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Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation Hardcover – March 6, 2012

166 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Booklist

*Starred Review* The preeminent scholar of the early-Christian-period sacred writings found at Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945 uses them as well as the Bible to illuminate the New Testament’s last book, which almost wasn’t added to the canon because, Pagels explains, it conflicted with the Pauline epistles. For it revived the argument over how Judaistic the Gentiles in the Jesus movement had to be, which Paul had answered conclusively in Galatians. The visionary tract squeaked into the NT only when fourth-century bishops saw that, if the aim of its wrath was shifted from Gentiles and their advocates to those who fit in the new category of heretics, it could help with consolidating the institutional church. But how Revelation made the cut is only one of Pagels’ revelations about it. She also discloses the extent to which it extrapolates from the prophetic tradition of Ezekiel, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Daniel; its status as one of many similarly visionary texts, typically also called Revelation and more Gnostic, found at Nag Hammadi; its primary purpose as anti-Roman propaganda intended to rally continuing Jewish resistance after the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem; and its modern role in fostering hope in the face of seemingly ultimate cataclysm. A lot for so little a book to do, but, thanks to Pagels’ sublimely fluent exposition, not too much. --Ray Olson


"Revelations is a slim book that packs in dense layers of scholarship and meaning . . . One of [Elaine Pagels's] great gifts is much in abundance: her ability to ask, and answer, the plainest questions about her material without speaking down to her audience . . . She must be a fiendishly good lecturer."
The New York Times

"One of the significant benefits of Pagels's book is its demonstration of the unpredictability of apocalyptic politics . . . The meaning of the Apocalypse is ever malleable and ready to hand for whatever crisis one confronts. That is one lesson of Pagels's book. Another is that we all should be vigilant to keep some of us from using the vision for violence against others."
The New York Times Book Review (Editors' Choice)

"Pagels is an absorbing, intelligent, and eye-opening companion. Calming and broad-minded here, as in her earlier works, she applies a sympathetic and humane eye to texts that are neither subtle nor sympathetically humane but lit instead by fury." — Adam Gopnik, The New Yorker

"Any book in the Bible that can be cited simultaneously by deeply conservative end-of-times Christians who see the Apocalypse around the corner and by Marxist-friendly Christians looking forward to justice at the End of History must have a compelling back story. That back story is told well and concisely by Elaine Pagels in her new book, Revelations." — The Boston Globe

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 256 pages
  • Publisher: Viking; 1 edition (March 6, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0670023345
  • ISBN-13: 978-0670023349
  • Product Dimensions: 8.4 x 5.7 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 13.6 ounces
  • Average Customer Review: 4.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (166 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #187,157 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

After receiving her doctorate from Harvard University in 1970, Elaine Pagels taught at Barnard College, Columbia University, where she chaired the department of religion. She is now the Harrington Spear Paine Professor of Religion at Princeton University. Professor Pagels is the author of several books on religious subjects and was awarded a MacArthur Fellowship in 1981. She lives and teaches in Princeton, New Jersey.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

304 of 327 people found the following review helpful By Dharma on March 6, 2012
Format: Hardcover
What Elaine Pagels does so well, in this book as in her previous, is to understand, explain, and evoke the context and writings of the period of formation of the Christian religion and the catholic church. In close and careful readings of the many conflicting texts available to present day scholars, she is able to untie the knots of ancient intrigue and conflict from the early days of Christianity. She traces the development of Christian writing through successive generations of apostles, prophets, and bishops to see how and why the core texts of the religion, specifically the Book of Revelation, were chosen to be included in the New Testament.

Pagels shows how the cult of Jesus worship began as a revolutionary movement on the fringes of Roman society, appealing to the lower classes, and offering a vision of equality before God, if not in everyday life. She finds in the words of Tertullian an early formulation of the desire for freedom of religious practice, freedom from the requirements to worship Roman gods and emperors. With careful argument, Pagels shows how the "eternal enemy", identified as the Beast in Revelations, is transformed in meaning over time. Initially the number of the beast - "666" - is a code for the emperor Nero who ordered the persecution of early followers of Jesus. Over three centuries, for a variety of political purposes, Revelations is transmuted into a condemnation of Christian splinter groups called "heretic" because of their failure to obey nascent church authority

Although Pagels does not delve deeply into the vision and drama of the text of Revelations, she is is able to convey how the apocalyptic imagery of the book served to inspire physical and mental resistance to Roman persecution.
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116 of 127 people found the following review helpful By L. Erickson on March 7, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Elaine Pagels has written yet another accessible and powerful book that will appeal to both religious history buffs and spiritual seekers attracted to mystic Christianity. In this book, she explores the Book of Revelations, and the role of revelatory experience in general within early Christianity. She brings her impeccable scholarship to bear, detailing the social and political forces that were most likely in play when Revelations was written, and what the symbolism within it would have meant to readers at the time. She also explores the way it has been interpreted over time, and how different groups have used it at crises points in history to assert they are on the 'right' side of God, while their enemies are not. With all the hype surrounding 2012, and some interpreting this year as yet another 'end-times', Revelations is once again being used in this way, which makes this book especially relevant right now.

While all this history is interesting to me, what I found personally even more fascinating were the sections on the role of revelatory experience in Christianity, and sections on early monastics and their mystic practices. Pagels describes some of the other 'Revelations' found among the scrolls of Nag Hammadi - the texts discovered in 1945 buried in Egypt that religious scholars are still interpreting and which are reshaping our understanding of the development of Christianity. Pagels other best-selling books The Gnostic Gospels and
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225 of 277 people found the following review helpful By William Moore on March 19, 2012
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
As one who has read all of Elaine Pagel's previous books except the one about the Gospel of Judas, I was naturally curious to see how she would emerge from her encounter with the bizarrely macabre yet strangely compelling Revelation of Saint John the Divine. Knowing that few explorers have tackled that tangled thicket and managed to emerge unscathed, but with an abiding faith that if anyone could, it would be Pagels, I ordered a copy of Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation some months before the official publication date. Four days ago, that copy arrived, and I have just this moment finished reading it.

Generally speaking, the book is well written. It does a fine job of providing an overview of the subject for intelligent readers who are curious to know more but prefer not to have their brains cluttered with too many facts. Others of more academic presuasion, alas, might have appreciated, and indeed even looked forward to, a somewhat longer, more detailed effort. No doubt, somewhere in the process that led to publication of the final product, an editorial discussion took place during which someone pointed out that academic volumes seldom become best-sellers, and that thick, scholarly-looking tomes often discourage buyers. Unfortunately, when good scholarship butts heads with good business, profit usually wins. In this case, the result was a disappointingly short volume of 246 pages (a mere 177 pages of double-spaced text followed by 69 pages of endnotes and index), which, in its brevity, fails to treat a significant number of issues that would seem crucial to any meaningful understanding of the complicated and colorful Revelation that a man named John, while on the Aegean island of Patmos, claimed to have received directly from Heaven.
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