equates the end of the Mayan baktun with December 21, 2012 is actually wrong and is off by several years, at least.  At least one Mesoamerican scholar has told me personally that the GMT correlation doesn’t fit several Mayan astronomical records, which would be odd if it were as correct as it is given credit for, given the special fondness the Mayans had for accurate astronomy.

OK, with those things off my chest, I can continue! 🙂 ]

Where was I before Captain Parenthetical Comment interrupted?  Oh, yes!  Details for the curious that did not make it into the DVD for lack of time…  Let me warn the reader now that some of this will seem a bit dry or esoteric — get some caffeine in you before you proceed!

•  Monument 6 at Tortuguero in the Chiapas Highlands of Mexico.  This stone work is notable as the only work discovered to date that specifically mentions 2012.  And it is also, therefore, notable in that it doesn’t say anything that indicates December 21, 2012 will be the end of the world.

The Monument 6 inscription at Tortuguero is partially eroded and no complete translation can be made.  However, according to Wikipedia (and, hey, when is that ever wrong?) the Mesoamerica Center Discussion Board for the University of Texas reports this translation: “‘The Thirteenth Bak’tun’ will be finished (on) Four Ahaw, the Third of K’ank’in. ? will occur. (It will be) the descent(?) of the Nine Support (?) God(s) to the ?.”  (The comment about “Four Ahaw” will be clearer later when I discuss the Chilam Balam.)  The scholars involved have reported that the format and words used are nothing special in that they are not uncommon and are associated with other “dedication events.”

No, Monument 6 offers nothing worthwhile for those who wish to turn December 21, 2012 into a Mayan doomsday prediction.  And, remember: it is the only direct mention of the 2012 baktun end that we have discovered to date.  Odd that if it were supposed to be the end of the world that it would be spoken of so nonchalantly, huh?

Moving on, let’s look at…

•  The Dresden Codex.  The Mayan Codices are a marvelous resource for understanding their culture and writings.  You can read more about them here if you are interested.  The Dresden Codex (Codex Dresdensis) is one of the most famous of the few codices that survive, and it is named for city in Germany in which it resides.  It is elaborate and long (a screen-folded “book” of 39 leaves & 78 pages) but is not prophetic (unlike the Paris Codex).

The Dresden Codex tends to get attention in the 2012 works I researched due to the elaborate image it bears of water pouring from the mouth of what appears to be a serpent (see image below).

Photo of Dresden Codex page

In fact, I would suspect that this might be the inspiration of the “end of the world tsunamis” in the recent “2012” movie, though I have no idea.  However, there are a few things noteworthy about this image: (1) the image is given without comment, so there is no indication that the Mayans meant for it to be a prophetic image (though it certainly could be), (2) the December 21, 2012 date is not referred to in the Dresden Codex, (3) there are good reasons to understand the Dresden Codex as, in some ways, a Mayan Almanac, which might mean that the waters indicated are simply communicating something related to agriculture.

Even if the image is meant to indicate an apocalyptic flood of Emmerichian proportions – and there is no strong evidence that I can find to indicate this – there is nothing in the codex to tie the image to 2012.

Finally, the big one…

•  The Chilam Balam.  Of the three items here mentioned, this one is of interest because (1) it does contain prophecies, and (2) it does indicate time frames (sort of) for those prophecies.  However, on both of these counts it is often misunderstood.

Rather than give the basics on the Chilam Balam here, let me defer to Wikipedia for those who want more info so that I can focus on some specific items.  Before I can discuss some passages in the Chilam Balam, there are some foundational things that have to be understood.  And, as is my wont, I will probably overexplain in unwanted detail.  (Is consistency a virtue?)

First, the books of the Chilam Balam were composed well after the Classical Mayan period – in fact, the better part of a millennium afterward.  They were written after the Spanish conquest as late as the 18th and 19th centuries, though some of the source material may go as far back as the time of the conquest in the 16th and 17th centuries (the Classical Mayan period ended around 900AD).  They are in the language of the Yucatec Maya but written with European script as opposed to the hieroglyphic-like script that the Mayans had previously used for centuries.

Secondly, the books of the Chilam Balam are clearly “corrupted” by Spanish and Catholic influence, to the point where it is often hard to pinpoint where the Maya commentary and prophecies end and the Catholic influence begins.  Read enough of them and the corruption is obvious.  It is this point on which I am probably pickier than most in that I have a difficult time calling the prophecies of the Chilam Balam “Mayan prophecies.”  In actuality, they are hybrid works, and their “culturally corrupted” nature gives me pause in using that designation.  However, it really is not an unreasonable designation, though those who hear it should always remember that there are Catholic and Spanish influences that are woven into the books and that care should be taken in identifying the writings as belonging to the people we see in documentaries and movies as the ancient Maya.  (And cultural mixings and strong Spanish/Catholic influences aside, I don’t think anyone would call Hernán Cortés the 16th century conquistador an “ancient Spaniard.”)

Lastly, as mentioned, the Chilam Balam manuscripts do contain predictions about the future, but – and this is of significance in our discussion – they do not tie those predictions to the Long Count Calendar.  Rather, the Mayan approach to prophecy focused on a different calendar: a set of 13 katuns, where a katun is 7,200 days long.  Being 7,200 days, each katun was just under 20 years long (7,200 ÷ 365.25 = 19.71), and the entire cycle of 13 katuns was a little over 256 years long (13 × 7,200 ÷ 365.25 = 256.26).

The names of the katuns are a little counterintuitive, since they have numbers in their names but the numbers do not go in the order you might expect.  The names of each of the 13 katuns (each one 7,200 days or just under 20 years long) are, in order:

  1. Katun 11 Ahau
  2. Katun 9 Ahau
  3. Katun 7 Ahau
  4. Katun 5 Ahau
  5. Katun 3 Ahau
  6. Katun 1 Ahau
  7. Katun 12 Ahau
  8. Katun 10 Ahau
  9. Katun 8 Ahau
  10. Katun 6 Ahau
  11. Katun 4 Ahau
  12. Katun 2 Ahau
  13. Katun 13 Ahau

This ordering can be illustrated by this “katun wheel” diagram, reproducing that of 16th century Catholic Bishop Diego de Landa Calderón (who, actually, was responsible for destroying a vast amount of the Mayans’ original writings in an Inquisitional auto de fé):

Image of Landa's Katun Wheel

The odd numbering (11, 9, 7, etc.) owes itself to the fact that the Mayans used a type of “week” or “month” that was 13 days long (thus the numbers 1-13 above, indicating the day of that “week”) yet they had 20 day names, the twentieth being “Ahau,” sometimes written “Ajaw.”  (You can see all 20 day names here.)  Each 7,200-day katun in the 256 year cycle was named after its very last day, and since 7,200 is divided evenly by 20, the name of that day was always the 20th day: Ahau.  However, because 7,200 is not divided evenly by 13, the number of that day differs, always falling 2 short from completing the numerical cycle of 13 days (7,200 ÷ 13 has a remainder of 11, just 2 short of a full 13).

If all of that is too mathy or confusing, don’t worry about it.  The important thing for understanding the Chilam Balam’s prophetic comments is to understand that it is based not on the Long Count Calendar, but the 256-year-long cycle of 13 katuns, and that their names are given, in order, as above.

While we modern folks place a lot of importance on the Long Count Calendar, we have to keep in mind that the Mayans were not so single-minded.  They had a variety of calendars, and the one they used depended on the purpose for which it was employed.  The calendar of primary focus in the Chilam Balam was this 256-year-long cycle of 13 katuns, which was the calendar most connected to Maya predictions – which were, in their own ways, often cyclical like the katun cycle.  What you expected to happen in a future katun was essentially a repetition of what had happened in the same katun in a previous cycle.

With this background, we can finally look at the few comments in the Chilam Balam thought by many to mention December 21, 2012 – in particular, two selections from the Chumayel Chilam Balam manuscript.  Here’s one, from the 10th chapter of Ralph Roys’ well-respected translation of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel:

“But when the law of the katun shall have run its course, then God will bring about a great deluge again which will be the end of the world. When this is over, then our Lord Jesus Christ shall descend over the valley of Jehoshaphat beside the town of Jerusalem where he redeemed us with his holy blood. He shall descend on a great cloud to bear true testimony that he was once obliged to suffer, stretched out on a cross of wood. Then shall descend in his great power and glory the true God who created heaven and earth and everything on earth. He shall descend to level off the world for the good and the bad, the conquerors and the captives.”

(I note here that Mr. Roland Emmerich may have been inspired by this passage, instead of by the Dresden Codex, in crafting his prayer-despising, religion-hating movie, but, again, I have no idea.)

First, the Catholic cultural influence must be obvious to even the most casual reader. And to Bible students, the impossibility of the prophecy (given the promise of Genesis 9:15 that God will not “bring about a great deluge again” to cause the “end of the world”) should stand out, as well.

However, the question at hand is this: Is this a prophecy about December 21, 2012?

No, it is not.  The phrase “law of the katun” is the key, as it does not refer to the Long Count Calendar, at all.  It refers to the 256-year katun calendar, as previously explained.  Specifically, it refers to the katun of that particular prophecy (the most likely scenario, based on how the phrase is used in the texts; see also footnote 106:4 of Chapter 10 of Roys’ Chumayel translation).  In this case, that would be Katun 3 Ahau, which does not include 2012, at all.  Using the standard GMT Mayan/Gregorian Calendar correlation, Katun 3 Ahau could refer to the following time periods after the Spanish conquest, each approximately 20 years (one katun) long: 1618-1638, 1874-1894, or 2131-2150.  So, either this Maya prophecy failed (no surprise, there!) or it still has another century to go before it has another chance (don’t count on it).

[EDIT, 1/8/10:  Someone has kindly pointed out that the language may indicate this happening in a katun to follow Katun 3 Ahau as opposed to in Katun 3 Ahau itself.  This certainly may be the case, though it still doesn’t bring the statement any closer to 2012 and, given the cyclical nature of the katuns, it could be any of them if this is the case.  There simply is no worthwhile evidence to attach the timing of this statement to 2012, as the remaining paragraphs discuss.]

Though this is the best attested understanding of “law of the katun” – the one indicated by the paragraph immediately preceding the prophecy which uses the exact same phrase, as well as its many other uses in the Chilam Balam – one might argue that it does not mean the law of that particular katun, but of the full 13 katun cycle.  And even though this is not the understanding best suggested by the evidence, even if this were true it would still not get us to 2012, since the current 13 katun cycle will end in mid-2052, not 2012 – almost forty years after everyone’s favorite date.

Regardless of which of the above interpretations is accurate (again, with the former being the most likely), the evidence is clear that the “law of the katun” running its course does not refer to the Long Count Calendar’s December 21, 2012 date.  It simply cannot be made to fit given all the evidence to suggest otherwise.

Now, all of this said, let me quote a part of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel that may include 2012 in its time period and which may seem end-of-the-world-ish at first glance.  This can be read in Chapter 12 of Roys’ translation:

“Katun 4 Ahau is the eleventh katun according to the count.  The katun is established at Chichen Itzá.  The settlement of the Itzá shall take place there.  The quetzal shall come, the green bird shall come.  Ah Kantenal shall come. Blood-vomit shall come.  Kukulcan shall come with them for the second time. It is the word of God.  The Itzá shall come.”

Now, Katun 4 Ahau would be the katun we are now living in, which began in 1993 and which does end in December 2012.  (The next Katun 4 Ahau would be 2249-2269 and the previous one was 1736-1756.)  Is this an “end of the world” prophecy that stands out from the rest?

Hardly.  For one, any reader of the Chilam Balam of Chumayel would note here that the text continues right after this to say what will happen in the very next katun as if life keeps on going.  In fact, a reader of the text would have to notice that the katun prophecies surrounding this one, those before and after dealing with entirely different time periods, are in many ways more dramatic.

Also, though this katun prophecy mentions “blood-vomit,” this is not the only place in the Chilam Balam in which this word occurs.  For instance, Chapter 18 of Roys’ translation also mentions “blood-vomit” (and other similarities to the prophecy above; for the Mayans, history & prophecy were repetitious cycles).  Elsewhere in the Chilam Balam (Chapter 21 of Roys) a pestilence that occurred in Katun 4 Ahau (very possibly around 1485, or the “fifth tun of that katun,” before the Spanish conquest) is chronicled and is the best candidate for the “blood-vomit” reference.  The Mayans believed that what happened in one katun would happen again when the same katun returned in the next cycle, thus it makes sense to relate the “blood-vomit” to this pestilence.  (Noteworthy is the fact that this pestilence happened towards the beginning of that katun, not on the last day.)

Regardless, to say that this passage speaks specifically of December 21, 2012 and then to say, further, that it is a prediction of the end of the world is to miss or ignore the context.  One simply cannot say that the Chilam Balam predicts the end of the world in 2012.

And there you have it! Whew, what a long post!

I know that most of you probably gave up before reaching the end, and – what can I say – I don’t blame you!  But for those of you who struggled and made it this far, let me make a final point…

It’s sort of funny.  Consider the points above about the Dresden Codex and the Chilam Balam – the result of a lot of work done to determine if the Maya did, indeed, say anything about 2012 as they are claimed to have said.  Yet, in the DVD that we’ve produced, I simply refer to these two sources in a statement only 23 words long – none of that info is in the DVD.  Why not?  Because ultimately it’s irrelevant to the point we are trying to make, though it was valuable research for me because it helped me to know I was on solid ground in my assertions.  I post all of this here only (1) to display some of the behind-the-scenes work that went on in preparing the DVD, (2) to explain why I say that “[t]here simply is no solid, legitimate support in the Mayan writings we have today that they viewed December 21, 2012 as a coming End of the World,” and (3) to demonstrate that when I say on the DVD that I have looked at these things, I really do mean it!  🙂

Finally, if you happen to have wandered onto this blog post through some sort of search engine – perhaps Googling around for 2012 info – let me give you the end of the matter: If you really want to know about the future, get your head out of the History Channel and the 2012 stuff at your local bookstore and get into your Bible.  The Bible is a tried and true source of prophetic knowledge, unlike the 2012 fantasies of New Agers and psychedelic drug users.  If you’d like help, I recommend checking out the Tomorrow’s World website.  You can also contact us through that website and request our new hour-long DVD – “2012: Mystery and Truth” – that debunks the 2012 hysteria and presents the Bible truth about the matter, and about the future, in helpful detail.  Like all of our materials, the DVD is absolutely free.

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6 thoughts on “What the Maya did & didn’t say about 2012

  1. I’ve noticed Dr. Bob Thiel has written a book about 2012, and what’s to come after that.

    Does LCG plan to promote that book? Or have him appear on Tomorrow’s World?

  2. Howdy, Richard —

    Bob Thiel has, indeed, written a book, but it is not a Church production, and generally the LCG does not promote books or materials it did not produce. (Actually, I was unaware that he was working on a book while I was doing my own research, and the works are completely independent.)

    I haven’t read the book, myself, and can’t comment on it, though he was kind enough to offer me a draft of it about the time I was flying out to Charlotte to tape my program, in the event that I thought it might be helpful.

    From our few personal discussions since then, it seems to me that although he and I agree that the Bible is the only source of reliable and trustworthy prophecy, we do differ in our conclusions as to what the Maya actually said in relation to 2012. However, I am sure that he is just as open to new information as I am, and, thankfully, the beliefs or non-beliefs of an ancient pagan people about the future are “nothing but nothing” compared to the plans, purposes, and prophetic pronouncements of Almighty God.

    Have a great Sabbath!

  3. Pingback: 2012 – The End of the World? « Horizon Pipeline

  4. Mayan Prophecy

    So you mean the 2012 mayan prediction is correct, will the world end in 2012? or should we expect a “change”?

  5. Hey, Mayan Prophecy, good to see you here. I removed your link, because (1) I don’t allow sites like that to advertise, and (2) because your “comment” is so content free that it seems you didn’t even read the post and simply wanted to add a link to drive traffic to your site. Sorry if I’ve made a mistake there!

    Please read the post for your answers. In short, there is no “mayan prediction” related to 2012, no the world will not end, and no there will be no “change” in the New Age sense. Will some possibly dramatic things happen in 2012? Yes, just like they may in 2011, 2012, 2014, 2015, etc. Again, feel free to read the post and then leave a real comment. Thanks.

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