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Is the Cyclical Mayan Calendar Correct?

One cartoon Mayan to another as they look at a huge round rock: “So how come it ends in 2012?” . . . “I ran out of space on the rock.”

People often joke about the world ending on December 21, 2012. While a majority of western society believes the world will end someday, not many think it will occur later this year. The Mayans did not think so either.

The global celebration of the “new millennium”1 in 2000 illustrated that the world operates on a calendar starting on January 1 and ending December 31. This calendar system not only marks the passage of time, but also implicitly assumes that time behaves in a linear fashion. Yesterday’s events affect what happens today, and today’s actions influence the future. But once a moment passes, we never return to that point in time again. As the proverbial saying goes, “time marches on.” But not all cultures thought that way.

Most ancient Near Eastern cultures, in addition to the Mayans, viewed time as cyclical: time moves forward until it reaches the calendar’s end, then it “restarts” the whole cycle again. A recent archeological find in La Corona, Guatemala, recovered hieroglyphs that corroborate the cyclical Mayan calendar and impending “end date.” The hieroglyphs describe a visit by a Mayan ruler from a nearby city, seeking to assure his allies after a recent defeat. The inscriptions predict that the ruler’s lineage will continue even with the approaching end of a Baktun (the 394-year cycle of the Mayan calendar). Further, the ruler was declaring his reign would encompass events transpiring years later when the thirteenth (a number sacred to the Mayans) Baktun would end—in December 2012. Rather than apocalyptic in nature, the predictions served to promote political stability.

The Genesis 1 creation account stands in stark contrast. First, time has a unique and distinct beginning that starts with the creation of the universe and, later, of the Earth. The author delineates the initial conditions on Earth, providing specific details regarding how God transformed an inhospitable wasteland into an environment teeming with a great diversity of life. The words “and then God…” are strewn throughout the account to show how past events prepare the way for future transformations. Such a linear view of time continues throughout the Bible. Humanity falls and ushers evil into the world; God sends his Son to atone for humanity’s sin; then, with the final conquest of evil, God destroys this world and creates the ultimate paradise for those who place their trust in him.

With thousands of years of human history available for review, we see no evidence for a cyclic behavior to time. Quite the contrary, all the evidence indicates that “time marches on,” validating the descriptions in Genesis 1 and elsewhere throughout the Bible.

  1. While 2000 was a notable year, the new millennium actually started January 1, 2001. Since there was no “year zero,” the first year of the most recent epoch in the Christian era was AD 1 or 1 CE. Adding two millennia brings the date to 2001.