cover image Revelations: Visions, Prophecies, & Politics in the Book of Revelation

Revelations: Visions, Prophecies, & Politics in the Book of Revelation

Elaine Pagels. Viking, $27.95 (256p) ISBN 978-0-670-02334-9

Many Christians today believe that the Book of Revelation (which some mistakenly call “Revelations”) was written by the same “John” who wrote the Gospel of John, speaks to an audience of persecuted Christians, and stands in harmony with the rest of the New Testament. In this fascinating study, Pagels challenges all of those assumptions, arguing instead that the visions recorded by John of Patmos function as antiassimilationist harangue that explicitly countered Paul’s teachings that keeping Jewish law was no longer necessary. Pagels situates John of Patmos within a competitive marketplace of New Testament prophets, some of whom had similar prophetic visions that were omitted from the canon but rediscovered in the 20th century. Why did Revelation survive while other revelations were passed over or even suppressed? The answer, she says, lies in the way the prophecy was reinterpreted after Constantine’s unexpected conversion in the early fourth century; Revelation proved surprisingly adaptable even after the Roman Empire turned out not to be the whore of Babylon after all. Pagels offers a sharp, accessible, and perceptive interpretation of one of the Bible’s most divisive books. (Mar. 6)