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.”
Kindness: I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .
This article is about the revelation, however consider this if you will.
So why did you put faith is Jesus? For what reasons?
I personally have faith in Jesus and I have some very good reasons, which can be explained to convince others to believe as well.
If you have a look through the book of Acts and Hebrews you will find the Apostle Paul spent considerable time reasoning with non-believers, with the effect of making many disciples. In Acts 9:22 it says, “he proved logically that this is the Christ.”
Kindness: Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.
This Blog is actually about Revelation!
How can you put faith in something you don’t know?
This teaching goes against what the Bible teaches. Faith cannot be expressed unless you know what you are putting faith in. For example why would Christians need to preach and teach Matt 28:19. Part of making disciples is teaching. When Jesus preached to the Samaritan woman at the well he first gave her information about the messiah, based on this information the woman put faith in him. John chap.4.
Please read Romans 10:14, “However, how will they call on him in whom they have not put faith? How, in turn, will they put faith in him of whom they have not heard? How, in turn, will they hear without someone to preach? How, in turn, will they preach unless they have not been sent forth?...” That is why Paul said, “faith follows the thing heard”. Rom 10:17.
So you see evidence is very necessary for faith.
A thought to consider without ego
Accept Jesus christ as your lord and saviour. You never know how soon is too late. Trancend the worldly illusion of enslavement.
The world denounces truth....
Accepting Jesus Christ will result in something like seeng a new colour. You will see it .....but will not be able to clearly explain it to anyone else..... Its meant to be that way to transend any selfism within you.
Currently.... your constructing your own path that suits your sin lifestyle.
Look closely at the economy ponzi, look at how society idolizes Lust , greed , envy, sloth, pride of life, desire for knowledge, desire for power, desire for revencge,gluttony with food etc .
Trancend the temporal world.
Just think if you can find a truth you can take with you in any of these things. When you die your riches go to someone who will spend away your life. You will be forgotten.... history will repeat iteslf, the greatest minds knowledge fade or are eventually plagerzed, your good deeds are forgotten and only give you a fleeting temporary reward . your learned teachings are forgotten or mutated, your gold is transfered back to the rullers that rule you through deception. Your grave will grow over .
Trancend your egoism and free yourself from this dominion of satan. Relise your a sinner and part of the collective problem of this worldly matrix... Repent....
Evidence follows faith. Faith does not follow evidence..... Faith above reason in Jesus Christ.
Read Ecclesiastes. Read corinthians.
You cant trancend your own egoism by adapting a world philosophy to suit your needs. Seek the truth.
Sell your cleverness and purchase bewilderment. You don't get what you want you get what you are in christ.
I promise this has been the truth for me. In Jesus christ .
Think of what you really have to lose. ...your ego?
Down is up. Break the Matrix of illusion that holds your senses captive.
once you do . you too will have the wisdom of God that comes only through the Holy Spirit. Saved By grace through Faith. Just like seeing a new colour.... can't explain it to a transient caught in the matrix of worldly deception.
Your all smart people . I tell the truth. Its hard to think out of the box when earthly thinking is the box.
Interesting article. Each of those myths was passed off to me as fact in nearly every church I've ever been a member of. To most Evangelical churches, challenging these myths would be a heretical act.
Marcus P Squeezum: I don't understand Revelation anymore than Pagels does, but I do believe in the Bible so I must believe it is in there for a reason.
Yes it is there for reason Marcus. Jesus gave the apostle John the Revelation. Rev 1:1. How about a brief overview.
Jesus said that we would be happy as a result of “reading and observing the things written in it; for the appointed time is near.” So this revelation will help us in this “time of the end”. Chap 2 and 3 were written for the seven congregations, meaning the Christian congregations of today. There is some warnings and commendation. Chap 4, 5 John is invited to see what is to shortly take place. Chap 6 Is the ride of the horsemen, which we have seen fulfilled since 1914 World War Iand talks about those who will survive the Great Tribulation soon to come.
Chap 13 on talk about the “Beasts”, these represent the world powers and the Image of the Beast is the United Nations which will destroy the Harlot (False Religion) who rides the beast. The UN will be instrumental in stripping religion of its wealth and totally destroying it, leaving Jesus loyal and true followers Chap 19. Then Chap 20 talks about the destruction of Satan. The final chapters talk about the restoration of true worship in the earth.
We are then reminded Jehovah is coming quickly to carry these things out by means of his Son.
Wow, to the point and well said! Thank you for posting your description.
No worries, if you want to know more go to http://www.jw.org. Very helpful site.
I don't understand Revelation anymore than Pagels does, but I do believe in the Bible so I must believe it is in there for a reason.
@marcus: yeah it's in there for a reason.......one loon went against everyone else's opinion during the cannon and put it in there because he believed in it. the others thought the authur was insane. i concur with the group, either insane or had a trip.
opps meant "or had a bad trip." lol
All of you believers, I understand that the Great Commission for us believers is to spread the Gospel. I have seen that throughout this blog many people become angry when someone tells a non-believer that they will perish in eternal hell if they don't believe in Christ the Savior. (Which understandably some were pretty rude about expressing this truth) but that is what is wrong with "Christanity" today, it has become a "feel good about yourself doing glodly things" theology and God's goodness and grace, but we have drifted from knowing and expressing a few of God's many characteristics, which are he IS a justful, angry, jealous God. so let's not simply sugarcoat Christianity, but talk about the ultimate ultimate truths with God clearly states that he sent his only son, so we would not perish but have eternal life.
"...God clearly states that he sent his only son..."
What is your verified evidence that this was "God" speaking?
it is NOT the truth. it is a complete lie. That is why atheists become angry
The author may have got her Ph.D in some famous University, and teach in some other one, but I can tell you I wouldn't be proud or her if I were one of her professers. I'm Greek, and I live in Greece, and I can assure you that the Island of Patmos was, is, and will always be Greek. When you make such a huge mistake, what credibility could you possibly have???? If you don't even know geography, that you can so easily check, how could you boast in your accuracy? As for the contents of the article, the only thing I can tell is that there come a day, where all truth will be revealed. And then, all supositions and theories will melt when confronted to the Truth...dream well!!
Unless you have a cartographer's chart from another millennia, a map that doesn't conform to those which are readily available elsewhere this century, you may want to reference any of those found on the web... all of which clearly show that the island of Patmos is, in fact, "off the coast of present-day Turkey" just as Pagels noted. Hmm, what was that you were saying about one's credibility?
Yes, this point keeps coming up over and over again in the comments for this article.
She doesn't say it's an island in Turkey or an island in Greece. She simply mentions that it's an island off the coast of Turkey, which is completely correct. She's just placing it geographically for the reader - she's not surrendering the island to Turkish rule.
All these comments do is indicate just how much Christianity is a religion primarily made up of scared little white boys and their stepford wives. Anyone whose reaction to this article is fear reveal just what a weak faith Christianity has become - protracted by its followers and their weak faith.
Some of you would rather we return to the pre-Reformation days when Scriptures were forbidden to be read by the laity and general public - when fear, force, intimidation, and violence were the methods of proselytizing.
Way to go, right-wing Fundies! You are why a record percentage of Americans now claim no religious affiliation. How proud Jesus must be of you!
Go read Matthew 23 sometime.
Be careful John Blake, you know not what you speak.
All of it, and for the most part, any book with a religious agenda and a dependence on duping the gullible masses by way of blind faith and immortality (life after death), is nothing more than pure unadulterated crap. That isn't to say the messages of tolerance, brotherly love, moral uprightness or any of the greater goods they preach aren't valid, worthwhile or an exemplary narrative for one to adopt for their own life and for the betterment of humankind... but to assume, much less suggest, any one of them is any more divine or sacred or sacrosanct than any of the others is presumptuous at best and utter egomaniacal lunacy at worst.
I used to think that if you took the good and left the rest, that christianity "wasn't that bad". Then, after several arguments where I saw other's point-of-view, essentially, that "if you can't handle all of it, then you aren't truly believing it". Then I left it all. That doesn't mean to say that there weren't some worthwhile ideas. Doing one better than simply tolerating your neighbors and looking out for one another are good ideas for a healthy society, but the rest of the killings, wars, inquisitions, stifling of science because it didn't fit in with dogma, and abuse were, and are not, healthy. We should, and need to as a society, move on.
I was just curious as to whether or not this woman has any real understanding of the bible.She seems to be under the assumption that the authors and the books in the bible were just randomly chosen without Gods intervention and divine inspiration. It seems to me that all the authors of all the 66 books and the books themselves were chosen for that very special purpose by someone who created the good doctor herself. Maybe she thinks she is smarter because of her Phd.
A Ph. D. proves a certain level of intelligence and determination.. A professorship proves abilities of organization, planning, and follow through.. Her publishing record and best-selling author status proves her ability to research and creatively compile data..
She's made the bible part of her life's work, so obviously she understands it well.. What she would NOT do, is use a term like "real understanding of the bible," because that's a stupid way of a person as.serting that their biblical views are correct over another person's biblical views.. Your remarks about how she "seems to be under the assumption," are even more stupid on your part, because of the amount of time she has spent researching the biblical text.. Ph.D.s don't discuss their as.sumptions; they discuss what their research has uncovered..
Yes, "it seems to [you]" that the bible's 66 books do or don't do whatever because you've been brought up in a culture that as.serts unproven ideas as if they are absolutely true.. You don't know how the 66 books were compiled or selected or which were discarded and for what reason and how many.. Just because all you can say honestly is, "it seems to me," doesn't mean that that's all Dr. Pagel can say after her decades of examining the evidence available..
And if you're critiquing a particular person like you did, at least have the respect to refer to her by name at least once in your diatribe.. Dr. Pagel or Professor Pagel would have done.
And I wonder if you yourself know anything about assumptions, since you seem to be under the assumption that the books of the bible were divinely inspired with each author chosen by God.
Degree envy. It isn't becoming. It's ironic that the one's who bash people because of it were abject failures in school. If you had paid attention and studied harder, you might not have been duped by the snake oil salesman at the pulpit.
what of those books that were purposely left out? they don't exist, right?
CNN here on the unBelif blog why not attack Islam too? Investigate that false religion and the killing it does. Go ahead CNN, be brave.
News flash: all religions are false if they pretend to know things that are unknowable. Man has had thousands of faiths we know about and probably many more that have gone by the wayside. Science is making religion irrelevant every day.
Islam is just a cover version of Christianity and equally as wrong.
Elaine Pagels is a fringe theologian with an agenda of her own. She has little or no understanding of theology or church history. When you read this article, just have a chuckles, shake your head, roll your eyes, and move on to the next story.
She's got a Ph.D, a professorship, and is a best-selling author.. She may represent a fringe viewpoint, but she's proven the validity of her work in the academic sphere..
Do you hear yourself Momoya...
You acknowledge the author's fringe viewpoint, but valiate her standing as an academician...what does that say about the viewpoint of academicians? Fringy? PhD and a best selling book are nothing to crow about either...you pretty much have to be a progressive fringer these days to join the PhD club...and wasn't it just a few years back that a best selling author (Mr. Brown of "D'Vinci Code fame) had the unread masses asking whether Jesus and Mary Magdelene were unannounced romantic partners with a love child....come on, you've got to have higher standards than that...
Yes, I hear myself; obviously you don't understand me, but the problem seems to be with how you process logic.
I acknowledged that, "she MAY represent a fringe viewpoint, but she's PROVEN the validity of her work in the academic sphere.". Academics have mainstream ideas and fringe ideas.. Think about the SETI project within the greater science of astronomy.. The SETI project represents a fringe viewpoint, but they compile research and data by the scientific method for their purposes and also share what they find with more mainstream projects.. Much of the technology around you right this second were helped or instigated by fringe science projects.. (Not mainstream science projects).
The necessity of this post to correct your silliness is proof that you aren't "better than that," so I'll be watching for your posts that display the same sort of ridiculous logic you used in this one.
The irony of your argument JLasaque is it doesn't take a PhD to realize that the Bible is one million time worse than wikipedia as well as that it is in fact the ones with out PhDs that were the so called "masses" completely enthralled with the DaVinci Code. The best part about that book is that if one really wanted to discredit religion, they could do it in less than a quarter of the number of pages of any of Dan Brown's books.
Only 4 myths ???!!!! Has the author of this article actually read the whole thing ? there are thousands
Pastor Gino Gennings does understand the book of Revelations to a large extent. Better than any preacher on I know and on TV
There are several questions I have about the article. The Apostle John, the author of Revelation, was not one who campaigned for Judaism but accepted Christ as the messiah. This is very evident in the gospel of John and 1-3 John. Second, the idea of multiple books of Revelation is a misleading idea. One must take care in realizing that Revelation is in scripture because it is the only one wholly consistent with the entirety of scripture and. Books that were not considered canon, such as the one mentioned of Paul seeing Christ in many different forms, are called the pseudepigrapha, or false writings. As for Pagels himself, he is not a man well-versed in scriptural study, and this is evident in his views on Revelation. It's meaning is quite clear, a summation of the history of God's efforts to restore his Creation and his people unto Himself.
Revelation's structure and imagery are broad and va.gue enough to be contradictory or consistent with the rest of scripture; literal or figurative or a combination; about any time period or any event: heresy or foundational.. It's all up to the one interpreting as there is no method by which any reader can demonstrate his understanding to be any more or less correct than another reader's.
First you're right Pagels 'is not a man well-versed in scriptural study', because Pagels is a woman, and I think this woman has some very interesting and enlightening views on the book of Revelations, I mean she did study Stanford then got her Ph.D in religion at Harvard AND is now a religion prefessor at Princeton. I believe she put in her time and has wrote many books to be called "well-versed" and even credible on the subject matter. Just because someone's interpretation doesn't match yours doesn't mean they are wrong and you are right. Its ok to not take a literal interpretation of the Bible, it doesn't exactly fit life these days. Revelation is only in the scripture becasue the men incharge of putting together what we now know as the Bible decided it should go in there with all is blood and fire, nothing more nothing less. To say its consistent is not entirely true because not every book is consistent, nothing is completely consistent because the entire Bible as a whole was wrote by many.
"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 Turkey" (capital letters are mine).
The author clearly states the author of Revelation is NOT Apostle John
Jay, and it's ironic that some believers will fight you to the death over details, but make such glaring, incorrect assumptions. They read the words, but ignore the historical information in the footnotes. Many of the controversial (and, nonsensical) issues that so many cling to, have already been dismissed – some recently, and some centuries ago.
Well, that was an interesting article – Just an easy read for lunch. I don't really know how well researched it was, but I'm fascinated by the ranting and ravings in the comment section. Maybe if you (pretty much any of you) typed in bold-faced caps you might be able to convert or convince somebody. Probably not. One question remains though – do y'all have a job and when do you sleep? :-)
I hope our noodely appendages may cross paths fellow enlightened one ;P
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