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.”
It's totally awesome and very smart to base your philosophy and life on the scribblings of such crackpots!
When I was in New York, I found that they had a "Dial a Prayer" service. Now they have a new one for Atheists. When you dial the number, no one answers!
Exactly the same as for religion then.
That was funny.
Both new & old testaments are stories written by man from man's imagination. Mostly the stories set up straw men to provide cover for religions domination over it's subjects. Fairy Tales.
Sounds like someone like the term "strawman".
Few 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 & Communist countries = Atheism!
**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 ††
On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.
If you think atheism is a religion you should watch this:
Ha Ha...April Fools. Surely. After all, no one could actually believe that nonsense.
That's just silliness, and close minded hatred......not very 'christian' at all.
Atheists are mentally ill? Gosh, how insightful. Now, boy, get back on your knees
Please read the bible for yourself, these "scholars" don't have a clue.
How come your god needs a book to advertise its message?
Have you noticed that stuff like this, designed to shake the faith of some, comes out like clockwork every Easter? It's not an accident. There's an agenda.
We're all out to get you johnny. The Johnnysix replacement has just come from the factory. Submit yourself to the parts harvesting pavilion immediately.
All Atheists needs to SHUT THE F UP before the majority votes for Santorum to wipe nonbelievers @$$ from this nation!! Sick and tired of the silly gothic atheists
Jessica, sign up here to voice your opinion: http://santorum.com
Jessica, perhaps you didn't get the message–God is love.
Enjoy the service at St. Pedophilia today, Jess?
CNN always bashes Christ and Christians. There were many things they can talk about, but they will always talk about the abuses of the Catholic Church. Catholics are not 100% Christians. Even in the Book of Revelation, Churches are warned of their doom for not following the teachings of Christ.
Do you feel that often? A softer pillow might help.
I agree. I dont see why this is even being reported as news by CNN, unless its for a specific agenda. The Bible has been under attack from various individuals and groups for thousands of years. The writer of this article and whoever they used as a reference are no more credible than any of the other people throughout the years that have dismissed the Book of Revelation and all the other books of the Bible.
Let's assume for a moment that God exists. Even modern day scientists are acknowledging creationism as a valid theory. Evolution has essentially been disproven. The big bang theory is contradictory to known science. Something from nothing? Only if it occured supernaturally. Outside of our known science.
So God created the Earth. With a word. With a specific purpose. For his children. And he made us "like" him. Free will, emotion, a drive to create and a host of other characteristics. But he didn't make us puppets. And even if we claim the redemption he has graciously offered us, we still fail. It is OUR failings that people blame God for.
But i digress. Revelation is not the only book of the Bible that discusses God's judgement. There is a common thread thoughout the Bible that indicates that God will judge us. He is a very PATIENT God, but his patience does run out.
The fact is that God's existence is not determined BY us. He created us. His purpose for creating us will not change based on how far we advance, what we accomplish, or if we acknowledge him. He remains the same supernatural figure that we just can't explain. Revelation is a story of a supernatural God finally setting things right and moving on to higher family matters.
If you don't believe because the masses rave on that he should fit our mold, then i recommend that you give the supernatural God a chance to explain himself. It simply takes an honest look and willingness to "hear" him answer.
Just sayin !
Your brain doesn't work
Just by saying things, does not make it true. Scientists are not lining up in droves to support your sky-giant theory.
Wow, what a deranged post! Most scientists do NOT accept creationism, nor have evolution and the Big Bang theory been 'disproven'. Your saying so demonstrates that you don't have the slightest idea what scientific inquiry actually is. Also, your idea that blind faith in a deity should supercede such inquiry begs more than a few questions. Like, why not Zeus or Thor? And why not just burn all those pesky books that presume to tackle the thankless jobs of scholarship, history, and linguistics? I mean, doesn't the Christian Bible have ALL the answers?
@ nimitta – Actually many scientists are starting to accept the creation theory. This has been occuring over the last several years, with many theories that once supported evoltion no longer matching up or making sense.
Good post OT!
Evolution has never been stronger. Your assertions are utterly ludicrous and laughable. You need a new source for you information.
The fallacies are in the statements that scientists support creationism and that evolution has been disproven. Any argument based on either of those fallicies must fail, without some proof.
OK, well that first paragraph is entirely off base. Evolution is far from disproved, the big bang theory is still the front runner in scientific circles.
Anyhow, let's assume God exists and created the earth, humans, and everything else. I would ask why, but the answer is probably along the lines that it is not knowable. Other things I would ask is why does he need to be worshiped? I mean he WANTS to be worshiped – what is that about? Sure, he is the all powerful creator of the universe, but what is it that makes him want to be worshiped – is it vanity (isn't that a sin?), insecurity (about what?), or something else? Think about it, aren't people who anonymously perform good deeds the most admired, the most honestly GOOD since they are not trying to gain from their generosity? So again, why the need to be worshiped? Can't God just say, "Hey, that was good." and move on?
From the other side, aren't we (humans) enormously full of ourselves to imagine that God created only us? There are billions of stars and we are learning that many have planets, some in the "habitable zone" of their sun. There could be many thousands of planets with life – which of course God would have created. What if he created thousands of races in his image and let them run along as they might? Even if he can know everything about every individual, why bother. With all the worlds he populated in his image, wouldn't it be enough to watch how they worked out in the aggregate? Some might be making Him happy and other not so much. Why would he be so invested in how each and every world turned out? He could be happy about those that did well and just ignore those that did not – sort of like people do with the various stocks in a portfolio.
A lot of questions come up if you assume there is a God, as defined by the Christian myth. What of all the other religions in the world? How is it that they turned out to be wrong – despite the fact those followers are just as sure and faithful about their own God or Gods? If you had been born elsewhere or of different parents, you could well be a devout follower of some other deity? Many religions have faded away over time. Does staying power make it right or true? Some religions, are older than that which believes in God of the bible – wouldn't they be more true?
Lot's of questions....
Table talk and plate fed reasoning are worthy of social mannersims being maintained as being positives of the self.
Aren't snowflakes pretty in the afterburners?
Patmos is a Dodecanese island in Greece. It hasn't been part of Turkey for perhaps 100 years.
Just love it when nonChristians tell me what the Bible "really" means. Get a life. Read a book. Maybe the Bible?
We're all ears! Give it a shot.
I love it when all you Round Earthers try to tell us the Earth is not flat!
You might want to learn WHO decided what was in the Bible and what was left out. Blind belief in a "book" that was arbitrarily form by ONE BISHOP (described in the article) should cause one pause.
Based on the behaviour of modern christians, more specifically american christians, I would say they are the last ones who would have any understanding of what the bible means.
i'm waiting on the idiots behind the scenes..u know..rothchild..and his crazy bunch..to blow up something..again..probably the olympics in london..to get their greedy hands on more power...the fema death camps will be "fun"
The gods of all organized religions, if true, would all be horribly unjust and evil deities to send billions of people to eternal suffering for choosing the wrong one or being born in the wrong place. Looking at organized religion objectively, they are myths from stone age societies that were trying to explain the world, and there is virtually no chance any one is truth.
Rationally speaking if there is a just god and an afterlife, you will be judged on how you live your life. Rejecting reason and deluding yourself in blind faith does not help your case.
It's only Christians and Muslims who believe in Hell. The other religions are more compassionate.
Sorry, but no... Religion does this. Jesus came to offer hope. Remember it was the religious that tried to stone Jesus and had him crucified...
There are millions of Christians who do not believe in hell. Nor do they believe in a tri-headed God.
Actually they would not be Christians if they didn't believe in the trinity...
You are wrong Pravda.
No, one does not need to believe in the trinity in order to be a Christian. A Christian would be anyone who identifies as trying to follow Christ's teachings. The idea of a trinity came later and is still a matter of theological debate. Some denominations accept it and others don't.
So if a man were to cry out to God and ask Him to heal him of an illness that doctors could not cure and instantly the man was healed, never to have any signs or symptoms of the illness again would it be reasonable to believe God exists and healed the man? Of course it would be. I am living proof God exists and healed me. Miracles are still happening but many people will still not believe; just like not everyone believed when Christ walked the earth. Believe what you will but you will never convince me that God, Christ and the Holy Spirit do not exist. I have my proof and peace of mind to go with it. BTW, it's quite amazing how many who deny Christ get wasted on drugs and alcohol regularly and then says Christians just need a crutch.
it is shocking how may christians are caught up in scandals involving adultery, drugs and alcohol and then blame the devil
And I would like you to prove to me that there is not a purple invisible man from Pluto that is causing you to think and act how you do?
I don't have to prove anything as I do not claim there is a god or a purple invisible man. If anyone claims something as extraordinary as a god they need to provide proof
Faith does not require proof. If it did it wouldn't be faith. You lack even the most basic vocabulary to discuss this matter.
"Faith does not require proof"
Spoken like a true idi0t.
"Faith does not require proof. If it did it wouldn't be faith. You lack even the most basic vocabulary to discuss this matter."
Mira, Mira, Mira...I do not lack the most basic vocabulary to discuss this matter. Please, let's discuss.
Faith: strong belief in God or in the doctrines of a religion, based on spiritual apprehension rather than proof.
Okay, so there is no proof of god, right?
It is the religious that attempt to prove there is a god. One doesn't reason or argue with a belief, which by definition it is not provable. The problem exists when believers try to force their beliefs on others. We who don't believe had nothing to prove – there is no need- all we desire is choice.
Prayer changes things *
That is not true. Prayer is just pretending to talk to an imaginary friend. There is absolutely no basis to think it is anythig other than that, which is why it is delusional.
You dont truly undstand what prayer is. And its a shame to mock something of which you have no understanding.
Prayer is talking to your imaginary friend. Pray all you want......
I'm not mocking it at all, just stating the truth.
I will never have all the answers to all the world's mysteries. Any man who believes or claims he does is a fool.
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.”
She must have skipped over chapter 5: 6-10 6 Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the center of the throne, encircled by the four living creatures and the elders. The Lamb had seven horns and seven eyes, which are the seven spirits[a] of God sent out into all the earth. 7 He went and took the scroll from the right hand of him who sat on the throne. 8 And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of God’s people. 9 And they sang a new song, saying:
“You are worthy to take the scroll
and to open its seals,
because you were slain,
and with your blood you purchased for God
persons from every tribe and language and people and nation.
10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[b] on the earth.”
If you know your Bible; and she must not; the slain lamb is Jesus Christ who died for our sins.....whatever else she says....must not be trustworthy.
She also completely disregarded the prophetic books of the old testament that talk about the end times. Just another anti-God, anti-Bible thing supported by CNN...
"10 You have made them to be a kingdom and priests to serve our God,
and they will reign[b] on the earth.”" On the earth, yes! As was intended from the start.
Seriously? Do you actually think she never read these things. Is it so difficult to understand that there's no invisible man in the sky? That these ancient writings are artifacts but serve no purpose? 2000 years ago we explained infectious disease as 'bad spirits in the blood'...we now know better. The bible is an interesting artifact, period. If you want to believe in hokus pokus, feel free. I will take responsibility for my own life......
Good post SpeakingThe Truth!
Rev 5:9 And they sung a new canticle, saying: Thou art worthy, O Lord, to take the book and to open the seals thereof: because thou wast slain and hast redeemed us to God, in thy blood, out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation:
Yes, but who does "us" refer to? Does it mean Gentile Christians of the Pauline persuasion, or Torah abiding Jewish Christians and Gentiles who adhere to the Noachic covenant, refusing to eat things sacrificed to idols?
Jesus died in EVERYONES place...Jew AND Gentile.....for the sins(wrongs) each one of us has done. One of the greatest gifts God gave us humans is free will (make our own choices). Even though Jesus died for everyone....each person has to use his/her own free will to make the choice to accept him as their Lord and Saviour. It is OUR CHOICE. We can choose to say no....or choose to say yes. The next part is the most important. We have to actually be a Christian ( a FOLLOWER of Jesus Christ) when we accept Him and follow His commandments. Just taking on the name "Christian" doesn't make you a follower of Christ. Following takes action.....His invitation is for EVERYONE. Accept Him and live your life accordingly....it is EVERYONES own choice....choose Jesus and choose life. :)
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
There's just something about that name
Master, Savior, Jesus
Like the fragrance after the rain
Jesus, Jesus, Jesus
Let all heaven and earth proclaim
Kings and kingdoms shall all pass away
But there's something about that name.
Prayer is delusional.
So aren't you....
No I aren't.
Yes you isn't!!!!
Yes you are and unoriginal to boot
speaking of unoriginal–you are swtill using my name.
Aiiinnnnnntttt! Wrong answer. Jesus mentioned the End times several times in the New Testament. The Book of Revelation is corroborated by the Old Testament books of the prophets. Maybe if the author actually read the Bible?? Sad to see this make front page news on CNN, but hey, I guess if it tries to discredit the Bible, it gets priority on CNN...
AAAIIIIIIIIIIINT you're wrong Pravda. What are your scholarly credentials on this matter? Its called religious history. Man made the Bible, everyone knows that.
Claiming that a book of fiction is proof that another work of fiction is true is purely delusional.
The bible does a pretty good job of discrediting itself. Since you keep on about your bible, note that the bible is also very clear that you should sacrifice and burn an animal today because the smell makes the sicko Christian sky fairy happy. No, you don't get to use the parts for food. You burn them, a complete waste of the poor animal.
Yes, the bible really says that, everyone. Yes, it's in Leviticus, look it up. Yes, Jesus purportedly said that the OT commands still apply. No exceptions. But even if you think the OT was god's mistaken first go around, you have to ask why a perfect, loving enti-ty would ever put such horrid instructions in there. If you think rationally at all, that is.
So get out your sacrificial knife or your nasty sky creature will torture you eternally. Or just take a closer look at your foolish supersti-tions, understand that they are just silly, and toss them into the dustbin with all the rest of the gods that man has created.
Please, stop referencing that Christian book of nasty, AKA the bible, as a guide to, well, anything.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other supersti-tions.
The end of times is more likely to come from our polluting ourselves to death with fossil fuels or some religious war than anything else....
@Bob – maybe your problem is that you never got past the Old Testament. Seriously, try reading the gospel of John with a real desire to know the truth. If you don't get it the first time through keep reading. "You will seek for Him and find Him when you seek for Him with all of your heart."
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.