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2012 and the End of the World: The Western Roots of the Maya Apocalypse Hardcover – January 16, 2011
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Well, here�s a much-needed breath of fresh, rational air. A welcome counterpoint to the seemingly endless end-of-the-world tomes, this well-documented, well-presented book (written by a pair of history professors) explores the origins of the alleged Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012. For conspiracy buffs, the authors� conclusions will prove decidedly disheartening. For example: they show that there is no hard evidence that the Mayan calendar has any predictive function; the Long Count calendar (which is key to the 2012 date) has a purely arbitrary start date, rendering the 2012 date meaningless; and (despite common misperception) the Mayans were not especially apocalyptic in outlook. The authors have a simple mission, �to explain what the 2012 fuss is all about,� and they do it admirably. They don�t go as far as saying the world won�t end in December 2012, but they do say this: there is no evidence, either historical or textual, that the Mayans were predicting the end of the world in 2012 or any other year. --David Pitt
Media are full of doomsday predictions related to the Maya Long Count calendar end date, December 21, 2012, in today’s Western calendar. Restall and Solari take a serious look at Maya calendar development, archaeology, and history to seek the truth behind the so-called Maya doomsday prophecy, which adherents believe may forecast the end of the world. The authors see no evidence that Long Count calendar dates for the future, carved on stone monuments at Maya archaeological sites in Mexico and Central America, indicate predictions of doom. Their thorough examination of Maya carvings, images, and writings leads them to the conclusion that the preconquest Maya were not particularly millenarian. By contrast, their Spanish conquerors came from a culture steeped in eschatological thinking. The authors effectively provide scholarly evidence to back up their hypothesis that millenarianism probably came via the Spanish and is not intrinsic to the traditional Maya worldview and to debunk prophecies of doom. VERDICT This readable analysis based on credible scholarship is a needed and balanced counterpoint to the many sensationalist works on the Maya doomsday prophecy as 2012 approaches. Highly recommended for all seeking a reasoned perspective on Maya calendar systems. (Library Journal, Starred Review)
Well, here’s a much-needed breath of fresh, rational air. A welcome counterpoint to the seemingly endless end-of-the-world tomes, this well-documented, well-presented book (written by a pair of history professors) explores the origins of the alleged Mayan prediction that the world will end on December 21, 2012. For conspiracy buffs, the authors’ conclusions will prove decidedly disheartening. For example: they show that there is no hard evidence that the Mayan calendar has any predictive function; the Long Count calendar (which is key to the 2012 date) has a purely arbitrary start date, rendering the 2012 date meaningless; and (despite common misperception) the Mayans were not especially apocalyptic in outlook. The authors have a simple mission, 'to explain what the 2012 fuss is all about,' and they do it admirably. They don’t go as far as saying the world won’t end in December 2012, but they do say this: there is no evidence, either historical or textual, that the Mayans were predicting the end of the world in 2012 or any other year. (Booklist)
Restall and Solari's informative and accessible book offers understanding of who the Maya were and how they saw their world and, at the same time, offers an explanation into why apocalyptic scenes have always been so attractive. . . . The authors affirm that 2012 is not the end and that many positive things can come from the 2012 phenomenon, including the interest being paid to Mayan culture and to other past civilizations. (Spirituality and Health)
In their highly readable volume, Mayan scholars Restall and Solari cover . . . evidence about ancient Maya belief in a distant apocalypse, but acknowledge that strains of European apocalypticism entered Maya thinking after the conquest. The authors show through discussion of missionary art and Maya colonial writings the likely influences of European thought about the end of the world on the changing Maya conceptions of themselves and their world. They agree, however, that such hybrid strains of the apocalypse in the New World have nothing to do with the current hype about 2012. Highly recommended. All levels/libraries. (CHOICE)
Historians and Maya specialists Matthew Restall and Amara Solari have written the best book available about the notion that the ancient Maya count of days pointed to a world- transforming cataclysm to occur on the 21st of December in the year 2012. Specialists and general readers alike will find this an invaluable overview of the subject. . . . This is an excellently written, well-argued presentation that many should read—while there is still time. (Hispanic American Historical Review)
In an age of fear and trepidation about 2012 and time's end, educators who know the Maya need to step up and teach the truth beyond their academic audience. This well-argued, exceptionally accessible book combines the interdisciplinary forces of one who knows the Maya word with one who knows the Maya image. It takes readers to the historical roots of the 2012 myth and reveals how and why the idea of Maya millenarianism became linked to the celebrated Long Count. (Anthony Aveni, Russell Colgate Distinguished University Professor, Colgate University)
Falsehoods are more powerful than facts. Matthew Restall and Amara Solari's ingenious reconstruction of an amazing story―how Maya mathematics morphed into modern millenarianism―tells us a lot about the Maya. Their book tells us even more about ourselves: how and why, with every emotion from solemnity to derision, we respond to prophets who claim to foresee the end of time. Witty, scholarly, insightful, and fast-paced―this is the thinking person's guide to the next pop-apocalypse. (Felipe Fernández-Armesto, University of Notre Dame)
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Overall, an excellent book and I would certainly recommend it for any student interested in the subject or for any dilettante historian.
For instance, like many Latin Americanists, they have a thorn in their side when it comes to Christianity, especially the Catholic Church (Christianity=evil; Indians=wonderful untouched, i.e. un-Western, civs). Thus they make some mistakes when it comes to analyzing and discussing Christianity. For instance, on p. 54 they call the birth of Christ an Immaculate Conception. No. Christ was a product of the Virgin Birth, Mary was the product of the Immaculate Conception. On p. 78, Vespucci's narrative, in which he encounters stormy seas and then finds the New World is not a tale of "apocalypse and redemption," it is Providence. (Do the authors really not know what apocalypse and redemption are?) On p. 79, the authors say that a parable in Luke 14 ("Parable of the Great Banquet") is about charity and not about souls and the last judgement. This stems from the liberal Christian view (the "Hippie Jesus" view I call it) that Jesus only taught a brand of proto-communism. No, it is outwardly about charity, but the greater implication is that it is about the Last Judgement. Restall and Solari claim Jesus was only talking about charity and the Franciscans turned it into a millennial prophecy. No, Jesus meant it that way. ("He who has ears, let him hear!")
On the Latin American history stage, the authors attempt to rehabilitate the last Aztec emperor Montezuma (pp. 86ff.). This is a debate that has two sides, though more modern historians, influenced by a post-colonialist need to take the sides of the good indigenes over the evil Europeans, take Montezuma's side. With the source texts we have, we can never resolve this debate, though Restall and Solari take the side of Montezuma. It is this impulse that makes the authors downplay any evidence that Maya religion, books, art, and prophecy was violent and apocalyptic at all. Thus they do note that a baktun cycle ends in 2012, but they insist the Maya did not think anything bad will happen at the end of such a cycle. A new one just starts. But there is some scanty evidence this is not the case, the world ending and being created anew could have existed in pre-Columbian Maya texts and thought.
All in all, they do make a great case that "2012ology" is bunk, but they try to make the case a bit too hard by absolving the Maya of any apocalyptic notions. In this they go too far. (Point in case, Restall and Solari insist on calling 2012ism "millennial," which is clearly a Christian concept, instead of calling it "apocalyptic," which, when divorced of the book of Revelation and used just as an adjective, could mean any violent ending.)
The book includes a great sort of annotated bibliography, but they do not cite ANYTHING in the text with footnotes or endnotes, which would have made the book grand instead of just good.
Matthew Restall and Amara Solari are professors at Penn State. The two were preparing a class to be taught IN 2012, focused ON 2012 and the result of those preparations is this book. Spanning only about 100 pages, the chapters are well-organized and well-structured for easy classroom note taking ("first we will be discussing these four points...point 1, etc."). This very readable book is more academic than narrative, but does an incredible job of incorporating a lot of info in only a few pages. It's not written for the academic community, but rather it's targeted at readers interested in understanding what's behind the 2012 mythos.
They refer to 2012ology...the study of all things related to the Maya "Prophecy" and the "end date" of their Long Count calendar: December, 21, 2012. As they state early in the book, the purpose of their class, and this book "is to use 2012ology as a vehicle for combining the sources and methods of art history to explain the medieval, modern, and Maya contributions to the 2012 phenomenon..." The book contains numerous drawings, photos and images that enhance their own descriptive analyses.
What started all of this bizarrely intense focus on 12/21/12? It was the fragments of a monument accidentally uncovered by construction workers at a small archaeological site known as El Tortuguero. On what is known as Stella 6 is a reference to 18.104.22.168.0, a date used in the Maya's long range time-tracking calendar, and a strange and brief mythological tale. The Maya Long Count calendar keeps a running tally of time from a certain "zero" starting point. That starting point is equivalent to our 0 A.D. It's arbitrary and after years of research and discoveries, Mayanists have established the Long Count starting point as our August 11, 3114 B.C. Mayanists are then able to work forward and determine that the Tortuguero carving matches with our December 21, 2012. The fact that 12/21/12 happens to fall on a winter solstice is not lost on scientists nor 2012ologists...those from the non-scientific community have put their own stake in the ground in attempting to bring meaning to 22.214.171.124.0.
"One interpretation of the Long Count argues that it is by its very nature 'predictive'. In other words, it was not created by selecting a starting date and then counting forward to 2012. Instead...the Maya selected a significant end date and then counted backwards." Since the Maya are well known to have tracked the progression and cycles of celestial events, it wouldn't be all that difficult to find a future solstice and work back from there.
This is a very interesting theory and makes sense in a number of ways, however, Restall and Solari make it clear that the theory "is not widely accepted among Mayanists today. In no way diminishing the impressiveness that the Maya were able to even look that far ahead to make connections with significant celestial events, the authors write, "...there is no evidence...it is an intriguing speculation, but not one supported by any other text or image among Maya sources." Those from the non-scientific world of 2012ology, however, have latched onto the predictive premise, insisting that the Maya meant something significant to happen on this date.
The perception by some that the Maya were expecting an "end-of-times" comes not just from Tortuguero alone, but through a combination of resources. Renowned Mayan Epigrapher David Stuart indicates that the carving from Tortuguero is the SOLE reference to the infamous 12/21/12 date. But the view of what it means comes from a blending of multiple resources. One of the extant Maya-originated documents called the Dresden Codex includes an image and story related to a world-changing flood. Much of Maya myth involves dreadfully violent and vivid acts of violence. But almost all of those myths include a rebounding or recycling event that follows the destruction.
The Maya (and most Mesoamerican cultures) were all about the cycles of existence: agriculture, life, death, birth, etc. The cycles of the physical world are what drove the Maya mindset. And so their mythology and religion developed around that. The position of the stars and moon helped guide the best times to plant or harvest, for example. The sheer amount of cultural remains that reference specific dates indicates that importance of time to these peoples. And it makes sense. The physical world is an extremely mysterious place and the drivers of their lives were completely bound by the uncontrollable "whims" of the world around them. Restall and Solari make it crystal clear that the Maya were not interested in apocalyptic foretellings and futures. It was all about renewal and rebirth.
The apocalyptic viewpoint was brought TO the Maya during the post-Conquest, colonial settlement period in the New World. Specifically, the Franciscan sect of friars spread throughout Mesoamerica focused on saving the souls of the uninitiated "savages" of New Spain. The Book of Revelations and the inherent Christian "threats" of Hell drove home a more apocalpytic religious perspective that became embedded in the Maya integration and absorption of European religion.
Like what happened during the late '90s during the run up to Y2K, the pop culture hum around a 2012 Apocalypse will become a roar over the next 2 years. The authors highlight one hotel in Central America that offers a 12/21/12 special package...if tourists stay during 12/21, and the world still exists on 12/22, then that night is free.
I enjoyed reading this book and its broad perspectives. I would also highly recommend David Stuart's "The Order of Days" for a more comprehensive dive into Maya culture, history and their calendar.