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.”
Expert? Now how does a naked man become an expert? Now I wonder. These experts told us that it's good to live on dirt for 50 years, walk on it then being buried in. Which part of that proves the "expert" argument? I am baffled how far deceived men are willing to bend others to join their cause instead of bending themselves. It's an ABOMINATION.
Micah 7 >>
New International Version 1984
1What misery is mine!
I2The godly have been swept from the land;
not one upright man remains.
All men lie in wait to shed blood;
each hunts his brother with a net.
3Both hands are skilled in doing evil;
the ruler demands gifts,
the judge accepts bribes,
the powerful dictate what they desire—
they all conspire together.
4The best of them is like a brier,
the most upright worse than a thorn hedge.
The day of your watchmen has come,
the day God visits you.
Now is the time of their confusion.
5Do not trust a neighbor;
put no confidence in a friend.
Even with her who lies in your embrace
be careful of your words.
6For a son dishonors his father,
a daughter rises up against her mother,
a daughter-in-law against her mother-in-law—
a man’s enemies are the members of his own household.
7But as for me, I watch in hope for the Lord,
I wait for God my Savior;
my God will hear me.
uh oh, someone climbed the wall at the asylum again...
they're coming to take me away, haha, they're coming to take me away, hehe...
Why is this a surprise that there are mistakes in the bible ? What do you expect from a book that is written by human beings 60-70 years after Christ ?For one, there are so many versions of the bible and there are many versions which contain X-rated material
Which part of Genesis, exodus, Jeremiah, Daniel, Zephaniah and many more were written after year 0?
You would think these self proclaimed educated scientists would be able to know the difference between BC and AD which they created in the first place. The 21st century "believers" are the most ignorant and deceived people in history. Atheist are believers as well.
religion is going away... buh-bye.
Sorry, religion will always exist
church attendance is at an all time low these days... several stories right here on CNN about it.
the internet is pushing religion into the shadows. harder for religious figures to B.S. the public when they can be fact checked in 2 minutes flat on google. yup, christians hate facts.
A-theistic birds of a feather certainly collect at the first sign of a-theistic drivel. Pagels seems to be an atheist magnet. Anti-christian sniping is the soup du jour. No pearls for the swine today. Gotta keep it kosher. Have you skeptics ever wondered what you'd call yourselves if there REALLY was no God? A-what?
we wouldn't need labels. we'd all just be. i'm sure that's a difficult concept for you. religions thrive on hating the religion over the hill.
leave the cult. think for yourself. you won't regret it.
Humanism offers a much better set of ethics to live by than the morals of the bible.
"Humanism offers a much better set of ethics to live by than the morals of the bible."
Many people do not need a group or a "brand" to feel at peace with ourselves.
Having seen religion from within and realizing that feeling comfortable with yourself has more to do with yourself and less to do with your beliefs, there is something worth sharing.
i'm a brotha, but right back at ya, Mandarax. >8D
Just because Pagels points out some facts about the Book of Revelation you think she's an atheist. Its your way of demonizing people who dont think every single word of the Bible is literal truth.
Atheists have many Gods to choose from, just as many as anyone else. Like anyone else, they can even make up a new one.
They do not because they see no need for one. Your argument is just playing with semantics and is warped by your assumption that the Christian God is the only god there is or can be. But the God in the Bible never said that. "Have no other Gods before ME" implies room for as many as you like as long as he is the Big Number One.
My bad. Amen, brother!
Revelation is a book misunderstood by a great many Christians. Much like the book of Daniel, it communicates a message of hope against oppression by coded language. Due to the danger of persecution by enemies of the Jewish people (the Seleucids in Daniel, the Romans in Revelation) the authors could not just come out and say what they meant. They set their message in the distant future, they used the language of prophecy to "predict" things that were occurring in their temporary society.
By using a linguistic cipher, they ensured that only those friendly to their cause would be able to understand their message. To outsiders, it would appear a prophecy of things to happen in the distant future. But to the Maccabeeans or to the Jews and early Christians of the first century, it would appear as a revolutionary tract decrying the abuses of their rulers.
The misunderstanding shown by so many today indicates a failure to read the Bible seriously and closely, and to understand it in context.
Gee, stop right there. Misunderstood? Better yet unwilling to understanding. Whoever wish to know, let him ask of God who gives wisdom freely. They are not interested in knowing the truth. These that you call christians, are blood thirsty devils who spend money to publish books across every ocean to spread lies and to blaspheme and to call evil good and good evil. Even that the pharisees in the old days could not dream to accomplish.
Linguistic cipher, please. Now that is a lie. John said, I SAW. He literally wrote down what he saw. Don't talk as if he put his mind to use. You will be giving the author an opening for argument which will come back to destroy us.
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5173TjVrUCI Good night.......sweet dreams :)
CNN....When did you start caring about the bible???
Ohh, thats right.....You found some one who opposes the truth of the bible and decided to publish their story instead!
Why don't you ask authors like C.J. Mahaney, John Piper, Charles Stanley or Wayne Grudem about the subject?
And another thing, you mentioning Paigels achievements "She won the National Book Award for “The Gnostic Gospels" will not automatically make people think she's more believable to reliable. But good try!
May God bless you and the owners of CNN.
Truth of the Bible? Just what would that be? You do not have it, nobody does. All you get is your "Faith", Your belief is only yours and you cannot ever prove it.
“According to the most common interpretation of biblical prophecy, Jesus will return only after things have gone horribly awry. Imagine the consequences if any significant component of the U.S. government believed that the world was about to end and that its ending would be glorious. The fact that nearly half of the American population apparently believes this should be considered a moral and intellectual emergency.”
― Sam Harris
The sky is falling mandrax!
Actually, it isn't. That's the whole point.
Isa 30:9-11,15 (NIV) These are rebellious people, deceitful children, children unwilling to listen to the Lord's instruction. They say to the seers, "See no more visions!" and to the prophets, "Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions. Leave this way, get off this path, and stop confronting us with the Holy One of Israel!" This is what the Sovereign Lord, the Holy One of Israel says: "In repentance and rest is your salvation, in quietness and trust is your strength, but you would have none of it."
This world is definitely ripening for judgement. How sad that God made known to us through His son, Jesus Christ, how much He loves each one of us. Every knee will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord of all. Stories like this try to make naught of His laying down His life for you so that you can know God. Wake up and ask God to open your eyes to what is really going on in this world!
Hi all and peace upon you.
I had no more intention of commenting on cnn news articles, but this one needs it. This is a very deceptive article and it fits in with taking away from the book of this prophecy.
Folks the book of Revelation is true and does describe what is to come. I know because the Lord has expounded parts of it out to me. My name is Jeshurun. My name has been given to me by God. I am one of the end of days witnesses (prophets) that is told about in Revelation 11. Your first thought is going to be, "yea, right just another crazy". This thought can not be more off of the truth. On Nov 11 2007 the Lord called me. God led me into the mountains of Washington state; before the Lord would be done with me I found myself walking down a body of water dragging the soles of my slippers along the stones. The walk lasted from sunrise until sunset; close to the end of this walk were two witnesses and their dogs; at the end of this walk the Holy Spirit instructed me to say this, "it is done". These three words appear twice in the book of Revelation. I did not know that then. The walk that I did is biblical. It was first showed to me in Mark 13:14 and this led me to the book of Daniel 12:5-7 which later would lead me into the book of Isaiah 43:2. The seals spoken of in the book of Revelation have already began to open. The first seal is the archangel Michael. You can find this in Revelation 12, Daniel 12:1, Matthew 11:12. The second seal is the devil you can find this also in Revelation 12 and this will go along with the war in Matthew 11:12. I could go on and on with the scriptures with you. All that you have been told is true and faithful. May 24 2011 the abomination of desolation was set up. July 11 2011 blessing was received. The beast spoken of in the book of Revelation will arise out of Iran. People I pray that God opens your hearts to me. I am truth. I pray that you do not think that I am trying to exalt myself because I will tell you this right now. The further ,time wise, this walk gets from me the easier I am stepping back into my flesh and the lust of this world. The path that I am currently on is going to send me into the second death. To those of you out their who know the scriptures will know what I am talking about. Folk's do not let articles like this discourage you or lead you astray. Your faith is not in vain and those of you who are out their waiting on Christ have not got long now. If you are waiting on Jesus then you can see the signs as well as me and know that the scriptures are coming to pass. What I have given to you now is one more sign that Jesus told you to watch for. That was this walk that I did Mark 13:14. I pray you do not see me as another crazy. I wish that it was that easy, but it is not. If you are reading and believing my words then know this. The better in this world is over. It is going to grow worse and worse and seem like it stretches on forever and then when it seems like the better has come and peace is being spoken of then know that the hour has come. Folks do not give up on your faith. We are about to witness great things.
walk in Christ...i love you all...God loves you more...watch and pray always...our redemption is drawing near...Jeshurun
"Folks the book of Revelation is true and does describe what is to come."
And you know this, how? Because it says that it's true, or because you were told that it's true?
Hello Mine Elect. Miss your channel on yt! Blessings! I think you may not even see the first death. You are precious to God.
When god takes you . . .can I have your computer and set of golf clubs ?
This page hath been infested with religion and therefore it is nonsense throughouteth,,,,so it is written
What religion? Which part of your body does not smell engineering? Which part of your computer doesn't smell engineering? Where is religion in all this? When you look at your house does it not smell engineering? Which part of your house is a religion? Therefore which part of the Globe is a religion? Which part of the stars of heaven aka stones hanging on nothingness smell religion? which part of gravity smell religion?
I will tell you what religion is : it's your own interpretation. Sir HOW BIG IS YOUR GOD?
Well this is a ( and a say loosely ) religion blog. So what is an Atheist doing here? Searching for God? Better tread lightly, God has many traps to convert the heathen. : )
holy crap, they're everywhere, leave it to christians to come clamoring into a news article bringing truth into their faith crying 'martyr'. They're all insufferable and makes me long for the reinstatement of christian crucifiction.
OF REFLECTIONS' ABYSS
The mirrored reflections of socialisms will ever hide many individual's oneness. "I am alone" when one looks passed socialisms' reflectives. You will never truly be united with me nor myself. I am myself and nothng more. You are the mirrored reflectiveness that keeps me wanting to learn. I am fearful oh God of my unleavened spirit. You oh God know my innermost thoughts and you oh God do see myself's pain to know you oh God. Without my always trying to know you oh God, I would be without much reason to want living and to be alive. You oh God are my Life's nourishing moments in Time.
Shadows play in the lime of lights' refractioning. The motions of light do mix with the movements of self. Never able to see into the depths of darkness will ever be. Only the mirrored momentums of self may be one's shadowy fields of reflective monumentalisms. Oh God of my everness soul, You are my fields of Glory and personal redemption. Without individualisms being manifestations' consort, Life could not exist let alone become aware of its' Self. Oh God who is Creator of Creation and creations made manifested, you are Time's momentum and Life's essence. People are but refractions of reflectiveness oh God and your Godliness does outshine all celestial Life and its' many formations. God you are and will forever be!
Deeply within the microcosm of inner space our reflectiveness ever does shine thru. Our being within the realm of outer space does ever mirror the deepest parts of inner space. We are your buildings oh God and all Life here is of your Kingdom's Domains. The Abyss reaches ever outward and inwardly. Time does the traveler their sentenced waywardness. Oh God, I do so see your Timeliness and timelessness. My soul does treasure your moments' finiteness with my thoughts. In your Abyss I will die and become of your Holiness Spirit.
Dear friend, God has nothing to do with the abyss.
I had an Abyss once but the clutch started acting funny, so I sold it and got a Rapture.
I guess Israel is a fantasy too. I guess the bones of Giants also fit into your evolution too. Do you understand the meaning behind the evolution belief? Let me break it down for you.that is
When you believe in evolution, you are saying that Man was never designed, nor was the woman designed. There was no garden of eden, therefore no sin nor death. Since there is no sin, therefore Jesus never existed, nor has he ever died. And if that is the case then, miracles don't exist. And if miracles don't exist then, David and Goliath is a myth, Giants are myth, prophets are myth. Moses never existed, therefore Pharaoh never existed. Meaning Egypt never existed nor does the resurection from the dead a fact. Meaning the devil nor God does exist. Which all means that death is dead.
Gee I wonder if death was dead, how can he kill?
"Egypt never existed"
Man, you are funny!! :-)
Leaps in logic were never your forte were they? It's ok, I've drunk-ranted before too...
Wait...so Moses is a prerequisite for the existence of an Egyptian pharaoh, and for all of Egypt itself? Your logic in this comment makes no sense. Religion is not required for anything; it is a pestilence of society that has plagued us for millennia. Only when we drop the mass delusions that religion brings, will we learn to live in harmony and work for a better world. Stop looking for superman and start looking within for the answers to all your problems.
A wee little H.S. Social-Studies-&-Civics lesson for ya. Look up Alaska on Google maps. See how it doesn't share a border with any of the rest of the fifty states? Yeah... The two closest countries to it are Canada and Russia (though not quite as close as the Maximum Ditzbunny from Wasilla would have us believe), yes? Yet it is USA territory and a state to boot. So hard, yes, I know. Take home lesson, howsomever: Proximity is not necessarily equivalent to affiliation.If you need a simpler, more immediate example, here it is: If your car is parked closer to my house than yours, do I get to keep it?
Now then – Patmos. Closer to Turkey, but is in fact Greek.
Bible's a book, but not the only one; try to peel yourself away from it from time to time and read some others, okay?
Karanos, quit insulting Dr Palins' i mean Pagels' intelligence by publicizing her error!
Ok, who wants to be the first to break this news to Rick Santorum?
The Patmos being *part* Turkey error seems to be one of the author of this article, Mr. Clark, NOT Elaine Pagels. The island is Greek, but it lies in the Aegean Sea near to what is now called Turkey.
* part of Turkey
** the articles' author, Mr. Blake (not Clark).... dang, I'm going to sleep!.
هذه المقالة هو اهانة للاسلام فضلا عن المسيحية!
People can find myths inside a myth? Funny!!!
CNN highlights a book that denies Islamic beliefs. Why would we read it?
what book are you talking about–the one under discussion does no such thing. Keep up and stick to the point.
It does not matter whether Moses obeyed the 10 commandments or not. Who knows what Moses did and if he was good or bad? The fact that he got everybody else to rally around the commandments and use them as a code of conduct to ensure survival is an example of how groups become focused around a set of rules, tenants of faith, dogma, political beliefs, etc. Moses used the ten commandments amongst other things to ensure political, economic and social survival. Gerard, do you have some anxiety about Moses and what he did? Best to let it go. Moses has come and gone and what he supposedly did cannot be reversed.
Damn right ! Charlton Heston is dead !
Excellent pragmatic post Red Cardinal!
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.