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

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Overview

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.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Many Christians today believe that the Book of Revelation (which some mistakenly call “Revelations”) was written by the same “John” who wrote the Gospel of John, speaks to an audience of persecuted Christians, and stands in harmony with the rest of the New Testament. In this fascinating study, Pagels challenges all of those assumptions, arguing instead that the visions recorded by John of Patmos function as antiassimilationist harangue that explicitly countered Paul’s teachings that keeping Jewish law was no longer necessary. Pagels situates John of Patmos within a competitive marketplace of New Testament prophets, some of whom had similar prophetic visions that were omitted from the canon but rediscovered in the 20th century. Why did Revelation survive while other revelations were passed over or even suppressed? The answer, she says, lies in the way the prophecy was reinterpreted after Constantine’s unexpected conversion in the early fourth century; Revelation proved surprisingly adaptable even after the Roman Empire turned out not to be the whore of Babylon after all. Pagels offers a sharp, accessible, and perceptive interpretation of one of the Bible’s most divisive books. (Mar. 6)
Library Journal
Pagels, who changed forever how we look at Christianity with books like The Gnostic Gospels, here rethinks the Book of Revelation, which has always been regarded as a near-fantastic vision of the world's end. Pagel instead sees it as an attack on Roman decadence at a time when Jews were rebelling against the Roman occupation of Jerusalem. Only later was it repurposed by the emerging Christian sect as a sword thrust to anyone challenging its primacy. Of tremendous interest to educated readers.
Kirkus Reviews
Multidimensional reading of "the strangest book in the Bible--and the most controversial." The Book of Revelation, a dark and enigmatic account of an apocalyptic end-times vision populated by warring demons and many-headed beasts, has given rise to more competing interpretations than most of the rest of the Bible combined. Even its authorship is disputed, with specialists unsure of whether the John referenced in the text is the Apostle John or a separate individual. Pagels (Religion/Princeton Univ., Reading Judas: The Gospel of Judas and the Shaping of Christianity, 2007, etc.) explores Revelation's outsized role in the development of Christian thought and places it in the context of its creation. Arguing that its language depicting battles in heaven and destruction on earth is a thinly veiled political screed against the pagan Roman Empire, Pagels identifies John as a Jewish refugee from Jerusalem following the destruction of the Temple. Viewing the Book through the prism of the Gnostic Gospels and the other accounts of prophetic visions that proliferated at the time, she advances the modern theory that Revelation is a Jewish Christian document fighting back against Paul's mission to abrogate Jewish law and bring Christ's message to the Gentiles. Pagels' compelling, carefully researched analysis brings to life the multitude of factions that quickly arose in the nascent Christian community after the death of Jesus. The struggle to canonize Revelation was intensely controversial; to this day, believers fight over how to interpret the vision of John of Patmos, "reading their own social, political, and religious conflict into the cosmic war he so powerfully evokes." Scholarly but widely accessible, the book provides a solid introduction to the one book of the New Testament that claims to be divinely inspired.
Ron Charles
Suspiciously slim for such a complex and fraught subject, this five-chapter book whisks us through centuries of religious conflict, ecclesiastical maneuvering and textual scholarship. It's easy to imagine that Pagels's obscure academic competitors say mean things about her behind her back—How dare she be so accessible!—but she's one of those rare scholars who can speak fluently to other professors or to curious people who decide on a whim to learn something about the Bible…Lay readers…will take this book and eat it up.
—The Washington Post
Dwight Garner
…a slim book that packs in dense layers of scholarship and meaning…One of [Pagels's] great gifts is much in abundance…her ability to ask, and answer, the plainest questions about her material without speaking down to her audience…She must be a fiendishly good lecturer.
—The New York Times
The New York Times

"Revelations is a slim book that packs in dense layers of scholarship and meaning . . . One of [Elaine Pagels's] great gifts is much in abundance: her ability to ask, and answer, the plainest questions about her material without speaking down to her audience . . . She must be a fiendishly good lecturer."
The Boston Globe

"Any book in the Bible that can be cited simultaneously by deeply conservative end-of-times Christians who see the Apocalypse around the corner and by Marxist-friendly Christians looking forward to justice at the End of History must have a compelling back story. That back story is told well and concisely by Elaine Pagels in her new book, Revelations."
(Editors' Choice) - The New York Times Book Review
"One of the significant benefits of Pagels's book is its demonstration of the unpredictability of apocalyptic politics . . . The meaning of the Apocalypse is ever malleable and ready to hand for whatever crisis one confronts. That is one lesson of Pagels's book. Another is that we all should be vigilant to keep some of us from using the vision for violence against others."
Adam Gopnik

"Pagels is an absorbing, intelligent, and eye-opening companion. Calming and broad-minded here, as in her earlier works, she applies a sympathetic and humane eye to texts that are neither subtle nor sympathetically humane but lit instead by fury."
The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"One of the significant benefits of Pagels's book is its demonstration of the unpredictability of apocalyptic politics . . . The meaning of the Apocalypse is ever malleable and ready to hand for whatever crisis one confronts. That is one lesson of Pagels's book. Another is that we all should be vigilant to keep some of us from using the vision for violence against others."
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780670023349
  • Publisher: Penguin Group (USA) Incorporated
  • Publication date: 3/6/2012
  • Pages: 256
  • Product dimensions: 5.80 (w) x 8.10 (h) x 1.10 (d)

Meet the Author

Elaine Pagels

Elaine Pagels is the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University and the author of Reading Judas, The Gnostic Gospels-winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award- and the New York Times bestseller Beyond Belief. She lives in Princeton, New Jersey.

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Customer Reviews

Average Rating 4
( 21 )
Rating Distribution

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(11)

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(4)

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(4)

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See All Sort by: Showing 1 – 20 of 21 Customer Reviews
  • Anonymous

    Posted September 11, 2013

    Elaine Pagels is fabulous

    Anything that Elaine Pagels writes is worth having in your library. She's a great researcher and fluid writer.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted June 17, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    In her newest book, Pagels explores the history of John of Patmo

    In her newest book, Pagels explores the history of John of Patmos' Book of Revelation. She outlines what we know about John of Patmos, what he was trying to say with his preaching, and how contemporaries may have responded. The second half of the book covers the history of Christianity in the first two centuries C.E., with emphasis on Pagels' favorite topic of disparate beliefs among early groups. She completes the book with a description of how the Bible Cannon was chosen, with some suggestions about why John of Patmos' Book of Revelation was the only apocalyptic literature included. Pagels' writing is clear and interesting, though a bit repetitive--especially if you've read some of her earlier works. If you're interested in early church history, especially the disparate groups of Christians, then this is the book for you. If you're interested in apocalyptic literature in early Christian history, then the first half of this book, and the tail end, is for you.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted May 9, 2012

    Very Interesting Reccomend

    If you like to know the "how did it get this way?" you will enjoy Revelations. As a teenager I read this chapter of the bible and as an adult had let it pass from my memory. I have pursued many paths to understanding and had questions about the symbolism of that chapter. This not only made sense but made me more aware of the different choices early Christians had to make.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 20, 2012

    more from this reviewer

    I Also Recommend:

    Any work by Professor Pagels is good to read. This is a popular

    Any work by Professor Pagels is good to read. This is a popular work with a great deal of depth to it. I think that I have read all of her books, though not all her published work.

    Part of what makes this book great is that this is a work that a non-believer can enjoy. The references are quite good. The level of scholarship is sound with Dr. Pagels working with a broad range of current and earlier scholarship.


    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted April 18, 2012

    Excellent writing and scholarship

    Elaine Pagels uses excellent historical scholarship by bringing the Book of Revelations into perspective for modern times. By helping us understand the times in which it was written and what was happening historically at the time, we are better able to put this book into it's proper context. She is also and excellent writer. Her prose flows and doesn't get bogged down in professorial weightiness.

    1 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Posted November 1, 2013

    Not what you think it is

    I gave it three stars because of the historical coverage on the Roman Empire, and Greek's. Speaks very little of the Book of Revelations, and the little insight on symbolism the author offers is mostly incorrect. The best book to read for symbolism is "The Book of Revelations" a verse by verse description by Richard Draper.

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 1, 2013

    Wise choice????? A bit of conjecture here

    I'm not sure a work on Revelations by someone who spent a great deal of time giving credence to the gnostics will be credible, since early christianity rejected the gnostic gospels out of the gate, since they had more direct links to the epistles written by the apostles. Generally, you can think of the gnostics as a group attempting to rewrite established epistles to the early churches (that is christians meeting, usually secretly, in homes.)

    0 out of 4 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted June 28, 2012

    Learned much

    Really enjoyed this carefully resesrched book. Would've enjoyed more textual analysis of Revelation but overall does a great job showcasing the history of the Book. Give this to your fundamentalist Xian friend and watch them squirm!

    0 out of 1 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 25, 2012

    Hard to write a review on a book I just ordered and have yet to

    Hard to write a review on a book I just ordered and have yet to receive

    0 out of 8 people found this review helpful.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 18, 2012

    excellent book!

    An excellent survy om the story of the Book of Revelation.The only complaint that I have is that the chapters can sometimes gets a little long winded, however the reader that plows on will be rewarded with an excellent study on this controversial book of the bible.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted April 11, 2012

    Highly Recommended

    This is a must check out book! Revelations in the Bible is difficult to understand, but this book makes you think about how the Bible states things. I found this book interesting in the way it states about the books in the Bible and also the "secret" books or lost books and who the authors are believed to be.

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  • Posted April 5, 2012

    Boring

    Too academic for me.

    0 out of 3 people found this review helpful.

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