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

3.82  ·  Rating details ·  2,566 ratings  ·  342 reviews
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 interpreti ...more
Hardcover, First Edition, 246 pages
Published March 6th 2012 by Viking (first published March 2012)
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Feb 28, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: american, biblical
Don’t Hold Your Breath for the End of the World

Many years ago - at least thirty but possibly as many as forty as far as I can recall with an ageing memory - I visited the cave on the island of Patmos where a certain John had his apocalyptic vision and wrote his account of it. The cave is now incorporated into a Greek Orthodox monastery and is curated by a group of rather surly and taciturn monks. Like most biblical landmarks it is simultaneously underwhelming and evocative. And so it is with the
Mark Russell
Mar 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I gave Revelations five stars, not only because it is a good book, but because it is an important book. No other book in the Bible has as much impact on our way of life as the Book of Revelation. It influences our nation's religion, worldview and foreign policy in a way that the gospels do not, and perhaps never have. So you'll be interested to know that we've been getting it wrong this whole time.

The Book of Revelation is not, as Pagels points out, and as scholars have known for centuries, a pr
Lee Harmon
Mar 17, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Look. If Pagels writes a book, go buy it. You don't need a review, you just need a reminder that it's ready for purchase. But then I'd feel like I wasn't doing my job, so ...

I’ve been looking forward to Pagel's new book, hoping I would read her views on how to interpret Revelation, but this wasn't her focus. Pagels begins by discussing the apocalyptic writings of the early Christian period. The title, Revelations, is not a misspelling of the final book in our Bible; she really does mean "revelat
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
Aug 07, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: history
I suspect a hardcore "everything in the Bible is literally true and divinely related" Christian would consider pretty much everything in this book to be heresy. If you've got a somewhat more open mindset regarding the political jostling that created the modern Bible, this is a fascinating read.

Pagels goes into depth on what we know about the historical period in which Revelations was written, and points out the parallels that make a lot of the bizarre imagery from the book make a great deal mor
Paul E. Morph
This book was interesting and I did learn something from it (as well as having some of my own suspicions about the period bolstered) but it would have been so much better if the author had left the sentences beginning ‘I personally believe...’ out of the book entirely. I couldn’t care less about the author’s personal beliefs; I only care about the evidence, presented completely impartially.
Erik Graff
Sep 30, 2016 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Christians
Recommended to Erik by: no one
Shelves: religion
Having had Pagels for a course in seminary and knowing her and her husband socially during that period while my girlfriend studied under her at Barnard I make a point of picking up her publications as they come to hand. I wasn't expecting much from this popular study of apocalyptic literature except for her usual emphasis on its 'gnostic' elements. As it happens, however, there was more to the book than this.

Most interesting to me was her argument that the Apocalypse of John (Revelation) was wri
ἀρχαῖος (arkhaîos) In Lockdown
Elaine Pagels has written a number of intelligent, well informed, popular books on topics surrounding Christianity - an accomplished academic who knows how to write for us common folk. This book is no exception.

Revelations is a rather exciting book at the end of the New Testament that is a fun adventure to read, even for us born again atheists. It’s sort of the car chase scene that never gets mentioned in any detail in the other books. For Christians of the time it was written, Revelations was
Clif Hostetler
Apr 20, 2012 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: religion
Whenever I refer to the Book of Revelations in the presence of my wife, she corrects me by reminding me that it's a singular revelation, not plural. As usual she is correct. But I don't appreciate being corrected, so I was glad to see, at first glance, what appeared to be Elaine Pagels agreeing with my use of the plural form of the word. As it turns out, Pagles is writing about multiple revelations. The book describes the literary (as well as political and social) contexts within which the canon ...more
Jun 16, 2012 rated it really liked it
Recommends it for: Serious Bible Studiers
Don't know much about the Book of Revelation? Convinced that we'll never figure out all of its mysteries? I recommend first reading the Book of Revelation and as you read, try to cleanse your mind of all the futuristic implications you learned from films, video games, literature, and your wide-eyed, biblically illiterate uncles. Then, read the first chapter of Pagels's REVELATIONS. In this chapter she summarizes the occasion, devices, and purpose of John of Patmos' work. After that, you'll be go ...more
Jun 21, 2012 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Paul Ataua
Jan 04, 2021 rated it really liked it
I knew so little about the book of revelations, and this looked as good a place to start. I got much more than I expected from this scholarly and interesting look at the book and at several visionary texts of the period. It’s fascinating how she throws light on the relevance of the book politically and fits it into the time period. Further reading to come.
John Martindale
Jan 18, 2017 rated it liked it
I thought this a well written and an interesting book, yet I can't say I am on board with everything she wrote. For example, Pagels made a speculative case that John of Patmos despised the apostle Paul and his disciples, who she thinks was being referred to when John wrote to a church in Ephesus "I know that you cannot tolerate wicked people, that you have tested those who claim to be apostles but are not, and have found them false." and that John hated the Gentile Christians and referred to the ...more
Steven Peterson
Apr 08, 2012 rated it it was amazing
I have read Elaine Pagels' work before (Gnostic Gospels) and have admired her work. I am not an expert in this aspect of history, but her works read well and she shows much knowledge of the material. She also places the issues addressed in an historical context.

Here, she explores the Book of Revelation, written, she says, by John of Patmos (an island off the coast of Turkey). She asks a number of questions in this book and strives to answer each (Page 3): "Who wrote this book? Why--and how--do s
Steve Cooper
Mar 10, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Elaine Pagels continues several themes here that she introduced in her earlier Gnostic books, with particular emphasis on the Jewish apostles and followers of Christ and their reaction to the new gentile Christians Paul has managed to convert with his preaching. This confrontation between law-obsessed Jews for Jesus and a new generation of free-thinking gentile converts plays out in a menacing environment where Rome is beginning to see any follower of Jesus as a threat to the empire requiring ma ...more
Ron Charles
Mar 02, 2012 rated it really liked it
The remarkable thing about the End of Times is how timeless it is. Harold Camping, the subject of mockery last year with his ever-shifting predictions about the Apocalypse, was only the latest in a long line of hectoring prophets, but every age, every culture, possibly every person endures that existential panic, a vision of the final high-stakes conflict.

Those visions didn’t start with the Book of Revelation, but for almost 2,000 years, the trippy images and fiery rhetoric that blaze away at th
Sep 02, 2013 rated it liked it
I've been a big fan of Pagels since I read a couple of her earlier works in the '90s. I've long been impressed by her ability to offer a generally dispassionate interpretation of early Christian history. It's hard for me to gauge how important she might be to that scholarship, since there is always certainly a divide between the academics who actually move the needle and those who write popular books for mass consumption, but my favorite thing about her work is that she was the first author to e ...more
Jun 14, 2015 rated it really liked it
Elaine Pagels, who has done so much to expand our understanding of early Christianity, in part by including sources that the Church itself discarded or sought to eliminate, in part by reading the canon with a close eye, here takes on that last and most enigmatic book of the New Testament, Revelations. The book itself stands at the end of the New Testament, and with its vision of justice as eternal vengeance. its imagery looks backward to the righteous anger of the Jewish prophets. But it was als ...more
Steve Wiggins
Aug 27, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
The book of Revelation is one of the most poorly understood in the Bible. As Pagels makes clear, it wasn't necessarily a shoo-in for inclusion. It was a controversial book from the beginning, and even after it was written many readers didn't understand it. Eventually it was included as an appropriate ending to a book (the Bible) that begins with the creation of the world.

Along the way Pagels discusses revelation with a small r as well. This idea plays into what ancient people thought prophets we
Alan Fuller
Pagels says John created anti-Roman propaganda with the Book of Revelation. He used cryptic images because he may have feared reprisal. She then examines other apocalypses dug up at Nag Hammadi in 1945 and finds them quite different. Some mention Jesus while others are from other teachers or gods. These other writings don't seem to be a political allegory but instead focus on personal illumination. They seek to raise the reader to a level of personal contact with God. It reminds me of the serpen ...more
I wish I could make every fundamentalist Christian read this book!!!!
Chungsoo Lee
May 19, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Prof. Pagels at Princeton University convincingly assesses the remarkable role the Book of Revelation played in the time of Roman persecution of Christians and that of Roman conversion to Christianity. Pagels makes it clear what John of Patmos (who is not to be equated with John of Zebedee, the beloved disciple) meant and referred to by his symbolic figures in his Revelation such as "666" (which stands for Nero, not Satan) and other symbols that refer to the persecuting Roman Emperors. The Book ...more
Ill D
Sep 25, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: reviewed, religion
With horned beasts, psychedelic imagery, apocalyptic premonitions, and a fiery appeal that has remained an unyeilding following down the centuries, the final book of the Bible is nothing short of a literary and cultural tour de force. But how are we to make sense of its “multi-valent” meanings? Having read, enjoyed and even reviewed a few of her books, I decided to turn to renowned author of religion, Elaine Pagels for answers to my burning questions. These very same questions that have perplexe ...more
With _Revelations_, gifted scholar, professor, and storyteller Elaine Pagels has published yet another compelling, concise, and enjoyable work of scholarship easily accessible to lay readers and non-scholars. Pagels argues her points clearly and persuasively and provides extensive endnotes citing works of many other respected and influential scholars with similar as well as differing opinions. Pagels stands on the side of a growing majority of contemporary critical scholars who have come to an u ...more
Maybe it was the rate the recording was running and maybe it was that it was in audio but I had a hard time catching the transitions between the bible quotes, the stories of the time being lived in, and the lives of the people involved. Maybe if I'd read this in text it may have made more sense.

Regardless, what I did pick up was intriguing.
Chad Kettner
Apr 10, 2012 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: religion
Professor Elaine Pagels, who teaches on the History of Religion at Princeton University and is renowned for her studies and writings on the Gnostic Gospels, has written a remarkable book which places the Biblical "Revelation" into its original context along with other early-Christian revelations and historicity.

According to Pagels, the Book of Revelation was not intended to be a prediction of events thousands of years in the future, but rather the visions of John of Patmos (not the apostle) who
I had to read this book for an online course I was taking; otherwise, I would probably never have picked it up to read it. It was okay; not at all what I thought it would be about. It has interesting parts, a lot of the author's opinions and interpretations, and moves really slow in other parts. It also has a lot of church history in it, as well as discussions about apocryphal books, writings that did not make it into the Bible or have 'official church sanction' to be considered 'valid' books.

James (JD) Dittes
Dec 14, 2012 rated it really liked it
Finally a book about The Revelation of John that puts the book in its historical and political context!

Just like bad dreams are inexplicable the morning after one awakes, John's dream seems to become more and more contorted the more people try to spin it for the present day (or near future). When one realizes that this book has been read with such fearful, breathless expectations ever since it's writing in 90 AD, the book loses much of its ardor.

Pagels points out many key events leading up to th
Nov 12, 2015 rated it it was amazing
I've always enjoyed Pagels's work, and I decided that since I'm embarking on a multi-year period of writing, it would be appropriate to read some great non-fiction authors. Maybe it'll help me. Problem is, when I'm reading great writing, I don't think about how great it is and why it's working. I just read effortlessly, because it is effortless reading. Then later I think, oh crap, I was supposed to learn something about writing there. It seems much easier to notice bad writing than good writing ...more
Mar 11, 2012 rated it really liked it
Of all the Books of Revelation that have been written since the time of Christ (and apparently, there were many, some discovered in Egypt in the 40s), Elaine Pagels suggests that the version which endured did so likely because it was the one most easily exploited for political gain and centralization of power. Instead of other revelations with more mystical bents or those perhaps more pantheistic in their vision, this version was canonized precisely because of its take-no-prisoners and us.vs. th ...more
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Elaine Pagels is a preeminent figure in the theological community whose scholarship has earned her international respect. The Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University, she was awarded the Rockefeller, Guggenheim & MacArthur Fellowships in three consecutive years.
As a young researcher at Barnard College, she changed forever the historical landscape of the Christian relig

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21 likes · 3 comments
“When John accuses "evildoers" of leading gullible people into sin, what troubles him is what troubled the Essenes: whether—or how much—to accommodate pagan culture. And when we see Jesus' earliest followers, including Peter, James, and Paul, not as we usually see them, as early Christians, but as they saw themselves—as Jews who had found God's messiah—we can see that they struggled with the same question. For when John charges that certain prophets and teachers are encouraging God's people to eat "unclean" food and engage in "unclean" sex, he is taking up arguments that had broken out between Paul and followers of James and Peter about forty years earlier—an argument that John of Patmos continues with a second generation of Paul's followers. For when we ask, who are the "evildoers" against whom John warns? we may be surprised by the answer. Those whom John says Jesus "hates" look very much like the 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.” 6 likes
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