Her latest book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation is every bit as interesting and readable for the non-biblical scholar as the others. She lists the curiosities of this final book of the New Testament, saying “The Book of Revelation speaks to something deep in human nature” (2). “Martin Luther wanted to throw [it] out of the canon, saying, ‘there is no Christ in it’ until he realized how he could use its powerful imagery against the Catholic Church, while Catholic apologists turned it back against him and other ‘protesting’ Christians” (3)
Pagels points out that the early church featured about 20 so-called books of “revelation.” These however, are quite different than the book John of Patmos wrote while in exile. While John focused on Judgment day and the end of the world, those others sought “the divine in [the world] now” (3).
Furthermore, John’s “great mountain, burning with fire” (20), may have been influenced by an event that happened ten years before, “when Mt. Vesuvius … erupted with great explosions that shook the earth and filled the air with a deafening roar” (20). Many of the fearsome monsters in Revelation bear striking resemblance to 3,000 year-old texts by “Israel’s poets and storytellers … [who told] how Israel’s God, like [the Babylonian god] Marduk, fought against a many-headed dragon, a sea-monster whom they called by such names as Leviathan and Rahab” (24-25). Both these names appear in the Old Testament.
Elaine Pagels’ Revelation is another fascinating piece of the puzzle which sheds much light on the formation of the early church. Her books are as irresistible as warm chocolate chip cookies.