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.
CNN’s Belief Blog: The faith angles behind the biggest stories
“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.
Follow the CNN Belief Blog on Twitter
“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.”
Those who want to have a better understanding of the "Book of Revelation" are cordially invited to read the last chapters (chapters 38 to 42) of the book "The Great Controversy", that can be read online at the following internet address.
I highly recommend this reading to John Blake and to Elaine Pagels.
Just read the BIBLE.
The invitation is clear an it is directed to "those who want to have a better understanding of the Book of Revelation". If you only read THE HOLLY BIBLE, I have a text for you to read and it is Isaiah 58:13-14. I do the search work for you and here are the verses.
13 “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,
14 then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken.
I have written a theology text. I wrote it three times to get the final script. Each was written about a year apart and reflects my conviction at the time. You can easily say that two are forgeries of one. Textual criticism is not like critiquing paintings. It is a literary art not a science.
For someone who professes to love their neighbor as themselves you do spend an inordinate amount of time chatting on this blog. Love in words?!?!?!
Textual criticism would still be able to tell that all of your drafts were from the same person, likely because they could see how your theology has evolved.
You say that you've written a book on theology? What academic credentials do you possess to make you an expert in theology?
Do not worry all people ever created or to be will once eternity is here will find out all the answers to stupid faithless questions whether we are in heaven or hell ..purgatory will be have been done away with then...oh oh.....purgatory yet another topic for the oh so intelligent minds ?...in the world......God have mercy....oh to have His patience with fellow humans AMEN
Thanks, Frank. I was worried until I read your steady words of wisdom.
ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:
"John Hick, a noted British philosopher of religion, estimates that 95 percent of the people of the world owe their religious affiliation to an accident (the randomness) of birth. The faith of the vast majority of believers depends upon where they were born and when. Those born in Saudi Arabia will almost certainly be Moslems, and those born and raised in India will for the most part be Hindus. Nevertheless, the religion of millions of people can sometimes change abruptly in the face of major political and social upheavals. In the middle of the sixth century ce, virtually all the people of the Near East and Northern Africa, including Turkey, Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were Christian. By the end of the following century, the people in these lands were largely Moslem, as a result of the militant spread of Islam.
The Situation Today
Barring military conquest, conversion to a faith other than that of one’s birth is rare. Some Jews, Moslems, and Hindus do convert to Christianity, but not often. Similarly, it is not common for Christians to become Moslems or Jews. Most people are satisfied that their own faith is the true one or at least good enough to satisfy their religious and emotional needs. Had St. Augustine or St. Thomas Aquinas been born in Mecca at the start of the present century, the chances are that they would not have been Christians but loyal followers of the prophet Mohammed. “ J. Somerville
It is very disturbing that religious narrow- mindedness, intolerance, violence and hatred continues unabated due to randomness of birth. Maybe, just maybe if this fact would be published on the first page of every newspaper every day, that we would finally realize the significant stupidity of all religions.
I love me so much right now, all because of prayer. It's so super cool and it is PROVEN to work! Just look at me! Everyone thinks them am me because I PRAY on my knees till I'm sweaty and jesus is like, "Look at this little feller" and BAM! Prayer answered! Happens ALL THE TIME.
Trolls just envy me real hard. They want to be me.
They get desperate all fast and oh my. I can just pray them away.
Thank you Adolf, others can see you for what you are now. God bless
Please stop trying to be me, troll alert!
I learned through the power of prayer that if I close my eyes, taking a shot in the mouth from a dozen men isn't so bad.
Everybody wants to be me
It does not take long for the troll to go desperate do it
There has often been criticisms tt many books were left out of the Bible. And that there was a conspiracy by the Church Well, let's put it this way - if there are 500 books written today on say the subject of the Vietnam/Iraqi War or Bush/Obama administratons. Do u think sth I write (my impressions of history as I see it) would be included as opposed to those written by a journalist or historian. Some of the gospels not included were probably not as clear or well written. Remember, Paul , Matthew, Luke and Mark were well educated. Most of the other disciples were not as so. Some were fishermen.
YOU IMPLY THAT FICTION WRITERS NEED TO BE EDUCATED TO MAKE UP A STORY.
You don't really think that Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were written by Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, do you?
The ones that were not included didn't match the theology that had developed hundreds of years after Jesus, so it isn't a matter of the Bible establishing theology as theology establishing the Bible. Revelation, it seems, was the most debated, last to be accepted, and very nearly was rejected altogether.
At least two of us actually consider the historic context within which the Biblle was compiled. Thank you for your posting.
THE BIBLE WAS WRITTEN AND PUBLISHED IN GREAT NUMBERS SO THAT WE WOULD ALWAYS HAVE SOMETHING TO GET THE FIRE GOING IN THE FIREPLACE WITH. THE PAPER IS ALWAYS NICE AND THIN, PERFECT FOR USE AS KINDLING. PRAISE HIM.
Book of Revelations is not so much a mystery if u look at it in the context of the Catholic Liturgical Mass. It is a celestial mirror image of the Mass in heaven to that celebrated daily on Earth. The second coming (Parousia) tt some authors seek is actually in the Eucharist in every day Mass. (For more: read Scott Hahn's The Lamb's Supper / or attend The Great Adventure study on Revelation). The number 666 is not just found in Revelation but also 1 Kings 10:14. Refers to the 666 gold talents which is a tribute to King Solomon. Infers his fall from grace due to allure to gold. Again much ado abt nothing abt the 666 sign or Nero (not proven in any case).Beast refers to Rome; Red Dragon to the Herodians who rule on behalf of Caesar (color of their 'coat of arms'). Finally to all atheists - God also does not believe in the existence of atheists! Amen!
BLAHBLAHBLAHBLAH WHO CARES.
Honestly, where do you guys get this stuff?
Prayer changes things. .
Elaine Pagels is known for being quite sensational and ignoring modern scholarly views.
AND SHE'S PRETTY STUPID
Why? Because you disagree with her? I suppose she got a Ph.D. in religion from Harvard by being stupid. Or became a professor of religion at Princeton by being stupid.
You don't need to be intelligent to get a degree in religious studies by any stretch of the word.
Just be a good little parrot, recite and repeat what they tell you, and "poof" you too can get your degree in mythology.. I mean theology. It isn't rocket science y'know.
She is presenting the "modern scholarly" view. The guys like you who are dismissing her findings out of hand are representing the armchair theologian's, scare-the-pew-goers-into-being-submissive, position.
I've heard good things about the African Anglicans, how you refuse to bow to femin ist – liberal ways.
The churches in N America have sold out and are ordaining the g a y s and women to rule over men.
Stay strong my brother! I pray God's protection over you and your church!
Talk w/you tomorrow!
The African Church's complaints are mostly about the gay issue. The women well they make up 80% of us anyway. We also despise dumbing down the Bible with Liberal Theology. Well goodnight sir!
You two are total idiots. Your ancient ignorance is amazing and disgusting.
Brothers in superstition.
@b4bigbang: Women and gay's are equal to you idiot!! Man is not superior to woman in any way shape or form. We live in the 21st century and if you can't live in it, you are always free to take your leave. It is people who think like you that hold this world back! No man will ever instruct me on anything about living my life...my own husband doesn't tell me what to do or what to wear or how to do things...he's lets me live my life for me or he wouldn't be part of my life!!
According to your own mythology.. I mean religion ... "god" made each and every one of us. So "god" made the gays ... so why do you despise "god's" own creation? To mock the handiwork of "god" is to mock "god" itself. You're all a bunch of no-load worthless hypocrites. (now waiting for a logical answer)
what's the matter, b4, don't like it that gays are equal to you?
yeah, africa....everyone wants to emulate them, eh? tribal warfare, starvation and warlords.
Nii: " We also despise dumbing down the Bible with Liberal Theology. "
And some of us don't think too much of dumbing down the Bible by taking it literally. Crossan: "... the issue is whether the people who told us the stories in the ancient world took them all literally, and now we're so smart that we know to take them symbolically, or they all intended them symbolically and we're so dumb that we've been taking them literally."
Now gays are not a gender. Women are. I don't see why women and men are created equal but a group of men want extra rights that the rest of us don't have.
What "extra rights" would those be?
There actually are gay women too. They're called "lesbians" and, contrary to what you may have seen in po.rn, not all of them are actually bise.xual.
In what sense was Jesus not presenting a "liberal" interpretation of the accepted faith of his time? You, my friend, are arguing that he would take the side of today's conservatives, the Pharisees of our time.
Nii: How is this "extra rights"?
Nii: Are you going to answer the question or not? How is granting gays the right to marry giving them "extra rights"? If you can't defend it, that's okay.
After all, it's not like the bible hasn't been used to justify bigotry before.
"Elaine Pagels, one of the world’s leading biblical scholars" How could this person ever pass themselves off as an expert on biblical matters when it is so obvious from just a small sample of her work that she doesn't know any more then the typical person that goes to church once or twice a year, but is still a 'Zealous' Christian. Of course she can't get any sense from the book of Revelations. She is trying to fit it to her belief system rather then fitting her beliefs to it. That is what all the fake Christian churches do, with the same results. Everything is a 'mystery'. DUH, yeah, when you are teaching things that are in direct contradiction to what the Bible says, it is hard to explain those doctrines using the Bible. Actually the Bible is quite straight forward, clear and explicit to anyone who isn't trying to 'bend' it to fit all the pagan traditions and doctrines that the churches teach in place of the things that are actually in the Bible.
As for the number 666, if anyone is interested in a reasonable, logical and Bible based answer to what it really means, check this link: http://tinyurl.com/bocta2
She knows as much as any Princeton professor of Religion who has had their PH.D since 1970, and has done extensive work on the New Testament.
"Patmos is a Greek island...not Turkish. If you're wrong about that, they how can we believe anything else you write about?"
Excellent. Good skeptical thinking. Now apply that same litmus test to the bible...
Do we have to keep going over this? Patmos is ethnically Greek, joined Greece politically in 1948 after centuries of changing hands. However, it is far closer geographically to Turkey. Kindly go look at a map.
Besides, that's the article writer's placing of Patmos. It has nothing to do with the scholar's findings.
The insanity of Revelation only mirrors the other insanities of Christianity.
ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:–––>>
JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")
Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.
Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.
Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with John's gospel being mostly fiction.
Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!
So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?
Patmos is a Greek island...not Turkish. If you're wrong about that, they how can we believe anything else you write about?
Nice try to dismiss her findings without having to actually argue against them, but that's the author of the article's mistake, not the scholar's.
She also said Essennes were Christians. The author of Revelation was opposed to Paul's libertine Gospel? The same Paul who excommunicated people for sin? Look at the letters to the seven churches. They sounded very much like John's letters 2o. John oozed love. If u didn't love u were in error to him
So, you're willing to buy into flaming skies and seven-headed beasts and dead returning to life and blood-drenched lambs walking around and horse-headed locusts with huge teeth, but if some editor makes a geographic error the credibility is shot. Sounds level-headed to me.
Cq findings? Where did she see John of Patmos? or John the Divine? She sees symbolism that Paul used and says the two were antagonistic. She says she doesn't understand it or u didn't read that? There aare lots of theories as to the authorship of scripture. They don't mean a thing now.
Daniel used similar symbolic animals. Did you just read Revelation? Read Ezekiel and Daniel too.
Did you know that the bible mentions dragons and unicorns? Did you know that none of the supernatural claims in the bible have any basis in reality?
Kind of makes you wonder why ANYONE would trust the bible.
Unicorns in the language of King James is the rhinoceros. Dragon is a snake with legs. Science will tell you that a snake is basically a lizard which lost its legs through evolution.
She says that, even with all of her concentrated study of Revelation, she knows that there is much yet to learn about it, but that isn't to say that she's on the wrong path, like many Christians apparently are. The standard reason why the apostle John isn't accepted as the author of Revelation is the difference in language use, style, and theology between the two, and the letter writer John as well, making for separate authors for all three. It's the same science that picks out modern day forgeries of claimed "lost works" of master writers.
It's all a myth.
You're welcome for this glorious, astonishing bit of insight.
Yes VINES the thought or motive is just as important as the work. You can give alms for tax break or because of pride. You can punish to destroy or to educate. If you have a principal motive of loving your neighbor as yourself it will push you to loving actions. You can! God sees this as loving Him.
RUSS the joy,etc I have found in practising Agape love is more than any pain can surmount. I found out that most things people said about it were not true. However 1cor 13 was very right and so is 1 John 4&5
Hi bro Chad, good to have ya back on the board!
Where's everyone else go? Bit of a lull here the past few minutes.
Btw, good post u made, i totally agree, if i could just be the janitor i'd be totally pleased!
Big I am the only Nii though from time to time someone tries to steal my blogname. That person is an atheist so you will see the difference. I most at times switch to shorthand because I use a phone and this reduces my space to 300 characters per post. Its not really my fault.
I hear ya Nii. I'm glad u let us know this, i also have a secret admirer that likes to make childish remarks using my moniker.
Are u from UK or commonwealth? I ask this because i noticed u spelled 'practise'. I went to school in New Zealand and had to reset my spell check to NZ spelling (but it wasnt a big deal as only a few words are different).
Btw, i think u mentioned u are orthodox. Are u Eastern Ortho? My father-in-law, God rest his soul, was Ukrainian Orthodox.
BIG I am a Ghanaian and not so good at American spelling though in speech I can use the Ghanaian(made popular I hope by Kofi Annan lol), British and American accents. My spellings are British mostly. One American complained about me using Maths instead of Math as the short form of Mathematics. lol
I am an Anglican/Episcopalian with a Messianic ORTHODOX Jewish doctrinal position. That church is quite a hodge podge of ideas and that is what represents mine. I am also a lay minister in my local church.
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.