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.”
NB, you are wrong. READ the Bible, don't just spew forth rhetoric.......
Treyvon Martin sat on a wall
Treyvon Martin had a great fall
All the town's horses
And all the town's men
Couldn't put Trevon together again.
Im glad the Koran was accidentally burned in afghanastan. Islam is one of the most violent religions on the planet. Mo.hammed is a false prophet.
I'd say it comes in a close second to Christianity, though you have to grant that the Christians have had a little bit longer of a time to perpetuate their myth based violence.
@without: You obviously understand litte of the Bible. Where in the New Testament doe the Bible promote violence? You will, however, have no problem finding violence promoted in the later writings of the Quran.
@Tom Seeing as Jesus stated that he came to uphold the law, not abolish it, and made no effort to condemn or renounce the violent ways of his father and the laws set down by him in the Old Testament, I think it's safe to say that the NT, at the very least, condones this behavior. We certainly know that the NT approves of torture and human sacrifice, because that was the whole reason Jesus came, to be a sacrificial offering to the God of violence.
@Tom, how about when Jesus smashed up the temple??? That's pretty violent. How about when Jesus killed Hanani in the Book of Apocrypha? How about when Jesus killed a kid who pushed him down? How about when Jesus killed his teacher for striking him for insubordination? Not violent?
This article is rubbish. The King is coming. Seek Jesus. He loves you and wants a personal relationship with you. Call out to him with all your heart and he will answer.
Well, when you back your statements up with such well reasoned, widely supported and referenced arguments like that...
grow up fool
So will the King of the Leprechauns, John.
Funny, that's just what the people who allegedly saw Jesus post resurrection thought too.... and they were wrong..... I wonder where that leaves you?
"(27) For the Son of man shall come in the glory of his Father with his angels; and then he shall reward every man according to his works.
"(28) Assuredly I say to you, there are some standing here who shall not taste death till they see the Son of Man coming in His kingdom." —Matthew 16:27-28
So, basically, he lied. And you, you poor dupe, TWO THOUSAND YEARS LATER, still believe the lie.
Actually, he came last week. It was in all the papers. Were you out of town?
I'm at the race now...
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.
Thanks, now I can die happy because of CNN, the truthful and unbiased network....BWWHAHAHAHAHAHAHA
The insanity of Revelation only mirrors the other insanities of Christianity.
ONLY FOR THE NEWCOMERS:
JC's family and friends had it right 2000 years ago ( Mark 3: 21 "And when his friends heard of it, they went out to lay hold on him: for they said, He is beside himself.")
Said passage is one of the few judged to be authentic by most contemporary NT scholars. e.g. See Professor Ludemann's conclusion in his book, Jesus After 2000 Years, p. 24 and p. 694.
Actually, Jesus was a bit "touched". After all he thought he spoke to Satan, thought he changed water into wine, thought he raised Lazarus from the dead etc. In today's world, said Jesus would be declared legally insane.
Or did P, M, M, L and J simply make him into a first century magic-man via their epistles and gospels of semi-fiction? Many contemporary NT experts after thorough analyses of all the scriptures go with the latter magic-man conclusion with J's gospel being mostly fiction.
Obviously, today's followers of Paul et al's "magic-man" are also a bit on the odd side believing in all the Christian mumbo jumbo about bodies resurrecting, and exorcisms, and miracles, and "magic-man atonement, and infallible, old, European/Utah white men, and 24/7 body/blood sacrifices followed by consumption of said sacrifices. Yummy!!!!
So why do we really care what a first century CE, illiterate, long-dead, preacher/magic man would do or say?
Take a look at the history of the world religions, where they came from how they evolved, merged, changed, died out, resurfaced and are still fighting with each other and themselves for power. Thousands of them over all human history have come and gone. The truth does not require faith or belief, if it does you must question that "truth".
Thomas Jefferson omitted Revelation along with most of the Biblical canon, from the Jefferson Bible, and wrote that at one time, he "considered it as merely the ravings of a maniac, no more worthy nor capable of explanation than the incoherences of our own nightly dreams." 
Martin Luther "found it an offensive piece of work" and John Calvin "had grave doubts about its value."
There is no nice way to say this. I cannot believe how many of my fellow Americans are so delusional that they are creationists. I had a problem with that story as a 7 year old in sunday school. How can adults believe this nonsense?
Oh but I bet you believed in Santa Clause ?
Sheila, don't make a joke here. George W. Bush "asked god for guidance" before taking us to was with Iraq. I can think of a couple thousand American families that don't find this funny.
Sheila, kids start realizing around that same age the Santa Claus is not real. Yet many grown-ups still believe in a fairy tale Santa Claus in the sky, an imaginary friend who they think will look out for them. It's really pretty sad that there are adults in the 21st century who still believe this nonsense.
thank you withoutgod. "sad" is the only way to describe it. How blissfully ignorant will our country become before we wake up from this fog?
There are a lot of problems with sunday school ... but that is an entirely different issue.
As to your problem with Creation ... Creationism and Naturalism are actually very similar in terms of the physics of the origins of the universe. Both attempt to explain how something came from nothing ... ex-nihilo as the bible puts it. The main difference is that Creationism recognizes a being ... a reason ... a cause behind the creation/big bang event, while Naturalism suggests no reasonable cause. One of those does take a bigger leap of faith than the other ... Hint: it's not Creationism.
Those who continue to spew the reductionistic argument that biblical christianity is anti-science, critical thinking, and rational discovery simply don't know their history of science, the renaissance, the industrial revolution, and on and on and on. All of them are rooted in the biblical notions of cause and effect, reason and order, morality of existence, dignity of human life, and the necessity of truth claims to be rooted ultimately in reality. Try getting to any of those movements and their discoveries without a biblical framework of reality.
Kids believe in God for the very same reasons they believe in Santa Claus: People they trust lied to them.
@ JD Religion has, historically, been the very force that prevented and retarded such progress. Who prosecuted Galileo for being right? The Church. Who insisted that illness comes from demons? The Church. Who insisted slavery and maltreatment of women was just? The Church. Who burned people alive for owning a Bible written in English? The Church. Who says that condoms increase the transmission of AIDS? The Church. Who backed all of these foolish notions up with the Bible and the threat of violence? The Church. Who has had to (and actually did) admit that pretty much everything they have touched in the last two millenia has been ruined? The Church. I think you should reconsider your argument, and try taking actual history into account.
mohammed is a schmuck :)
He is just an alternate schmuk from the other schmuks that schmuks of other religions put stock in too.
as is jesus
The gospels were written 40 to 60 years after the death of Jesus. Telling a story to your neighbor and having it passed around the community for a month will totally distort that story. Do you honestly believe that after 40 to 60 years what Jesus said and did is accurately depicted in the bible? I don't think so.
Not to mention that it seems it's impossible to know which was written first, since Matthew is based on Mark, which was supposedly written a decade after it? As far as the "Q" source, it looks like Matthew and Luke were written based on another (third-party?) source. Who was this "fifth" writer?
First Supposed Myth Rebuttal
1. It’s about the end of the world
Pagels, however, says the writer of Revelation was actually describing the way his own world ended.
If you understand the Bible and the last days described in both the old and new testaments it is clear that the second coming of Jesus Christ on the day known as the Day of the Lord is the end of this age.
You only have to read seven verses into Revelation describes this coming and it is tied to the Trumpet!!
BEHOLD, HE IS COMING WITH THE CLOUDS, and every eye will see Him, even those who pierced Him; and all the tribes of the earth will mourn over Him. So it is to be. Amen. Revelation 1:7
30"And then the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see the SON OF MAN COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF THE SKY with power and great glory. 31"And He will send forth His angels with A GREAT TRUMPET and THEY WILL GATHER TOGETHER His elect from the four winds, from one end of the sky to the other. Matthew 24:30-31
26"Then they will see THE SON OF MAN COMING IN CLOUDS with great power and glory. 27"And then He will send forth the angels, and will gather together His elect from the four winds, from the farthest end of the earth to the farthest end of heaven. Mark 13:26-27
50Now I say this, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does the perishable inherit the imperishable. 51Behold, I tell you a mystery; we will not all sleep, but we will all be changed, 52in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet; for the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. I Corinthians 15:50-52
13But we do not want you to be uninformed, brethren, about those who are asleep, so that you will not grieve as do the rest who have no hope. 14For if we believe that Jesus died and rose again, even so God will bring with Him those who have fallen asleep in Jesus. 15For this we say to you by the word of the Lord, that we who are alive and remain until the coming of the Lord, will not precede those who have fallen asleep. 16For the Lord Himself will descend from heaven with a shout, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. 17Then we who are alive and remain will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall always be with the Lord. 18Therefore comfort one another with these words. 1 Thessalonians 4:13-18
14Then the LORD will appear over them, and His arrow will go forth like lightning; and the Lord GOD will blow the trumpet, and will march in the storm winds of the south. Zechariah 9:14
8"In that day the LORD will defend the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and the one who is feeble among them in that day will be like David, and the house of David will be like God, like the angel of the LORD before them. 9"And in that day I will set about to destroy all the nations that come against Jerusalem. 10"I will pour out on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the Spirit of grace and of supplication, so that they will look on Me whom they have pierced; and they will mourn for Him, as one mourns for an only son, and they will weep bitterly over Him like the bitter weeping over a firstborn. 11"In that day there will be great mourning in Jerusalem, like the mourning of Hadadrimmon in the plain of Megiddo. Zechariah12:1-11
The Seventh and Last Trumpet is latter found in Revelation 11
15Then the seventh angel sounded; and there were loud voices in heaven, saying, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ; and He will reign forever and ever." Revelation 11:15
Long on heat, short on light.
Thank you for taking the time to share this with everyone.
Big hat. No cattle.
You haven't proved anything, you've just quoted an old myth.
The biggest myth about the entire bible is that it has any basis in reality. Mythological hybrid is a more accurate description. Borrowing from much older mythological stories. Put down your "holy books" and allow us to advance as a species.
Just another non believer with another idiot idea.
A stunningly crafted rebuttal.
Which truly scares the hell out of you. Your fear is that over time the rest of the world will stop believing in your fairy tale and you will have to stand on your own.
Reading through this article, it is evident that history of christianity is littered with falsification and manipulation. How come the old testament preaches the concept of unity and all of a sudden, the new testament preaches the concept of trinity. Bible has been modified so many times in the history. It is not fallible, it has always been changing. So I invite all of the christians to accept the final message of ALLAH, the koran, the unchanged, the unmanipulated. The message that projects true form of unity, belief in all prophets from Adam to prophet Muhammad, as the messengers of Allah(including Jesus), preaches social justice. Just once for all, ask God to guide you to the right path and you will find it. May ALLAH guide all of us to the right path, Ameen
You might want to begin by coming to at least a superficial understanding of what the bible actually says.
Just another version of the same basic fairy tale. The only difference is that it is more twisted, more debase and more extreme in all of it's views. Like all other versions it is still used today as a justification for killing, slavery and numerous other forms of depravity on mankind.
The doctrine of Trinity is fundamentally rooted in unity. Christians do not believe in tri-theism. This is a heresy. We believe in ONE God. When you understand this, you will be in a better position to criticize.
–from the studies of Armstrong, Rushdie, Hirsi Ali, Richardson and Bayhaqi)
The Five Steps To Deprogram 1400 Years of Islamic Myths:
( –The Steps take less than two minutes to finish- simply amazing, two minutes to bring peace and rationality to over one billion lost souls- Priceless!!!)
Are you ready?
Using "The 77 Branches of Islamic "faith" a collection compiled by Imam Bayhaqi as a starting point. In it, he explains the essential virtues that reflect true "faith" (iman) through related Qur’anic verses and Prophetic sayings." i.e. a nice summary of the Koran and Islamic beliefs.
The First Five of the 77 Branches:
"1. Belief in Allah"
aka as God, Yahweh, Zeus, Jehovah, Mother Nature, etc. should be added to your self-cleansing neurons.
"2. To believe that everything other than Allah was non-existent. Thereafter, Allah Most High created these things and subsequently they came into existence."
Evolution and the Big Bang or the "Gi-b G-nab" (when the universe starts to recycle) are more plausible and the "akas" for Allah should be included if you continue to be a "crea-tionist".
"3. To believe in the existence of angels."
A major item for neuron cleansing. Angels/de-vils are the mythical creations of ancient civilizations, e.g. Hitt-ites, to explain/define natural events, contacts with their gods, big birds, sudden winds, protectors during the dark nights, etc. No "pretty/ug-ly wingy thingies" ever visited or talked to Mohammed, Jesus, Mary or Joseph or Joe Smith. Today we would classify angels as f–airies and "tin–ker be-lls". Modern de-vils are classified as the de-mons of the de-mented.
"4. To believe that all the heavenly books that were sent to the different prophets are true. However, apart from the Quran, all other books are not valid anymore."
Another major item to delete. There are no books written in the spirit state of Heaven (if there is one) just as there are no angels to write/publish/distribute them. The Koran, OT, NT etc. are simply books written by humans for humans.
Prophets were invented by ancient scribes typically to keep the un-educated masses in line. Today we call them for-tune tellers.
Prophecies are also invali-dated by the natural/God/Allah gifts of Free Will and Future.
"5. To believe that all the prophets are true. However, we are commanded to follow the Prophet Muhammad (peace and blessings be upon him) alone."
Mohammed spent thirty days "fasting" (the Ramadan legend) in a hot cave before his first contact with Allah aka God etc. via a "pretty wingy thingy". Common sense demands a neuron deletion of #5. #5 is also the major source of Islamic vi-olence i.e. turning Mohammed's "fast, hunger-driven" hallu-cinations into horrible reality for unbelievers.
Walk these Five Steps and we guarantee a complete recovery from your Islamic ways!!!!
Unfortunately, there are not many Muslim commentators/readers on this blog so the "two-minute" cure is not getting to those who need it. If you have a Muslim friend, send him a copy and help save the world.
Analogous steps are available at your request for deprogramming the myths of Christianity, Judaism, Buddhism, Hinduism and Paganism..
I'll take our alleged falsifications over the sadism and hypocrisy of Mohammed, any day. God would never have such an evil man as a prophet.
Mohammed fornicates with pigs :) Go back on your camel to the sand hole you crawled out of :)
the......muslims and mo.hamed are the bottom feeders of religion.
Maybe so, but the bottom has room for all of them. Of all the major religions – Islam is has the largest market share. And that's after christianity had a +/- 700 year head start for christ's sake. To further illuminate the christians, all major religions are losing market share to atheism and non-believers.
and buddha is the top
Six Degrees If Elaine Pagels work is based on her extracting bits and pieces from the work of others, that work which may also be erroneous, can you really rely on the accuracy of context ?
Non sequitur. What on earth are you talking about?
themuslims and mo.hammed are the bottom feeders of religion.
Time will prove out the Book of Revelation and the rest of God's Word. It ain't over till it's over.
Actually it is over. It started with people like Galileo through science proving that religion was wrong and that it's "word" was wrong as well. It continues today as crticial thinking clearly shows that religion is nothing more than a myth. That the strongest in the world are not those that "believe" in your gawd but those who stand up and face life on it's own merits. Religion is nothing but a crutch for the weak and a tool of manipulation.
thanks, ironman. He proves an excellent point, people! If you look at the history of, say, he catholic church and hw much it's f'ed up in the last 1500 ears, you realize hat religion is really only a tool for the strong to use on the stupid and weak.
Let's talk about how Orthadox and Conservative Jews thinks we are in the end of days now, instead of yet another shot at Christianity. Now that's pretty far out there yet the media has not picked up on 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.