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.”
Well, there you have it! Thousands of years of belief corrected by John Blake. Thanks, John.
This book isn't original anyway. I've known the same stuff for maybe ten years.
Actually, the corrections were made by Professor Elaine Pagels.
She received both her B.A. (1964) and M.A. (1965) from Stanford University and her Ph.D. from Harvard University (1970). Pagels joined the faculty of the department of religion of Barnard College, Columbia University, as an assistant professor in 1970. She was promoted to associate professor in 1974 and to full professor in 1976. She joined the faculty of Princeton University in 1982 as Harrington Spear Paine Foundation professor of religion. Among the honors and fellowships accorded her were a Rockefeller fellowship (1978-1979), a Guggenheim fellowship (1979-1980), and the MacArthur Prize fellowship (1980-1985).
Read more: http://www.answers.com/topic/elaine-pagels#ixzz1qnuzAlLv
Historican fact is historical fact & just needs someone to uncover the truth, even if people don't like it. Sorry if it's not to your liking "sigh"
Patmos is in present-day Greece, not Turkey.
Eternity is at hand, keep steadfast
Revelation 1, 1-8:
The Revelation of Jesus Christ, which God gave unto him, to shew unto his servants things which must shortly come to pass; and he sent and signified it by his angel unto his servant John: 2 Who bare record of the word of God, and of the testimony of Jesus Christ, and of all things that he saw. 3 Blessed is he that readeth, and they that hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written therein: for the time is at hand. 4 John to the seven churches which are in Asia: Grace be unto you, and peace, from him which is, and which was, and which is to come; and from the seven Spirits which are before his throne; 5 And from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, and the first begotten of the dead, and the prince of the kings of the earth. Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen. 7 Behold, he cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see him, and they also which pierced him: and all kindreds of the earth shall wail because of him. Even so, Amen. 8 I am Alpha and Omega, the beginning and the ending, saith the Lord, which is, and which was, and which is to come, the Almighty.
The great topic of the Bible beside salvation is the suffering of the Christian Church, which she has to bear in an antichristian world. A man, who remains in his redeemer Christ, will face hostility in this godless world.
However, Jesus Christ, who has suffered like no one before him and after him, has overcome the demonic world. Christ had a free human will and a divine will (two wills). Despite cross, rejection and suffering Jesus remained "in God". The great merit of Jesus was it that he remained in God, although he had to bear superhuman sufferings. Christ has rolled back the Fall of Adam.
Adam abandoned God voluntarily, although he was made in a blissful state. Jesus remained "in God" despite infinite sufferings. Hence, Jesus is a "new Adam" or the first born of a "NEW MANKIND", a mankind, which has returned to its Creator and loves him on every condition, even if she has to suffer. Jesus is the beginning of a new creation, a creation in God.
Jesus Christ is yet in the "Future of the Lord". Jesus has overcome the profane world by the Holy Spirit and God has honored him and confirmed him with the resurrection from the death and has made him ruler of the universe. The meek and humble Jesus, who sweat blood in the garden Gethsemane, because of endless trouble and horror, is ruler of the universe right now and his dominion can manifest very soon.
"Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins in his own blood, 6 And hath made us kings and priests unto God and his Father; to him be glory and dominion for ever and ever. Amen."
God, the Father, delivered God, the Son, for the sake of our sins. He raised him from the dead for our justification. Everybody, who believes that and gets sacramentally baptized, becomes righteous: His sins are forgiven and he lives a life of practical righteousness. Despite the attacks of the godless world, the believer remains within his saviour and does works of righteousness. The meek and humble people on earth living in righteousness, will finally manifest as kings and priests of the Most High. God will reward them with very high ranks, because they kept the faith on a hostile, godless earth.
The majority of the mankind will never believe in Christ, at least not in the true Christ. The majority will believe in the false Christ or Antichrist (The Wicked, Mohammed, the popes and others).
The revelation is nothing else than an account of the intergalactic war, which blusters on earth between the true Christian Church and the profane world (secular society, churches, which have turned apostate, false religions like Islam, cults like Mormons).
God tells the true believers through the Revelation: "Don't become worldly again, but remain faithful; I have overcome the world and will come soon and raise you to glory!"
no one is reading this crap.
Where is the punch line? I hate to admit this joke isn't very funny.
I go to church every Sunday morning. It is called "Saint Mattress of the Slumbering Hearts".
Declaring to the world that you're lazy isn't a virtue, friend. Sad.
How is sleeping in one day a week lazy? Why would I get up to sit around with a bunch of hypocrites who praise God on Sunday morning then spend the rest of the week cheating on their wives, being alcoholics, and treating other people like crap. I used to be forced to attend church three times a week and watched the hypocrisy around me. No thanks. I will hang with the sinners who admit they are sinning.
But Paul ... Sunday is a day or rest!! Sam is following his scripture to a T.
Reading these posts are very interesting to me. How different people think. Each person is caught up in there own version of reality based on the information they have chosen to listen to or read. Please run this through your thoughts. It seems people have an empty void inside of them. We put ourselves into daily/weekly routines to occupy our time / to cope. Some people fill the void with various additions (smoking, alcohol, drugs, work, sports, arguing, ect.). Christian believe God fills the void. In my opinion it all comes down to your individual faith. It’s easier not to believe in anything, because if you do then there are rules and consequences. And that’s not politically correct. “No one should put their beliefs on me” “If that’s your belief then I’m going to be different” (you get the point). I can only share my personnel experience. God has filled the void in me that used to drive me to drink and act crazy. I went though cancer removal surgery that should have left me disfigured. But after going to a church for the first time in approx. 20 years, I was healed. The surgeons at Duke could not understand how my body looked normal one month after the second surgery. After additional tests (MRI, CatScan, X-rays) I was informed that there was no sign of me ever having cancer. They could not even find any scar tissue from the surgeries. I hope anyone that reads this will open their heart to God and experience what I have. Thanks for reading this.
Patmos is a Greek island and not Turkish as mentioned in the article.
Umm...no. John Blake, you are trying to mislead people.
Hey folks, if your God is Almighty then he won't be threatened by someone interpreting a scripture in a CNN article. He also won't need you defending him in a dumb forum.
Christians are afraid to question their own beliefs. Afraid of god. That's all there is to it. God will burn them for thought crimes.
It's absolutely ridiculous that there are ADULTS who believe in this crap in 2012. RIDICULOUS.
Satan! Dude how is it going!? You had the most wicked party last night. Everyone can't stop talking about it this morning. The goats were a little too much though.
Its the logical equivalent to believing that if you plant a magic seed in the ground a giant beanstalk will grow out!
This just confirms what I have always believed. Religion is and always has been complete and utter BULLSH**T
Glad my faith in Jesus and in the divine inspiration in the Bible doesn't depend on CNN or an alleged "Biblical scholar" who pops out of the woodwork to share some of the most dubious "research" I've ever seen, backed by little more than suppositions.
No... your faith doesn't depend on anything, right? That's why it is faith.
Yes believe in your mythical friend.... I do find Aesop's Fables entertaining also. While you're at it, prove that Superman doesn't exist.
"backed by little more than suppositions."
OK then, what does your thorough research about all these monsters in Revelations conclude with?
I am a follower of Jesus . I believe everything by Faith not by sight.He is God's son . In this life you believe in him or not. God give us the free will.
Yes, it is always better to stay rooted than to branch out into a larger, fuller, broader awareness of things.
Exactly. This is really just a mix of recycled theories that never had legs to stand on. I always thought it terribly strange the idea that John would have urged readers to calculate the numbers of Nero from the numerology system associated with Hebrew letters while writing in Koine Greek. The part about a conflict with Paul strikes me as completely made-up, and the existence of other books of "revelations" is irrelevant. Only a person that has wasted their life writing about the Gnostics would see significance in that.
Thanks CNN for more garbage journalism.
It doesn't seem to depend on logic either. Maybe care more to read and educate yourself. Pagels' is one of the most famous biblical scholars of the day.
What an amusing post. My guess is you have no idea who Elaine Pagels is, correct? She didn't "pop out of the woodwork" as you claim, but rather she a professor of religion at Princeton University.
Are where, may I ask, are you getting your biblical information? My guess it's through indoctrination rather than study and thought.
What if you were to take a math class, and the professor showed up with odd slicked back hair and a $3000 suit and proceeded to dance around singing and yelling about math? Five-a plus a five-a is TEN-a, Jesus it's TEN-a, just like the $10 you should put in the collection plate to seed your cloud.
Is this really the best way to learn about a subject? Or is this just a type of indoctrination, or brainwashing as it where?
What type of honest information about a subject are you to gain from this type of teaching? Christians seems scared to death of taking a calm, scholarly view of their favorite subject. Why? Because it conflicts with the indoctrination? Or because it conflicts with the preachers ability to fear-monger you out of your $$.
My guess it the only reason you think that Revelations is a story about the end of the world is because you WANT it to be that. My guess is that you also think that these end times are happening RIGHT NOW, and we all need to be just as afraid as you.
Why are you living your life in a fairy tale of fear? Maybe you should spend more time with actual learning than with indoctrination.
Say what you want. The non-believer are the fastest growing group.
And for good reason...
You forgot all the other myths, comprising the entire bible.
That headline should be "4 Sub-Myths In A Book Of Myths"
PEOPLE TRAIN THEMSELVES TO ACCEPT AND BELIEVE WHAT THEY WANT TO THATS THEIR LOSS.IF U DONT UNDERSTAND THE BIBLE AND U WANT TO THEN JUST PRAY TO GOD AND ASK HIM FOR A REVELATION OF HIS WORD.THEN U WILL KNOW THE TRUTH AND IT WILL MAKE U FREE. GOD BLESS!
Why are you yelling with ALL CAPS? Is this intentional or was the CAPSLOCK on? Faith without Reason is childish. Reason without Faith is irresponsible. Faith guided by Reason is productive. Reason guded by Faith is a dead end. I do not speak of Faith meaning "adherence to a traditional religious doctrine", rather Faith is a characteristic of the wiring of the human brain to provide hope when we need it to continue moving forward. The world is as big or as small as we allow ourselves to see it. Reason restricts us to see more, Faith opens us to see less, each is human, but alone they do not do the full job.
Many times I have heard from people who say that there is no difference between a Christian and a non-Christian. I'll give you an example.
You are driving through a bad section of town, whatever town you happen to live in. It's 11:30 at night and all of the sudden your vehicle breaks down and you don't know what to do. All of the sudden, you notice a group of young men walking towards your car. Now ask yourself this question.
Does it matter to you that these young men just got out of Bible study?
If you believe something and it doesn't affect your behavior, that belief and any faith that you might base on that belief is a false faith and amounts to nothing.
Are you saying that if their belief effects their behavior the belief is then TRUE?????
If those kids just got out of bible study, they'd be taking drugs.
i'd prefer if they were atheists.
Dumb argument since we ALL know they would have Halos over their heads.
However, we are supposed to adopt her take on Revelation? I don't think so. I've read it many times; I don't understand it, but it does seem to be a prophesy about the future because nothing like it has occurred to date (the sky rolled up like a scroll? the stars falling to earth). Read The Chronicles of Narnia as a kid; C.S. Lewis portrays it quite wonderfully in The Last Battle.
If the Bible isn't true, I must say that this world has absolutely no meaning: eat, drink and be merry for tomorrow you die. Ugh.
Forgiveness of sins and heaven are Good News. So much pain and sadness in this world!
God have mercy on us all.
People make this world what it is. You have a choice to complain about this world and wait the the next -or- do something about it and make this a good one. So what meaning does the next world have? Really, think about it .. it's all just happy happy time, so what's the point? Seems like you made that point when you said, "eat, drink & be merry for tomorrow you die". So it seem heaven is just the same "be happy" scenario, what's the point of that for eternity?
"If the Bible isn't true, I must say that this world has absolutely no meaning:"
It is sad that people are conditioned to need religion in order to give their lives purpose. There is purpose all around you, in what you give to your children, your spouse, your family, your community, to your environment. It was always there. You don't need religion for that.
What a sad, sad existence you must live.
Eden: perfection. Evil entered the picture. Thousands of years of pain followed by death. God sacrificed His son to die on a cross to take our punishment (we don't let criminals off the hook unless they pay their time/dues). He overcame death so that one day we can leave this world of sin and live as we were intended: in a world of everlasting joy. Not a world of everlasting boredom. Who doesn't want joy?
There is only so much good one can do in this world. I sponsor kids, donate a lot of my money to help the poor and orphans. That doesn't buy me happiness. I have limited money and the poor and hunger are beyond my ability to do much. In heaven, the last will be first. That's justice.
My mom died of a heart attack a few years ago. My dad is getting old and sick. I don't distract myself by buying fancy stuff or watching mindless tv. I have hope that this isn't the end of the story. That one day we will all be together again and death will be done with forever.
It depends on what you mean by the Bible being true. The parables were not literally true, in that they were not meant as factual statements of what several real people actually did. Instead they were meant by Jesus to illustrate a truth - a fundamental principle that is true. If the Bible was intended to be literally true in explaining how the Earth and all of its lifeforms, including humans, were created, then it would have had to have been a science textbook - in which case, no one thousands of years ago would have understood it and it would have had no impact. It was meant to emphasize that God created the universe, in simple terms that anyone could understand even back then, and not to provide details on how God actually did it. In that manner, the Bible is essentially, but not literally, true. And that's the truth.
There are some truths in the Bible, but that doesn't make the while book true. I find a great deal of meaning in the world and in life that doesn't depend on the veracity of that book. And prophecy is a fools game. We are here and it is now; further than that, all human knowledge is moonshine.
"That one day we will all be together again and death will be done with forever."
Here JM you illustrate beautifully the attractiveness of religion. Fear of death is a powerful motivator. Religion attempts to belay that fear through a promise of an afterlife.
Instead of hoping there is more you should live THIS life to the fullest.
So the entire proposition for the existence of an all knowing, all powerful God comes down to your inability to accept your morality for it truly is? Even flys have more courage than you. Pathetic!
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