There is a new book out on the controversy surrounding the Book of Revelation called Revelations. The following is the review in on Amazon.com
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,” in 66 CE. 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 hierarchies.
In 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’ 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.
Having listened to the audible version (available on audible.com) I found it a fascinating exploration. In a recent conversation I was of course skeptical of what exactly it meant and if it did really predict events yet to unfold. The author of Revelation, John of Patmos, is thought by some to actually be John of Zebedee who was a disciple of Jesus bt by the time it was written he would have been over 90 years old. One Egyptian Bishop went ballistic at the suggestion pointing out that the style and vocabulary of the two men was entirely different.
Pagels also brings out the fact that most readers are completely unaware of what was happening at the time. The Roman emperor Nero’s name if rendered in a Jewish system for representing letters by numbers was “666”. Of course it was not a good idea to make comments about the emperor that were not complementary. As a result we now have people wondering who 666 will turn out to be. Was 666 Hitler or Napoleon or during the American Revolution George 111? Well he might have been Alexander the Great or any number of historical characters or he might be just over the horizon. Of course the other fact may be that “666” was Nero.
Of course there are other events that we no longer think of but were contemporary to John. Was the eruption of Vesuvius which destroyed Pompeii and Herculaneum the lake of fire? It probably seemed like it at the time. Remember back then if there were volcanoes erupting or earthquakes shaking the ground there were no experts at Caltech to reassure people it was not the God or Gods being angry. Remember eve as late as the 1950’s the idea of plate tectonics was laughed at by most scientists let alone in the 4th century A.D.
The Christian believers back then had been waiting for 300 years for Jesus to come back as he promised to do in the lifetime of some of the people watching him ascend into the heavens. Paul in his writing assured them that it would happen so they kept waiting for him to come riding down from heaven on a white horse leading the heavenly hosts. They were probably expecting something like Gandalf riding against the Orc’s on Shadow Fax in “The Lord of the Rings” and in fact they are still waiting like the characters in Samuel Becket’s “Waiting for Godot” thinking that he is coming out from behind the next cloud or over the horizon.
So was it accepted at the time as belonging in the Bible? Remember the Egyptian Bishop who disputed its origin? Well he was not alone. Many Canons left it out of their Bible going against the rulings of Constantine and the Council of Nicaea. There are others still waiting for the prophesized events to happen any day now. There are still charlatans predicting specific dates for the end of times and it hasn’t happened yet. The book gives you a much better understanding of what was taking place at the time and what people actually believed. Of course there are still those waiting for the Battle of Armageddon to take place and for the Four Horsemen to appear but they haven’t yet and probably never will.
It must also be remembered that at the time it was thought that the Revelation of John of Patmos was unique. Now that the cache of documents at Nag Hammadi has been uncovered it has been found tha in addition to The Gospel of Thomas it also included several additional Apocolyptic books attributed to different autors. While Revelation still sits at the end of the Bible as the last book predicting events yet to happen there are now additional claiments to tales of that furure,
Of course to Republican minds Barak Obama is 666 but Democrats know it was George Bush.