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.”
Obviously, her basis is her assumptions, never breaking it down as to what each scripture is saying. The Book of Revelation is symbolic and not figurative. For example; 666 easily explained, as in the Bible it uses 777 as perfection. Satan falls miserably short of perfection; that is it. Nothing else about it.
13:1-4, 18. “A wild beast” symbolizing human governments ascends “out of the sea,” that is, from the turbulent masses of mankind. (Isa. 17:12, 13; Dan. 7:2-8, 17) This beast, created and empowered by Satan, has the number 666, denoting heightened imperfection. Understanding what the beast is helps us so that we neither follow it with admiration nor worship it as mankind in general does.—John 12:31; 15:19.
The last chapter of this Book gives a strong warning to those who add or" take away" from God's word, (Revelation 22:18, 19) 18 “I am bearing witness to everyone that hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone makes an addition to these things, God will add to him the plagues that are written in this scroll; 19 and if anyone takes anything away from the words of the scroll of this prophecy, God will take his portion away from the trees of life and out of the holy city, things which are written about in this scroll.
Be careful what you say or write.!
Thank you LDV!!!! While you are a teeny bit off on a couple things (which I should not even mention because you are basically spot on) Thank you for your defense of the TRUTH. I am entertained that this author thinks that the John of Revelation is not John the beloved who was with Jesus...when scripture itself clearly identifies him as so... funny.
Dan, Lay off of the coffee and Dig Deeper, I'm not doing your research for you. Stop being lazy honey. The information is relative to this article. But I'm not doing research for you sweetheart. Regardless God Bless Your soul
Just curious if you think that I am ... Dan. I only wonder because of where this post landed and it looks like you might think I am him. If not...well I am silly and got confused. If so... sorry I'm not Dan...
why is it so important that everyone believes the same thing. As long as it NEVER becomes violent, or denies someone the right to work, educate themselves and their children, it's really no one's business what someone else believes. If I want to believe that daisies are the all powerful, so what......I don't kill people, don't run people down, or mistreat animals.......and this is a problem how????
It's already violent though?...
Because there are folks in washington, passing real laws, based on christian hogwash. Believe what you want- but keep that S%$T of my laws.
As long as you don't use your daisy religion to write laws for me, along with the other things you listed, I'm fine with it.
Why does it matter you ask... then you make some comments....
Two words...or a name... Neville Chamberlain – if you don't know who he was... then you should not even post here on anything, seriously.
And the other thing... Really? Okay I'll spell it our for you. Speaking humanistic-ally here... Because everyone believing their own thing indeed WILL... without fail... infringe upon others beliefs, peace, right to work etc. Please! don't be so naive.
If you don't know the Truth, you can be made to believe anything... I mean look at the Latter Day Saints... Magic glasses that only two people (and one only after a special blessing) can see thru and only THEY can translate the secret golden plates.... then believing the Bible "in so much that it is correctly translated"? Leaves things wide open for whatever you want...doesn't it. I have dear, and close beloved friends that are Mormon so save the rebukes and the comments... I studied in depth... as though I WERE a mormon... with mormons to learn the details, history and "inside" stuff of the Mormon church so.... shhhhhh.
You need to have something you stand for or you will fall for anything.
Getting back to the topic at hand. This sounds like a fine book. We need more like it.
Oh thanks... my reply for you is easy.
Idiot. Stupid is as stupid does.
Well Nice Work – you actually said something intelligent and I must acknowledge it. Albeit I don't appreciate how you said it... you are correct- there MUST be separation of Church and State... (this is not actually addressed to you but more rhetorical)
Do you really want the government determining who you can worship, where you can worship and when you can worship, and in what way you shall worship? I know I don't. So while we obviously disagree on much... this one... we agree 100%
I just wish you could open your mind further to receive some Truth from you Father in heaven...not me, not that author... but directly from Him. i really want that for you honestly...I want that for everyone. I need it the most as I am chief among sinners. I know Paul said it first...but it applies to me. Have a good one... and vote for separation of church and state! :-)
Wow another article written by someone who thinks he/she knows exactly what the writer of the book of revelation means. Her book is just as bad as the Left Behind series and just as misleading. There are hundreds of books written by the church fathers in Greek that discuss the book of Revelation in great detail, and they are all conflicting so how can one women just sit there and say this is EXACTLY what John was getting at. John was writing about his experience? Really that's a first I don't think any of the church fathers made that inference. I do agree that the book of Revelation isn't exactly about the end of the world but things that are happening right not to the church.
Hi Margaret. Like what you said, disagree with you that its not about the end... it says it is...clearly...when's the last time you read it...or studied? But, I am replying to you NOT to admonish but to EDIFY you... Good job! keep proclaiming the good news. Keep praying, keep reading, and keep asking Yahua to reveal Himself to you in truth thru is His word.
Oh one more thing Margaret... I know you did... but did you see and isn't it interesting how in the book she claims that John... is not John, as in John the beloved, John the Apostle... and equates the author of Rev. as some jewish mystic.... Great stuff! I mean for entertainment value... lol
April Fool's... Major News Event updated conform this Nobel Peace Prize winner has won the election. It is a historical event. confirmation was made at 11am EST today:
Don't forget to turn on general conference :). Go to lds.org and click on general conference.
First, let me say that this information is not original to Pagels. There has been books out for years with this same erroneous message; more than likely, she plagiarized her book from authors that have come before her.
Second, Wow! You mean to tell me that she read the book of Revelation twice...I can see how she is an expert now!
Third, the key to unlocking the mysteries of Revelation is by using the other 65 books of the Bible that come before it. This is called 'scripture interpreting scripture' and it is the only way to interpret scripture correctly. It is no secret that there are around 800 allusions to the Old Testament in Revelation and all that in only 404 verses. Being a gnostic, I highly doubt that Pagels studies the Word of YHVH and IF she does, I doubt that she allows it to interpret itself.
Fourth, everyone who is interested in the actual meaning of 'the mark of the beast' (a 'beast' symbolizes a kingdom in the Bible) should check out what Walid Shoebat says about this as it is extremely enlightening. Walid has much to say about how Islam is talked about from Genesis to Revelation and can be verified by anyone. Here are a few links for easy look up...(the first link is Walid talking about this, the second is some guy I don't know, but who shows pictures of the actual text and also pictures of Muslims wearing the marks.
Anyone who finds the links provided above interesting, should listen to Walid talk extensively about how Islam is related in Hebrew scripture and all thousands of yrs. before Islam was even born.
Fifth, It is important to get back to the Hebrew roots of Hebrew scripture if one wants to fully understand the nature and character of our Creator, YHVH, through His Word, that came in the flesh, Yeshua HaMashiach.
I'm not gnostic... however, not sure how you say you are believing as you do...but all I can say to you is
Amen and Amen!
Baruch Ha Ba B'Shem Yahua Elohim
Whenever I ask why I should believe in Christianity as opposed to something else, the answer I get is something along the lines of "Because your efforts at righteousness will never be good enough." You are wrong, they can be good enough. We formed a democratic society that gave human rights to its citizens. Later those rights were expended to people who were previously treated like property. As a society we are capable of waking up to our wrongs and doing a better job.
I hate this defeatist BS that all our efforts will fall short, especially when it is used as an excuse not to try. I don't want God's son to erase my mistakes; I'll face my new decisions and the consequences of my old decisions like a responsible person.
Amen, brother. lol
Religion is regarded by the common people as true, by the wise as false, and by the rulers as useful.
and you are a fool.
That was good !!! That made my day.
Patmos is in present-day Greece, not Turkey.
The fear of God and loving God with all your life prevents you from getting into emotionally damaging relationships with other humans. Loving and respecting your neighbour as yourself allows you to build emotionally fulfilling relationships with others. Together these give emotional fulfilment.
You're a slave to threatening lies. Old ones too.
Religion has actually convinced people that there`s an invisible man - living in the sky - who watches everything you do, every minute of every day. And the invisible man has a special list of ten things he does not want you to do..And if you do any of these ten things, he has a special place, full of fire and smoke and burning and torture and anguish, where he will send you to live and suffer and burn and choke and scream and cry forever and ever `til the end of time! ...But He loves you.
The Judaeo-Christian God never lived in the sky. You need to study more, sir.
Funny how you twist words and left out His love and "FORGIVENESS" just to suit your purpose.
RIP George Carlin :)
Mark–George Carlin must have led a miserable life for he was the most miserable person onstage.
Objective – I see you presume things like most religious folk.
Your post is SO uneducated, so OUT THERE, so OFF base... so Entirely WRONG.... I am not sure there is anything to say in reply to you except...
"It is better to remain silent and thought a fool, then to open your mouth(or post) and remove all doubt."
So my suggestion (which you will not heed thus proving what I already know) perhaps you might just shut up. :-)
No really... anything you type from here forward will only reveal further your complete and utter foolishness and that you are indeed and idiot. I'm not calling you one.... actually you are doing that quite well on your own.
We should all be careful about what say or do. The truth is that people don't fear GOD, they just study anything they want and they now develop and build false information in them and spread out to the world. Whosoever is write this , I can assure him or her that he has been judged by the Lord Jesus Christ. As long as any man is born on earth and doesn't believe what the bible says, let him or her wait for judgement, infant the same bible is done with you by judging you on earth. The bibe said, the all duty of man on earth is to serve God and obey His commandments. ....
Today's Christians: "Thou shall follow the religion except when it is inconvenient." All of you christians are hypocrites. All of you.
It amazes me that anyone takes any of what's in the Bible seriously, and that people bother arguing about its meaning. It's all just mythology. To the commenter who thinks that most atheists are uneducated: My experience has been the opposite. Most of the many atheists I know, including the several atheists in my own family, have at least one college degree, and many have two or three. I have two BAs in languages; my husband has a BA in math and physics and a Master's in math. Our son is getting a PhD in Bioinformatics. My stepmother has a PhD. All of us are atheists, as are others in my birth family. And we have numerous highly educated friends who are atheists. That's because we are all intelligent and are able and willing to think for ourselves, vs. blindly accepting ancient mythology as something real. I used to be a Catholic, but then I grew up.
Still doesn't mean you are very intelligent if you don't to even consider the possiblity of God. All of those degrees in your family and you are still full of fools. sad.
Look…up in the sky…it’s a bird, it’s a plane, it’s…well… four dudes on horses and some bearded guy in a bathrobe and Birkenstocks. Did some cretin actually post here that Obama is the anti-Christ? I know this is an elaborate April fool prank, but jeepers, the thoughtful and intelligent crew that initiated this experiment are getting a tad dizzy from all this grave spinning. Washington, Franklin, Jefferson, Payne, Adams…were Deists, Masons, or out-and-out atheists. These are the good folks that invented the modern secular state. Unfortunately, seems every time there’s an economic downturn in this country, the ghosts of Billy Sunday, Aimee McPherson, and Father Coughlin reappear. Cretins all. Although an Atheist, even I appreciate the story of Christ, real or embellished, and his Idea of non-violence and eschewing wealth. I volunteer in a soup kitchen for the homeless 3 times a week and do so because I feel lucky to be in a station in life that I can. So forget the fire and brimstone kids, get off your duffs and do something for someone less fortunate. Let’s promote the idea of the ‘beginning’ of days…the real ‘Rapture’ is in your heart already, you just need to rediscover it.
not an eleaborate April Fool's joke. Obama REALLY could be the anti-Christ. Who are you to say otherwise?
Let's just cut to the heart of the matter and see what your posting reveals about you...
ah... no name with the post... shows you are a mouthy coward (among the other things it shows...but I am really trying to be kind)
Hmmm, self-proclaimed atheist... yet you appreciate the story of Christ. Shows in-decision, lack of commitment and well... let's address the fact you proclaim to be atheist. Men and Women MUCH more intelligent than me and quite specifically YOU have long ago determined the whole concept of atheism to be quite empty. In other words... only a complete fool and idiot would ever espouse to such a thing.... yes I am aware of the many "powerful people" who I just classed as idiots... not concerned as its true...
The time of the winking at sin that Yahua Elohim has been doing in His mercy is coming to, if not already, a close. The time of calling sin, sin and evil, evil is now. You are a heretical false prophet speaking from no knowledge of Truth, no education in knowing from where you speak, and in an amazing arrogance, you say it with authority as though your mind is somehow superior to other humans and even YOUR Creator.
Oh I'm sure your feelings are hurt and you want to reply with some (in your own mind) intelligent response in an attempt to somehow make me look the fool or incorrect.... it will only be a waste of your time... and I shall not waste my time looking for it or should I happen to see it... even reading it... why? Because I have already read your post and I know enough now not to waste anymore time on you.
However, I am NOT the Creator you seem to NOT believe in... which is lucky for you and most everyone on this planet... because were I HIM... we would all be ash! including me!...
But He is the ONE and True living Elohim and is abundant in mercy... for me, for the leader in Syria, and even for you.
So... seek Him while he may be found, seek His Truth, The Truth... dispel all these rumors and nay Sayers...
Frankly... I would rather spend eternity with you discussing all kinds of things rather than watch your destruction through the transparent walls of New Jerusalem... which will be certain...IF you do not change your ways...
Please note I DID NOT PASS any Judgement upon you in any way shape form or fashion... and if you think I did...
well that will only further prove my point now won't it....
It's all myth
Well Marie... first... you are NOT reverent. Secondly, IF you a reverend... please go and have yourself defrocked.
among all the amazingly UN-educated and quite stupid things, as well as blatantly incorrect statements and out and out lies, said in this post about the book of Revelation... yours comment that it is all a myth... wow...were I not so concerned for the minds of those who might be misled by your comment... I might actually have stomach ache from laughter at your abject stupidity...
But then again... I don't laugh AT stupid people... I try to enlighten them... but typically it does no good....sad... like you.
All you non-believers need some Kent Hovind!
Is that a joke? I'm a conservative Christian, but even I think that guy is an embarrassment.
Precious xMelfina... Amen to your intent. However, admonishment in your choice of folks to refer to. Better to say that all the non-believers need some Yehushua Messiach, more prayer. Mr. Hovind does not even follow the simplest of Christian Truths. So how can we accept anything else he might say...like me... he is merely a man.
I am hostile in my replies on this particular post by the LEFT WING, agenda pushing CNN... because the TRUTHS concerning Christianity are too easily attacked with no reprisal.
I dare CNN to post something like this, in the same level of dismissal and outright attack... say on... Islam. Wonder what would happen then... OH wait... it would never air!
So... keep up the good works xMelfina and glorify your Father in heaven... not men on earth. You are on the right track...
I see CNN is continuing its Weekend pattern of unnecessarily riling up the fervently religious and anti-religious. They should just call the "Belief Blog" the "Troll Blog" and be done with it.
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.