Throughout history, there have been people prophesying the end of the world. Some string together Biblical texts into a narrative that gives them a formula, with dates and even times, for the world to perish in a flash of fire. Others decipher obscure documents and interpret their meaning.
The 14th century was a good time for end timers. Later, John Knox, John Wycliffe, John Wesley and Martin Luther all believed the end was nigh.
In England, in 1806, hopes for Jesus's second coming were pinned not on wisdom from a human but on a humble chicken, the Prophetic Hen of Leeds. She began laying eggs that bore the words "Christ is Coming," which helped spread the rumor that the Final Judgment was imminent. As it turns out, someone discovered the eggs were being inscribed and then forced up inside the hen. Ouch.
Later in the 19th century, a William Miller, a Baptist minister and New England farmer, used various dates, measurements and numbers from the Bible to calculate that the world would end in 1843 or 1844. He picked a day in April that was, unfortunately for him, wrong. The Millerites who followed him, giving away all of their possessions, then determined the day was October 22, 1844.
When the sun rose on October 23, the Millerites found a new explanation of what God was up to: cleansing heaven. For them, October 22 became the Great Disappointment. Some of their sect later formed what is today the Seventh Day Aventists.
So, cheer up, followers of Mayans. You're in good company.
History has countless examples of people who have proclaimed that the return of Jesus Christ is imminent, but perhaps there has never been a stranger messenger than a hen in the English town of Leeds in 1806. It seems that a hen began laying eggs on which the phrase "Christ is coming" was written. As news of this miracle spread, many people became convinced that doomsday was at hand — until a curious local actually watched the hen laying one of the prophetic eggs and discovered someone had hatched a hoax.