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Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics…

Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation (2012)

by Elaine Pagels

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    Jerusalem, Jerusalem: How the Ancient City Ignited Our Modern World by James Carroll (bibliothequaire)
    bibliothequaire: Both discuss the early history of Christianity and how interpretations of the religion have changed over time.

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About the author: quoting from the book's dust jacket, "Elaine Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Her many books include "The Gnostic Gospels," winner of the National Book Award and the National Book Critics Circle Award [and other bestselling books on religious subjects]. About the book: quoting from the dust jacket, "In this startling and timely book, Elaine Pagels explores the surprising history of the most controversial book of the Bible. In her previous books, Pagels brought readers to the suppressed biblical texts known as the Gnostic Gospels and illuminated their place in the early history of Christianity. Now she turns to a text that is firmly, dramatically within the New Testament canon: the book of revelation, the apocalyptic vision of the end of the world. Where did it come from? What is the meaning of its surreal images of dragons, monsters, angels, and cosmic war? Why were other books of revelation discarded while this one survived?" This book has extensive chapter notes and is well indexed.
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  uufnn | Feb 14, 2017 |
I have a good deal of interest in this book for a variety of reasons. I found this book very interestin. How the book was written. How the book has been read. For me that past task was paramount. And I found good info--laid out over a timeline.
( )
  idiotgirl | Dec 25, 2015 |
I think the history of the early church should be required reading for all Americans. Don't stop believing whatever it is you believe; just know where it came from. This book is an excellent start. I'm glad I'm reading it *after* having listened to a lecture series about the cultural journey from Jesus to Christianity. ( )
  Deborah_Markus | Aug 8, 2015 |
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. ( )
1 vote William345 | Jun 11, 2014 |
Frustrated again.

I should know by now not to make assumptions based on the subtitle. When I read, “Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation,” I assumed Pagels would be exploring the politically subversive nature of John’s Revelation. Instead, I read a book about the reconstructed political factions of the early church that Pagels believes comes to light in John’s Revelation.

An example of this is her discussion of John’s message to Smyrna:

"I know your tribulation and your poverty (but you are rich) and the slander of those who say that they are Jews and are not, but are a synagogue of Satan" (Revelation 2:9 ESV).

Pagels suggests that John’s talking about Paul and his disciples here—those Gentile believers who claim to be included in the seed of Abraham but who eschew Jewish law.

Returning to her bread-and-butter, Pagels describes a conspiracy by who would later be called Orthodox Christians to suppress minority opinions and alternate writings. For her, John’s revelation is the only one which survived because the powerful could use it to increase their power.

While I do agree that many scriptural books have been horribly misused in the name of power against the aims of Jesus, I can’t give the alternate books the credit Pagels does. When I read (what remains of) alternate texts like the Secret Revelation of John, and the Gospel of Truth, I don’t see the sort of sort of scripture-soaked reflection I find in John’s Revelation.

Of course, given my theological viewpoint, I believe the Holy Spirit had a role in preserving the canon. If God could use tyrants like Nebuchadnezzar to accomplish his purpose, he could certainly use Constantine.

If you’re intrigued by Pagels’ thesis and have spent time reading scripture, I encourage you to read the apocryphal texts for yourself. Form your own opinion before turning to Pagels’ Revelations. ( )
  StephenBarkley | Apr 14, 2014 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0670023345, Hardcover)

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'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.

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:12:44 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

A world-renowned scholar of religion and bestselling author of "The Gnostic Gospels, Beyond Belief," and" Reading Judas" explores the strangest and most controversial book in the Bible: the Book of Revelation.

» see all 3 descriptions

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