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If you have any engagement with current pop culture you've heard about the impending apocalypse in 2012. The date is usually given as December 21, 2012, supposedly derived from the end of some or another Mayan calendar. My question is, who first proposed that the end of the Mayan calendar predicted the apocalypse? The first time I read about 2012 theology was in Daniel Pinchbeck's book 2012: The Return of Quetzalcoatl, but he wasn't really predicting the end of the world so much as a universal consciousness. So when did the leap to doomsday prophecy occur, and who made it?

We Were Warned

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My first exposure to "the end is coming on December 22, 2012" was in the final episodes of "The X Files." en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Truth_(The_X-Files) –  John Craft Apr 6 '11 at 15:34

2 Answers 2

up vote 5 down vote accepted

From Skeptical Science:

there is a suggestion … that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth [b'ak'tun]. Thus … our present universe [would] be annihilated [in December 2012] when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion

Michael D. Coe (1966), The Maya. Ancient peoples and places series, no. 52 (1st ed.)

[...]

And of course others picked it up and repeated it, thus this meme was born, then grew and evolved in the 1990′s into what we have today.


EDIT

here is the full text:

The idea of cyclical creations and destructions is a typical feature of Mesoamerican religions, as it is of Oriental. The Aztec, for instance, thought that the universe had passed through four such ages, and that we were now in the fifth, to be destroyed by earthquakes. The Maya thought along the same lines, in terms of eras of great length, like the Hindu kalpas. There is a suggestion that each of these measured 13 baktuns, or something less than 5,200 years, and that Armageddon would overtake the degenerate peoples of the world and all creation on the final day of the thirteenth. Thus, following the Thompson correlation, our present universe would have been created in 3113 BC, to be annihilated on December 24, 2011, when the Great Cycle of the Long Count reaches completion.

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Anyone have that book? I'd love to know what's in that ellipses. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 6 '11 at 16:38
    
I have one other question. Are we sure that quote is from the 1st edition, and not one of the many later revised versions, the latest dated 2011? Judging from the exact use of ellipses and brackets Skeptical Science got the quote from Wikipedia, and it might easily be misattributed to the original printing. Beyond that, I found quite a few websites that use that same quote to trumpet Coe as being a believer in the 2012 doomsday, which I doubt was his intention at all. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 6 '11 at 19:49
    
According to worldcat.org, most of the libraries that have a copy of that book are in Europe. Perhaps someone can go check? worldcat.org/title/maya/oclc/… –  Tim Farley Apr 6 '11 at 22:23
    
The expanded quote makes sense as being written in 1966. Add to that how influentian Coe's books have been, and I'm willing to go with that as being the answer. Thanks, @Oliver! I do wonder what evidence Coe had found that lead him to think the Mayans had an apocalyptic belief, considering most anthropologists seem to dismiss that now. (Not insulting Coe's research, just acknowledging that a lot of work has been on the Mayans since 1966.) –  Scott Hamilton Apr 8 '11 at 18:08
    
I also wonder what Coe thinks of this whole thing he inadvertently started. The answer may be in a book to be published later this year called 2012: Decoding the Countercultural Apocalypse, for which Coe wrote the preface. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 8 '11 at 18:19

Brian Dunning covered this pretty well in a Skeptoid episode.

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Dunning covers the phenomenon, but not the history of it. Dunning also gets it wrong when he states that the apocalyptic tradition was created by pop culture, when Coe, certainly a scholar, appears to have wrote about it in 1966. –  Scott Hamilton Apr 8 '11 at 19:45

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