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.”
Prove that the color of green is green, or that the color of blue is blue.
When you do that, then prove that you actually exist in a true reality.
Can you prove that God exists?
A mathematician can prove that the square root of 2 exists.
Sorry, but you will only have irrefutable tangible evidence after you experience death.
Until then, try to rely on faith to hedge against the unknowable.
It's better to rely on faith and go to Heaven than to needlessly go to Hell.
Invest in faith, even though it may not now be provable. You'll be glad you did.
Why would "God" send any human to "hell" for choosing to be rational?
DeeCee – God doesn't send ANYONE to Hell. You choose for yourself. You have the Old Testament and then the wonder of the New Testament telling you all you need to know. If you accept Jesus as the Son of God who was sent to suffer dreadfully to give us a chance of Heaven, fine but we ALL have that choice – we live [and die] as a result of OUR choice , not Gods.
God gave us unconditional free will and 10 Commandments as 'Guides for living'. He will NOT interfere with our choices. It's a real cop out to break every commandment using our free will then blame God because He let us do it? Yes?
On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.
Her 4th point is that there were other apocalyptic works that did not get included in the canon. Well yes, there are literally dozens of early Christian writings, gospels, letters, doctrines, and apocalypses that were not included in the Bible. But I don't see why that should invalidate the teachings that are in the canon. I'm sure the church leaders who finalized the canon a few hundred years after Jesus were human and had their biases, but I trust that God used that to accomplish what He wanted. If I can't trust that God was able to manipulate events to accomplish His will, then there is truly no book I can trust, and no foundation for my faith. Why bother becoming a Bible "scholar" at all?
Yeah, god makes it pretty clear what he wants you to accomplish. So get off your lazy, fat butt and get on that animal sacrifice that Christian god demands of you. Apparently, according to the bible, the burning flesh smell makes your 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 superstitions.
To Bob: – you have a great deal of anger within yourself Bob. However, you can't deny the fact that we were all created by God. The Bible tells you so, and it has nothing to do with The Book of Revelation written by John. You were just born yesterday, and befor evening you will gone from here. Who are you to say that all this is a fairy tail? The Scriptues tell you why we are here and what is expected of us. Are willing to disregard it just because some two-bit person has to publish to make money and is trying to put doubt into people's mind? Or others that want to see you derailed from your eternity too?
That is why we all have free choice starting from Adam. When others are wrong, are you willing to bet your eternity on it?
I am NOT trying to convert you or anything close to it. We have to live with the life decisions we make every day. Few are right, and many are wrong. Where do you want to fit in is entirely up to you until your last day on Earth.
The Scriptues are the Words of God given to us for a reason ( period)
For her 3rd point, she suggests that John wasn't the same John who followed Jesus but that he was "he was a devout Jew who saw Jesus as the messiah." Well last I checked, those who believe in Jesus as Messiah, and Messianic Jews are generally considered "Christians". But then Pagels says this, "He doesn't even say Jesus died for your sins." Well, the most direct way to disprove a statement is to provide counter-examples, so lets just start listing them.
and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth.
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood
When I saw him, I fell at his feet as though dead. Then he placed his right hand on me and said: "Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and now look, I am alive for ever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades."
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."
I wonder why the author didn't understand it?
Publishing controversies makes money ... Even if it means bending the facts.
Did I just read "church leaders" and "agenda"?
I'm sure it's a mistake. . .Church leaders have never had any agendas and even to this day still do not have any agendas. . .Everybody know THAT ! ! !
For Pagels' 1st point I'll give her at least a little credit because what she is saying resembles Preterism which is a fairly well established interp of Revelation in some segments of Christianity, that teaches that all of Revelation was fulfilled by 70 AD. I strongly disagree with Preterism but at least it's not just Pagels' own wacky idea.
Her 2nd point is the most insulting, suggesting that Christians who believe in the 666 and the Antichrist got their ideas from The Omen!?
So I guess the modern evangelical understanding of the mark of the beast didn't exist prior to 1976? Give me a break. I mean, I'm sure sooooo many Christian watched The Omen in the 70's and changed their eschatology because of it. I've never seen the movie, but I don't believe I've been influenced by it, even indirectly. The Mark of the Beast and fate of those who take it is one of the most clearly described things in the whole book of Revelation. I think that is because Jesus didn't want people to miss this important point that he was telling to John, because the consequences are so severe.
Some will never wake up from the fantasy as others campaign to slay a monstrously perverted tale which has grown wings and taken flight.
Chaos and Creation are the twin forces that sow and reap the eternal seeds of conscious life throughout the multiverse.
CNN where did you get this info from. This means anybody can write anything and you publish it?
Why is it that even atheists know more about Christian history than Christians?
Why do atheists usually know more about Christian history than Christians?
I am happy to see the article refer to "Myths" of Revelation.
George carlin sure knows right now whether god is real or not.
You can not be sure.
@ reason, you will know for sure when you die too. are you so sure he's not real that you will bet your soul on it ?
Goerge Carlin's Body belongs to the Mother,Earth
George Carlin's Energy released into a unseen stream
he is gone but not forgotten
humanity strives on for him and all that is dead
George Carlin's Body belongs to the Mother,Earth
George Carlin's Energy released into a unseen stream
he is gone but not forgotten
humanity strives on for him and all that is dead
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, Hitler (Denied his faith later), 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 ††
Reason. Why are you posting this video over and over and over.. Man, i wish people never figured out how to post videos on cnn.
You are in good company.
I only post this in response to InGodWeTrust's repeated comment above stating atheism is a religion. He really should watch it.
One could easily replace "atheism" with "religion" in your entire post and be just as accurate. Religions have spilled more blood that probably any other single cause in history. Oh, and it's called "science" for a reason. It requires more than someone simply saying "oh yeah it exists just because"...science actually requires brain cells.
@Crad, I believe you also claim atheism is a religion. Maybe you should watch too. Or are you afraid it may upset the tightrope walk you must do to maintain your delusions?
The Bible was written by men and men make mistakes.
I am agnostic and your clueless. I'm stopping with 1 point, true athiests do not believe in any (G)gods, therefore do not believe in any devil. Please search for information in more places than 1.
p.s. where in Gods Green Earth did you get your data. I wold rather go to hell than spend an eternity with a bunch of judgemental hipocrits.
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.”
Hardly mastered its meaning is not what I get after reading this article. Dunderhead and bollocks are the best words to describe what I just read about the author and her views.
For more insight into religion read the novel - king of Bat'ha -- and the sequel due out by summer of 2012
Tales from the East: Return of Ivanhoe
Blessed is the one who reads the words of this prophecy, and blessed are those who hear it and take to heart what is written in it, because the time is near.
And blessed are the cheesemakers...
And the big noses.....
"What's so special about the cheesemakers?"
"Well, obviously it's not meant to be taken literally. It refers to any manufacturers of dairy products."
and lo their bellies shall swell with beer and whiskey, and they shall resemble the oaken barrels emptied in libations to the heavenly hosts
Prayer is delusional.
Why do you keep posting the same thing over and over when you dont know what it is you are saying? Isnt that delusional?
This is just my response to someone who posts an opposite comment over and over. It is kind of fun after a while.
Apparently you haven't received the gift of the Holy Spirit, therefore your beliefs and thoughts are dry and lifeless! In the name of Jesus, I pray he softens your heart and present his Love for you!
@Annie, I was possessed by the holy spirit once, but I had a reality exorcism. I can't believe how much of my life I lost in those dark times. Gladly now, my eyes have been opened to the reality of existence. I hope you find freedom and peace from that oppressive, pesky, poltergeist one day too. Until then, "run to the light!"
PATMOS! PRESENT DAY TURKEY?
SOMEBODY NEEDS TO GO BACK TO GEOGRAPHY CLASS......
All of you who mock,oppose and insult God and His word: God cares about you guys,God loves you all and it is by His mercy and goodness that you are still alive.Don't go asking then when disasters happen: "I cannot believe that there is a God who would kill people!".He's been extremely longsuffering and extremely merciful,but He will not be mocked and offended forever.God is just! Repent before you end up in eternal misery and regret!
Don't speak for me. I am God
If the Old Testament is to be believed, your God is anything but merciful. He's really quite capricious, vindictive, and inept.
Yes Marvin you are correct. Thank God or I would have no chance. The Lord is merciful willing that none should perish, Wanting all to come to repentence. But when the refuse his grace and judgement come they will still Shake there fist and Call Him cruel. It is because they Love darkness rather than Light. And instead of taking blame for the wrong decisions they make they will blame the Only One who tried to save them from distruction. God Is Not Mocked . Every knee shall bow and toungue will confess JESUS CHRIST IS LORD.And heaven and earth will pass away But NOT ONE WORD SHALL PASS. Jesus puts His word above His Name. Try all they will IT SHALL COME TO PASS As it is Written.
I'm really tired of people who don't believe Harry Potter is real. We KNOW that Harry Potter created god. Harry Potter loves you! When will you repent to Hermione and Ron and be welcomed back under Harry's invisible cloak?!
I was working as a God but got laid off because of the Republicans, so ya'll can go to hell.
I am God.
Hitler was a silly Atheist who left his faith................
Actually Hitler was a devout catholic.
"My feeling as a Christian points me to my Lord and Savior as a fighter. It points me to the man who once in loneliness, surrounded only by a few followers, recognized these Jews for what they were and summoned men to fight against them and who, God's truth! was greatest not as a sufferer but as a fighter. In boundless love as a Christian and as a man I read through the passage which tells us how the Lord at last rose in His might and seized the scourge to drive out of the Temple the brood of vipers and adders. How terrific was his fight against the Jewish poison. Today, after two thousand years, with deepest emotion I recognize more profoundly than ever before the fact that it was for this that He had to shed his blood upon the Cross. As a Christian I have no duty to allow myself to be cheated, but I have the duty to be a fighter for truth and justice." – Adolf Hitler (Speech delivered at Munich 12 April 1922)
As a Biblical scholar then, do you believe the Bible is the inerrant word of God? That the canon of scripture is God ordained? And do you believe John 14:6 Jesus answered, "I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. I think your Christian readers would need these questions answered to better understand your intent in writing this article.
Good post. She seems very contradictory to the written Word. I'm currious too as where she stands on her faith and her intent.
Thanks, thats a good question. I'm always amused by so called Biblical Scholars who seem interested in the Bible, but don't take it to heart.Thats why I brought up John 14:6, they usually struggle with that one.
John Hillman:"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."
Great post, except um, it aint correct!
Which always makes me sad to think of all the millions of people who turn from god because of religion or the bible. God is not the bible or a church. The very concept of god which most mock is the one created by mankind.
Question @Crad, Did you turn away from believing in Santa Clause because of people indulging in selfish behavior during the holidays? Or do you just have the maturity to understand that the Santa Clause people talk about isn't real?
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.