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

4.2 out of 5 stars 174 customer reviews

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First Corinthians - Women's Bible Study Participant Book: Living Love When We Disagree by Melissa Spoelstra
First Corinthians - Women's Bible Study Participant Book
Melissa Spoelstra's First Corinthians Bible study helps readers discover how to live love even when you disagree | Learn more | See author page
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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 (174 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #515,568 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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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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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Format: Hardcover
From my perspective, critics of Elaine Pagels', Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, seem to expect much more from her latest effort than what was intended. I am far from being a biblical "expert," but that does not imply I lack the interest and intellectual skills to comprehend Pagels' message, in fact, I believe I am a member of her intended audience. This work is not meant to be a treatise for biblical scholars and academics on the Book of Revelation, on the contrary, it is meant for members of the general public who are unfamiliar with the Book of Revelation history, its author, why it was written, and the contemporary environment during which it was written.

I will not attempt to recount everything Pagels touched upon since that seems to have been covered quite well by other reviewers, rather, I would like to highlight some of the things I found particularly interesting. The Book of Revelation was not written by John the Apostle after the death of Jesus Christ as some have maintained (some still do), rather, it was written some sixty years later, about 90 C.E. by a man named John of Patmos (Patmos is a small island off the coast of Turkey). John of Patmos was, first and foremost, a Jew, not a Christian, who fervently believed Jesus was the Jewish Messiah and based much of his writing on several Jewish prophesies in the Old Testament. The destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 C.E. and the defeat of the Jews by the Romans during that time period profoundly affected John and much of the violent imagery in his Book of Revelation is based on these events.
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