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.”
Hitler burned books too. CNN is doing it again. For what reason this expose' ? The media is afraid so it denigrates and undermines. Why not just leave religion alone?
Why not just leave AIDS alone?
Why not just leave cancer alone?
Usual answer re "Why not just leave religion alone?" : because the dimwits that typically fall for religion still get to vote and impact the laws we have to live by.
Your Hitler comparison would be more accurate being compared to the exclusion of books from the Bible.
See the recent article on sacrificing children to Santo Muerte for reasons not to just leave religion alone. I believe that article should be posted in the Belief Blog, anyway.
Probably because so many people try to pass laws for everyone based on the bible.
Bite my noodle and I will forgive you..
I am an atheist that has read the Bible and it constantly amazes me how few self proclaimed "Christians" actually have read it. It has been my experience that the majority of Christians rely on what they have been told by their pastors and Sunday school teachers. There are a lot of misconceptions and fallacies that are perpetrated by these people for reasons other than promoting a true understanding of the Bible.
This is true. I'm a Christian and most people don't actually bothering reading the Bible.
Problem is you can read but will never understadn it using just your intellectual mind. Without your sirit reading it too, it might as well be in a foreign language. Contrary to atheist belief, humans are quite limited in knowledge and the smart ones know that.
"""Problem is you can read but will never understadn it using just your intellectual mind."""
This author must not have studied Revelation very well, she is TWISTING everything about the book. I understand Revelation, so what is she talking about? The book of Revelation isn't hard to understand if you have eyes to see and ears to hear.
So how is it that your omnipotent creature couldn't create a book that isn't so susceptible to different interpretations? Pretty poor god you've made for yourself there.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
You read with your ears?
Prove why your understanding is correct and hers is wrong.......here is a hint.......you can't.
If you really want to be Freaked Out, and have a lil time to be informed Google Project Blue Beam
I Googled Project Blue Beam. The first result was rationalwiki's debunking of Project Blue Beam, which seems thorough. Project Blue Beam itself is clearly crackpot tinfoil hat nonsense. What in the world does it have to do with this article?
First, let's all agree on one fact. There is no god. Now, re-read the article and you'll find that it's actually an interesting historical look at an influential book.
And Enoch also, the seventh from Adam, prophesied of these, saying, Behold, the Lord cometh with ten thousands of his saints, 15 To execute judgment upon all, and to convince all that are ungodly among them of all their ungodly deeds which they have ungodly committed, and of all their hard speeches which ungodly sinners have spoken against him. 16 These are murmurers, complainers, walking after their own lusts; and their mouth speaketh great swelling words, having men's persons in admiration because of advantage.
Don't you ever get tired of this stuff you rant about?
I enjoyed the book of Enoch, would read it till 4am and then do my own research and found alot of alarming news. God Bless us all.
I'm a VERY STRONG Christian, but I've been trying to tell people FOR YEARS that the "Anti-Christ" is an Evangelical myth. The word ANTI-CHRIST (no matter how you spell it) does not even appear in the Book of Revelation. It's only been in the last 200 years that this myth of of an all-powerful Megalomaniac would arise in the last days to torment the earth. The true meaning of the word as it appears other places in scripture is just anything or anyone that has a spirit contrary to Christ. Period. Which applies to most of the posters on this list as well as to anyone who claims to be Atheist.
What does it mean to have a spirit contrary to Christ?
Thank you for posting this. If you are a christian, be a christian. But do not be ignorant to your own faith and defend something thats not even implied by the bible or the basic beliefs of the christian faith.
A spirit contrary to Christ is anything that is contrary to what he taught, or his mission to atone for the sins and mistakes of everyone who ever lived.
What is a "very strong Christian?" Someone who will believe even more wildly outlandish tales than a normal Christian? Doesn't seem to me to be a strength.
There was only one trail of spaghetti sauce in the sand.. ..because I was carrying you..
OK, I'm not a fan the Spaghetti monster analogy .. but that one made me laugh! :D
To those of you who fall in love with Elaine's foolishness, I want to bring to your awareness that the book of revelation is a letter from God to humanity, reassuring us that evil will be defeated for ever. The book of Revelation is not the only book in the Bible that depicts eschatological events of this sinful world. The book of Daniel describes some end times events. Remember the dream of King Nebuchadnezzar, in which he saw a big statue, representing 4 universal world empires and the stone that smote the feet of that statue is the Kingdom of Heaven that will put an end to mankind's rules. There are 2 books that the Devil does not like: first one is Genesis because it accuses him as a liar, second one is Revelation because it talks about his burial. Before the end comes, we all have to make a choice between: Jesus or the Devil, the truth or erroneous belief, Heaven or Hell, the Word of God or mankind's philosophy. When a blind is following another blind, both will fall in a pit. Wisdom is not really about how much knowledge one has, but how wise one chooses. The word of God is the only thing that makes sense even when we don't fully understand it. we all know that the earth rotates around the sun, but how many of us feel when that happens? none. Don't try to interpret the word of God according to your own wisdom, but ask God to help you to understand and to accept his way. Jesus is coming back soon, let's be ready to call him our Lord and saviour.
Marco, you said it more fully than I did or could. For me, the message of Revelation is pretty simple. You will face hard times, but keep the faith– God wins! There are lots of questions I have as I read the Bible and live my life. Sometimes I get what I believe are answers, other times I I don't and hope to get the answers "at a later date."
Google Project Blue Beam
Just did....wow is that what you really believe? If we had that kind of tech we would have used it by now.
Obviously when you believe in religion without evidence you are then gullible to believe almost anything...... project Blue Beam....
Here is one....google "tinfoil hat"
I'm very disappointed in all of you.
all hail the Flying Spaghetti Monster!!
Yea... I don't take communion either. It's gross.
Christianity is a fraud. All religions came before Christianity. The Bible is not proof of that. So Christianity stop claiming you are one of the first religions in the world, because you are not.
CNN might want to check their sources (but of course they don't becasue they want a specific slant) becasue the author is basically an agnostic at best and atheist at worst. The entire Christian church has been studying these books for over 1700 years and it is riduclous to think that a modern day agnostic/atheist seems to have figured it all out with zero divine revalation. Good job CNN finding someone to help you you be bigoted and intolerant of Christians.
TC...your point is well taken and spot on...not surprising of CNN...Judging by today's society, most will look to Comedy Network or MTV to get their point of view (mind you from someone else's point of view) and since most are satisfied with assessing the world by sound-bites whether it be news, politics, or religion; why should I expect anything more...I cast them in the same lot as those that claim to have "read the bible cover to cover in a week" and then proceed to discredit it...True Christians have been taught to discern, to do exegesis, and that it's a life-long journey to grow in the knowledge of what the Bible has to offer; I look to responses like what I see posted here as the very basis of what is so typical of those that choose to attack rather than carry on a rational dialogue. For some, there will be a point in their life when they are confronted with their eternal life choice. I would suggest this is not the forum that will do anything but serve as fodder for those that already have a bitter, self-indulgent mindset and choose to fancy these blogs as an outlet for their musings...enuf said, I move on to more meaningful and productive use of my time rather than the few minutes I have exhausted here..
Sorry, it seems a waste of time trying to have a "rational dialogue" with people who believe in talking snakes, and vicarious redemption, and the efficacy of human sacrifice. In my very strongly held opinion, people like that shouldn't be let anywhere near science. Turn off your computer.
With no modern revelation, people for the past 1700 years have taken the pure original doctrines and put their own spin on them--reinterpreting them and reinterpreting them until we have the mess you see today. No one wants to acknowledge Paul's inconvenient statement of "One Lord, One Faith and One Baptism". No wonder most people are Atheists today. I wouldn't believe the hodge-podge put out there as Christianity today either.
You sound bitter. But I bet all you have done is just simply accept what was told to you rather than do a little research like the person in the above article.
I don't understand how sharing one's point of view, in a very detailed manor, can be described as bigoted or intolerant? She is giving her point of view, you can choose to accept it or not. What exactly about this article changes the way your life functions?
Robert, vicarious redemption, human sacrifice, and talking snakes are all integral to Christianity. Your post is totally invalid.
Our species's survival should be our religion
And I don't care if you join me or not. This means... I win.
Christianity, if false, is of no importance, and if true, of infinite importance. The only thing it cannot be is moderately important. – C. S. Lewis
We shall know when we know.
That's funny, because by calling yourself a Christian, you are claiming to know now. When in reality, you seem to be agnostic at best. At least TRY to dress up your false humility and fly under your true flag, Mr. Christian.
There is absolutely nothing new(or newsworthy) aboui Pagel's take on the Book of Revelation. She has taken a liberal view of this portion of the Bible, which also reflects her view of the entire Bible. It presupposes that the Bible is merely a work of man, rather than a supernatural revelation of God. Her view probably presupposes that all so-called miracles or fulfilled prophecy can be explained naturally and it presupposes that much of the Bible was merely a reaction of its authors to their sitz em lieben, situation in life, which, again, suggests that its authorship had nothing to do with a supernatural author, ie. God. However, an honest examination of the actual historical evidence for the historicity of Jesus, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the evidence for Christ's resurrection, can lead an honest person to only one conclusion: The Bible actually is a supernatural revelation from God, Jesus was and is the Messiah...and He really was raised from the dead establishing the veracity of the Bible as THE word of God...And the book of revelation is indeed God's warning and enouragement that the end is coming, which will be a great thing for people who are Christians, and a terrible day for skeptics like Pagel. I pray that many more hearts will be changed, many more will be saved before that day...whiich I think is pretty soon.
Hey, neat! Sounds like you have some pretty undeniable proof there, man. When are you going to publish it for us all to see? It would be nice to finally put behind us all of this bickering about which religions are fairy tales. I currently don't believe any of them. So, as you can imagine, I'm super excited to see what you've got! Post it!
I enjoyed the book of Enoch, which lead me to do research on other religions, God wants us to be familiar with all religions,
" However, an honest examination of the actual historical evidence for the historicity of Jesus, the historical accuracy of the Bible, the evidence for Christ's resurrection, can lead an honest person to only one conclusion: The Bible actually is a supernatural revelation from God, Jesus was and is the Messiah...and He really was raised from the dead establishing the veracity of the Bible as THE word of God..."
What a load of bunk....there is NOTHING supernatural about the bible other than peoples continued belief in its BS and claims.
I would recommend for starters: The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell; Apologetics, by Norman Geisler: and I would suggest a subscription to the Magazine: Biblical Archeology....I think, at least, you would find all of these sources interesting...and you might be surprised at the level of scholarship you'll find. Josh's book will also provide you with a substantial list of resources for further reading and or research. I wish you well.
The bible was written by man, thats why there are authors. No amount of red text proves otherwise. I could eat some mescaline or peyote and write a bunch of gibberish from the voices i heard in my head.
There's objective evidence for Christ's resurrection? Youtube video? Seriously, what?
"The New Evidence that Demands a Verdict, by Josh McDowell; Apologetics, by Norman Geisler: and I would suggest a subscription to the Magazine: Biblical Archeology....I think, at least, you would find all of these sources interesting..."
I find the Iliad interesting, that does not make the stories true...
First off anyone that disrespects God's word or decevies others into trying to say that revelation is a myth will have there part in the lake of fire. You may laugh at me but they mocked Jesus as well. Remember revelation is REAL and it is happening right before our very eyes. Jesus is returning soon don't be left behind. PRAISE GOD!
And the devout should have "there" part in remedial English.
So if we mock you it makes you feel like Jesus, how self fulfilling .. seems a bit "prideful" don't you think?
Can you explain how the collected writings of more than 100 different people became god's word? What about the scores of other volumes considered for inclusion but left out during synod?
By the way, this message was inspired by god too.
Will there be fishing at the Lake of Fire? I like fishing.
If your loving, compassionate god is so ready and willing to toss his own creation into a lake of fire for all eternity, it sounds to me like you're worshiping the wrong god, and have picked the ones with the leathery wings instead.
I didnt know what opression was until i heard someone said i was oppressed :) i was like huh? No not me ive been half way around the world seen what other have not seen. All i seen was poverty amongst race... well not race but there arent enough jobs for good people to do good without them being judged by a piece of paper. That is why some people take the bible as a piece of paper.
You sir are in no way a warrior of any sort, and you are in no way comparable to jesus. When you die, i hope you come back to life just long enough to realize there is nothing else...and i hope im there to watch and laugh
The Bible teaches that God is a jealous god and his people need to fear and love him.
I teach my children to never get in a relationship like that!
Too bad for your children, but they are yours to deceive. You will give an account of your misleading them.
So your children are unruly and undisciplined...
SciGuy .. I'm quite sure you don't know what the words " deceive" or "misleading" actually mean.
To horses, Unfortunately, you're understanding of God is extremely limited and, thus, very inaccurate. The Bible, His word, teaches that God, He, is love. It also enumerates all of His other attiributes, such as holiness, justice, righteousness, purity, jealousy, mercy, grace, forgiveness, the list could go on. My poiint is that to ignore all of the other attributes of God is to recreate Him into your own image, rather than to understand Him as He intends for you to. Does God ignore sin...no. He is going to judge sin. In the face of our sin, did He make a provision which demonstrated His love, mercy, grace and forgiveness....while not compromising His justice, YES, when He sent His son to die in our place to be a means for our forgiveness and a demonstration of perfect love, His love. People who put their trust in the risen savior, Jesus will receive His forgiveness....those who don't will face the judgement Jesus experienced for us on the cross. God loves us very much. But His love is a holy, righteous love. I suggest you take some time and read two books of the Bible which might help you better understand His love and plan fo salvation: The Gospel of John and the Book of Romans. By the way, we are a horse family and they are a special blessing to us.
Pat ... lol, apparently so. But they're not schizophrenic, which is what love from fear creates.
Wow!! Schizophrenic is what love from fear creates? Says who? You? Talk about reachin and good luck with that parenting thing!
what did horses do in the western times cowboys and indians carrry humans right? when we didnt have the intelligence of building an automobile.
Mike, I'm sorry to have to say this to you, but you sound unhinged. Either that or you just haven't read the Bible beyond those two books you mentioned. And, unfortunately, *your* understanding of second grade English grammar is extremely limited, and thus very inaccurate.
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.