Revelations | Notes & Review

Posted on August 26, 2012


Elaine Pagels. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation. Viking, 2012. (246 pages)

The Big Reveal: Why Does the Bible End That Way? – The New Yorker
Into the Apocalypse With an Unruffled Tour Guide – NY Times
Elaine Pagels on the Book of Revelation – Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Chapter One – John’s Revelation: Challenging the Evil Empire, Rome

How did this book speak to people when it was written two thousand years ago, and how does it continue to do so today? These questions led to this book, for, whether we love or hate it, the Book of Revelation speaks to something deep in human nature. (2)

Martin Luther wanted to throw the Book of Revelation out of the canon, saying “there is no Christ in it,” until he realized how he could use its powerful imagery against the Catholic Church, while Catholic apologists turned it back against him and other “protesting” Christians. (3)

Who wrote this book? Why — and how — do so many people still read it today? And what is revelation? Are any so-called revelations what they claim to be: messages from God? How can we know whether these visions actually communicate truth about reality or only one person’s projection or delusion? (3)

Anyone hearing these prophecies might well wonder: What kinds of visions are these, and what kind of man was writing them? John was a Jewish prophet writing visions he claimed to have received on the island of Patmos, about seventy miles from the city of Ephesus, off the coast of Asia Minor in present-day Turkey; but we begin to understand what he wrote only when we see that his book is wartime literature. (7)

Historians have often assumed that reverence for emperors as gods or heroes was a matter of political expedience, not piety. But Oxford historian Simon Price has brilliantly shown that the matter looked very different to the Asian citizens who built the Sebasteion. The distinction between religion and politics would have made no sense to them — or, for that matter, to most of their contemporaries. Revering the ruler was less a matter of worshipping a human being than of showing respect for the gods who had placed him there, and so shaped the destiny of nations. (13)

44 B.C.E. – Julius Caesar’s assassination

For after the emperor’s own senators stabbed him to death in the Senate chamber, his death plunged Rome into a leadership crisis. (13)

Longing for vengeance, John recalled Israel’s sacred scriptures: hadn’t King David himself declared that “the gods of the nations are demons”? And hadn’t the prophets — most recently, Jesus — announced that God would soon come to judge the world? Why would God allow these demonic forces and their arrogant human agents to overrun the world with apparent impunity? | What 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 writings of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel. (16)

79 C.E., August 23 – eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in southern Italy

What could these nightmare visions mean? And where is Rome — and the aftermath of war — to be seen in them? A close reader of the Hebrew Scriptures would see that John was invoking prophetic images to interpret the conflicts of his own time, just as the prophets Isaiah and Jeremiah had interpreted the Babylonian War around six hundred years earlier. (24)

John’s visions of such monsters, then, are modeled on creation stories even older than those in Genesis. (25)

While we think of dragons as creatures of folktales and children’s stories, Israel’s writers conjured them as images of the forces of disintegration and death that lurk in the background of our world and threaten its stability. (26)

John of Patmos was immersed in the prophetic writings, and here he draws upon their images of Israel as a woman and “the nations” as monsters who threaten her, picturing Rome as Isaiah and Ezekiel had envisioned Israel’s enemies six hundred years earlier. John reshapes Isaiah’s vision of Israel as a woman laboring in childbirth to make it the central drama of his prophecy as he seeks to interpret the struggle that he and other followers of Jesus now face. Convinced that what he believes Isaiah foresaw has now happened — that is, Israel has given birth to the messiah, Jesus of Nazareth! — John envisions her as the “woman clothed with the sun,” being menaced by a “great red dragon with seven heads and ten horns” that furiously stalks her in order to devour her child the moment he is born. Thus John characterizes the Roman forces that killed Jesus. But John wants to show that despite Rome’s apparent success in killing Israel’s messiah, Jesus actually escaped, “caught up into heaven,” while his mother, Israel, has fled into the wilderness. Now John pictures the dragon, the savage forces embodied in Rome, unleashing its fury on God’s people. Raging with frustration at the messiah’s escape and sensing his own impending doom, the dragon turns to “make war on … her children.” Although John apparently envisioned Israel as, in effect, Jesus’ “mother,” many Christians in later generations have taken the woman “clothed with the sun” as an image of Mary. Such variant interpretations show how John’s graphic and evocative images, read in later generations, took on wider resonances. | John probably used such cryptic images because open hostility to Rome could be dangerous; he may ave feared reprisal. (29-30)

54 to 68 C.E. – reign of Nero

Some still debate its meaning, but many now agree that the most obvious calculations suggest that the “number of the beast” spells out Nero’s imperial name. | John’s Book of Revelation, then, vividly evokes the horror of the Jewish war against Rome. Just as the poet Marianne Moore says that poems are “imaginary gardens with real toads in them…” (33)

But, one might ask, if that’s what he means, why doesn’t he just say it? Why does he cloak the actual situations and persons in such elaborate and elusive images? As we noted, this may have to do with the danger of speaking openly against Rome. But John also wants to do more than tell what happens; he wants to show what such events mean. He wants to speak to the urgent question that people have asked throughout human history, wherever they first imagined divine justice: how long will evil prevail, and when will justice be done? (34)

Because John offers his Revelation in the language of dreams and nightmares, language that is “multivalent,” 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. (34)

Instead of sharing John’s vision of the imminent destruction of the world and preparing for its end, many other followers of Jesus sought ways to live in that world, negotiating compromises with Rome’s absolutist government as they sought to sort out, in Jesus’ words, what “belongs to Caesar” and what “to God.” Realizing this, John decided that he had to fight on two fronts at once: not only against the Romans but also against members of Go’s people who accommodated them and who, John suggests, became accomplices in evil. (35)

Chapter Two – Visions of Heaven and Hell: From Ezekiel and John of Patmos to Paul

For instead of writing down his dreams to explore his psyche, John claims that the spirit sent visions to show “what must soon take place.” But John wants to do more than deliver divine revelation: e wants to persuade his hearers that his visions are genuine — that they show how the world actually looks not to him but to God. (39)

We now know that John was one of many — Jews, Christians, and pagans — speaking in prophecy and writing books of revelation during the early centuries of the Common Era. (40)

742 B.C.E. – “the year that King Uzziah died.”

For nearly two thousand years, many readers have assumed that John was addressing groups of Christians undergoing persecution, and that Jews, as well as Romans, were persecuting them. (45) … Many historians today believe that John was not living in a time of active — or, at least, systematic — persecution. (46)

Although John’s prophecies are in the New Testament, we do not actually know whether he saw himself as a Christian. …like Peter, Paul, and other early followers of Jesus, John clearly saw himself as a Jew who had found the messiah. (46)

Writing around 90 C.E., John expresses alarm at seeing God’s “holy people” increasingly infiltrated by outsiders who had no regard for Israel’s priority. In retrospect, we can see that John stood on the cusp of an enormous change — one that eventually would transform the entire movement from a Jewish messianic sect into “Christianity,” a new religion flooded with Gentiles, including Greeks, Asians, Africans, Gauls, Germans, Spaniards, and Egyptians. (47)

John opposed not only Rome’s political and military power but also her cultural influence. (47)

Are we to take these charges literally — that rival prophets among Jesus’ followers actually were seducing [Jesus’] servants to practice fornication” and encouraging them to eat food sacrificed to idols? Here John borrows the sexual metaphor for idolatry that prophets like Hosea and Jeremiah used when they scolded their people for “committing adultery” against the Lord, whom they call Israel’s “true husband.” John clearly understands this language as a prophetic metaphor that warns against consorting with foreign cultures and flirting, so to speak, with foreign gods. | But John also knew that these two issues — eating and sexual activity — aroused conflict whenever Jews discussed whether, or how much, to assimilate. (50)

those whom John says Jesus “hates” look very much like Gentile followers of Jesus converted through Paul’s teaching. Many commentators have pointed out that when we step back from John’s angry rhetoric, we can see that the very practices John denounces are those that Paul had recommended. (54)

What apparently upset John of Patmos, then, is that forty years after Paul’s death, he still heard of those he called “false prophets” giving advice that sounded suspiciously like Paul’s — telling Jesus’ followers that it didn’t matter whether they ate sacrificial meat or engaged in mixed marriages. And although Paul actually directed this relaxed teaching about Torah observance primarily toward Gentile converts, his letters show that intense — sometimes bitter — disputes over such matters had divided Jesus’ followers from the start. (55)

John not only sees himself as a Jew but regards being Jewish as an honor that those who fail to observe God’s covenant — especially non-Jews — do not deserve. For if John knows the term “Christian,” he never mentions it, much less applies it to himself. (61)

Roman magistrates may have been the first, in fact, to coin the term “Christian,” … (61)

Thus, what began among devout Jews — Jesus, Paul, James, Peter, and John of Patmos — within forty to fifty years had ignited a new movement that would claim to supplant Jewish tradition. Paul, who had described himself as “an Israelite, a descendant of Abraham, a member of the tribe of Benjamin” — believing that a revelation from Jesus required him to open the gospel message to “the nations,” as Jews called Gentiles — succeeded in translating it into terms they could understand and practice. But during the decades after Paul’s death in 65 C.E., as the movement that would become “Christianity” increasingly attracted crowds of newcomers, most of them Gentiles, Paul’s version proved powerfully influential. Eventually, it would eclipse or at least modify what his predecessors had taught. | Whose revelations, then, are genuine — Paul’s or those of John of Patmos? The future of the movement would turn on this question — or, more accurately, on which would gain acceptance as “canonical.” As we shall see, two hundred years later, influential Christian leaders chose both wrestled them into the same New Testament canon. But we now know that during those turbulent years, some leaders suppressed an astonishing range of other “revelations” that Christians throughout the empire read and treasured. Who made those decisions, and why? How did John of Patmos’ “revelation” come to trump so many others and become the only one included in the New Testament? (71-72)

Chapter Three – Other Revelations: Heresy or Illumination?

In times of distress, driven beyond ordinary endurance, we may find ourselves asking how — or whether — we can survive. (73)

Historian Elliot Wolfson defines “apocalyptic” as “the revelation of divine mysteries through … visions, dreams, and other paranormal states of consciousness.” (74)

The Revelation of Zostrianos, written about fifty years after John of Patmos wrote…
The Revelation of Peter, …
Thunder, …
Perfect Mind and the Discourse on the Eighth and Ninth,…
Allogenes, …
the Revelation of Ezra (Fourth Book of Ezra), …
The Secret Revelation (Apocryphon) of James, …

I beseech you, my lord, why have I been endowed with the power of understanding? For I did not want to ask about heavenly things, but about those things which we experience every day … why the people you loved have been given to godless tribes … and why we pass from the world like insects, and our life is like a mist? – Revelation of Ezra, 4:22-24

Like John of Patmos, Ezra says that he began writing his revelation in anguish, since the horrors he had witnessed during the war with Rome had shattered his faith. Yet although intellectually he had refused to accept what he heard about divine justice, his narrative shows that somehow he had internalized it. (81)

Around 90 C.E., when Ezra was writing about two kinds of sacred books — open books and secret ones — many followers of Jesus, like John of Patmos, understood “the Scriptures” to mean, quite simply, the Hebrew Bible. Yet as more of Jesus’ followers began to write books, their sacred collections, like Ezra’s, came to include both kinds of writing — some open to everyone, like the New Testament gospels, and other books written and treated as secret writings (in Greek, apocrypha). (84)

As our work progressed, we suggested that Christians then, like many today, struggling to understand Jesus’ teachings, imagined themselves as Jesus’ earliest disciples. Some sought through prayer and meditation to engage in “dialogue with the savior” as they questioned what certain sayings and parables meant. … When new insights came to them, they would receive these as divine revelations and write them down, understanding what they had received through prayer, reflection, and discussion as part of their ongoing “dialogue with the risen Jesus.” | The Secret Revelation of James, the Secret Revelation of John, and the Dialogue of the Savior also show how to seek revelation. Eac of these “revelations” includes prayer. (91)

What are we to make of this outpouring of books of revelation — Jewish, Christian, pagan — during those early centuries? And why was John of Patmos’ very different book the only “book of revelation” included in the New Testament? (100)

From the late second century, Christian leaders, who saw their close groups torn apart internally as Roman magistrates arrested and executed their most outspoken members, felt that John’s Book of Revelation spoke directly to these crises — and so they championed John of Patmos’ book above all others and defended it, as we shall see, against its critics, both pagan and Christian. (102)

Chapter Four – Confronting Persecution: How Jews and Christians separated Politics from Religion

Seventy years after John wrote Revelation, his visions of terror and hope inspired a revival movement called the New Prophecy — an early instance of how John’s prophecies have galvanized Christians to this day. (103)

In a world in which patriotism, family piety, and religious devotion were inseparable, Justin boldly tried to drive a wedge between what we call politics and religion — and so to create the possibility of a secular relationship to government. (109)

After Caligula’s assassination, many Romans regarded him as a “mad emperor,” and his successors tended to revive Augustus’ solution. Even in an empire in which politics and religion seemed inextricably intertwined, then, some Jews found ways to untwist these strands and open the way for what later generations would call separation of church and state. (110)

On the contrary, Christian initiation alienated everyone who received it from Rome and her gods and placed the person into a new — potentially dangerous — situation. As Apuleius noted, the Christian convert refused to worship any but her “one unique god,” not only turning her back upon all other deities but damning them all as demons. Although educated Christians like Justin often prided themselves on their universalism, those on both sides realized that the difference between worshipping Isis and worshipping Jesus could make the difference between life and death. (128-129)

Never will I call the emperor ‘god.’ I am willing to call him ‘lord,’ in the ordinary sense of the term, but my relationship to him is one of freedom. – Tertullian

It is a fundamental human right, a power bestowed by nature, that each person should worship according to his own convictions, free from compulsion. – Tertullian

Thus followers of Jesus windened the gap that Jews had originally placed between politics and religion. What Tertullian demanded on the basis that God had created the human soul American revolutionaries would claim on similar grounds, alluding to the Genesis creation account to insist, in 1776, that “all men are created equal, and endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights.” (132)

Chapter Five – Constantine’s Conversion: How John’s Revelation Became Part of the Bible

The fourth century began in a decade of terror. Rome was now “making war” on Jesus’ followers, just as John of Patmos had prophesied that “the beast” would do.

303 C.E., February 23 – emperor Diocletian ordered his soldiers to destroy churches, confiscate and burn their sacred books, and strip anyone who resisted of civil rights, status, and police protection. (133)

During the following decades, Constantine sought to shift the empire toward Christianity, as he saw it. Among many other edicts, he exempted Christian clergy from taxation and granted them power to enact legal transactions. He outlawed crucifixion as a legal punishment, repealed legal disabilities for the unmarried, introduced stricter divorce legislation, and prohibited gladiatorial shows as public entertainment. | Now that Constantine’s Rome was becoming, in effect, a Christian empire, we might expect that the Book of Revelation would fade into obscurity, its prophecies having been proved wrong — but this did not happen either. Although many Christians preferred to leave the book behind, others chose to not give up these vivid and compelling visions. Instead they reinterpreted them, as Christians have done ever since. After Constantine’s victory, those who seized upon John’s prophecies for their own times often insisted that people who read them literally — or differently — failed to understand them. The Egyptian bishop Athanasius was the first, so far as we know, to place the Book of Revelation in his version of the New Testament canon, when he saw how to use it as a weapon — not against Rome and its rulers but against other Christians whom he called heretics. (135)

With this victory, Athanasius confronted the challenge that would engage him for the next forty-six years: how to weld the disparate believers and groups throughout Egypt into a single, Catholic (that is, “universal”) communion. It was easier for the emperor to write imperial orders than for others to enforce them — a task left primarily to the bishops, since the emperor ruled from afar, occupied with many other pressing matters. yet, as we shall see, besides schismatic priests and bishops, Athanasius also confronted thousands of Christians in Egypt, many int he monastic movement, who had remained independent of his ecclesiastical hierarchy and, in some cases, of any clergy. How, then, could Athanasius induce all Christians in Egypt to conform to the complex formulas expressed in the Nicene Creed and herd these various believers all over Egypt into a single “flock” headed by himself, as bishop of Alexandria? (141)

Like Bishop Irenaeus tow centuries earlier, Athanasius turned John’s visions of cosmic war into a weapon against those he called heretics… (144)

When living in an empire ruled by a Christian who supported his Arian opponents, then, Athanasius interpreted John’s Book of Revelation as condemning all “heretics,” and then made this book the capstone of the New Testament canon, where it has remained ever since. At the same time, he ordered Christians to stop reading any other “books of revelation,” which he branded heretical and sought to destroy — with almost complete success. (145)

Athanasius realized that in order to unite all Christians in Egypt under his leadership, he would have to take on the monasteries, and this would not be easy. (145)

Having joined the inner circle of believers in the monastery, the novice then might hear such readings, which invite — and challenge — believers to go beyond the elementary teaching that they might have heard at churches in town. For listening to this “secret revelation” and others, one might hear oneself included among disciples allowed to hear what these writings claim Jesus spoke in private: “from now on … remember that you have seen the Son of Man, and spoken with him in person, and listened to him in person … Become better than I; make yourselves like the son of the Holy Spirit!” (150)

Just as Christian monks today often include in their libraries books written by teachers ranging from the Dalai Lama to the Jewish master Moses Maimonides, monks in such monasteries as those in Upper Egypt Apparently gathered eclectic writings for their libraries. (154)

Whoever collected for the monastery library such writings as the Secret Revelation of James, the Gospel of Truth, and the Letter to Rheginos, as well as the Scriptures themselves, apparently saw them not as maps but as trustworthy guides for those willing to leap into the unknown and to seek, as the spiritual teacher Origen had urged, to “be transformed!” (156)

When Athanasius sought to overcome resistance from monastic establishments, he chose a more effective strategy than accusing their most respected leaders of demonic possession. Instead he effectively co-opted the most famous of them — Anthony — by writing an admiring biography picturing Anthony as his own greatest supporter. (157)

Athanasius did not stop with his Life of Anthony, but went on to take more active measures to influence, and finally control, the monasteries. (158)

367 C.E.; Athanasius wrote a famous Easter letter telling Christians what henceforth they could hear, teach, and discuss — and what to censor… Then, declaring original human thinking to be evil, he ordered Christians to reject all “illegitimate secret books” as “invention[s] of heretics,” full of “evil teachings they have clearly created.” | What has made this letter most famous is what follows: Athanasius set out a list of sacred books that, he declared, Christians could keep, a list that turned out to be the earliest known record we have of what would become — and remains to this day — the church’s New Testament canon. After listing the twenty-two books of the Old Testament, Athanasius added twenty-seven books he called the only “genuine…books of the new testament,” adding that “these are the springs of salvation; these alone teach true piety.” (160)

At a time when Christian leaders throughout the empire were discussing which books should be regarded as their “Scriptures,” Athanasius intended his list not only as a canon — that is, a standard of measurement — but one that he insisted was unchangeable. To emphasize that his canon must remain exactly as he wrote it, Athanasius concluded his list with a warning that ancient scribes often used to prevent anyone from changing what they wrote: “Let no one add to (these words) or subtract anything from them.” The biblical book of Deuteronomy repeats this formula to warn listeners not to alter any of “God’s words,” and John of Patmos had echoed these words as he ended his own book of prophecies. (160)

Around 350 C.E.,…Bishop Cyril of Jerusalem (Athanasius’ younger contemporary) …named all of the books now in the New Testament except Revelation. When he finished his list, Cyril warned, “and whatever books are not read in the churches, do not read them, even by yourself.” (161)

363 C.E., a council of bishops in Asia Minor drew up a list of “the canonical books of the New and Old Testament,”…and they too, omitted only the Book of Revelation. (161)

Gregory of Nazianzus, wrote up a canon list, [and] he too, left this book out, and finished his own list by declaring that “if there is anything besides these, it is not among the genuine books.”

Bishop Amphilochius of Iconium …also omitted John’s Book of Revelation, conclud[ing] his own list with sharp criticism of competing canons: “This is the least falsified canon of the divinely inspired Scriptures.” (161)

Given such a controversial history, why did Athanasius choose to place the Book of Revelation as the capstone of his New Testament canon? (163)

Revelation is the only book in any New Testament collection that claims that its own writings are divinely inspired prophecy. (164)

Athanasius reinterpreted John’s visions of cosmic war to apply to the battle that he himself fought for more than forty-five years — the battle to establish what he regarded as “orthodox Christianity” against heresy. (165)

By offering this interpretation of Revelation, Athanasius set an influential trend — one adopted by other Christians ever since, from Martin Luther and his Catholic critics to clashing Christian groups to this day. (166)

We do not know exactly what happened in response to Athanasius’ letter. What we do know is that, whether in response to this letter or to denunciations of writings associated with Origen, some time after Theodore ordered the bishop’s letter to be copied onto the monastery wall at Nag Hammadi, someone — perhaps monks resisting the bishop’s order — took more than fifty sacred writings, including gospels and secret “revelations,” packed and carefully sealed them into a six-foot jar, and buried them for safekeeping near the cliff where they were discovered nearly fifteen hundred years later, in 1945, and came to be known as the Gnostic gospels. (167)

Nearly forty years after Constantine’s death, Athanasius came toward the end of his own long crusade and died in May 373. to a remarkable extent, he had succeeded in his triple-pronged agenda mandating creed, clergy, and canon. Having been bishop for more than forty-five years (although he has spent seventeen of them in exile), he and his allies were able to require many monks, as well as other Christians, to accept the Nicene Creed as, indeed, the “truth necessary for salvation.” He also had enormously extended the authority, resources, and prestige of the Catholic clergy, having brought many churches and monasteries under their supervision. Finally, he also had persuaded many Christians to accept his version of the canon as the only “authorized” scriptures of the New Testament. (169)

How has this mysterious book of prophecies continued to speak to people thousands of years later, even now? Although to fully answer this question would require another book — or many books! — we turn to it in our conclusion. (170)


The Book of Revelation reads as if John had wrapped up all our worst fears … into one gigantic nightmare. Yet instead of ending in total destruction, his visions finally open to the new Jerusalem — a glorious city filled with light. John’s visions of dragons, monsters, mothers, and whores speak less to our head than to our heart: like nightmares and dreams, they speak to what we fear, and what we hope. (171)

Thus John’s visions speak to what one historian calls the Christian movement’s most powerful catalyst — the conviction that death is not simply annihilation. … But John’s visions go further, as he vividly imagines how one might live after death — and what this means for how we live now. (171)

Shut out from God’s kingdom are those who withhold care and compassion from those in need. (172)

From the end of the second century to the fourth, as the movement increasingly developed institutional structures, some Christian leaders began to divide “the saved” from “the damned” less in terms of how they act than whether they accept a certain set of doctrines and participate — or don’t — in specific religious communities. (173)

Ever since, Christians have adapted his visions to changing times, reading their own social, political, and religious conflict into the cosmic war he so powerfully evokes. (173)

We need not rehearse the history of religious violence — from crusaders fighting “infidels” and inquisitors torturing and killing Jews to save their immortal souls, to Catholics and Protestants fighting religious wars from the sixteenth century on, or Christian groups engaged in vigilante violence to the present time, or the wartime rhetoric of world leaders — to realize how often those who wield power and see themselves standing on God’s side against Satan’s have sought to force “God’s enemies” to submit or be killed. (174)

Yet John’s Book of Revelation appeals not only to fear but also to hope. (175)

Finally, too, this worst of all nightmares ends not in terror but in a glorious new world, radiant with the light of God’s presence, flowing with the water of life, abounding in joy and delight. Whether one sees in John’s visions the destruction of the whole world or the dark tunnel that propels each of us toward our own death, his final vision suggests that even after the worst we can imagine has happened, we may find the astonishing gift of new life. Whether one shares that conviction, few readers miss seeing how these visions offer consolation and that most necessary of divine gifts — hope. (175)

Recovering such lost and silenced voices, even when we don’t accept everything they say, reminds us that even our clearest insights are more like glimpses “seen through a glass darkly than maps of complete and indelible truth. | Many of these secret writings, as we’ve seen, picture “the living Jesus” inviting questions, inquiry, and discussions about meaning… (176)

And unlike those who insist that they already have all the answers they’ll ever need, these sources invite us to recognize our own truths, to find our own voice, and to seek revelation not only past, but ongoing. (177)

— VIA —

In a “Left Behind” world, Revelations is a welcome counter balance to the esoteric and mystical interpretations that plague the evangelical world of delighted anticipatory escapism. Revelations is more a historical journey than interpretation, and there is a part of me that wishes more passages were elucidated to draw connections to the Roman world, but that may be beyond the scope of this book’s thrust.

After finishing this, I was left with a strange and paradoxical feeling that while many have used the book of Revelation as a book of hope — and I concur with Pagels that hope is the theme of Revelation — that hope has only come at the juxtaposition of so much despair, destruction, and desolation of so many others. These “others” in our contemporary theology, are not the oppressors, however. They are simply those who do not believe the same things as the “believers.” How do we reconcile this contemporary theology with the content of John’s revelation?

This is no doubt “just the beginning” of the study of Revelation. For those holding firmly to their “millennial armaggedonopalystic rapturist” interpretation of Revelation, please read this, and consider how your perception of the end could be greatly informed by understanding the beginning.

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