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.”
Myth 1. It’s about the end of the world.
Correct. That is a myth. In addition, Jesus did not mean the end of the earth or some kind of apocalypse when he said, "the end of the world" - he also meant a persons' own personal ending. This is completely misunderstood by most preachers, sometimes honestly, but usually for their own financial benefit.
The bible was nothing more than an account of the lives of near cave men. You might as well worship the Sun at least it's real and alive and well. BTW the foundation of Christianity is a collection of ancient religions/cults including Paganism which Christmas originated. Your rituals are cult like.
Not cult like... simply a cult. What makes this any different than the worship of Zeus or Odin?
true Jemz. I was trying to be polite.
I'm not sure what it shoulod be called . . . but a cult NEVER made this much MONEY MONEY MONEY ! Halle Julia !!!
It NEVER ceases to amaze me how come people cannot or do not want to realize that the Bible has been written AND re-written through out the ages, as it was seen to fit humane purposes only. What we have today, posing as the Bible, more than likely, it is something that never was originally intended to be the "word" of God.
4 myths ? how about the whole damn thing!
She's talking about the interpretations of it, not of it in itself.
Elaine Pagels' work on the book of Revelation is shallow at best, and driven by a lack of scholarship. It appears that in an attempt to research, Elaine Pagels stumbled upon the proverbial "crack pipe" of biased academia.
What a delightful metaphor. "Crack-pipe" of biased academia! And in this case you are quite right.
I have her book here in front of me. Of its 225 pages, 45 full pages are references. Her work is hardly shallow or unresearched.
Piro, your thin declarative is worthless (other than making you look bad) unless you can prove your assertions. So, please present proof, or withdraw your accusations.
Seems to me that the "believers" out there have a crack pipe of their own, known as Pastor, Priest, Shaman, Rabbi, Imam , etc...
Piro, that is, if you actually have the guts to do so. I doubt that you do.
It seems that Piro will rely on you to read the numerous other posts which illustrate his "thin declarative". Redundancy isn't necessary. Her book contains a dearth of academic merit and a number of technical errors, one of which I have already posted. Respond to that or spare us please.
This so called book was written by someone to professes to be "one of the world's leading biblical scholars". Makes me wonder where did she get her education. Reverent Wright? It seems like if you are bashing Christials you get a lot of publicity. How about some equal press for bashing Muslims or any other religition. I wouldn't waste a penny on this trash!!
Patmos is a Greek island. To say it is part of modern-day Turkey is incorrect and inflammatory, regardless of it's proximity to the Turkish shore. That's like saying Montreal is American because it's so close to the NY State border. Considering the current delicate condition of Greece, and the historical military provocation of Greece by Turkish claims on Greek islands (never mind what they've done to Cyprus, itself a sovereign nation), the author would do well to avoid such flippant errors, especially in articles that are sure to be widely read.
Sloppy reporting. Pagels spends time in her book discussing the long, convoluted rule of Patmos over the years, with Greece, Rome, Persia, Turkey and others taking turns.
Again, it is not clear from the way the article was written whether this error appeared in Pagels's book or this article ABOUT the book.
Revelations is a super-metaphor.I am always surprised about people taking metaphors literally. But then again, that is their power: to make people LIVE meaning instead of just knowing it. What should actually be surprising is those atheists who think that just by pointing to the ambiguities and absurdities of religion they would finally make religious people see their confusion and error. I guess atheists bigots think their life is not full of fictions just because they doubt faith and religion. Schmucks.
Takes a schmuck to know one. Very few "Christian" people actually follow the teaching of the man called Jesus, least of all the early disciples of the "Christian" church. What has happened to love they neighbor? Not all atheists are bigots.
Regarding the quality of Pagel's writing is there anyone who can help me reconcile the statement in her book “….He doesn’t even say Jesus died for your sins.” with the text in Revelation 1:5 "And from Jesus Christ, who ........ washed us from our sins in his own blood"? If you can please do. If you cannot then please spare me further boredom by refraining to post juvenile non-sequiturs.
Didn't think so!
“The book is the hardest one in the Bible to understand,” Pagels says. “I don’t think anyone completely understands it.” She is absolutely right and needs to listen to herself!! Her own books and ideas are NOT truth, but are HER own ideas and opinions. First, to say that John the disciple isn't the author totally blows anything else she has to say out of the water. From as early as the second century it has been held that John the apostle wrote it. And it is not John's ideas, but a REVELATION given to him by Jesus!! (Hence the name of the book.) Once you accept those facts - which are stated in the very first verse of the book - then you can start your study, ponderiings, debates, etc. and go from there.
Why accept those FACTS without any actual proof or evidence or references – all of which Pagels' amply provides throughout her book to back up her own points?
Because she didn't "prove" anything. There are rebuttals to every argument she used. Too many to go into on a forum like this. Google it and do some research on your own. Study Revelation on your own. If you still agree with her "facts" so be it. Sad for you, but so be it.
And we know that Huckleberry Finn is real, too, because just like Revelation he tells us so in the very 1st paragraph: "You don't know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain't no matter. That book was made by Mr. Mark Twain, and he told the truth, mainly. There was things which he stretched, but mainly he told the truth."
"The Bridges of Madison County" also has a preface which says, "This is a true story".
I really hate this forum. No bad words used but kicked out by mods. Now to break my post down while I try to figure out the naughty word. You have to have a dirty mind to use this forum.
Oops this should have shown up on page 58
don't waste your time. you are on a list; it's not necessarily what you wrote that gets gigged. it's your id.
No, it's whether you have used 1 of about 30 forbidden character strings, which usually show up innocently embedded in other words, such as:
t i t in the Const i tution
p o o in sp o on
v a g in v a gue
f t w in af t ward
and so on. You can defeat CNN's idiot nannybot thru use of creative spelling and spacing, as above. And you can e-mail me at RichardSRussell@tds.net to get a list of the verboten character strings.
21k – you are incorrect. There is an automatic word filter in place here.
Bad letter combinations / words to avoid if you want to get past the CNN automatic filter:
Many, if not most, are buried within other words, so use your imagination.
You can use dashes, spaces, or other characters to modify the "offending" letter combinations.
ar-se.....as in ar-senic.
co-ck.....as in co-ckatiel, co-ckatrice, co-ckleshell, co-ckles, etc.
co-on.....as in rac-oon, coc-oon, etc.
cu-m......as in doc-ument, accu-mulate, circu-mnavigate, circu-mstances, cu-mbersome, cuc-umber, etc.
cu-nt.....as in Scu-nthorpe, a city in the UK famous for having problems with filters...!
ef-fing...as in ef-fing filter
ft-w......as in soft-ware, delft-ware, swift-water, drift-wood, etc.
ho-mo.....as in ho-mo sapiens or ho-mose-xual, ho-mogenous, etc.
ho-rny....as in tho-rny, etc.
hu-mp… as in th-ump, th-umper, th-umping
jacka-ss...yet "ass" is allowed by itself.....
ja-p......as in j-apanese, ja-pan, j-ape, etc.
koo-ch....as in koo-chie koo..!
o-rgy….as in po-rgy, zo-rgy, etc.
pi-s......as in pi-stol, lapi-s, pi-ssed, therapi-st, etc.
p-orn… as in p-ornography
pr-ick....as in pri-ckling, pri-ckles, etc.
ra-pe.....as in scra-pe, tra-peze, gr-ape, thera-peutic, sara-pe, etc.
se-x......as in Ess-ex, s-exual, etc.
sp-ic.....as in desp-icable, hosp-ice, consp-icuous, susp-icious, sp-icule, sp-ice, etc.
sp-ook… as in sp-ooky, sp-ooked
ti-t......as in const-itution, att-itude, ent-ities, alt-itude, beat-itude, etc.
tw-at.....as in wristw-atch, nightw-atchman, etc.
va-g......as in extrava-gant, va-gina, va-grant, va-gue, sava-ge, etc.
who-re....as in who're you kidding / don't forget to put in that apostrophe!
There are more, some of them considered "racist", so do not assume that this list is complete.
I really wish you'd read the bible with Jesus in mind and stop trying to disprove what is truth! Faith is how we believe what we believe, and it takes a lot more faith to believe your blasphemy than it does to believe that John was indeed the Disciple who Jesus loved, AND the Author of Revelation. God have mercy on you!
Uh – no modern scholars believe that these two are the same author. In fact, that was disputed as early as 260 AD.
Faith is exactly how we believe in talking snakes.... preach on brother!
So I want to know, what is CNN John Blake getting in return for promoting Elaine Pagels book ?
Probably the same thing you are recieving for deriding him.....nothing.
Bible is the inspired word of God written by spritually filled people unlike this kind of fiction. whether we believe or not, call the auther of revelation's auther was right or not, this is what will be happened at the end of the World, the second coming of Jesus Christ. Let God help you all!
To Naaol: How do you KNOW this will happen? What makes you so curtain?
To those blinded by fanatical beliefs, anything that rationalizes those beliefs and makes them less divine and mystical is fiction....
The Bible was written by power-hungry old men hundreds of years after Jesus (if he existed) died, not the spiritually connected creatures you describe. The Bible was written for one purpose only–control of the masses.
If you need CNN to interpret the Bible, chances are you REALLY do need to get to church!
LOL ! That really is true.
Most truthful comment thus far.
And then your particular church and pastor will give you their own interrpertation hence the thousands of denominations. One can't help wonder why anyone wouldn't simply toss the entire thing in the trash as pure rubbish.
I'm not the little innocent african american the media plays me out to be.They sure picked a nice photo of me for everyone to see. Watch Jesse Jackson, Al Sharpton, Obama and others turn this into a race riot just like rodney king and so many others in the past. The hispanic man is keeping the white man down.
Anyone sincerely interested in knowing the TRUTH about religion and the Bible will find some interesting reading in a book on Kindle: THE GOD SEARCH, A JOURNEY TO SPIRITUAL TRUTH.
Sharon, if you want to know the truth about the Bible, then read the bible.
I personally like "The God Delusion" and "The Evolution of God" then "The Moral Animal".
Well said, Sheila!
Sharon, see Jesus' statement that "they are to be taught by God" and the parable about the stones (men's words) in your soil. The Holy Spirit leads you into Truth and understanding. Jesus gives us The Way. Do not listen to men! Both God and Jesus tell you the same thing "all mens' hearts are evil", so why would you listen to men?
Yes read about allegories that simpletons have taken as fact so you can truly understand the words of the talking snake.
You might also want to check out "God is not Great: How Religion Poisons Everything" by the late Christopher Hitchens.
If I need to know what the Bible says, I will read it. If I want to know more "about" the Bible, for example, who the authors were, when was it written and how was it accepted by the masses, I wouldnt read the Bible, but I would look for other historical sources.
As an atheist, I heartily second SHeila's advice. PLEASE read the Bible. Read ALL of it, front to back, wall to wall. THINK about what you read. Do you really want Yahweh, the cruelest archfiend in all of fiction, held up as the standard of conduct for your kids? You, I, or anyone we know, walking past a beach and hearing the cries of a drowning child, wouldn't hesitate an instant to dive in and save the kid. Yahweh's like honey badger: he don't care. Heck, he was probably the one who gave the kid cramps to begin with, if you're to believe all the fables his fans tell about his superpowers.
The comments here reflect the ancient ideological battle of people of faith against of people without faith (in an kind of formal or established religion). In a perfect world choices should be respected and if you want to believe, there should be no criticisms, if choose not to believe, the same courtesy should be extended to you. Vocal agnostics and atheists should take a chill pill and come to grips to the fact that religion is doing well in America. Churches are full, people are bringing their kids, and they will be filling the churchs in the future. Religious people should know that there is no use arguing with an atheist or an agnostic. You WILL NEVER convince him of your position, and trying to do so is in exercise in futillity. In 99.9 % of arguments and debates people have already made up their minds, and you are wasting your time. Live and let live is my philosophy. Unfortunately there is not one group that is blameless here of intolerance. Atheists and people of faith all fail to tolerate and allow for freedom of thought.
As long as there is someone who can still argue with you, that is a good sign of acceptance. At least it is good for me as a believer to listen to their questions and know that I have answers for myself on them.
I hear just as much intolerance from people of faith towards atheists. Comments are posted on these forums constantly about how atheists are immoral, and that it's because without god's love man cannot know morality, and other similar nonsense. Most atheists I know keep their mouths shut because stating their beliefs causes so many problems. People become such devout believers that it's psychologically damaging to question it.
The problem I see these days is that christianity in this country has gotten so convoluted with political nonsense that it has become extreme to the point that theism and atheism have a hard time coexisting. Atheists have a chip on their shoulder to be sure, but for the most part your average atheist keeps quiet.
This is right... you can worship a purple unicorn if you want but the problem comes when people start trying to make laws and influence the secular world with the teachings of the purple unicorn. Then we have little more than organized insanity.
Alex, SO WELL SAID!! Amazing, I agree!
From the aaaaaaarticle: "The anti-Christ. The Battle of Armageddon. The dreaded Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse."
Funny how atheists proclaiming them as myths when they are the one who are fulfilling them.
Funny how people have been saying the same thing for over two thousand years, and keep tripping over contradictory pronouncements from the past.
"Contradictory statements from the past". Do you not understand that God said "there is nothing new under the sun"?????
That means the same causes keep rearing their heads!
Do you not understand that there are as many interpretations of Revelation within the confines of their times as there are grains of sand on the beach?
It is interesting how, when a politician makes promises and doesn't fulfill them, he or she is thrown out off office with the next election....yet when religious leaders make promises in the name a of a particular religious belief, and those promises go unfulfilled, said religion is lifted higher by the very people who have been lied to and let down by it.....what a very perplexing group these "people of faith" are.
There's nothing funny about it. They are trying to deceive us to left us unprepared and unaware for their on-slaught.
I could't have said it better myself! I keep hearing about this dusty old book and how meaningless it is, but they keep making it real!
book of Revelation is similar in it's intent to versus 'mohammad' in quaran , bloody and scary.
Patmos is in modern-day GREECE, not Turkey. Check your sources CNN! "Mistaking" Greece for Turkey would certainly get a journalist FIRED form any reputable European newspaper.
Who said John Blake was a journalist ? The article above is very poorly written.
They can't fire a person who paid them to publish his crap.
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