Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation

Book - 2012
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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.--from jacket.
Publisher: New York : Viking, c2012
ISBN: 9780670023349
Branch Call Number: 228.06 PAG
Characteristics: ix, 246 p. ; 22 cm


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Nov 27, 2016

This statement from Publishers Weekly is incorrect. "Revelation proved surprisingly adaptable even after the Roman Empire turned out not to be the whore of Babylon after all." Rome was indeed the whore of Babylon to John of Patmos' revelation, pp. 34-35. It was Athanasius who deliberately misinterpreted the term to refer to those he declared to be heretics. This was done to appease Constantine and establish an artificial orthodoxy, with the intent of strengthening his version of Christianity and therefore the empire. This point is essential to the author's thesis, and for me, the most interesting point of the book.

Under Constantine and Athanasius, Christianity was turned on its head, much like the story of Peter's crucifixion. The irony is that John the Baptiser, Jesus of Nazareth, James the Just, Peter and the Twelve, John of Patmos, and many other authors condemned Rome and strove to liberate Judea from its grasp. Paul tried to Christianize "The Greeks" or Gentiles. aka the Romans. But Constantine and Athanasius won out in Romanizing the faith. Paul did a lot of paganizing to reach the Gentiles, and the others finished the job.

Some Christians, in reaction to this, set up monasteries in Egypt, much as the Essenes had done outside Jerusalem much earlier. The tradition developed and maintained by these Desert Mothers and Fathers is the basis for our current Centering Prayer movement.

Regarding this sentence in Choice, "Athanasius sided with generations of Christians who found in Revelation divinely bestowed support for their own attacks against Romans and "heretical" sects within their own religion." I haven't found any support that Athanasius opposing Rome. He certainly did oppose "heretics" of his own definition, but the interesting point is that, following Irenius, he interpreted John of Patmos' whore of Babylon as these very "heretics" rather than Rome as John had done.

Feb 21, 2015

Please see my comment for "The Gnostic Gospels" (

akarenina Mar 21, 2012

A clear explanation of the topic in Pagels' usual, well-documented style.

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