“The Book of Revelation is the strangest book in the Bible. It’s the most controversial. It doesn’t have any stories, moral teaching. It only has visions, dreams and nightmares. Not many people say they understand it, but for 2000 years, this book has been wildly popular.” So says scholar Elaine Pagels, who was in Louisville recently as featured guest at the Kentucky Author Forum.
Pagels discussed in depth her latest book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, in a sprawling interview conducted by Gustav Nieburh, a professor of religion at Syracuse University. Pagels tracks The Book of Revelation back to its historical origin, written as its author John of Patmos took aim at the Roman Empire after what is now known as “the Jewish War,” in 66 CE. Militant Jews in Jerusalem, fired with religious fervor, waged an all-out war against Rome’s occupation of Judea and their defeat resulted in the desecration of Jerusalem and its Great Temple. Pagels interprets Revelation as a scathing attack on the decadence of Rome. Soon after, however, a new sect known as “Christians” seized on John’s text as a weapon against heresy and infidels of all kinds: Jews, even Christians who dissented from their increasingly rigid doctrines and hierarchies.