Popol Vuh Background

Popol Vuh Background

The Popol Vuh means "Book of the Community" or "Council Book" in the classical language of Quiche. It details the mythological histories and also a history of the rulers of the Mayan Kingdom, the ancient civilization of highland Guatemala and eastern Mexico. The book is believed to have been translated into the Latin alphabet from the original Mayan hieroglyphics. The manuscript was written midway through the fifteenth century and although the original has been lost, the earliest "copy" was written by hand in the early part of the eighteenth century by Friar Francisco Ximinez; this manuscript is held at the Newberry Library in Chicago.

Friar Ximinez considered the Popol Vuh to be less of a historical or spiritual document and more of a book of children's stories or legends. Because of this viewpoint, the teachings of the mythology remained largely hidden from him and his version does not analyze the Mayan people's own understandings at all, or shed any light on their religious beliefs. However, the Popol Vuh actually shows how the Mayan civilization became powerful and what their society was like on a day to day basis, revealing facts about their religious beliefs, cultural heritage, government and economy. Like all great and lasting world religions, these ancient scriptures were passed down to humankind by a deity and the word spread by the chosen one, Hunahpu, born of immaculate conception and charged with the task of sacrificing himself for the good of the human world. Hunahpu teaches that the human soul is immortal and that conduct on earth decides the way in which the soul will spend eternity. This is one of the earliest examples of this teaching. Hunahpu lays out rules for worship, ethics and laws of nature and astronomy and all teaching is geared to protection of civilization and the family.

The Popul Vuh also resolves eternal questions such as the creation of the universe, the existence of sin and the relationship with the Deity. The goal is to achieve salvation and to create a society on earth that is kind and just and a reflection of the Deity the Mayans are worshipping.

Scholars believe that the Popul Vuh is an authentic document as despite it's succession of modernizing translations it has no references to human thought, and also contains cultural references that could only be written by eye-witness account. There is also archaeological evidence to support its authenticity.

The Popul Vuh is divided into two parts, the first containing the creational myths and the history of both the Mayans and the Quiches until their cultural and geographical separation. The second part deals only with the Quiches. The books show the evolution of the civilization as well as the faithful passing of the teachings down the generations. The book is incredibly important as it is one of only a few early Mesoamerican texts in literature.

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