Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Nephite and Mayan Calendars

I am going to talk about the Nephite Calendar as described in the Book of Mormon and compare it with the Mayan Calendar that was used in Mesoamerica during this time period. I will not talk about the Aztec Calendar, because it was created after the Book of Mormon times. However, the Aztec calendar was based on the Mayan Calendar.

Nephite Calendar

It is not entirely clear how many months there are in the Nephite calendar. However, a 12 month calendar is consistent from Book of Mormon descriptions. In Alma 46:37, it says it was "nearly the end of the nineteenth year..." then 3 chapters later in Alma 49:1, it says they were in the "eleventh month of the nineteenth year, on the tenth day of the month". It is reasonable to assume that there are either 11 or 12 Months in the Nephite calendar, since they were near the end of the year. However, there isn't any mention of a month higher than the 11th. However, when looking at our own calendar, if someone were to say on November 10th that the year was wrapping up, I would say that is a reasonable statement.

The Book of Mormon also mentions the Mosaic law, including the 7 day week. (Mosaih 13:18)

The Nephites counted and numbered the solar years. In this example, they mentioned it was "the nineteenth year" of the reign of the judges, indicating that they kept track of what year it was. The Nephite calendar included days, months and they kept track of solar years.

Mayan Calendar

The Mayan calendar consisted of 2 separate counting systems that worked together. One system called the Haab, or vague year, consisted of 18 months of 20 days each, with 5 extra "unlucky" days added on at the end of their year to make 365 days. Since the Mayans didn't use fractions, they did not compensate for the 1/4 day. So their calendar drifted against the actual solar year by a day every 4 years.

The other system called the tzolkin, or Sacred Round, consisted of 13 periods of 20 days. They would mix these 2 counting systems together to get the Maya Calendar Round.

So they had one calendar system of 18 months of 20 days and 5 extra days that had 365 days in it. However, this calendar didn't include the year, it just provided a name for the month and day. The other counting system didn't provide years or months, only 13 consecutive periods of 20 days each, resulting in a 260-day cycle. The 260-day counting cycle was used in conjunction with the 365-day counting cycle.

Confused yet? I know I was. Let me give you an example of how it would work. Let's say it is January 1st, of the first year. The Mayan vague year calendar would indicate the first day of the first month, but would not indicate the year. The Sacred Round would also indicate the first day of the first period. Each day would match until the Sacred Round ends on day 260. On day 261, the Sacred Round starts over on day one of the first period, whereas the vague year would indicate the first day of the 14th month. This would continue throughout the remainder of the first year until all 18 months go by and the leftover 5 days pass.

January 1st of the second year, the vague year calender would be identical to the previous year(the first day of the first month), because it only indicates the day and the month. However, the Sacred Round would indicate the 6th day of the 5th period, so when you compare the 2 day-counting systems together, you would know it wasn't the first year. Think of it like 2 gears of different sizes rotating together.

This same sequence returns every 52 years. So, in addition to the 2 counting systems, they also included a long count date to indicate time periods. This long count included 5 divisions which included multiples of days. Here are the multiples used in addition to the 2 counting systems:

1 day = kin
20 kins = 1 uninal (20 days)
18 uinals = 1 tun (360 days)
20 tuns = 1 katun (7,200 days)
20 katuns = 1 baktun (144,000 days)

The Mayan calendar did not consist of a 7 day week. The smallest unit of multiple consecutive days was the uninal, being 20 days long.

As you can see, the Mayan calendar and dating system was extremely complex and involved all kinds of calculations.

Comparing Nephite and Mayan Calendars

I see no relationship between the dating system used by the Mayans and the Nephites. The Book of Mormon describes a single calendar system with days, months and years that is consistent with our own 12 month Gregorian calendar system. The Mayans used 2 counting systems in conjunction with each other along with a long date divided into 5 multiples . The Mayan vague year calendar had 18 months with 5 leftover days and the Nephite calender had around 11 or 12 months. The Mayans didn't count or number the solar years, they counted in day-cycles with complex calculations. The Nephites counted and numbered the solar years. The Nephites had 7 days in their week, whereas the Mayans had 20 days.

It is safe to say that the Nephite calendar is not closely related to the Mayan calendar. However, the Nephite calendar and system of counting solar years is very similar to the dating system we use today.

Skeptical Mormon


Bishop Rick said...


What was the calendar system used in Jerusalem at the time Lehi left? Apologists will say that this is the system that the Nephites derived their calendar from, not the native system.

Zelph said...

Yes, that is the typical "Nephites were a very small group that had no impact on the overall society" response. However, there are many challenges facing that theory as well which I will talk about at a later time.

Zelph said...

Bishop Rick,

Thank you for pointing that out. Comparing the Mayan and Nephite calendar with each other is just another example of problems in trying to match the Book of Mormon culture with Mesoamerica. Just like I said in a previous post, LDS apologists don't have to provide any evidence that something is factual, they just need to find an explanation that something is possible. However, their explanations usually draw more questions than answers as is the case in this example.

It also makes me laugh when I see people trying to draw parallels between the Book of Mormon culture and Mesoamerican culture. It is like there are thousands of differences, then you find one similar characteristic and people cling to that parallel as if it is proof of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon. In a previous post, I talked about the 6 ways people deal with cognitive dissonance. Selecting the 1 out of 1,000 artifacts and holding onto it and claiming it as “proof” of the authenticity of the Book of Mormon exemplifies #2-selective retention.

I also get angry when I see the church produce films like “the testaments” where they portray the Book of Mormon lands with a Mesoamerican culture. If the Book of Mormon people really had nothing to do with the overall existing culture, why do they still try to portray the BoM in Mesoamerica? I also spoke about the absurdity of it in a previous post.

That is my ‘rant’. Wow, I feel better now.

Brad said...

Interesting post - I had never heard of the dual counting systems before. Pretty neat, but certainly not the easiest thing to work with!

If, however, one were to draw the conclusion that since the calendar systems don't match, that that is less evidence for the BoM, I believe you'd be on a slippery slope. All of this is IMO, of course, but I personally don't take the BoM as a literal translation of the plates. So Joseph Smith wrote down dates within a calendar system that makes sense to us - so what? Does that lessen the authenticity? To me, no.

Bishop Rick said...


Your comment confuses me.
You don't think the BofM is a literal translation of the plates.

Okay, we are in agreement there.

But you don't think that is a problem with its authenticity.

So why all fuss over the plates then? Why does the BofM and the LDS church claim the BofM to be a literal translation?

If the BofM and the LDS church are lying about this, why not everything else? Didn't GBH state that the entire foundation of the LDS church rests on the thruthfulness of the BofM?

Please respond and clear up my confusion.

Zelph said...


Thank you for your post and in many ways, I agree with you. I don't believe the Book of Mormon is a literal translation of the plates either. However, I also don't think it is a literal history of people that actually existed. I also would like to hear a clarification of your position regarding the Book of Mormon translation. The different calendar systems certainly doesn't help the argument regarding the historicity of the Book of Mormon.

Brad said...

Bishop Rick-

Well, I'm not a GA, so I can't/won't comment on what the church states. Does the church really say that the BoM is a literal translation? I know the term translation is frequently used, and that can lead to confusion - and I would certainly agree that many members think that it was a word for word translation.


I don't feel that I have enough expertise to get into questions of historicity. I'm a convert of 10 years, and perhaps I haven't fully dealt with the question internally yet. But IMO, a "translation" that yields terms/words that 19th century English-speaking readers are familiar with doesn't necessarily reduce the truthfulness of the BoM, for me at least. We don't now (for now) what was actually on the plates themselves.

Zelph said...


Thank you for your clarification on the subject.

Zelph said...

One other point I just edited into my original post was that the Book of Mormon followed the Mosaic law, including the 7 day week. However, the Mayans didn't use a 7 day week. The shortest unit was the 20 day month.

The 1 Truth said...

I think you aren't Mormon at all. I think you are a wolf in sheep's clothing. It just seems that you are overly critical and ask too many questions. I think you have some kind of agenda. If you are actually Mormon, it is time to get off the fence. Are you in or out? Lay off the anti stuff and go back to reading the scriptures.

still firm said...

The 1 Truth...

Please be open-minded. If the conversations on this site bother you, perhaps you should not read them... Some people have to ask the crucial questions! Blind faith is not the answer. What happens when YOU read something you don't understand? Do you just ignore it, or do you try to find answers?

I think your comment is essential to your understanding of the gospel... "are you in or out?"... well? Do you love your fellow man or are you angry because of the things they say? If you are offended, perhaps you should read what Brigham Young had to say about offense...

Is everything black and white or does the Lord allow shades of gray so people can practice their agency? My take... if everything was completely black and white then Christ would not have taught lessons in parables, He would have just told things the way they were.

Sincerely praying for your change of heart,
Still Firm

Zelph said...

1 Truth-

You must be the heretic, because according to D&C 9:8, we are supposed to study it out in our mind. It is funny how the church councils us to seek out truth, except for when or findings conflict with the teachings of the church. Funny thing is, many times our own LDS sources are the most damning against the church. Perhaps you are afraid of questioning things because you are afraid what the answer might be. I would suggest reading the Journal of Discourses. That is an official LDS source and they are available online for free to read.

Still Firm-

I appreciate your comments and liked your point about Jesus teaching in parables.

The 1 Truth said...

Still Firm:

Either the gospel is true or it isn't. Gordon B. Hinckley made it very clear that either the church is true or it is the biggest fraud this world has ever seen.

I'll pass on reading Journal of Discourses for now, it really makes no difference to me, I know the gospel is true and I have more important things to be doing to prepare myself for my mission like relevant things pertaining to the gospel.


I am not afraid of anything. I just think reading one man's opinion would be a waste of time, especially in my preparation for a mission.

Alex said...

My thoughts, with refrences:
Earliest know Mayan date carved in rock: 143 AD (The Ancient Maya, pg.87) Around 84 AD a small group of Nephites rebelled and took on the name "Lamanites" (4 Nephi 1:20). Do you think that a group of Lamanites who are reinventing their religion, are going to use the Nephite calander system? Probably not. The earliest lowland date 292 AD at Tikal (The Maya, pg 155), at the same time as the greater division between the Nephites and Lamanites (4 Nephi 1:45). A real good read on the early known politics at the time: Chronicals of the Maya Kings and Queens, pg 28-31. I digress...
More to the point the Mayan Sacred Round (the 52 year clander) was used in divining, a zodiac of sorts (Maya Cosmos). The BOM also mentions that around 326 AD "There were sorceries and witchcrafts and magics; and the power of the evil one was wrought apon the face of the land..." (Morman 1:19)
Also, there is a new theory that the Vague Year is actually based on the solar calander. The evidence being the month names corisponding with actual seasonal events like the harvest, planting, etc. Which raises the question, how did they handle the leap year? They had to, otherwise they would be planting during the harvest month. (
It's too bad those zelous Catholic priests burned all those books. Almanacs, histories, atlases, myths, legends...

My favorte legend is the white bearded god, the "old" god. The god of healing, writing, and culture. The only one that did not accept human sacrifice! You know, the one that promised to return one day... The white hand is still revered as his symbol. Saw that with my own two eyes!
-Educated Believer

Zelph said...


thank you for your comments and insight. You bring up interesting points, and I am reading a different book right now entitled "Mysteries of the Ancient Americas" by Readers Digest.

I have not heard that the earliest known Mayan date carved in a rock was in 143 A.D. That draws an excellent point.

However, in the book I am reading right now, it says that the complex calendar system was worked out over a period of hundreds of years by observation of the sun, moon and stars. So when you say a zodiac of sorts, that is how they came to understand the calendar system: the observation and notation of the celestial bodies over many generations.

The book even suggests that the Mayan calendar might have been based on the careful notation of Olmec astronomers. I will have to investigate that claim further.

It brings up a question regarding your theory. If the unjust were all wiped out and the population were united as Christians, how then did they develop the calendar system by 143 AD from 84 AD? That only gives them 59 years to develop the calendar, much too short according to the book I am reading. It is a very interesting point you made, however.

Yes, the vague year was based on the solar year, but they still didn't count years linearly. The Maya had a different concept of time. To the Maya time was circular, and one could return to the same place in time and space by completing the circle. That is why they didn't keep track and number years like they do in the Book of Mormon.

This new book I am reading also contradicts the other book I read regarding the leap year. This book doesn't indicate how they handled the extra day, but it says that somehow they WERE aware of the extra partial day and were only off by .0002 days in their calculations. However, I am still unsure how they dealt with the leap year. Another area of interest that deserves a little more study.

I would recommend this book "Mysteries of the Ancient Americas" by Reader's Digest. I bought it used on ebay for like $2 plus shipping, but is filled with fascinating information regarding Incan, Mayan, Aztec and Olmec cultures including plants, animals, weapons, legends, pottery, sculptures.

I also think it is a terrible tragedy that the Franciscan missionary Diego de Landa ordered the destruction of the Maya manuscripts. Although his intentions of stamping out the heathen practices of the Mayas were probably good at heart, much of the Maya history and literature is gone.

Once again, I thank you for your comments and will take careful consideration.

Alex said...

The notion that the Maya were peaceful astronomers and that they had a different concept of time is hogwash. That was a theory that has been debunked once the nouns and verb glyphs had been deciphered back in the 1990's. The mechanics of the calander system may have been circular. But so is ours. Return to the same time and place??? Linda Schele (the leading expert in my field of Mayan Epigraphy until her death in 1997)spent years among the maya. She wrote an entire book on Mayan Shammanism (The Maya Cosmos, 1000 years on the Shamman's Path). No where is it part of the Mayan belief system that people can return to the same place and time... Sounds like New Age mumbo-gumbo.
Many of their monuments describe how many years the that particular ruler has reigned and who that ruler is in comparison to the dynasty's founder. (i.e. 7th ahau). Paraphrasing here but monuments usually read like this:

On such and such a date, it came to pass, that he was born (verb), Waxaklahun Ubah Kawil(Name)holy ahau of Copan(titles). 15 years later it came to pass, he recieved the ahauship. 3 days later, it came to pass, he dedicated this stone monument, the holy ahau of copan, taker of seven captives.

Sounds pretty linear to me. What about Codex style mayan pottery? They describe kings and when they ruled. Very linear.

Regarding your other point: the Nephites were big star watchers starting around the time of Samual the Lamanite around 10 BC (?).

By the way, the Nephites didn't wipe the Lamanites out. The Lamanites were more righteous than the Nephites at the time, and the two groups became one.

By zodiac I ment a means of divination. A form of witchcraft. I know they watched the heavens. The used Venus to divine when to go to war.

"The Ancient Maya" is the best comprehensive book on the Maya and is used by professors at Universities everywhere.

Alex said...
Is the best place to learn as much as you could in liftime on the Maya. It is the hub for expert Mayanists and Epigraphers around the world. If you love the Maya, you'll love this!
-Educated Believer

Zelph said...

Thank you for that link, it is very interesting and informative.

Regarding the point about the Lamanites being wiped out: I am referring to the events in 3 Nephi 8-10 leading up to the coming of Christ.

The events in 3 Nephi 8:8-15 "And the city of Zarahemla did take fire. And the city of Moroni did sink into the depths of the sea, and the inhabitants thereof were drowned. And the earth was carried up upon the city of Moronihah, that in the place of the city there became a great mountain. And there was a great and terrible destruction in the land southward. But behold, there was a more great and terrible destruction in the land northward; for behold, the whole face of the land was changed, because of the tempest and the whirlwinds, and the thunderings and the lightnings, and the exceedingly great quaking of the whole earth; And the highways were broken up, and the level roads were spoiled, and many smooth places became rough. And many great and notable cities were sunk, and many were burned, and many were shaken till the buildings thereof had fallen to the earth, and the inhabitants thereof were slain, and the places were left desolate. And there were some cities which remained; but the damage thereof was exceedingly great, and there were many in them who were slain. "

3 Nephi 9:9-11 "And behold, that great city Jacobugath, which was inhabited by the people of king Jacob, have I caused to be burned with fire because of their sins and their wickedness, which was above all the wickedness...And behold, the city of Laman, and the city of Josh, and the city of Gad, and the city of Kishkumen, have I caused to be burned with fire, and the inhabitants thereof, because of their wickedness in casting out the prophets, and stoning those whom I did send to declare unto them concerning their wickedness and their abominations. And because they did cast them all out, that there were none righteous among them, I did send down fire and destroy them, that their wickedness and abominations might be hid from before my face, that the blood of the prophets and the saints whom I sent among them might not cry unto me from the ground against them."

3 Nephi 9:13 it says "O all ye that are spared because ye were more righteous than they, will ye not now return unto me, and repent of your sins, and be converted, that I may heal you?"

Only the more righteous were spared. This is reinforced in 3 Nephi 10:12 "And it was the amore righteous part of the people who were saved, and it was they who received the prophets and stoned them not; and it was they who had not shed the blood of the saints, who were spared—"

That also begs the question why isn't there any evidence to support such a catastrophe? Anyways, the unjust were all destroyed according to the Book of Mormon around 34 A.D. and all became unified to Christianity by 36 A.D.

4 Nephi 1:2 "And it came to pass in the thirty and sixth year, the people were all converted unto the Lord, upon all the face of the land, both Nephites and Lamanites, and there were no contentions and disputations among them, and every man did deal justly one with another."

Even after that generation passed in AD 100, Nephi writes:
4 Nephi 1:17:"There were no robbers, nor murderers, neither were there Lamanites, nor any manner of -ites; but they were in one, the children of Christ, and heirs to the kingdom of God."

It wasn't until AD 201 that 4 Nephi 1:24 says "there began to be among them those who were lifted up in pride, such as the wearing of costly apparel, and all manner of fine pearls, and of the fine things of the world."

There is no evidence that suggests any of this.

Alex said...

Zarahemla was a Nephite city. Jacobugath was a gadeanton city. As you said: 3 nephi 10:12 states that the wicked were the ones destroyed. Not the specificly the lamanites.

3 Nephi 6:14 ...the church was broken up in all the land save it were among a few of the Lamanites who were converted to the true faith, and they would not dedepart from it, for they were firm and steadfast...

According to Landa the Maya had worshipped only one god until outsiders brought other gods to worship. (which adds to the Schele's theory that there was a religous war sometime in the preclassic). Hunab Ku is the name of the God that the Maya worshiped. It means "One True God". It was Hunab Ku and Itzamna (feathered serpent) who created the world. (Popol Vuh pg.1-2)
One of those one in one thousand coinsedences that point to the Mayan lands as being the most likely location for the BOM.

I mean, how many cultures have similar creation myths that are not directly influenced by Christianity, Judasism, or Islam? None? The chinese have a flood in their creation myth, just like the Maya. So do the Sumerians... some argue that Christianity is false because the Sumerian myth is so similar to Genisis. But this is false reasoning. The Sumerians were the first people off the ark, really the first nation after the flood.
So that leaves either China or mesoamerica as the location of the Book of Morman. The mayan creation myth has more in common, especially the Morman temple version of the creation. (For all you ex-missionaries out there).
This by the way has nothing to do with the mayan calander... still fun to talk about. Can I recomend a topic? How about Quetzalcoatl?
-Educated Believer

Wyatt said...

Interesting comments and ideas for us to meditate and research.
There is one common thing we all have in common. We all seek truth, knowledge and answers.
Let us not forget.. the true source of knowledge comes from the "Holy Ghost"

Moroni 10: 4-5
4 - And when ye shall receive these things, I would exhort you that ye would ask God, the Eternal Father, in the name of Christ, if these things are not true; and if ye shall ask with a sincere heart, with real intent, having faith in Christ, he will manifest the truth of it unto you, by the power of the Holy Ghost.
5 - And by the power of the Holy Ghost ye may know the truth of all things.

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