A Revelation

Anyone who has been exposed to the Book of Revelation or had trouble sleeping after watching The Omen should read Revelations, a recent book by Princeton professor of religion Elaine Pagels.

According to Professor Pagels, the Book of Revelation was written around 90 C.E. by John of Patmos, an itinerant preacher and follower of Jesus. He wrote the book as a piece of anti-Roman propaganda, in response to the fact that Rome had colonized Judea and destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. The Romans are the villains in the Book of Revelation. The number 666 is probably a numerological translation of the full Latin name of the emperor Nero.

The Book of Revelation became an official part of the Bible when the New Testament was codified in 325 C.E. Professor Pagels argues that it was included for political reasons. It was useful to the men who were organizing the Catholic Church to have a story that could be used against their political enemies, i.e., the Christians that church leaders like Irenaeus and Athanasius called “heretics”. The early leaders of the church were a quarrelsome, unprincipled bunch who did whatever was necessary to suppress opposing views. They claimed that some of their fellow Christians were the evil enemies of God described in a story written 200 years earlier about the Romans. But now the Romans weren’t the bad guy anymore. 

This is a depressing but necessary book. Generations of innocent people have been scared and even scarred by a horror story that purports to describe a coming apocalypse, albeit one with a happy ending for a few true believers (us, not them). To borrow from Nietzsche: “What cruel and insatiable vanity must have flared in the soul of the man who thought this up”.

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