Pagels, Elaine. Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation. New York: Viking, 2012.
Reviewed By James Booker
There has been much controversy over the book of Revelation; its place in history, its canonization into the Bible, and its author. Dr. Elaine Pagels delivers a clear historical account on these controversies. She does not dwell, however, on the many interpretations (e.g. pre-tribulation or post-tribulation) that has come out over the years. Rather, she offers a more personal interpretation into whom John of Patmos might have been addressing. It has been a book fought over by different factions within Christendom. Many well respected Christians flat-out rejected its authenticity, while other bishops used it to further their own personal agendas, thus, making it more popular to be added into the cannon of scripture later. It grips the mind and multiple generations have used it to prove that Christ was coming back within their lifetime – especially during heavy persecutions and natural occurrences, for instance, during the Black Death that swept through Europe during the middle-ages. What has been lost is its historical background, but Pagels fixes this gap.
Pagels shows not long after the church began to grow, major divisions began to emerge. One group – which Pagels believed John of Patmos might have been associated with – were Christian-Jews who still followed the law. Most scholars agree that James was one such follower. And the other major group was Christian Gentiles who were taught that the law ended in Christ – many of which were followers of Paul’s theology. Paul admonished his followers not to be circumcised (Galatians 5: 1-2) and eating meat offered to idols was okay as long as it did not offend one’s consciousness or brother (I Corinthians 8: 1-13). On the other hand, John of Patmos condemned those Christians who ate food offered to idols (Revelations 2: 14). In fact, the Churches John addresses are in Asia Minor, where Paul established many Churches. Moreover, Paul’s Christ was based on love. Whereas John’s Christ was based on revenge. Pagels believes that one of the reasons John paints Christ in such a menacing way is because he had witnessed the destruction of his beloved temple in Jerusalem in seventy A.D. Pagels agrees with those scholars that John of Patmos was not Apostle John who wrote the book of John. There is clear evidence for this historical thesis – which I adhere to. Subsequently, both Paul’s vision and John’s vision – which were opposites – would years later be canonized into one book (71-72).
Pagels book is short but in depth – offering a wide-range of historical knowledge and individuals. Indeed, she also brought out small interesting facts. For example, long before the Reformation, John Locke, and the Declaration of Independence, Tertullian (Church father) wrote a letter to Caesar, “It is a fundamental right, a power bestowed by nature, that each person should worship according to his own convictions, free from compulsion,” (131-132). Pagels addressed many open questions. Although her book is an interpretation, it is no doubt a viable one and holds much merit because she ties John of Patmos and the Book of Revelation to historical facts.
© By James Timothy Booker March 12, 2015
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