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.”
CNN is the DEVIL NETWORK aka 666 !! Just look at the faith article and you got the fact!!
CNN is indeed working to aid the antichrist
Why are YOU here then?
We can try but nobody can full understand what it really means, but God put this book in the bible and there is a reason for that.
To fill the collection plate! because he could put this book in the bible, just couldn't balance a check book.
You might want to read a history of the formation of the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament. Humans assembled both volumes, and bales of stuff were left out. As Mr Blake's article mentions, the Bishop Athanasius, a thoroughly unlikable character, was almost the sole sponsor for the inclusion of Revelation in the accepted canon of scripture, 360 years after the death of Christianity's reason for existence died. The combined Hebrew and Christian was pulled together the way any other literary anthology is assembled: different editors had their favorites, there was a lot of give-and-take, political posturing, intimidation and rank-pulling before the final version emerged. The Christian church then began mass book-burnings and persecutions of anyone who didn't accept their version, persecutions which lasted over a thousand years.
Reasons why Atheism is TERRIBLE and unhealthy for our children and living things.....
† Atheism is a religion that makes you stupid, ignorant & blind.
† Atheism is a disease that needs to be treated.
† Atheism makes you post stupid things (90% of silly comments here are posted by closet Atheists)
† Atheist are satanic and have gothic lifestyle.
† Atheists causes problem in our religious society.
† Atheists are mentally ill, that's why they have no faith.
† Atheism won't take you to kingdom of heaven and paradise.
† Atheism making you agree with Stalin, Mao, Pol Pot & other terrible mass murder leaders.
† No traditional family lifestyle, no holidays, no culture, boring and feeling 'outsider'
† Atheists are angry, drug additcted and committ the most crime.
† Atheist try to convert people over internet because they feel "safer" behind closet.
† Atheists do not really exist, they just pretend that they don't believe in God and argue with religious people.
† Atheists have had terrible life experience, bad childhood and not being loved.
† Most Atheists are uneducated... No Atheists could run for presidency.
† Atheism brought upon the French Revolution, one of the most evil events of all of history.
† Atheism cannot explain the origins of the universe, therefore God exists.
† All atheists believe in evolution, which means they don't believe in morality and think we should all act like animals.
† The Bible says atheism is wrong, and the Bible is always right (see: Genesis 1:1, Psalms 14:1, Psalms 19:1, Romans 1:19-20)
† Countries where Atheism is prevalent has the highest Suicide rate!
**Only 2-3% of the U.S. are Atheists/Agnostics VS. over 90% who believe in God (80% Christians) in the U.S.**
†† Our Prayers goes to Atheists to be mentally healthy and seek their creator ††
More talking snakes are clearly needed to help everyone to worship the absentee landlord in the clouds.
Wow. Just wow. I'm sure the Taliban could write the same list just as you did.
The ignorance you just spewed was very entertaining.
Please stop claiming to represent biblical christianity while posting this nonsense!
If you were sincere in your prayer, you would not antagonize and berate the very people you pray might join you.
The truth is, you worship the sensationalism found in a philosophical fight ... and that has little to do with Loving God and Loving Neighbor.
Ma, did you forget to take your medicine again?! Remember, the blue ones stop the incoherent Bible-Babble.
Anyone planning to spend more than half an hour here can expect to see this same cut-and-paste job about every page or 2. It's all this poor sap is capable of. The few times that he or she has tried to write anything original, it's so badly riddled with spelling, punctuation, and grammar errors that it reveals a terribly ignorant and confused mind behind it. It's not a troll, so have pity, but don't feed it anyway.
This is either a troll, a Poe, or a person with severe schizophrenia.
All you've succeeded in demonstrating is that religious fanatics like yourself are largely illiterate, ungrammatical, illogical, and gullible enough to swallow any story that props up their particular organized belief system. Your narrow little world would expand by an order of magnitude if you were able to cast off your superannuated beliefs and accept atheism as your personal savior.
I'm not sure that we can ever hope for rational thought from the likes of that ^^^^ (OP). Perhaps we can hope to keep them from having any power in government, public policy-making, education and anything else that affects our daily lives.
Atheism is the rejection of the idea of a or many gods. Nothing else.
A disease? Really? Because people have done so many good things in the name of religion, right?
Atheists post "silly" comments to refute even sillier ones from theists. Sometimes my head actually hurts when I read some of the dumb stuff theists post.
Satanic and Gothic? Known many atheists have you?
Our society is much larger than any one religion and to work cohesively it must operate outside of religious recognition.
Theists believe in an invisible man in the sky because some old books written thousands of years ago in lands thousands of miles away and you call us crazy?
Kingdom of Heaven? Just what might heaven be like anyway? No matter how nice it is I have to imagine that I'd get bored at some point.
Stalin, Mao, and Pol Pot may have been atheists but Hitler, Mussolini, and every other person who ever started a war in the "name of God" were theists. Besides, Atheism is the rejection of the idea of a God. There is nothing about it that includes mass murder. Those guys came up with that on their own.
Traditional American holidays have almost nothing to do with religion these days. Christmas is about Santa Claus, Easter is about a bunny, and Halloween never was Christian to begin with. Try and take a more critical look at "Christian" holidays.
Angry and drug addicted? There aren't words to describe this drivel.
Again, clearly you don't know many Atheists.
So we do believe in God now? I'm confused.
Bad childhood? Are you even thinking about these or just putting down random negative thoughts?
Atheists tend to be very educated. In fact a recent study found that Atheists knew and understood the Bible better than Christians. As for President, sadly you are probably right but only because ignorant bigoted people like you vote.
There were some Atheist involved in the French Revolution but it was brought about by class issues.
So because you can't explain something it is because of God by default? Is saying "I don't know" just so difficult for you?
Evolution deals with how life changes over a great amount of time to suit their environment. Morality is about making judgement calls on behavior. The two have nothing to do with each other.
The Bible is always right? You do realize that the Bible also endorses things like selling your daughter into slavery if she disobeys you?
And Christian countries have a higher murder rate.
This is front page news? Talk about having an agenda! This article is wack! Absolute heresy. I cannot believe that this lady is considered a "Bible scholar". Hardly from the truth! Can't believe CNN would allow such a nut job a platform such as CNN to spew her heresy. I am disappointed CNN. Looks like it's back to BBC and Fox for me. You never see any of the CNN Belief articles supporting Christianity on the Home page of CNN, but radical untruthful anti-christianity articles, always.
Yes indeed, this network (CNN) is a hand of EVIL !!! Beware !!
I've always wondered what kind of weed (or maybe fungi) grew on Patmos...
The whole book is a myth. Arguing over this stuff makes you appear even crazier.
From the day Jesus born till ascended to heaven, The opponent keep campaigning against Jesus, even using Media. Any Christian who enjoys everyday miracle from God almighty, is expecting this kind of short stories now and then and even persecutions, nothing will break their faith....So not only media like this...but anybody can try their best against Bible, Jesus or Almighty God....you will never overcome Jesus....because somewhere..someone at this moment turning towards love of Jesus Christ....Praise God.
Literally thousands of gods have been created, worshiped, replaced or rejected in the course of human history. There has never been a single shred of evidence for the existence of any of those gods, even the christian god. Nor is there any evidence of heaven, hell or Satan.
After thousands of years without any proof, it can't come as a surprise that there are people who don't believe in god.
CNN attacks Christianity again, everyday they post bs. This is what we Christians call tabloid theology.
How is placing one of the bible's books within its proper historical context an "attack on Christianity"?
CNN provided an article that a leading theologian at a prestigious university contributed to, and you complain that the the article is somehow inferior theology? Inferior to what exactly? Your preacher and his unaccredited, Evangelical, degree-mill "college" theology degree? Ask any clergy member with a legitimate ThD from a real university. Chances are, they have read Pagels' work before, and they find it well researched and profound.
Actually, I think find that reading books like this that give you a historical context as well as books such as the Gnostic Bible or even The Other bible which has the text of many books that didn't make it into the final version of the Bible, you will gain a better of your own beliefs. Just as today, ancient writers use religious metaphors to affect their reader – to give them hope, urge them to action and even to convert them.
I may be agnostic but I appreciate the words and the history. I started reading them to understand the meanings behind many of the great artworks from the Gothic and Renaissance eras. The painters knew stories that weren't in "the Bible" and these stories were important enough to have "prime" space allotted in churches, homes and libraries.
I meant to say "a better understanding." Its bad when you have your glasses on and the font is still too small!
SixDegrees asks: "How is placing one of the bible's books within its proper historical context an 'attack on Christianity'?"
Anything that appeals to fact rather than faith is justifiably perceived as an attack on Christianity. That's why the Christians are so fearful of it. The LAST thing they want to confront is reality.
Fool Me Once, I wasn't joking. Many who do not believe in God, or shall we say won't acknowledge him, believe in all kinds of falsehoods...such as Santa Clause, New Age religions, black cats are bad luck as is the number 13....
Believers remind me of the alien species in "Galaxy Quest", the Thermians, who received broadcasts through space of a Star Trek-like TV show, thought it was REAL and set up an elaborate worship system centered around the cast.
By Grabthars Hammer, you are correct!
Dont be rude
A good Catholic take on the Book of Revelation can be fond on Amazon – The Apocalypse – Letter by Letter: A Literary Analysis of the Book of Revelation, by Steven Paul. It shows why everything in this article is a) not new and b) easily proven false.
Is that the part where the vatican assaults alter boys and then covers it up?
Jenzithekop; is this where you try and change the topic by using an unrelated issue to avoid debating something that you cannot overcome?
No, it is the part where I point out the organization that is being cited knowingly covers up the assault of young boys.
I thought it was ALL myth?
But people walking on water is so plausible
I appreciate that you disagree with some things that I have said. That's okay. I also appreciate the tip on the book. I do not wrestle much as I use to on creation, but always try to make myself available to those that could use a hand in their dilemma. Sounds like the book might have a different perspective or insight. Thanks for the tip, will look into it. With that said, I am done for today, as I have other things to attend to.
Not a single eye witness (or as we like to call it in the sane world) "authentic" story of Jesus has ever been written. Every gospel was written well after Jesus flew into the clouds. That is what is known as hearsay and is the type of thing in court (for example) that would be inadmissible because it is not factual. Even the only 2 sources ever cited outside of the Gospels – Joesphus and Pliny the Younger lived long after the archetypal savior came and went.... which means there is absolutely zero historical evidence of this person. It's okay though we always have talking snakes and giant boats to legitimize this mythical text.
I personally like the term "folklore" more than hearsay.
There were plenty of eyewitnesses to Jesus' existence. So do you teach or believe George Washington was the first leader of the United States ? And where do you get your information ? From a book ? Aha, you believe a book written by humans but where is the proof ?
The anti-christ works hard to confuse people, but fortunately Jesus Christ who is the word of God existed before he was made manifest in the flesh. How do I know ? Walk outside. Take a look around. You have a beautiful sky with clouds. There is green grass, leaves, beautiful flowers of every kind, many kinds of insects, birds and animals. There are stars in the sky, a sun, and a moon which reflects the light of the sun. There are times and seasons organized for the use of mankind. How is it we have a brain, a heart, kidneys, a liver, all these complex functioning organs that work together to maintain our body ? Just think about these things a bit dear. Jesus Christ was the word that went forth from God that created all creation. He was here from the foundation of the world.
Can you please name the many works that cite eye witness accounts of the Messiah please. I am willing to wager there are none.... including the historical records of both Pilate and Herod. Sorry, he is a fable.
Sheila claims: "There were plenty of eyewitnesses to Jesus' existence."
If so, none of them left any records behind, so how can you be sure?
That's right. A guy flies into the clouds in front of everyone to see and it was such a big deal that exactly zero people wrote it down until at least 45 years after (in the Gospels). Seems just a touch fishy (no pun intended) to me.
Sheila don't you think it a bit odd that no other contemporary works mention the huge Earthquake and the mass raising of the dead and wandering of zombies that took place at the time of the Crucifixion? Don't you think that if there was a real life night of the living dead, somebody else would have noticed, and written it down? Like, the Roman authorities, or the Pharisees perhaps? Or are we to believe that the best educated and most literate people of the time (at least in that area) saw nothing unusual or remarkable about such an event, and so decided to not bother to make a record of it? Tell me which of the 4 Gospels has the events surrounding the discovery of the tomb correct, since they all give different accounts?
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?
Many of the 'mireacles' attributed to Jesus were lifted from the worship of the Greek god Dionysus such as the water into wine. He was the god of wine after all. He was also the son of Zeus and a mortal woman. He was born mortal died horriblely and then made a god. Sound familiar. Greek and Roman gods were knocking up human women all the time which made the story of the virgin birth so plausible for Gentiles to accept and convert to Christianity.
Judaism has never depicted its god and is forbidden to do, the real second commandment but it was standard for most every ancient Mediterranean and near eastern religion which Christanity soon adopted.
Thank you. The ravings of a hermit who was probably fasting (starving?) on the island of Patmos–and probably breathing too many fumes–can hardly be convincingly called the revealed word of God.
Actually, it makes a great deal more sense when viewed within the historical context Pagels provides.
I find it interesting that CNN, when it does post something about Christianity, posts something close to crazy though not completely insane as if it were orthodox Christianity. Is the Beast Nero? Yes. Is this about the end of the world? Yes and no. It's not a historical rendition but it remains prophetic looking toward the future. Is the author a Christian? Most assuredly yes! Most scholars believe that this John is John the Elder, who wrote the Johannine Epistles. The gnostic texts weren't excluded because they held a different view of Christ, but because they were untrue. To say that that Christianity is monolithic, having no variety, is completely false when one reads the Bible.
This article makes Athanasius look like a bully. The Church remembers Athanasius as one of the ardent defenders of orthodox Christianity. He was fighting Arianism, a heresy that asserted Christ was not fully divine. If speaking the truth makes one a bully, who only has subversive interests, then Christ was the biggest bully of them all.
"The gnostic texts weren't excluded because they held a different view of Christ, but because they were untrue. " – Circular reasoning. Not compelling.
THe Church also considers Thomas More a saint and martyr, in spite of the fact that he burned people alive for owning a Bible in English. The church is known to get things wrong now and then. Or, perhaps more specifically, all of the time.
who is john Blake is he a Christian, r what?
How dare you call these parts of Revelation a myth! How dare you! Soon you will see that these things will indeed happen. The rapture is near.
Could you arrange for yourself to be raptured sooner, rather than later?
Where in the Bible does it talk about the rapture? Oh yeah, it doesn't.
Yup .. and John Frum will return to the island of Tanna in Vanuatu on Feb. 15.
Look up John Frum, it's religion in a nut shell (pun intended)
How about PHONY BALONEY?
People have been claiming that the end times are near for about 2000 years now.
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