REVELATIONS by Elaine Pagels


Visions, Prophecy, and Politics In the Book of Revelation
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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.

Pub Date: March 6th, 2012
ISBN: 978-0-670-02334-9
Page count: 256pp
Publisher: Viking
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1st, 2012


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