By John Blake, CNN
(CNN) – The anti-Christ. The Battle of Armageddon. The dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse.
You don’t have to be a student of religion to recognize references from the Book of Revelation. The last book in the Bible has fascinated readers for centuries. People who don’t even follow religion are nonetheless familiar with figures and images from Revelation.
And why not? No other New Testament book reads like Revelation. The book virtually drips with blood and reeks of sulfur. At the center of this final battle between good and evil is an action-hero-like Jesus, who is in no mood to turn the other cheek.
Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars, first read Revelation as a teenager. She read it again in writing her latest book, “Revelations: Visions, Prophecy & Politics in the Book of Revelation.”
Pagels’ book is built around a simple question: What does Revelation mean? Her answers may disturb people who see the book as a prophecy about the end of the world.
But people have clashed over the meaning of Revelation ever since it was virtually forced into the New Testament canon over the protests of some early church leaders, Pagels says.
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“There were always debates about it,” she says. “Some people said a heretic wrote it. Some said a disciple. There were always people who loved and championed it.”
The debate persists. Pagels adds to it by challenging some of the common assumptions about Revelation.
Here are what she says are four big myths about Revelation::
1. It’s about the end of the world
Anyone who has read the popular “Left Behind” novels or listened to pastors preaching about the “rapture” might see Revelation as a blow-by-blow preview of how the world will end.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.
She says the writer of Revelation may have been called John – the book is sometimes called “Book of the Revelation of Saint John the Divine” but he was not the disciple who accompanied Jesus. He was a devout Jew and mystic exiled on the island of Patmos, off the coast of present-day Greece.
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“He would have been a very simple man in his clothes and dress,” Pagels says. “He may have gone from church to church preaching his message. He seems more like a traveling preacher or a prophet.”
The author of Revelation had experienced a catastrophe. He wrote his book not long after 60,000 Roman soldiers had stormed Jerusalem in 70 A.D., burned down its great temple and left the city in ruins after putting down an armed Jewish revolt.
For some of the earliest Jewish followers of Jesus, the destruction of Jerusalem was incomprehensible. They had expected Jesus to return “with power” and conquer Rome before inaugurating a new age. But Rome had conquered Jesus’ homeland instead.
The author of Revelation was trying to encourage the followers of Jesus at a time when their world seemed doomed. Think of the Winston Churchill radio broadcasts delivered to the British during the darkest days of World War II.
Revelation was an anti-Roman tract and a piece of war propaganda wrapped in one. The message: God would return and destroy the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem.
“His primary target is Rome,” Pagels says of the book’s author. “He really is deeply angry and grieved at the Jewish war and what happened to his people.”
2. The numerals 666 stand for the devil
The 1976 horror film “The Omen” scared a lot of folks. It may have scared some theologians, too, who began encountering people whose view of Revelation comes from a Hollywood movie.
“The Omen” depicted the birth and rise of the “anti-Christ,” the cunning son of Satan who would be known by “the mark of the beast,” 666, on his body.
Here’s the passage from Revelation that “The Omen” alluded to: “This calls for wisdom: let anyone with understanding calculate the number of the beast, for it is the number of a person. Its number is six hundred sixty-six.”
Good movies, though, don’t always make good theology. Most people think 666 stands for an anti-Christ-like figure that will deceive humanity and trigger a final battle between good and evil. Some people think he’s already here.
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation didn’t really intend 666 as the devil’s digits. He was describing another incarnation of evil: The Roman emperor, Nero.
The arrogant and demented Nero was particularly despised by the earliest followers of Jesus, including the writer of Revelation. Nero was said to have burned followers of Jesus alive to illuminate his garden.
But the author of Revelation couldn’t safely name Nero, so he used the Jewish numerology system to spell out Nero’s imperial name, Pagels says.
Pagels says that John may have had in mind other meanings for the mark of the beast: the imperial stamp Romans used on official documents, tattoos authorizing people to engage in Roman business, or the images of Roman emperors on stamps and coins.
Since Revelation’s author writes in “the language of dreams and nightmares,” Pagels says it’s easy for outsiders to misconstrue the book’s original meaning.
Still, they take heart from Revelation’s larger message, she writes:
“…Countless people for thousands of years have been able to see their own conflicts, fears, and hopes reflected in his prophecies. And because he speaks from his convictions about divine justice, many readers have found reassurance in his conviction that there is meaning in history – even when he does not say exactly what that meaning is – and that there is hope.”
3. The writer of Revelation was a Christian
The author of Revelation hated Rome, but he also scorned another group – a group of people we would call Christians today, Pagels says.
There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions.
Revelation reflects some of those early clashes in the church, Pagels says.
That idea isn’t new territory for Pagels. She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels,” a 1979 book that examined a cache of newly discovered “secret” gospels of Jesus. The book, along with other work from Pagels, argues that there were other accounts of Jesus’ life that were suppressed by early church leaders because it didn’t fit with their agenda.
The author of Revelation was like an activist crusading for traditional values. In his case, he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah. But he didn’t like the message that the apostle Paul and other followers of Jesus were preaching.
This new message insisted that gentiles could become followers of Jesus without adopting the requirements of the Torah. It accepted women leaders, and intermarriage with gentiles, Pagels says.
The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today.
That was too much for the author of Revelation. At one point, he calls a woman leader in an early church community a “Jezebel.” He calls one of those gentile-accepting churches a “synagogue of Satan.”
John was defending a form of Christianity that would be eclipsed by the Christians he attacked, Pagels says.
“What John of Patmos preached would have looked old-fashioned – and simply wrong to Paul’s converts…,” she writes.
The author of Revelation was a follower of Jesus, but he wasn’t what some people would call a Christian today, Pagels says.
“There’s no indication that he read Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount or that he read the gospels or Paul’s letters,” she says. “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.”
4. There is only one Book of Revelation
There’s no other book in the Bible quite like Revelation, but there are plenty of books like Revelation that didn’t make it into the Bible, Pagels says.
Early church leaders suppressed an “astonishing” range of books that claimed to be revelations from apostles such as Peter and James. Many of these books were read and treasured by Christians throughout the Roman Empire, she says.
There was even another “Secret Revelation of John.” In this one, Jesus wasn’t a divine warrior, but someone who first appeared to the apostle Paul as a blazing light, then as a child, an old man and, some scholars say, a woman.
So why did the revelation from John of Patmos make it into the Bible, but not the others?
Pagels traces that decision largely to Bishop Athanasius, a pugnacious church leader who championed Revelation about 360 years after the death of Jesus.
Athanasius was so fiery that during his 46 years as bishop he was deposed and exiled five times. He was primarily responsible for shaping the New Testament while excluding books he labeled as hearsay, Pagels says.
Many church leaders opposed including Revelation in the New Testament. Athanasius’s predecessor said the book was “unintelligible, irrational and false.”
Athanasius, though, saw Revelation as a useful political tool. He transformed it into an attack ad against Christians who questioned him.
Rome was no longer the enemy; those who questioned church authority were the anti-Christs in Athanasius’s reading of Revelation, Pagels says.
“Athanasius interprets Revelation’s cosmic war as a vivid picture of his own crusade against heretics and reads John’s visions as a sharp warning to Christian dissidents,” she writes. “God is about to divide the saved from the damned – which now means dividing the ‘orthodox’ from ‘heretics.’ ’’
Centuries later, Revelation still divides people. Pagels calls it the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible.
Even after writing a book about it, Pagels has hardly mastered its meaning.
“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.”
Prayer has worked for me lots of times.
More like your priest was In You.
That prayer worked for you sometimes isn't proof of God's existance. It's proof that sometimes you get what you want. If it occurs at a rate statistically greater than chance then you start having evidence that something more is going on (though still not proof of God). Problem is, study after study has shown that prayer in and of itself has no statistical benefit.
Prayer worked for you one time? Did you pray to a jug of milk?
It would have heard you just as well as your man made god would have. You could have reconciled with the jug of milk just like you do with your man made god.
In fact, the jug of milk is real, whilst your man made god isn't. Oh, btw....as long as the milk is still fresh, you can use it to give you better health, and it has many other uses. Not like your man made god.
Why will your man made god not heal amputees?
Fact : Revelation is not a Myth!
FACT: Secret rapture & left behind theme is a HOAX!
FACT 1st Beast of Revelation 13 = Catholic Church during dark ages.
FACT 2nd Beast of Revelation 13 = USA.
FACT Mark of the Beast = Sunday sacredness!
FACT: Writing "Fact" in front of your opinion does not make it fact.
LookAndSEE, I'll see you in the rapture capsule with the unicorns. Don't forget to wear your nose ring – the big steel one that I padlocked the chain onto when we were practicing for the uplifting.
Get ready for your plunging. Here it comes...
Another CNN attempt to discredit Christianity and the Bible. From the godless left.
As opposed to the immoral right, which steals from little old ladies and orphans to make their billions?
Root post by Blake contains instances of the ad hominem fallacy and the circ-umstantial ad hominem fallacy.
You can't discredit truth. I can say the sky is green; that doesn't make it so.
That is a myth also. I vote as a conservative and reject religion. Same with several of my close friends.
LEAVE RELIGION OUT OF POLITICS PLEASE
The right is godless too, they just don't know it as yet.
blake: you think god has a political party? what a dumba$$
Another author who watches the History Channel for six months and writes a book about "her" findings. Great job CNN and to the "author".
godless left? black, you are a blowhard. now, get back on your knees
... "There’s a common perception that there was a golden age of Christianity, when most Christians agreed on an uncontaminated version of the faith. Yet there was never one agreed-upon Christianity. There were always clashing visions."..."The new message was a lot like what we call Christianity today." ...
Be careful; In present times there is still plenty of debate about Christianity. In our contiuing heterogeneous religous world, to use the phrase: "a lot like what we call Christianity today" is not possible in any meaningful sense. There is still, presently, plenty of debate going on about what Christianity is and is not.
LOL, so the writer of Revelation hated Christians....it is amazing the money wasted on so called higher education...
The 5th big myth about Revelation is that God exists. I'm sure someone else has pointed this out already, but I'm not reading through 102 pages of theist vs atheist ranting to find it.
You atheists really need to be pitied. Look at Cuba. 52 years of atheist education and hundreds of thousand turn out for the head of the Roman Catholic Church. The atheist rulers declare Good Friday as a Holiday. Atheism has nothing to offer people. It has no hope or peace. The results of atheist rule in the Soviet Union, Eastern Europe, China and North Korea prove the horrors of atheism.
The great myth is that you assume what you can't prove. You can't see him? So? No one 'saw' for thousands of years that the earth was round; that didn't make it flat. No one knew for thousands of years that DNA existed; that didn't negate its existence.
1 Why do the nations conspire[a]
and the peoples plot in vain?
2 The kings of the earth rise up
and the rulers band together
against the LORD and against his anointed, saying,
3 “Let us break their chains
and throw off their shackles.”
4 The One enthroned in heaven laughs;
the Lord scoffs at them
1) That a bunch of people turned out to see the Pope is not evidence that the Catholic Church is beneficial or that God exists.
2) Atheism offers people the freedom of truth. I would rather understand how the universe actually is, as opposed to some demented Bronze Age fairy tale with no basis in reality. I could draw hope and inspiration and morality by believing that Star Trek was true, but it doesn't mean it is or I'm better for believing so.
3) If you are going to blame atheism for the atrocities of Pol Pot and Stalin, can we blame religion for every single atrocity which took place before that in history? I'm pretty sure every political structure before that were theists of some sort. People don't fly planes into buildings because they reject the claim that God exists.
JM: Here's another verse from that wonderful book of Psalms: 137:9 Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.
So, does that make your wonderful book any better? Is it any better than Leviticus, Deuteronomy, etc? The bible is full of contradictions, absurdities, historical errors to the nth degree, and ultimately lies.
CNN is so bigoted to Christians and pro-atheist (why do none of you idiots spell this right?) that they have a whole area of their webspace devoted to a "belief blog".
People are leaving religion is record numbers. You are only the religion of where you are born. nothing more.
Here goes CNN again with its anti-religious messages posted on the front page. I don't care if your a Christian or not you have got to be blind to miss it!
It is about time. Mythology is not the truth. Enjoy life everyday for this life is precious!
There's nothing anti-religion in the article. Do you fear or hate people who ask questions and dig through history?
What you're doing is called confirmation bias. You simply ignore the pro-christian nonsense that frequently shows up on CNN.
No Y...confirmation bias would assume the antecedent to your argument...that CNN actually occasionally promotes something pro-Christian...is supported somewhere in CNN's historical library...It is not!
The drivel you read above is the work of two malevolent sculptors...the author of the underlying book (Ms. Pagels) trying....again...to chip away at biblical truth...and the author of the article, a schill for soft atheism...chipping away at biblical truth by lending some credence to Pagels upsupported social Gospel agenda, and remaining some distance away to promote some semblence of fair reporting.
The Apostle Paul said, "If anyone comes to you with a different gospel (and claiming that a book of the Bible is a myth is part in parcel with that) let him be anathema." The word anathema means eternally accursed. John Blake, the author of this garbage, and the CNN management who put him on the front page, are going to an eternal Hell to be tormented forever... and he will deserve it.
This article is BUNK! I have read the Bible several times, and know what it says to be true. Hallelujah!!!
Careful in the judgement department Bob...Jesus has that covered...better I think to point out the author's/publisher's bias, and remain open to loving a repentent heart...
Go get 'Em BOB!!!.....personally i like to see fiery christians who arent ashamed to constantly judge people they disagree with and condemn them to the depths of hell! Bob's words expose the lie of compassion and tolerance that the weak minded think their religion is built on. atheists can take the day off...Bob's got your back
Yee shall not fear people who study a variety of topics and seek facts. Reality Check 12:34
PS... there is no such thing as hell, and people don't rise from the dead.
It s funny how a brain washed person take actions and the things they may says when someone challenges what they blindly believe.
well, bob, does it make you feel all godly stating who is going to hell?
Good article, 100% of the bible is bogus anyway, stolen values from Egyptian religion and other prominent ancient cultures.
The reason that you say the Bible is bogus is NOT because it's not provable. Indeed, there is historical record proves, withotu fail, that every single prophecy made it in about Christ has come true. No no. Your problem is not that these things are not part of history, nor that they are the foundations of all western law and civilization and excellent in every other way. Your problem is that you love some kind of stinkin sin and you want to push God to the outskirts of the universe so that you can be your own god, answerable to no one. But guess what... God is only putting up with SOB's like you (and I can call you that because I used to be one) because of His patience. But when He's done, it's you who will be banished to the outskirts of the universe. You are the one who will find out how powerless you really are angainst the Ancient of Days, the Creator of All Things and the Judge of All the Earth. Good luck SOB!
Ate goat once at an Etheopian restaurant...wasn't impressed!
Sources, please? There is a LONG list of 1st and 2nd century historians who wrote not a single word of this wondrous Jesus figure.
No Bob, the only historical evidence of prophecies being fulfilled through Jesus are in the Bible. There is no secular evidence. Also, those accounts of Jesus you are referring to were all recorded decades after they happened.
LOL at prophecies coming true.....there will be wars?? yea um...but....at what point in human history was there never wars?? predicting that there will be earthquakes and wars is like predicting that water will be wet....LOL
Aguest9...and there is also a long list of well established, latter-half nineteenth and twentieth century American writers who never mention Abraham Lincoln....how could that be???
I find it just amazing that the only real criticism that people can make about this article is that it mentions that Patmos is in Turkey, not Greece, which was the article writer's mistake, not the scholar's.
regardless of your beliefs, we should be yelling at CNN instead of each other because if you back check what he says almost non of it is even close to being reasonable and surely wouldn't debunk any myth. CNN should be ashamed to have let John Blake write this article. please do your homework before writting in the future.
Why isn't it "reasonable", and what would you use to debunk this myth?
The Apostle Paul said, "If anyone comes to you with a different gospel (and claiming that a book of the Bible is a myth is part in parcel with that) let him be anathema." The word anathema means eternally accursed. John Blake, the author of this garbage, and the CNN management who put him on the front page, are going to an eternal Hell to be tormented in forever... and he will deserve it.
Paul was defending his own version of Christianity against those who wanted to keep it within Judaism. John of Patmos hadn't even written Revelation yet, so how could Paul be referring to it?
Paul of Tarsus... what a pistol! His super-salesman tactics are quite evident to anyone who can think.
The Apostle Paul said, "If anyone comes to you with a different gospel (and claiming that a book of the Bible is a myth) let him be anathama." The word anathama means eternally accursed. John Blake, the author of this garbage, and the CNN management who put him on the front page, are going to an eternal Hell to be tormented in forever... and he will deserve it.
Jesus was gay. He hung out with all those dudes.
i'm going through these comments and the responses to comments, and william demuth is like the most angriest person in the world haha. you need a friend william.
The main message of the entire Bible is to love. Just learn to love and stop bashing people. Once you start loving God, then you are able to love yourself, and then you are able to love others. When you bash people, they don't see Christ in you. Instead they see a judgmental human who is trying to appear flawless.
If Revelation is about Love, the Hitler was a modern-day cupid.
No, the main message of the entire Bible is that mankind is hoplessly sinful and needs a saviour for the forgiveness of those sins in order to once again have eternal life and a relationship with God. Jesus Christ is that Saviour.
Let's face it, lots of people love, lots of people are very pleasant and don't bash others – all good things – but if those same people deny Christ and His deity and chose to not allow Him to forgive their sins – they are condemned to eternity apart from Him. Jesus himself clearly states this in the gospels:
"He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him" John 3;36 (KJV)
" The main message of the entire Bible is to love."
That must be why your god commands that you kill gay folks. That must be why your god commands that young girls who are ra.ped must marry their attackers.
Yep. Lots of love there.
Please cite reference to killing qu eers.
@ pervert – Leviticus 20:13 If a man has se.xual relations with a man as one does with a woman, both of them have done what is detestable. They are to be put to death
So, why are you not obeying your god?
Ms. Bagel's story is full of holes...and how does knowledge of her nag hammadi scripts discovered by Mohammed make her a qualified historian?
Hey don't you dare insult bagels. What is a Bagel without a hole after all?
A pagels gone wild!
The name is Pagels and the Nag Hammadi library isn't her only field of research. She holds a PhD in Theology from Harvard and has a long career of study in the field. THAT'S what makes her an expert.
The historical context of the Christian Bible is important because it reveals a lot about Christianity, more so than the scriptures in the Bible its self. The Book of Revelations has been used by zealots to frighten people for centuries, yet it is just a bad acid trip put at the end of the human constructed Bible to have a big bang there for effect.
Without the illumination of the Holy Spirit – the Whole Bible will not make sense! John Blake sounds like a tool for Satan
You sound like an idiot.
Amen to that my brother! Stay tuned for my article... 40 big myths of this article
Satan! You are delusional man.
Right, right. I know. You have been granted the gift of discernment and become a new creature in Christ, right? So tell me this: Once you received Christ in your life, did it magically alter the meaning of ANY of the 10 commandments? Did it somehow change the way you interpret the sermon on the mount? What DOES the Holy Spirit help you "illuminate" - it seems to me that what you really want to do is pick and choose which parts of the Bible you want to deem allegorical, historical, metaphorical, or philosophical diatribe.
It's utterly ridiculous to imagine that we can't understand the book. When you BEING to read the Bible, you MUST be able to understand its message or it would be impossible to come to salvation. So what precisely happens once you are indwelled by the Holy Spirit that allows you then to see with "spiritual eyes"?
It's a catch-22. You can either understand the book ALL THE TIME on its face or you can't understand it all!
Translation: Without accepting that the Bible cannot be criticized you will never be able not to criticize the Bible.
Everything in the article can be counter with the simple fact that after 2000 years, Israel exists.
Might be an interesting thesis if the vast majority of old and new testament prophecy wasn't in such unequivocal agreement with Revelation. Author's ploy might have been more beleivably constructed had she suggested John had ripped-off or simply re-hashed the prophets, most notably Daniel, and of course Jesus himself in his multiple end-times discourses, but nope...the author and her liberal, artysy-fartsy hermaneutics employs the same amillenial drivel to chip away at God's revelation...No surprise CNN is right there with it's soft, anti-Christian biggotry/bias, promoting it's not-so-veiled athiest agenda...
Wow... talk about drivel. Rather than come back with some intelligent discussion on aspects of an artical you may not agree with, you resort to name-calling and use of antiquated "big" words . You're a bit paranoid in your beliefs, which is how Church leaders like it.
Well said JLasaque. Two thumbs up!
Agreed. Elaine Pagels completely has missed the forest for the trees. It doesn't take a "Biblical scholar" to understand Revelation, and when taken as a whole – Old and New Testaments – the Revelation perfectly supports related accounts of end time events as depicted in the book of Daniel and Thessolonians.
The glory of God's Word is that it interprets itself and has never been proven wrong, and never will be.
The bible is a book of fiction and nothing else.
The CNN Belief Blog covers the faith angles of the day's biggest stories, from breaking news to politics to entertainment, fostering a global conversation about the role of religion and belief in readers' lives. It's edited by CNN's Daniel Burke with contributions from Eric Marrapodi and CNN's worldwide news gathering team.