The Nephites and the Maya Calendar
By Joseph and Blake Allen
“And it came to pass in the days of Mosiah, there was a large stone brought unto him with engravings on it; and he did interpret the engravings by the gift and power of God. And they gave an account of one Coriantumr, and the slain of his people. And Coriantumr was discovered by the people of Zarahemla; and he dwelt with them for the space of nine moons” (Omni 1:20-21, italics added).
An important celebration date of September 21, 176 BC, is recorded on another large stone labeled Stela 12 at Izapa. Stela 12 uses the same calculated passage of time as does the Omni account, that of nine moons. The Maya sacred calendar, called the Tzolk’in, is 260 days in length and measures time from August 13 to April 30, or nine moons.
Regarding the Maya usage of nine moons, or 260 days, astronomer Anthony Aveni writes: “Once a Maya genius may have recognized that somewhere deep within the calendar system lay the miraculous union, the magical crossing point of a host of time cycles: 9 moons, 13 times 20, a birth cycle, a planting cycle, a Venus cycle, a sun cycle, an eclipse cycle. The number 260 was tailor made for the Maya.”
Is there a correlation between the nine moons mentioned in Omni and the nine moons associated with the Maya sacred calendar? The nine moon, or 260-day Maya sacred calendar, may have had its origin at Izapa, Chiapas, Mexico, an archaeological site located along the Pacific coast close to the border of Guatemala, where the sun is at its zenith two times a year, August 13 and April 30. The area of Izapa is the place that is proposed in Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon as Lehi’s landing site, or “the place of their fathers’ first inheritance” (see Alma 22:28).
We may get some help with the above question if we look at another date that is vital in both Nephite and Maya history. That date is September 21, 592 BC.
After deciphering the celebration date on Stela 12 at Izapa as September 21 (the fall equinox), 176 BC, V. Garth Norman calculated another date of supreme importance. By adding eight “52 year calendar rounds,” he determined that the base date of the Izapa calendar was September 20–21, 592 BC.
The year 592 BC is also a significant date in Nephite history. Lehi left Jerusalem six hundred years prior to the birth of the Savior. Nephi wrote, “Yea, even six hundred years from the time that my father left Jerusalem, a prophet would the Lord God raise up among the Jews—even a Messiah, or, in other words, a Savior of the world” (1 Nephi 10:4).
Nephi indicated that they traveled in the wilderness eight years before arriving at the promised land: “And we did sojourn for the space of many years, yea, even eight years in the wilderness” (1 Nephi 17:4). By deducting eight years from six hundred, we arrive at the date of 592 BC, the same as the base date of the creation of the Maya calendar.
A calendar is a useful tool in recording history. Dates provide a historical perspective to a narrative. Both Maya chronology and Nephite chronology are driven by dates. They both rely on a previous civilization for data—the Olmec to the Maya is akin to the relationship of the Jaredites to the Nephites. The “Haab,” sun calendar, and the “Tzolk’in,” moon calendar, have a symbiotic relationship much in the same way that the large plates of Nephi, a secular history, and the small plates of Nephi, a sacred history, have with each other. Both the Maya and the Nephites are dependent upon calendars associated with the sun and the moon, so much so that they appear to be one and the same people. This is especially true when we consider the role that the ancient archaeological site of Izapa plays in both instances.
As mentioned above, the Maya placed a great deal of ritual associated with nine moons. The nine moon ritual that utilizes the 260-day period between August 13 and April 30 is associated with Jesus Christ and Quetzalcoatl. It has to do with the planet Venus, also called the Morning Star.
Norman states that “Venus commands center stage at Izapa” and then asks, “Does the Venus cycle have a calendar connection to either of the prime new-year dates of September 21, 176 BC and 592 BC?” His response is in the affirmative.
AND THIS MAY BE THE VERY KEY TO THE NINE MOON CYCLE.
Quetzalcoatl is the Morning Star. Jesus Christ is the Morning Star (Revelation 22:16).
“The appearance of a new star, signifying the birth of the Savior in Jerusalem, seemed to have a pronounced impact upon the Nephites. Likewise, the morning star is almost always associated with Quetzalcoatl.”
In summary, three events that are associated with the nine moon cycle are common with both the Nephites and the Maya. They are as follows:
1. September 21, 592 BC: The arrival of Lehi at Izapa and the Maya calendar base date.
2. September 21, 176 BC: The migration of Mosiah to Chiapas and a Maya celebration date.
3. The Venus Cycle: Jesus Christ and Quetzalcoatl, each identified as the “Morning Star.”
One writer states, “When Venus rises, it means the sun will follow very soon (in a morning, usually within an hour or two, sometimes just a matter of minutes). Christ’s coming . . . will mean God’s light is about to shine forever on the universe, making all wrongs right, wiping away all tears. . . . Christ as the morning star is a picture of great promise and hope.”
In his doctoral dissertation, Joseph Allen asserted, “Quetzalcoatl had attributed to him the creation of man and of the world and of the arts and the calendar.” The nine moon Maya cycle is often referred to as the mid-wife cycle because its duration represents the time of conception to the birth of a child. In other words, it represents the creation of man by Quetzalcoatl, who is also the creator of the nine moon 260-day sacred calendar, called the Tzolk’in.
In an article written by Vincent Malmstrom entitled, “Izapa, Birthplace of Time,” we read: “The unique 260-day sacred almanac is the product of a convergence of time and space that may be traced directly to Izapa. All that we know of its creator was that he spoke the Zoque language, lived in the middle of the fourteenth century before Christ, and was intent on explaining the rhythms of the heavens. Never could he have imagined that the quest for understanding which he launched would set the stage for a calendar, a religion, and a civilization that would eventually become the very hallmarks of the cultural region which we know today as Mesoamerica, nor that they would touch the lives of so many people through such an immense span of time.”
When the dust clears, we may be able to respond with authority that not only did the sacred nine moon calendar gain status at Izapa at 592 BC but also the secular sun calendar had its roots in Izapa as well. Further, the key player in the two calendars was none other than a young man named Nephi, who said, “I will go and do the things which the Lord has commanded,” (1 Nephi 3:7).
After all, he was the priest and the king of the people who became known as Nephites. He had a right to establish laws and calendars. He worshiped Jesus Christ, who is the creator of man and the creator of time.
Let’s return to the beginning: “And he [Coriantumr] dwelt with them [the people of Zarahemla] for the space of nine moons” (Omni 1:21; italics added). It may be that the nine moons Coriantumr lived among a remnant of God’s covenant people is a type and shadow of when we may dwell with Christ for nine moons, or throughout all eternity.
Christ is the Morning Star. He is also the Evening Star. He is the First and the Last, Alpha and Omega, the Beginning and the End. Like the Venus planet, life is one eternal round. Alma said it as follows: “The earth, and all things that are upon the face of it, yea, and its motion, yea, and also all the planets which move in their regular form do witness that there is a Supreme Creator (Alma 30:44).
. V. Garth Norman, Izapa Sacred Space: Sculpture Calendar Codex (American Fork, UT: ACRON, 2012), 143.
. Anthony F. Aveni, Empires of Time: Calendars, Clocks, and Cultures (London: Tauris Parke, 2000), 201; emphasis added.
. Norman, Izapa Sacred Space 132.
. Joseph L. Allen and Blake J. Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 2nd ed. rev. (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2011), 527.
. Norman, Izapa Sacred Space, 145.
. Joseph L. Allen. “A Comparative Study of Quetzalcoatl, the Feathered Serpent God of Meso-America, with Jesus Christ, the God of the Nephites,” PhD diss., Brigham Young University, 1970.
. Norman, Izapa Sacred Space, 148.
. Anthony F. Aveni, Skywatchers of Ancient Mexico (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1980), 186–18, revised 2014. Quote from Seler, Anales of Cuauhutitlan, 1904c; 364–65.
. Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Book of Mormon, 323.
. Allen and Allen, Exploring the Lands of the Books of Mormon, 322. (see note 45, Saenz).