Jim Padgett depiction of Chapter 9:1
Elaine Pagels is a gifted expositor. What’s often boring to me, she expresses in interesting narrative. Since my last post, I have been following paths that she has laid over the past 15 years.
Ms Pagels is the Harrington Pierce Professor at Princeton University. Her interest is early Christianity history. The Gnostic Gospels, one of her bestsellers, is now joined by another, the focus of his post: Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, & Politics in the Book of Revelation.
If you’ve ever said to yourself that you will read the Bible or the book of Revelation, then having second thought feeling the task too boring or overwhelming for lack of a scholarly background in spiritual readings, I invite you to read Elaine Pagels’ latest volume, Revelations. It’s an assessable read filled with drama and intrigue. Furthermore, it contains an excellent history of early Christianity.
A gifted story teller and scholar
Before I begin, let me declare that I am not an agent for Professor Pagels. My motivations for this post are twofold. First, I admire how the professor presents her research to the non-scholar. She has more than forty years of research experience, yet she communicates like a gifted storyteller. Second, having been one of the first scholars to help complete an English translation of the Nag Hammadi in the United States – the 1945 discovery of secret revelations and gnostic writings, Professor Pagels is among those who seek to illuminate the history of Christianity: its success and the evolution of its belief – why its believers believe what they believe.
John the Apostle, writer of Revelation?
Early in her book Professor Pagels resurrects this still debated mystery. She recalls three undisputed observations.
- The Gospel of John is a treatise that declares Jesus is God.
- The book of Revelation which deals with cosmic war, a dragon, beasts, a whore, a mother, plagues, earthquakes, cosmic disintegrations and the salvation of Jesus’ followers has a drastically different style than the Gospel of John.
- Further, the writer of Biblical Revelation fails to declare himself an apostle: at that time a practice.
Dr. Pagels makes no attempt to resolve this mystery.
Many revelations: secret and public revelation
John’s Revelation was written during a time when many were writing a book of revelations. Peter, Mary Magdalene, Paul, Phillip, and James wrote their own revelations. A Revelation of Ezra had been written, although the author was not the prophet Ezra. Non-Christians also wrote their own revelations.
Writers of a revelation tended to write two: a secret revelation and a public revelation. Apostle Paul is an example. In his public revelation, Paul declares that Jesus called him to minister to the Gentiles and revealed those things that he wished Paul to tell the Gentiles. Paul’s zealous pursuit of his public revelation kindled a wide spreading of the new religion. But it is only the Revelation of John, that is highlighted in the Christian canon.
Some takeaways from this read
Below is a list of the some things I gained from this reading:
- A plausible explanation of why John’s revelation entered the Christian Canon over other revelations,
- A interesting chapter on church history,
- Details of an intense rivalry between Apostle Paul and John, the writer of Revelation,
- A short introduction to Gnostic history and the Gnostic gospels,
- The existence of other revelations, and finally
- Encouraging an initiate to question was the major focus of many secret revelations writers.
Today we are bombard with messages through multiple channels. Those who seldom question are prey to messages that are harmful to society. In Revelations Pagels alerts us to the importance of questioning some gnostic writers placed in their secret revelation. I hope this observation ignites the readers of Revelations and ultimately all to forsake blind followings and to adopt questioning the “politics, beliefs and wisdom ” of all who have the power to spread their views.