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.”
This woman gives me the impression she has had one-on-one face-to-face exposure to the writer of Revelation. Some of her interpretations are not supported by current scholarship – which she is not. How does she know who did or did not write a book two thousand years ago other than the name given in the book?
It is always fun to read what this person or that person believes outside of the contexts of the texts. It is amazing how far and bizarre people will go just to get published. Wow...
Root post by 'Maxx' is an instance of the ad hominem fallacy.
Interesting Maxx, your post gives the impression you did not read the article, nevermind the book
far and bizzare....sort of like talking snakes, big boats with lots of animals loaded on, people inhabited by demons, and people who were raised from the dead, turned to salt, and lived in a fish......I like reading about flying monkeys, but I don't take it seriously...
Without man god is nothing ..... without god man is nothing?
Root post by 'primatica' contains an instance of the fallacy of Denying the Antecedent.
I didn't need Q
God is everything. He created man to share the intimacy of His great love, but we chose a life of rot and pain over Him. I'm so thankful that He never gives up on me! He still hasn't given up on all the lost and broken attacking Believers right now....
Am happy and fruitful....I have two handson sons to carry on my name and they are taught to think the name of Jehovah with the same reverence as Odin,Zeus, and lets say Yoda
Without a 12 pack of Bud, football is nothing.
I'll rather die than being non-Christian. Yuck I can't imagine how it stinks not loving Christ.
Do you non-Christians sleep comfortable at night?!
Name calling and taunting indicates a limited intellectual life and an inabillity to logically reason. Most children past the age of 8 have moved on to more demanding types if mental interactions
I sleep much better now having left that abusive, mind controlling bull in the past.....thanks for asking :)
You will die anyway. It's the circle of life whether you love JC or not, everyone dies.
in response to "in God we trust"..... im an atheist. i sleep like a baby.... every night. lol
There are so many Islamic comments in this page, which proves that this report is financed by Islamic sources trying to create doubt in the western faith so they can spread their poisonous ideas and make everyone as miserable as they are!!!
sean, i double-dog-dare you to point out even one "Islamist" comment on this page. Despite your discomfort with the idea these comments are by run-of-the-mill, everyday americans who are christian/ex-christians/nonbelievers, not some stange conspiracy theory of reality. Cover yourself, your ignorance and paranoia are showing.
Spirituality is the crossroad point of emotionalism and mentalism. Some naysayers of Godliness would seem to declare that heartfelt conditions are not spiritual in nature. They, (naysayers of God) tend to frown somewhat argumantively and do show signs of disparragin egomaniacal name calling and labeling all religion as being fraudulent.
1Cr 3:9 For we are labourers together with God: ye are God's husbandry, [ye are] God's building.
Consider if you will the above verse of scripture and what is its' meaning and revelation.
How many were raised Christian and eventually saw the deceit?
I feel bad for you & your parents not raising you properly
To clarify... Yup, former life of insanity as a xtian... Freed from bondage by the light of reality.
you just dissed his folks...hahaha ...real christian like of you publicly attacking the virtues of a women you don't even know
Good work! Truth seeking and education will end religion
This was just to show delusioned Christians how in a few generations they will be viewed as golden calf worshipers
I was raised in a strict northern Scandinavian sect known as 'Apostalic Lutheran' here in the states, The Church of Laestadius in Sweden. Left it in my early twenties, part of my family still under it's control.....saddens me.
@DebbieNJ, Mine is independent baptist. Though it doesn't sound as cultish as your family's experience, I completely understand the sadness you feel. Some programming just runs too deep to counter, so I consider my parents lost—deeply loved still, but lost.
Debbie du är en äcklig hora!!
It appears that there is a lot of unkind name calling here rather than any type of reasoned discourse. On its face, name calling is a non-christian response to another person. Are there any who would post with their christian values in hand?
There is nothing deceitful about Jesus Christ. Do you remember anything of his words in the Bible? Have you even read anything in the Bible, from Jesus Christ? Is it his declaration of his love for humankind that you despise?, Is it his commandments that emphasis LOVE, VIRTUE, PATIENCE, KINDNESS, PERSONAL SACRIFICE that offends you? Where is the fallacy? You've become spiritually blind, wake up and smell eternity, it's a part of your spiritual DNA.
What is "christian?" .. Deceptive? I would call about 99 percent of the things you have "learned" outside in the real world deceptive. Thank god he has nothing to do with religion
That's because you don't base your definition of the "real world" on evidence.
@Crad, That's because you don't base your definition of the "real world" on evidence.
Atheists should have their children be taken away from them unless they baptize them and teaching them about Christ.
They want their children going to hell.... unfair!
Why baptize a baby? He can neither agree nor disagree...
Well we love our children so we want them with us and far away from the loons. So if you go to heaven, we want to be as far away as possible.
If your god is wretched enough to send an innocent child to suffer for eternity for something it's parents got wrong, I would want no part of him. Absolutely depraved.
Your post makes you sound ungodly, hard, cruel and vindictive. Surely those are not Christian values.
ya, it is a real book...written by real, ordinary people, who had opinions about their future, past, love, war, existence and meaning, that was then used and manipulated by other people with power and influence so that they could promote their own agenda that furthered their power and influence. the same exact thing goes on today. if there is an afterlife or not is fascinating, but, don't go giving the bible this devine meaning when it is just a collection of mostly biased opinion peices...like if the NY Times, USA Today, MSNBC and FOX all contributed stories to publish a book. people have not changed from the beginning of time.
President George H W Bush has said an atheist is not a patriot and should not be a citizen of America. We are one nation under God.
God Bless him. IN GOD WE TRUST is our motto. Now shut up
@In God We Trust, Do you know that "in god we trust" is taken from the quran and refers to allah? Just curious.
God is not the Muslim god, as you have already said. Islam is an idolatrous cult that does not call God , God, therefore "in 'God' we trust" cannot be in the Koran.
@just sayin, "In God We Trust" (Quran 7: 89) I guess you'll continue to do what you've always done when faced with reality and choose to ignore it.
If that is the best you can do for logical reasoning it explains why you are still using my name.
and how is this news?
The Revelation is getting closer to fulfillment.
I agree with you! It is probably financed by some Islamic sources trying to create doubt in the western faith so that they spread their poisonous idea and make the whole world miserable just like them!!
Paranoid much? Stop using my name you hatefilled ignorancemonger
They're forgetting the part about Organized Religions being concrete and true.
Why CNN is interested in this subject? Is it because CNN is financially dependant on Islamic sources often trying to create doubt in the western civilization faith. It is the new terrorist attack using the media instead of planes and bombs. I do not know why no one is writing about the mumbo jumbo in the Qura’n that kills people day in and day out??????
Sean, yes, we are all out to get you. That lunch you ate contained a fatal laxative that will cause you to cr@p your intestines out.
CNN have tapped into the religious differences in America because it's a great way of covering what's really going on!
Example – We've had the contraceptive debate raging since February COINCIDIG with that being the month that the national deficit figure was the highest ever.
Then we had the Pope's visit to Mexico – coinciding with Obama's dreadful gaffe i.e telling the Russian Leader Medvedev that he's being re-elected in November.
Now we've got stupid articles like this one covering the fact that Romney is doing amazingly well in the nomination race
Did you notice we've had Religion ad nauseam for 3 weeks but Obama's fatal mistake was on for a few hours then disappeared in a puff of smoke??????? Does CNN think we're daft?
This is a very uninspiring commentary by Dr Pagels. It is easy to render sacred words as mere delusions of a Jewish fanatic tied up in the isle of Patmos, writing on events that have already taken place. Here, Dr Pagels conveniently removes all reference to prophecy; prophecy specific to our time. Prophecy, the key element of the Book of Revelations. It is the Lord's prophecy that confounds the wise and the learned.
You are confounded all right but wise and learned, not so much.
IN DUE TIME THEY WILL SEE!!!!!!!!
And I was going to ask "Just 4 big myths?"
How about calling it for what it really is? A literary work of the times. Okay, a pamphlet, a religious brochure, not that different from the Watchtower magazines I used to see everywhere.
I was told that cnn used to be a news organization
I could have written the CNN article 50 years ago when I was 12-years old. There were sufficient scholarly writings the to support such an article. They made sense then as they do now and I have yet to buy into the "end times" theology as posited by what I call the "Revelers" (they seem to have a good time pointing fingers without revealing anything of importance.) The Gospel of John trumps the political tract of John of Patmos . Just because the right wing tract seller and on-again-off-again bishop Athanasius managed to get Revelation in the Canon, does not make it a foundation stone for Christianity.
GOD IS REAL!!!!!! BOTTOM LINE!!!!! SATAN IS AT WORK!!!!
Aren't you sweet,
No, thats just your over active imagination.
Bless your little heart. Now get down on you knees and say your prayers. Its time for night night.
On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.
So what? Proud of it :)
The day you believe it may be too late.
WOW !!! Proud of German soldiers in WWII thinking god was on their side.....just disgusting and repulsive.
Post by 'just sayin' is a common form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager.
Nope just common sense and plain Truth. Truth is the first casualty of atheism.
Fallacy Spotting 101 "Post by 'just sayin' is a common form of the flawed argument known as Pascal's Wager."
pascals wager isnt flawed:
The philosophy uses the following logic (excerpts from Pensées, part III, note 233):
1. "God is, or He is not"
2. A Game is being played... where heads or tails will turn up.
3. According to reason, you can defend neither of the propositions.
4. You must wager. (It's not optional.)
5. Let us weigh the gain and the loss in wagering that God is. Let us estimate these two chances. If you gain, you gain all; if you lose, you lose nothing.
6. Wager, then, without hesitation that He is. (...) There is here an infinity of an infinitely happy life to gain, a chance of gain against a finite number of chances of loss, and what you stake is finite. And so our proposition is of infinite force, when there is the finite to stake in a game where there are equal risks of gain and of loss, and the infinite to gain.
Historically, Pascal's Wager was groundbreaking because it charted new territory in probability theory, marked the first formal use of decision theory, and anticipated future philosophies such as existentialism, pragmatism, and voluntarism.
– all from wikipedia
"Sky fairies" is the juvenile term used by those lacking in the intelligence to analyze possiblities. It indicates a lack of logic that is unable to see beyond their next Hamburger! Sad but true. Sorry!
stop using my name for your illiterate posts
All pain is of the devil. God knows we hurt, and He gives us His Son and Spirit to hold us. I won't pretend to know God and His purpose, but I do know we are never abandoned! Please, give God a chance. Love is waiting...
Yeah, love from your god like this:
17 Now kiII all the boys. And kiII every woman who has slept with a man, 18 but save for yourselves every girl who has never slept with a man.
No thanks. You can keep your nasty jerk of a god to yourself.
Ask the questions. Break the chains. Join the movement. Be free of Christianity and other superstitions.
Read the whole book and ask yourself "Why?" If you can't find the answer yourself come back and ask someone who knows.
Who is the liar? It is whoever denies that Jesus is the Christ. Such a person is the antichrist—denying the Father and the Son. No one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also.
1 John 22:23
@bob Yet, another atheist taking one verse out of its context and the context of the ENTIRE Bible. It's a novel concept to be honest and unbiased, but you all should try it sometime. No, really you should. If any Christian were to take Harris or any other atheist out of context you'd all flip, but you do it yourself?
Please don't take one verse and try to try smart-it backfires.
Not too mention if any fair thinking atheist takes their beliefs to their logical conclusion, they should AGREE with the verse you have quoted.
Follow me, this may hurt your brain: Atheist claim that man made up the bible and all the stories to strike fear into people so they could control them, make them do what they want, and lord over them, thus allowing themselves to advance further than others, while oppressing the weak. If that's true, then it really should not be that big of a deal. No really, think about it: A group of people using their status and position to control other people so that they advance and others do not...
Um, I thin you call that survival of the fittest. So, in reality, what are you saying, is that these people were simply doing what their animal instincts were telling them to do: Survive. If survival of the fittest reigns and it is each man, culture or tribe for themselves, then I have a hard time figuring out what your problem is? These selfish, power hungry human animals are simply doing what you atheist expect from animals: Surviving.
And, NOW you have a problem with it?
One of these days, some of you atheist will start thinking for yourselves and won't be so brainwashed by other atheist.
Problems? meatcnn at gmail com
Bob, The people referred to here are the very ones who were murdering and sacrificing their children at the alter to Baal.
I love when people claim "context" when it comes to killing children. Yeah, that's right... when you put slavery and killing children into the right context then it's a wonderful thing. Laughable. Check your heart xtians... if there's any humanity left, you'll find the truth there.
Slaves, obey your earthly masters with deep respect and fear. Serve them sincerely as you would serve Christ. (Ephesians 6:5 NLT)
thankfully Lincoln had more common sense than jesus.....
YOU NEED GOD IN YOUR LIFE!!!!!
Good call, way to take one verse and try to prove something by it. We call that stupidity. Please, don't be stupid, don't be an ignorant atheist. No really, please don't.
And masters, treat your slaves in the same way. Do not threaten them, since you know that he who is both their Master and yours is in heaven, and there is no favoritism with him.
@ no name person who thinks I might be lacking intellectually....I won't , I promise...because I am far from that. I'm cherry picking this trash to illustrate how easy it is to be ignorant...just like anyone who does the same showing their god in a great light, or who simply states mind numbingly ignorance drivel bashed into their brains since they were shi-tting in their pants.
ummm that was Paul speaking in his letter to the Ephesians. Jesus never said that. That's a huge problem with Christianity today is that it has become more a follower of Paul than of Jesus. It's called Pauline Theology. Look it up. Then get yourself a red letter bible and read the red letters. Much of what Paul wrote was in direct conflict with what Jesus preached. Most christians should call themselves Paulinites not christians. Ghandi said it well..I like your Christ, I do not like your Christians, they are very un christ like.
Tips to believers: Let those closet atheists post their feelings here on CNN and keep laughing :D
On the belt buckle of every German fighting in WWII: "Gott Mit Uns" – God Is With Us.
You're in fine company.
Should they have put God is on the other side?
they can't do that, they're compelled to comment as you are...that's always been the followers of christ's problem, the inability to remain quiet and peaceful...and actually, we're the ones laughing...if you were laughing at the endless suffering people would endure according to your faith, well, that would just be cruel and sick minded...but then again...you are a christian...
Why so many atheists post on CNN belief blog;
They remind of my children when I remind them to eat their peas and they say "Why?" and I say "Because it is healthy."
Hitler fashioned his own brand of worship which was steeped deeply in paganism. Just clarifying that Hitler was by no means a Christian of any sort. This is a myth.
Here's something funny....you pray to a corpse...at best
fallacy watch: Hitler wasn's a Christian! just sayin
Keeping fit physically is one thng yet to be emotionally, spiritually and mentally fit is more worthy than the physical.
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