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This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers To view it, click here It s always interesting to see the scholarly opinion of religious topics Sometimes, with a world of facts, they just can t figure out how God is God.This book does a good job of evaluating Revelations based on factual evidence and several assumed conclusions , but misses the mark by failing to understand how prophesy works In her mind, Revelations isn t actual revelation No, John just made it up using other similar stories from other prophets as war propaganda against the Romans Mod It s always interesting to see the scholarly opinion of religious topics Sometimes, with a world of facts, they just can t figure out how God is God.This book does a good job of evaluating Revelations based on factual evidence and several assumed conclusions , but misses the mark by failing to understand how prophesy works In her mind, Revelations isn t actual revelation No, John just made it up using other similar stories from other prophets as war propaganda against the Romans Modern day Christians are just reinterpreting an old, made up prophesy because that s what we do We re too dumb to understand it s not real End of book.At first I wondered if the author was an atheist, but nope, she s a professor of religion at Princeton Then again, maybe an atheist can be a professor of religion, since they re not actually required to believe what they re teaching.Interesting read for a historical perspective, but if you re looking for religious context, pass this one up You won t get it here I suspect a hardcore everything in the Bible is literally true and divinely related Christian would consider pretty much everything in this book to be heresy If you ve got a somewhatopen mindset regarding the political jostling that created the modern Bible, this is a fascinating read.Pagels goes into depth on what we know about the historical period in which Revelations was written, and points out the parallels that make a lot of the bizarre imagery from the book make a great deal mor I suspect a hardcore everything in the Bible is literally true and divinely related Christian would consider pretty much everything in this book to be heresy If you ve got a somewhatopen mindset regarding the political jostling that created the modern Bible, this is a fascinating read.Pagels goes into depth on what we know about the historical period in which Revelations was written, and points out the parallels that make a lot of the bizarre imagery from the book make a great dealsense as political allegory She then discusses how the interpretation changed as it became clear that the book s prophesies could not literally come true After all, if Rome is the dragon and not only does Rome stubbornly refuse to disintegrate in fire and blood but instead becomes the very seat of Christianity, things need to be reinterpreted Pagels is fascinated by the transformation of Christianity from a messianic religion promising the end of the world within a generation into something that had to account for the passage of first decades and then centuries Many of her works chronicle the resulting contortions.But John is not the only one declaring revelations Pagels then examines the politics of how and why this particular book gets added as the capstone to official canon while others are discarded as heretical In doing so, she charts the political infighting as the religion matures from the oppressed to the dominant.If taken seriously, it s the kind of thing to make any believer a little bit cynical Or a lot cynical So many of the decisions that define the tenets of the faith appear to have been made entire to cement one person or another s grip on power or to castigate the people someone powerful didn t like But it s really fascinating, and in a way, kind of heartening, to remember that today s ideological infighting is nothing at all new Look If Pagels writes a book, go buy it You don t need a review, you just need a reminder that it s ready for purchase But then I d feel like I wasn t doing my job, so I ve been looking forward to Pagel s new book, hoping I would read her views on how to interpret Revelation, but this wasn t her focus Pagels begins by discussing the apocalyptic writings of the early Christian period The title, Revelations, is not a misspelling of the final book in our Bible she really does mean revelat Look If Pagels writes a book, go buy it You don t need a review, you just need a reminder that it s ready for purchase But then I d feel like I wasn t doing my job, so I ve been looking forward to Pagel s new book, hoping I would read her views on how to interpret Revelation, but this wasn t her focus Pagels begins by discussing the apocalyptic writings of the early Christian period The title, Revelations, is not a misspelling of the final book in our Bible she really does mean revelations in the plural She highlights several other visionary writings, including The Revelation of Peter, The Secret Revelation of James, and The Secret Revelation of John It turns out the unexpected focus didn t disappoint me.Pagels then progresses through the next few hundred years of Christianity, detailing how Revelation was received or not by the Church, the argument over its authorship, and how its prophecies were used to bolster or condemn Irenaeus and Justin the Philosopher strongly championed John s Apocalypse, both of them certain that its promise of tribulation could be seen plainly in the Christian persecution they were already witnessing Tertullian praised John for the courage to portray Rome as Babylon, proud of her power, and victorious over the saints, but damned and doomed Even Constantine got in on the act, claiming that his rival, Licinius, was represented in Revelation by the dragon Constantine wrote in a letter to Eusebius that he had restored liberty to the human race after he drove that dragon out of public administration Still, the vengeful book of Revelation barely squeaked into the Christian canon.In the few instances where Pagels does attempt an interpretation of the original meaning of Revelation, her perspective is strongly influenced by her exhaustive studies in the Gnostic Gospels the Nag Hammadi findings and this emphasis shines a different light on the topic For example, she compares Revelation to 4 Ezra the Revelation of Ezra , a Jewish book somewhat contemporary with Revelation Revelation is Christian, Ezra is not But because she dates them concurrently early 90 s and notes their similarities, she lets one aid in the interpretation of the other.I loved the book, but I can t help contributing my two cents I disagree with her approach to interpretation, believing that we can date Revelation to perhaps fifteen years earlier, so its teachings should standfirmly on their own History and Christian thought were changing rapidly during this period, and even fifteen years makes a major difference One example In a discussion of the hated Babylon in Revelation, I believe its original meaning referred not to Rome, but to Jerusalem Only later, when Revelation s dreams failed to quickly materialize, did Christians lose interest in Jerusalem and shift to interpreting Babylon as Rome Farclues point to Jerusalem as the original intended meaning, and I think I ll run a blog series shortly with the arguments for Jerusalem Keep an eye on my blog at www.dubiousdisciple.com Author Elaine Pagels includes here discussion of not only John of Patmos s Book of Revelations, so well known from the New Testament, but also discussion of the numerous revelation texts found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945 These are the so called gnostic or apocryphal texts expunged by order of Egyptian bishop Athanasius in the 4th century C.E Because of the range of her sources she s able to give us a picture of Christian revelatory thinking and mindsets through the ages For instance Author Elaine Pagels includes here discussion of not only John of Patmos s Book of Revelations, so well known from the New Testament, but also discussion of the numerous revelation texts found at Nag Hammadi in Upper Egypt in 1945 These are the so called gnostic or apocryphal texts expunged by order of Egyptian bishop Athanasius in the 4th century C.E Because of the range of her sources she s able to give us a picture of Christian revelatory thinking and mindsets through the ages For instance, the original beast or anti Christ as conceived by John of Patmos was clearly Rome John, a Jew, wrote in 90 C.E This was just twenty years after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the scattering of the Jewish people Once Constantine adopted the faith 312 C.E and ended the persecution of Christians, however, the beast was reinterpreted to mean all so called heretics Jews, ironically, pagans, essentially any nonconformist Pagels also discusses how due to the thematic broadness of much of what John wrote he created imagery that has over two millennia been capable of being projected onto any perceived threat of the moment The list of examples is extensive, but includes Martin Luther s depiction of the pope as the beast, and the Church s depiction, in turn, of Martin Luther as such We might also add Hitler as beast, Stalin as best, western sexual and moral laxness as beast, and let s not forget the current favorite Obama as beast Recommended Let me add that there s a wonderful book by Norman Cohn called Pursuit of the Millennium which I discuss elsewhere that looks at this penchant for flexible interpretation of anti Christ during the 11th through 15th centuries or so, and how this capacity in turn engendered the most appalling mass hysteria and genocide in central and southern Europe Cohn s is an astonishing book and I recommended it highly Having had Pagels for a course in seminary and knowing her and her husband socially during that period while my girlfriend studied under her at Barnard I make a point of picking up her publications as they come to hand I wasn t expecting much from this popular study of apocalyptic literature except for her usual emphasis on its gnostic elements As it happens, however, there wasto the book than this.Most interesting to me was her argument that the Apocalypse of John Revelation was wri Having had Pagels for a course in seminary and knowing her and her husband socially during that period while my girlfriend studied under her at Barnard I make a point of picking up her publications as they come to hand I wasn t expecting much from this popular study of apocalyptic literature except for her usual emphasis on its gnostic elements As it happens, however, there wasto the book than this.Most interesting to me was her argument that the Apocalypse of John Revelation was written as a polemic not only against Roman imperialism but also against the gentile followers of Jesus Dating the text to ca 90CE, Pagels notes that it antedates, so far as we know, the concept of Christian Instead, there were the Jewish followers of Jesus, associated with his family and with Peter, and the gentile followers, associated with Paul As commonly noted, the author of Acts describes and attempts to paper over the conflict over the Mosaic law between the home congregation of James and Peter and the Pauline mission to the gentiles Paul, however, in epistles such as Galatians, makes it clear that this conflict endured, such compromises as may have been effected not withstanding the conservatism of the apostolic community Pagels points to those portions of the Apocalypse, most particularly the letters to the seven churches, wherein these points of contention are addressed from such a conservative standpoint Although not mentioned by name, the positions of Paul and his followers are condemned.Otherwise, herein is to be found an exposition of the Apocalypse and of similar writings which did not make the canon once is was established in the 4th century as well as some intriguing speculation about the background to the Nag Hammadhi cache found in the Egyptian desert in 1945 Elaine Pagels is my favorite author when it comes to the history of Christianity When I read her my mind roams on topics personal and universal She is the kind of writer for someone exposed to the Christian tradition that either makes one struggle with their faith or have second thoughts on their unbelief She has a sense of the divine but is very aware of contingent forces of history and fallible social apes like Homo Sapiens She has one foot in the flesh and one in the spirit Her book on Elaine Pagels is my favorite author when it comes to the history of Christianity When I read her my mind roams on topics personal and universal She is the kind of writer for someone exposed to the Christian tradition that either makes one struggle with their faith or have second thoughts on their unbelief She has a sense of the divine but is very aware of contingent forces of history and fallible social apes like Homo Sapiens She has one foot in the flesh and one in the spirit Her book on Revelation covers the history of making this book and its uses by Christians and its controversial incorporation into Christian Canon of the New Testament Revelation itself is a wartime religious literature of the oppressed This makes it a versatile text that can be of use to people in many times and places struggling with the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune It is cryptic and lends itself to all kinds of personal, political, and cosmic interpretations Can see now why it is canon See updates withstuff Whenever I refer to the Book of Revelations in the presence of my wife, she corrects me by reminding me that it s a singular revelation, not plural As usual she is correct But I don t appreciate being corrected, so I was glad to see, at first glance, what appeared to be Elaine Pagels agreeing with my use of the plural form of the word As it turns out, Pagles is writing about multiple revelations The book describes the literary as well as political and social contexts within which the canon Whenever I refer to the Book of Revelations in the presence of my wife, she corrects me by reminding me that it s a singular revelation, not plural As usual she is correct But I don t appreciate being corrected, so I was glad to see, at first glance, what appeared to be Elaine Pagels agreeing with my use of the plural form of the word As it turns out, Pagles is writing about multiple revelations The book describes the literary as well as political and social contexts within which the canonical book Revelation Apocalypse of John was written and preserved This includes discussion of other ancient narratives of visions and prophecy, both canonical and non canonical Pagles is a scholar who was very much involved in the translation of the Nag Hammadi texts which were discovered in 1948, and is thus knowledgeable of the variety of religious texts available during the first three centuries of the Christian era.Pagels agrees with other biblical scholars that the intent of John of Patmos, author of Revelation, was to write an anti Roman propaganda treatiseWhat John did in the Book of Revelation, among other things, was create anti Roman propaganda that drew its imagery from Israel s prophetic traditions above all, the writing of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Danielp.16 However, Pagels understanding of to whom the book is addressed is different from my previous understanding According to Pagels, the warnings contained in the messages to the seven churches in Asia Minor modern western Turkey were aimed against second generation descendants of the gentile converts of the Apostle Paul i.e those who say they are Jews and are not John of Patmos was a messianic Jew who believed in strict observance of Jewish laws and did not approve of the relatively loose standards of Paul s gentile converts The irony is that he used words of such obscure meanings that few people Pagels excepted in subsequent generations understood toward whom his barbs were directed If John of Patmos were brought back to life today he would be shocked to learn that his book was combined with the letters written by Paul and titled The New Testament to served as sacred Christian scriptures.Prior to Constantine it was quite clear to early readers, especially those familiar with Hebrew scriptures, that the Revelation of John of Patmos was intended to be anti Roman The last thing John would have expected happened when Constantine came to power and made Christianity a protected and preferred religion It was obvious at that point that the Whore of Babylon had to be something other than the Roman Empire It didn t take long to figure out who it did refer to anybody who didn t sign on to the Nicene Creed.Pagels provides interesting speculations about what it would have been like to be present in the monasteries near Nag Hammadi during the third century She describes how the various writings found at Nag Hammadi could have been used and studied She also describes the long battle of Athanasius of Alexandria to limit Christian literature to his list of acceptable books which matches today s New Testament canon It s interesting to note that most of the contemporaries of Athanasius agreed with his list of books except that they did not include the book of Revelation As it turned out the book of Revelation was found to be a convenient tool with which to attack one s enemies Just about every internal church controversy since that time has resulted in the opposing sides calling each other the Whore of Babylon A couple of additional items I learned from this book about The Revelation of John are the following 1 It is the only book in the New Testament where the writer claims divine inspiration of his writing 2 It s the only book in the NT where the writer warns copyist not to make any changes and not to add anything to his writing That second item is what makes it the ideal book to place at the end of the list books for the New Testament canon Don t know much about the Book of Revelation Convinced that we ll never figure out all of its mysteries I recommend first reading the Book of Revelation and as you read, try to cleanse your mind of all the futuristic implications you learned from films, video games, literature, and your wide eyed, biblically illiterate uncles Then, read the first chapter of Pagels s REVELATIONS In this chapter she summarizes the occasion, devices, and purpose of John of Patmos work After that, you ll be go Don t know much about the Book of Revelation Convinced that we ll never figure out all of its mysteries I recommend first reading the Book of Revelation and as you read, try to cleanse your mind of all the futuristic implications you learned from films, video games, literature, and your wide eyed, biblically illiterate uncles Then, read the first chapter of Pagels s REVELATIONS In this chapter she summarizes the occasion, devices, and purpose of John of Patmos work After that, you ll be good to go, and you ll have enough raised questions to explore for awhile After chapter one, Pagels explores how various church fathers and figures used and interpreted Revelation and other revelation texts written during the first few centuries but later deemed heretical Finally, she discusses the influences that led to the canonization of Revelation I liked this part I m accustomed to apologists citing early canon lists to prove that the current canon has been settled and closed for centuries But I ve never read any discussions of what motivated certain councils, bishops, and others to include or exclude books from their canon Pagels sets the historical scene and details the controversies of the early church, the catalysts that led to canons I found her treatment of Athanasius role intriguing It seems he is most responsible for establishing the biblical canon using his authority and influence, Athanasius was one of the first to successfully define any book outside of his canon as heretical and all books within as orthodox Also, it seems his influence is responsible for the strain of thought that connects salvation to right beliefs beliefs in line with his canon and the Nicene Creed instead of right actions actions in line with Christ s teachings Much to chew on and discuss I m looking forward to hearing her critics voices, so if you find a trustworthy critic not the guy online who thinks Stanford University is Standford University and forgot to read most of the places where Pagels actually addressed his rebuttals , send me the link I gave Revelations five stars, not only because it is a good book, but because it is an important book No other book in the Bible has as much impact on our way of life as the Book of Revelation It influences our nation s religion, worldview and foreign policy in a way that the gospels do not, and perhaps never have So you ll be interested to know that we ve been getting it wrong this whole time.The Book of Revelation is not, as Pagels points out, and as scholars have known for centuries, a pr I gave Revelations five stars, not only because it is a good book, but because it is an important book No other book in the Bible has as much impact on our way of life as the Book of Revelation It influences our nation s religion, worldview and foreign policy in a way that the gospels do not, and perhaps never have So you ll be interested to know that we ve been getting it wrong this whole time.The Book of Revelation is not, as Pagels points out, and as scholars have known for centuries, a prediction of events thousands of years in the future, but rather, the prayer of a man who had witnessed the destruction of everything he believed in and could only conclude that this meant the end of the world was at hand.Written by John of Patmos between 70 90 CE, the Book of Revelation is a fever dream of dragons, earthquakes and whores and readslike a Conan the Barbarian book than the Holy Bible It s difficult to decipher until you learn a few things about John and the world he lived in John was a Jewish follower of Jesus Christ, writing in the aftermath of the Roman destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the failure of the Jewish rebellion, which resulted in the slaughter of tens of thousands of his fellow Jews, and Nero s horrific persecution of Christians As a man who believed that Jesus Christ was the Messiah and would return to liberate Israel from the Romans and rule the world with his followers, he thought that this would happen in the very near future for the simple reason that if he waited much longer there would be nothing left to come back to.And this is the message John sought to impart to his fellow believers, only he had to be cagey in how he presented it, as the Romans didn t really care for predictions of their impending annihilation So he encoded his message by writing about Babylon which his fellow Jews and Christians would recognize as a symbolic reference to Rome, a pregnant woman they would acknowledge as Israel, and a Beast which just happened to have a number 666, which those who knew Hebrew could easily figure out was the numeric equivalent to the full name of the Emperor Nero.John was writing for his time and his alone And this was understood, even back when they were first compiling the texts which would become the Bible When the Emperor Constantine ordered the bishops to put together a unified canon of accepted scriptures, each bishop made a list of books they thought were divinely inspired, a list of books they thought were a little iffy and books they considered totally illegitimate The Book of Revelation was the only book that appeared on their illegitimate list to make it into the finished Bible Besides which, it was only one of dozens of similar Revelations So how did this book make the cut Well, some argued for its inclusion based on the idea that it was written by the same John who wrote the Gospel of John But most of the bishops realized this was BS right from the start The Gospel of John was powerfully written and beautifully crafted, whereas the Book of Revelation was so haphazard and lacking in anything that might be considered literary chops that it was a little like arguing that War and Peace and the Da Vinci Code were written by the same author.But the Book of Revelation had a wild card working in its favor While they were trying to put together a canon of books for this new fangled Bible, the church happened to be embroiled in the Arian Controversy a knock down, winner takes all fight to the death between bishops who believed that Jesus Christ was made of exactly the same stuff as God, and those who believed that Jesus Christ was comprised of sort of the same stuff as God The exactly the same crowd won the day, and though the doctrinal difference between the groups was minor at best, the winning bishops felt that if they included the Book of Revelation in the Bible, that all its rants against heretics and threats of eternal damnation would spook anyone from bringing the issue up ever again Plus, it ends with a really nice curse on anyone who might try to change it later So what better way to end your new definitive collection of holy scriptures The bishops still had their misgivings, but the vote was taken, and the Book of Revelation got into the Bible by the skin of its teeth, despite the fact that it was basically a collection of predictions that had already turned out wrong The secret to Revelation s longevity, though, is not its accuracy, but its abstraction The reason why Revelation continues to capture people s imaginations and insinuate itself into every great social upheaval is because, unlike the rest of the New Testament, which refers to righteousness as specific actions you know, helping widows, telling the truth, that sort of thing , the Book of Revelation merely talks about the righteous and the faithful without ever defining who they are So absolutely anyone can read the Book of Revelation and cast themselves as the good guys, prophetically destined to give their enemies a good ass kicking for all eternity This is why the Book of Revelation has proven so useful to people over the centuries During the Cold War, believers believed it foretold an epic confrontation in which the United States, with the help of Jesus, would vanquish the Soviet Union The Puritans interpreted the Battle of Armageddon as a French invasion of England During the Reformation, the Lutherans accused the pope of being the Anti Christ, and the pope accused Martin Luther of being the Beast There was nothing in the book with which to define who the faithful and the damned actually were, so it was fun for the whole family.The fact that Revelation s plot is that of a generic battle between good and evil allows anyone to believe they are on the right side, its ending in the absolute victory of good over evil gives them confidence in their cause and the abstractness of the disasters and the weird fantasy imagery allows them to fit just about any recent event into the prophecy as a sign It s like a choose your own adventure book for demagogues Quite an accomplishment for a guy writing in a cave two thousand years ago.I realize this isof a synopsis than a review, but understanding the Book of Revelation from this historically and theologically nuanced perspective is so important, I felt the best thing I could do was to share what I learned from the book, which is perhaps the best review I could possibly give it ^KINDLE ↰ Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation ⇯ A startling exploration of the history of the most controversial book of the Bible, by the bestselling author of Beyond Belief Through the bestselling books of Elaine Pagels, thousands of readers have come to know and treasure the suppressed biblical texts known as the Gnostic Gospels As one of the world s foremost religion scholars, she has been a pioneer in interpreting these books and illuminating their place in the early history of Christianity Her new book, however, tackles a text that is firmly, dramatically within the New Testament canon The Book of Revelation, the surreal apocalyptic vision of the end of the world or is it In this startling and timely book, Pagels returns The Book of Revelation to its historical origin, written as its author John of Patmos took aim at the Roman Empire after what is now known as the Jewish War, inCE Militant Jews in Jerusalem, fired with religious fervor, waged an all out war against Rome s occupation of Judea and their defeat resulted in the desecration of Jerusalem and its Great Temple Pagels persuasively interprets Revelation as a scathing attack on the decadence of Rome Soon after, however, a new sect known as Christians seized on John s text as a weapon against heresy and infidels of all kinds Jews, even Christians who dissented from their increasingly rigid doctrines and hierarchiesIn a time when global religious violence surges, Revelations explores how often those in power throughout history have sought to force God s enemies to submit or be killed It is sure to appeal to Pagels s committed readers and bring her a whole new audience who want to understand the roots of dissent, violence, and division in the world s religions, and to appreciate the lasting appeal of this extraordinary text