2 Thessalonians 1 – Thanskgiving and Prayer & Lost Cities of the Americas: Tikal (5 of 7)

Finger Pointing Up

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Every city and empire we’ve looked at worship false gods and/or study astrology.  I doubt if there is any place on earth that doesn’t go against You, Father. 

That is why You flooded the earth (Gen 6) and that is why You destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen 19).

I don’t know about the rest of the world, but it looks like the United States is going to become the Sodom and Gomorrah of the 21st century.  So just for curiosity, tomorrow we’ll look at…

2 Thessalonians 1
Thanksgiving and Prayer

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1 Paul, and Silvanus, and Timotheus, unto the church of the Thessalonians in God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ:

2 Grace unto you, and peace, from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

3 We are bound to thank God always for you, brethren, as it is meet, because that your faith groweth exceedingly, and the charity of every one of you all toward each other aboundeth;

 4 So that we ourselves glory in you in the churches of God for your patience and faith in all your persecutions and tribulations that ye endure:

5 Which is a manifest token of the righteous judgment of God, that ye may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which ye also suffer:

“Manifest token of the righteous judgment of God” – the evidence was in the way the Thessalonians endured trials.  The judgment on them was right because God did not leave them to their own resources. 

He provided strength to endure, and this in turn produced spiritual and moral character.  It also proved that God was on their slide and gave a warning to their persecutors.

6 Seeing it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you;

“Righteous thing with God” – the justice of God brings punishment on unrepentant sinners and it may be in the here and now as well as on judgment day.

7 And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels,

“Rest” – retribution not only involves punishment of the evil but also relief for the righteous.3 3

“Revealed” – Christ is now hidden, and many people even deny His existence.  But at His second coming He will be seen by everyone for who He is.

8 In flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ:

“Flaming fire” – He comes to punish wickedness.

“Know not God” – does not refer to those who have never heard of the rue God, but to those who refuse to recognize Him.

“Obey not” – the gospel invites acceptance and rejection is disobedience to a royal invitation.

9 Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power;

4 3“Destruction” – not annihilation.  Paul uses the word in 1 Cor 5:5, possibly of the destruction of the “flesh” for the purpose of salvation.  Since, however, salvation implies resurrection of the body, annihilation cannot be in mind.

10 When he shall come to be glorified in his saints, and to be admired in all them that believe (because our testimony among you was believed) in that day.

“Glorified in his saints” – not simply “among” but “in” them.  His glory is seen in what they are.

11 Wherefore also we pray always for you, that our God would count you worthy of this calling, and fulfil all the good pleasure of his goodness, and the work of faith with power:

12 That the name of our Lord Jesus Christ may be glorified in you, and ye in him, according to the grace of our God and the Lord Jesus Christ.

Lost Cities of the Americas (5 of 7) 

5 Guatemala


Location: Guatemala
Date of Construction: c 200 B.C.
Abandoned: c 900 C.E.
Built By: Maya
Key Features: Great Plaza; Many Stepped Pyramids; Ball Courts; Palaces; Stelae

The largest and greatest Maya city, Tikal was so utterly abandoned that it was not fully rediscovered until 1848. Yet more than 60,000 people – perhaps up to 200,000 – lived in a city that covered over 47 square miles, and which dominated the Mayan heartland from the Yucatan to western Honduras.

6 Honduras
Honduras, officially the Republic of Honduras is a republic in Central America.
It was at times referred to as Spanish Honduras to differentiate it from British Honduras, which became the modern-day state of Belize.

The country is bordered to the west by Guatemala, to the southwest by El Salvador, to the southeast by Nicaragua, to the south by the Pacific Ocean at the Gulf of Fonseca, and to the north by the Gulf of Honduras, a large inlet of the Caribbean Sea.

Honduras was home to several important indigenous cultures, most notably the Maya.

Much of the country was conquered by Spain which introduced its now predominant language and many of its customs in the sixteenth century.

It became independent in 1821 and has been a republic since the end of Spanish rule.

Only recently has decipherment of the mysterious Mayan script made it possible to read the wealth of inscriptions (known as “glyphs”) at the site, revealing the city’s bloody history of violence and intrigue.

Tikal in Guatemala was the greatest city of the greatest era of Maya history, the Classic period. The name by which it is known today is a relatively recent appellation, meaning “at the waterhole”, a reference to the semi-artificial reservoirs the ancient Maya constructed to help control the water supply that made their intensive agriculture and very high population densities possible.

According to the glyphs at the site, the city’s inhabitants called it Yax Mutul, and the glyph for mutul, thought to represent a top-knot of hair, itself probably symbolic of a sacred corn sheaf, has been found on stones in cities throughout the region, testament to the city’s long reach.

The Rise and Fall and Rise of Tikal

The first settlement of Tikal dates back to 800 B.C., but the city only properly began to take shape around 200 B.C., with the laying down of Tikal’s urban core, particularly what would become the Great Plaza.

This was a large flat area covered in plaster, which remained the city’s hub for a thousand years. Tikal’s glory days coincided with the Classic period of Maya civilization, from around 250-900 CE.

Although Maya writing long predates this, the first dated inscription at Tikal – indeed the first one found in the Maya heartland – dates to 292 CE (or in the Maya Long Count calendar).

It is written on a stela, an inscribed upright slab of stone, of which dozens were erected at Tikal, with about 70 in the Great Plaza alone.

By reading these stelae, and inscriptions on temple doorway lintels and other sources, historians have been able to piece together a very precisely dated list of kings and queens, in the process uncovering a tale of dynastic politics and inter-city rivalry that saw Tikal become the pre-eminent Maya city.

7 The North Acropolis
The North Acropolis, the ritual center of Tikal — one of several groups of pyramids and other monumental structured, raided above the swampy forest floor and linked by plazas and causeways, which make up the Maya city.

By controlling the lucrative transisthmus trade routes and through force of arms, Tikal dominated most of the Maya heartland.

The inscriptions show that one of Tikal’s most revered rulers, Jaguar Paw (this was the initial interpretation of his name based on the appearance of his glyphs; now that they can be read properly it is known that his name was Chak Tok Ich’aak I) died on January 31,  378 CE, on the same day that Siyah K’ak’, a lord from the Mexican City of Teotihuacan, arrived.

It is hard to avoid the conclusion that January 31, 378 was the exact date of a battle in which Siyah K’ak’, a conquering general from Teotihuacan, defeated and slew Jaguar Paw.

Tikal now fell under Teotihuacan influence, with Mexicanized architecture and the introduction of a military innovation, the spear-thrower.

The long-term result was an increase in conflict with its neighbors, which eventually led to the establishment of an alliance between Tikal’s enemies.

Glyphs from Tikal and other sites enable us to trace the politics of this era in fine detail. It seems that its traditional enemy, the city-state of Calakmul, was able to capitalize on a fatal misjudgment by the rulers of Tikal, who sprang a surprise raid on their erstwhile ally Caracol in 556 CE.

8 The Mayan script
The Mayan script, also known as Mayan glyphs or Mayan hieroglyphs, is the writing system of the Maya civilization of Mesoamerica, presently the only Mesoamerican writing system that has been substantially deciphered.
The earliest inscriptions found which are identifiably Maya date to the 3rd century B.C. in San Bartolo, Guatemala.

Maya writing was in continuous use throughout Mesoamerica until shortly after the arrival of the conquistadors in the 16th century CE and into the 18th century in isolated areas, such as Tayasal.

Maya writing used logograms complemented by a set of syllabic glyphs, somewhat similar in function to modern Japanese writing.

Mayan writing was called “hieroglyphics” or hieroglyphs by early European explorers of the 18th and 19th centuries who did not understand it but found its general appearance reminiscent of Egyptian hieroglyphs, to which the Mayan writing system is not at all related.

Nursing resentment, Caracol allied with Calakmul, and waited until a favorable astronomical alignment to begin its revenge. Caracol’s sorcerer-priest-astronomers declared that the most auspicious moment was when Venus rose in its closest conjunction with the dawn sun, which came to pass in 562.

With Calakmul’s help, Caracol launched a devastating raid on Tikal and in the decades that followed the Calakmul-Caracol axis cemented the suppression of Tikal by engineering alliances with other city-states previously under Tikal’s control.

Finally, in the late 6th century, Calakmul supported a breakaway clique of Tikal nobles who set up a rival city at Dos Pilas, which called itself New Tikal.

By the late 6th century Tikal was entirely ringed by hostile city-states, and for over a century no inscriptions were made at Tikal, a period of silence known as the Tikal Hiatus.

It marks the transition from the Early to Late Classic period and when Tikal finally re-established itself, the nature of Maya culture had changed, with Teotihuacan elements expunged.

In 672 Tikal began its resurgence with a campaign against Dos Pilas and over the next 100 years Tikal regained much of its former power and reached the height of its magnificence.

More and more grand buildings were erected on raised platforms or acropolises around the city center – more than 3,000 in total – including monstrous stepped pyramids up to 210 feet high. There are also numerous palaces (which may in fact be government/administrative buildings), ball courts, causeways, observatories and domestic buildings.

By 750 CE Tikal was at its peak, but little more than a century later the city faced a catastrophic collapse. The last dated stela erected at Tikal is dated 869, while the last to be found anywhere in the southern lowlands dates to 909.

What could have happened to lay low a civilization at the height of its powers, in what University of Pennsylvania archaeologist Robert Sharer calls ‘one of the most profound cultural failures in human history’?

Heading for a Fall

Tikal’s achievements were possible because of its burgeoning population, which seemed to defy the environment as it appears today.

9 Temple One
Temple One on the Great Plaza, one of the greatest achievements of the Maya Tikal, built after the city s return to dominance in the Late Classic Period.
Facing west towards the setting sun, Temple One was considered to be a portal to the underworld.

Despite the lush forest that surrounds the city, the southern lowlands where Tikal is sited do not provide the most promising environment for the agricultural base needed to support an advanced civilization. Rainfall is highly variable, with long dry seasons, there are few rivers and, except in valley bottoms, the soils are thin and slow to replenish fertility.

Until relatively recently the area was very sparsely populated. Tikal itself was so utterly abandoned that in 1525 when Hernan Cortes marched through the region, he passed unaware within a few miles of the city.

In 1841, during their survey of dozens of Mayan sites, pioneering explorers John Lloyd Stephens and Frederick Catherwood missed it entirely. So how was it possible for a city of over 60,000 people to have existed here a thousand years earlier?

At Tikal the Maya sought to overcome these limitations by adapting natural depressions and excavating new ones to create massive reservoirs – big enough to hold enough drinking water to meet the needs of 10,000 people for up to 18 months.

They also adopted agricultural innovations, such as mulching to preserve moisture and fertilize fields, multiple cropping in a single year and timing the planting of crops to make maximum use of heavy rains and floods.

Intensive agriculture produced high yields and they were able to support steadily increasing population densities of up to 1,500 people per square mile (for comparison, this is twice that of the most densely populated countries in Africa today and orders of magnitude above what the same landscape supported well into the 20th century).

10 The Lost World Pyramid
The Lost World Pyramid is the largest structure in the Mundo Perdido complex.
It lies in the southwest portion of Tikal’s central core, south of Temple III and west of Temple V.

It was decorated with stucco masks of the sun god and dates to the Late Preclassic; this pyramid is part of an enclosed complex of structures that remained intact and unimpacted by later building activity at Tikal.

By the end of the Late Preclassic this pyramid was one of the largest structures in the Maya region.

But this drive to maximize the intensity and prodctivity of their agriculture put the Maya on a collision course with nature. Although the relatively scarce valley bottoms of the southern lowlands could maintain a reasonable level of fertility and, crucially, a reasonable rate of replenishment of that fertility, the marginal zones that the Maya increasingly looked to exploit could not.

With population growth came additional pressures on the environment. Forest clearance for agriculture was exacerbated by wood cutting for construction, firewood and the production of plaster, with which the Maya were obsessed (they used it as a means of beautifying their edifices).

Deforestation led to soil erosion, flash floods, loss of water retention and eventually to climate change through reduced rainfall. Replenishment of soil fertility collapsed and the population was forced to rely on the overextended core arable land of the valley bottoms.

Proxy climate records, such as sediments deposited in lake beds, reveal that this period also saw one of the most severe and extended dry periods for over a thousand years, with particular peaks in drought conditions around 810, 860 and 910.

Environmental breakdown had probably already led to tension over diminishing land and food resources, and the severe droughts plunged the Classic Maya into a catastrophic collapse.

11 A large stucco
A large stucco mask adorning the substructure of Temple 33.

Authority broke down, conflict raged and millions starved. The archaeological evidence shows that palaces and government buildings at Tikal were burned and it is not hard to imagine a vengeful populace turning on the rulers whose covenant with their people was to ensure prosperity in return for obeisance.

By the end of the 10th century, what was the greatest American metropolis of its age had been completely abandoned, after a collapse that many see as a grim warning to our modern unsustainable society.

…the five most sinful cities in America.

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