This is new AIR. I"m terry Gross. Mine guest, Elaine Pagels, is the writer of a new book about what she explains as the strangest book in the Bible, the publication of Revelation, a publication of dreams and also nightmares, one apocalyptic vision of the end of the world as we know it.

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Over the past 2,000 years, Revelation has actually inspired great paintings, songs and literature, has been offered to justify wars, and also has led many Christian groups to think the finish of the people is imminent. Pagels" publication is dubbed "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the book of Revelation." It speak the story the Revelation"s author and the time he live in.

Pagels likewise writes around other publications of revelation that were discovered in 1945 the are part of what are called the Gnostic Gospels. These are old texts that were left the end of the Bible. Pagels wrote the bestseller "The Gnostic Gospels," which winner a National book Award. She"s a professor of faith at Princeton University.

Elaine Pagels, welcome ago to fresh AIR. Would certainly you simply recap the story that"s said in Revelation?

ELAINE PAGELS: Yes, the publication of Revelation opens with a series of visions in i m sorry Jesus appears to a prophet and tells him what"s going to happen soon, and then the prophet states he go up into heaven and also sees the throne the God and is called by angels the course of future history, which has four horsemen the the apocalypse coming, each one representing catastrophe on Earth.

One brings battle that kills a third of the residents of the Earth. One more one bring famine and plague and catastrophe anywhere the world. These visions talk about cosmic war, in i m sorry the forces of angry seem to have actually taken over the world, and also claim the God"s power is now going to come and challenge those forces, and there will certainly be cataclysmic war of monsters until ultimately Jesus return with militaries of angels and destroys every the forces of evil and also creates an entirely new world.

GROSS: therefore the world as we understand it will be destroyed, according to Revelation, and also a more recent and far better world - and it will certainly be replaced by a newer and better world, however in the meantime, lots and also lots the carnage, right?

PAGELS: Yes, it"s striking that the author sees naught of the present human being surviving, except the human being who room dead come back to life in this new world. But the new world as he sees it will be on Earth, and it will be a sort of brand-new Jerusalem full of the glory the God.

GROSS: What are several of the most frightening, awesome photos in Revelation?

PAGELS: The images that have always captured people, among them is picture of an huge bright red beast with 7 heads, with crowns ~ above his head - a violent, raging, threatening monster.

Another is a large whore called the whore of Babylon, who sits top top the ago of among these monsters, one of these dragon with 7 heads, glowing red, and also she"s drink from a gold cup the blood of innocent civilization who have been killed.

Then there"s an additional image of Jesus coming forth from the sky and beginning the fight of Armageddon, which end in, girlfriend know, heaps and heaps that corpses in ~ the end of the book.

GROSS: It simply seems so counter to every the photos of Jesus in the rest of the brand-new Testament.

PAGELS: It"s absolutely counter to that. It"s the solution of one of the pendant of Jesus, that was, after all, last viewed on earth crucified in a humiliating and horrible way, torture by the Romans and also dead, a an extremely insignificant man, and also his follower john sees the Jesus enthroned in heaven and also returning together the leader of the world. It"s nearly like a perfect retaliation for what the sees as the execution of Jesus.

GROSS: for this reason what execute we know about who wrote Revelation and when it was written?

PAGELS: Most human being who look in ~ this history think the the author - he calls himself john of Patmos, that"s his name - that john was a refugees from the Jewish war that had actually just damaged his homeland, Judea. And the facility of that totality territory, which to be Jerusalem, the temple of Jerusalem, had been completely leveled through the Romans in solution to a Jewish rebellion against the roman Empire.

So ns don"t think we know this publication until we realize that it"s wartime literature. The comes out of that war, and also it comes the end of human being who have been destroyed by war.

GROSS: simply to put this in perspective, the Romans sent 60,000 soldiers into Jerusalem. I mean that"s a huge number of soldiers considering, girlfriend know, exactly how fewer civilization there were then 보다 now. I mean, the must have actually been some - some battle.

PAGELS: Well, accounts from the time, from, say, the Jewish historian Josephus, that wrote around the war, he stated it was the best of all battles of all time. Well, he to be living in the center of it. Yet even today, if you go to Jerusalem and also you look at the ruins of that temple, which to be - the wasn"t just a building; it was the facility of the entire city - you can still see just how those enormous stones were thrown under 2,000 years earlier as the holy place was basically ripped to shreds and burned under to the ground.

GROSS: so did man witness any kind of of this, or did he flee from it?

PAGELS: us don"t know whether John witnessed it. He well may have. We think that he escaped indigenous Jerusalem at that allude and the went turn off to Asia Minor, which is territory that us now contact Turkey, and also he to be waiting because he to be somehow persuaded that these to be the critical days, the something the catastrophic couldn"t occur unless the finish of the people was coming.

GROSS: Now, you think few of the pictures in Revelation may have actually come from the volcano eruption of mount Vesuvius, i m sorry buried and also destroyed Pompeii and practically everybody in it. Was the contemporaneous v John"s life?

PAGELS: Yes, most civilization think that man was composing in about the year 90 that the very first century. That would be 60 years after the death of Jesus. And also the eruption of mountain Vesuvius occurred in the year 79 in Sicily , and also it was an huge volcanic explosion. It destroyed two cities.

So lot of what we find in the publication of Revelation, couched in the most fantastic imagery, space descriptions of events that for john were very close: the battle in Jerusalem, the eruption of mountain Vesuvius, the Roman monarchs who were ruling at the time.

GROSS: so John, who writes Revelation, insurance claims to have had actually a revelation, to have actually been talked to through Jesus, and this is the story the Jesus called him. What perform scholars think around how John had that vision?

PAGELS: John reportedly was not only a Jewish prophet, however he to be a monitor of Jesus of Nazareth, that of course had actually been crucified around 60 year earlier. Yet they say that Jesus had actually prophesied that the end of the civilization was coming, and it seemed as though Jesus"s prophecy had actually simply failed.

What John experienced 60 year after the fatality of Jesus was the the Roman empire was going more powerful than ever, and also I think he comment to that, come the substantial power the Rome, i m sorry you can see in the buildings and the huge architecture and the armies, which that would have seen stationed throughout those provinces.

It seems as despite he reacted to that, saying Jesus is coming and he"s going come destroy all of this. And it to be John"s conviction the the damage of Jerusalem was the start of the finish of time the Jesus had predicted.

GROSS: You take into consideration the book of Revelation anti-Roman propaganda. Would certainly you define why?

PAGELS: Yes, the book of Revelation speaks about the good scarlet beast with seven heads and also seven crowns, but it"s a very thinly disguised metaphor or image for the ruling power that Rome, and also probably the 7 heads the the beast, most world think, stand for the emperors from the empire of Julius Caesar, Augustus and also Tiberius, Claudius and also so forth, up to the time John was creating at the end of the first century.

So this is - ~ above one level it"s anti-Roman propaganda that"s drawn from the language that Israel"s prophets come say that God is going to judge and avenge the countries that destroy his people.

GROSS: so 666, the surname of the beast - many scholars, consisting of you, think that that describes Nero, the emperor, the roman inn emperor. What would the connection be?

PAGELS: Yes, John says that the beast, whose identity he doesn"t say explicitly, perhaps since it"s rather dangerous to speak openly versus Rome, he says the beast has actually a person number, and the number is 666. And also this is a referral to the technique of calculating numbers and letters so that you deserve to take anyone"s name and also you have actually a numerical value of every letter.

You include those up, or you main point them in facility ways, and you discover out what the name is that"s represented by the mysterious number. Many human being have worked it out that it might well it is in the imperial name the Nero, that was notoriously believed of as the worst emperor. Or it might be the surname of Domitian, that was actually ruling once John to be writing.

John would have actually wanted his readers to recognize that - the that number, i beg your pardon is couched in that sort of secret code, would certainly be construed to his readers as the name of one of those queens who had damaged his people.

GROSS: therefore John, who wrote the publication of Revelation, was a second-generation disciple that Jesus. What walk second-generation mean?

PAGELS: Many world think the book of Revelation to be actually composed by man of Zebedee, who was a disciple the Jesus. But when friend look in ~ the creating of that, and also when you look in ~ the works attributed to man of Zebedee, the Gospel that John, i beg your pardon he most likely didn"t compose either, we realize the this man is a an extremely different person.

And he lived probably about two generations ~ the fatality of Jesus, converted obviously to the blog post of Jesus that the human being was coming to an finish soon and God was around to restore justice top top Earth, yet he"s no living at the moment of Jesus. He"s living quite a bit after that.

GROSS: Why did you want to write around Revelation?

PAGELS: The publication of Revelation fascinates me since it"s an extremely different native anything else you discover in the new Testament. There"s no ethical sermons or ethical principles or edifying things. It"s all visions. That"s why it"s appealed so lot to artists and musicians and also poets throughout the century.

But ns encountered it very first when i was about 14 and had joined an evangelical church, which took those images, as numerous Christians carry out today, really seriously.

GROSS: so what impact did it have actually on you? to be you afraid the the finish of the people was imminent and that there was going to it is in plagues and wars and catastrophe that every imaginable sort?

PAGELS: Actually, no, ns didn"t gain into it that way. It simply struck me together a very memorable part of this religious literature, and because it really doesn"t have much theoretical content, i thought: just how does this book appeal to world for hundreds of years? i mean, it"s among the most popular books in the Bible, and it has been for 2,000 years, and that win me together a really amazing puzzle around how religious beliefs affects people.

GROSS: If you"re just joining us, mine guest is Elaine Pagels. She"s a professor of faith at Princeton University. She is the writer of the book "The Gnostic Gospels." Her new book is called "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the publication of Revelation." Let"s take it a quick break here; then we"ll talk some more. This is fresh AIR.

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GROSS: If you"re simply joining us, my guest is Elaine Pagels. She"s a professor of religion at Princeton University and author that the publication "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and also Politics in the publication of Revelation." She"s also the author of the publication "The Gnostic Gospels."

In her book, you explain a split in between the Jews that saw themselves as remaining Jewish and also seeing Jesus together a great Jewish prophet, and they wanted to assimilate his teachings right into the Jewish tradition; and those that saw themselves as followers of Jesus in a brand-new religion, started by Jesus. Have the right to you describe that split and also who led every side?

PAGELS: The earliest pendant of Jesus, that course, were all Jewish, and also they don"t seem to have imagined the they would ever before diverge from their adherence to your tradition. The was simply that castle had found the Messiah of Israel. It"s the apostle Paul who made decision that Jesus had offered a post for non-Jews, for gentiles, and opened it up because that the salvation of the entire world.

As man sees it, yes, gentiles will ultimately be contained in the blessings lugged by Jesus, simply as the Hebrew bible says every the gentile countries will be blessed with Abraham. But for john the focus is on Israel and also the Jewish people.

GROSS: and what about for those who saw Jesus as beginning a brand-new religion?

PAGELS: What you check out in John"s prophecy is, in a sense, an extremely conservative Jewish teaching. He witnessed others that were quoting the letters of Paul and also other kinds of teachings, as if this to be going to be a break-up from Jewish tradition. However for john it was a constant tradition, and he never ever speaks about any the the works of the new Testament. He never seems to have read even the Gospels, as much as us know.

What that read and also immersed himself in were the prophecies that Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, in the Hebrew Bible.

GROSS: you say the the future the Christianity during John"s time turn on the concern of who revelations were genuine, Paul"s or John"s. What to be the differences between the two?

PAGELS: What the apostle Paul taught is that Jesus had actually come to lug salvation to everybody through his death, and what you should do is be baptized and also believe in Jesus. That"s the article that Paul"s converts taught throughout the middle East, and it actually spread widely and quickly through cities in Syria and Egypt and so forth.

John"s conviction was the Jesus was God"s messiah sent to Israel. He to be going to come and also vindicate God"s dominance over the world and institute something prefer the an excellent empire the David, who had actually ruled a substantial empire from Jerusalem.

Jesus was going to reclaim God"s preeminence over the entire world, yet it was going to it is in based in Jerusalem, and it would certainly be founded on Israel.

GROSS: You understand what this is do me think the - many evangelicals this day who think in a quite literal translate of Revelation think that there will certainly come a time when, in the challenge of apocalypse and the second coming, anyone who does not transform to Christianity will be left behind come suffer, friend know, the calamities of war and also plague and so on, and also that includes Jews. Jews will certainly be left behind unless they transform to Christianity.

And what you"re speak is that John, that wrote Revelation, thought of the second coming together a type of Jewish rejuvenation that was open up to everyone, yet still he experienced it as part of, like, the Jewish religion.

PAGELS: Yes. Friend know, what"s amazing, Terry, is the we have actually 2,000 year of Christians taking this book and also putting it into the brand-new Testament. It to be the many contested book in the whole new Testament. Have to it be there, or go it no belong? however it was put into the brand-new Testament, and it was appropriated by Christians, and for 2,000 years Christians have actually been analysis it together if it used to events in their very own time.

That is the means these amazing, vivid, prophetic pictures have always been read. And also as you say, many world today, numerous Christians today, assume, well, of course John"s a Christian. That was most likely a follower of Jesus. It"s a Christian book. And also when, you know, the catastrophic events of the end time happen, anyone will have to be convert to Christianity.

What i discovered, and it was rather surprising functioning on this, is the in a feeling you can say Christianity hadn"t been invented yet - that is, the idea that a brand-new movement that was rather separate indigenous Judaism and its noticeable successor, the way Christians view it today.

GROSS: Why was Revelation so contested? Why - how did it end up in the new Testament?

PAGELS: among the reasons this book was so disputed is that world who experienced its prophecies against the roman Empire, suggesting that the empire was going to be damaged by God, realized that those prophecies had failed. What happened instead is that the roman inn emperors ended up being actually Christians, and the roman inn Empire ended up being a Christian empire.

That is totally contrary to what the prophecy said, and so some world would have actually said: Well, the prophecies failed, for this reason let"s simply leave the in the dust the method we leave various other prophecies the fail.

Other civilization said: Wait a minute, that"s no what it yes, really means. If you translate these images differently, and also they open themselves come a really wide selection of various ways the reading, climate you can say, well, the prophecies space being fulfilled in a completely different way.

What wake up is that world for 2,000 years have actually read their very own conflicts and struggles into that story, since if it"s a battle between good and evil, everything you room dealing with, every little thing I am taking care of - in the 16th century, the 11th century, the 21st century - have the right to be check out in those terms.

The book is therefore open-ended because the photos are so evocative, however they"re likewise not very specific in the way they"re written.

GROSS: for this reason no issue what you"re doing, you deserve to see yourself as the force of good and your enemy as the force of evil.

PAGELS: the course, since if you review it as john intended friend to review it, girlfriend think God is on our side, us of course space on the side of good. Now, we might be, say, Lutherans fighting against the Catholic Church, we might be Catholics fighting against Lutherans. This is, girlfriend know, 1,500 year later. It could be human being fighting against Muslims. It could be Muslims completing against, girlfriend know, the great Satan that the West.

Those images have actually proved great powerful. What I uncovered so remarkable, Terry, is the means that human being on both sides of a conflict could read that same book against each other. For example, in the civil War, civilization in the phibìc were analysis John"s prophecies, they"re analysis the polite War with the terrible devastation of that war as God"s referee for America"s sin the slavery.

"The fight Hymn of the Republic" resounds with every one of those imageries that the book of Revelation. Civilization on the South, in the Confederacy, were additionally using the book of Revelation, see the war as the fight of Armageddon in ~ the finish time and using it against the North. And that"s the means it was review in human being War II. That"s the method it was read even in the war in Iraq.

GROSS: Elaine Pagels will certainly be ago in the second fifty percent of the show. Her new book is called "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and also Politics in the book of Revelation." She"s a professor of religion at Princeton University. I"m terrycloth Gross, and this is new AIR.

(SOUNDBITE that MUSIC)

GROSS: This is fresh AIR. I"m terrycloth Gross, earlier with Elaine Pagels, author of the new book "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and also Politics in the book of Revelation." It"s around what she describes as the strangest and most controversial publication in the Bible, Revelation, which describes an apocalyptic fight with monsters and also demons that destroys this world and also is followed by God inviting the righteous into his kingdom.

Pagels is a professor of faith at Princeton University and author of "The Gnostic Gospels," which winner a National publication Award.

Do you, as a scholar, have any type of sense of once John believed the human being as we understand it would certainly end?

PAGELS: What"s fascinating is the anyone that reads the book and also becomes associated in that prophecies has actually the sense that we"re just about there. This is nearly the finish time. We"re right on the cusp. And that"s due to the fact that I think he had the sense that in which method Jesus need to come now, and the human being should end, and also God"s justice have to prevail.

This book has additionally been motivating for world who fought against evils that were overwhelming. I typical John would"ve said, five yes, that"s the roman inn Empire. Yet someone like Martin Luther King, Jr. Saw the malice of segregation and also the type of injustices the the 20th century and also the 21st century and the 19th century. And people who longed because that justice have constantly felt the the publication speaks to united state now and we are currently on the cusp of that great change.

GROSS: 2 thousand years after it to be written, many civilization still believe that it"s imminent. But that...

PAGELS: Indeed.

GROSS: ...belief has endured for 2,000 years.

PAGELS: the has. And also it still really much prevails in countless circles. And also there"s a an excellent reason for that. What ns realize is that many people - plenty of scholars - kind of have tendency to deprecate the book and also say, well, this is a foolish book. Who would believe that? Someone stated to me recently, well, don"t friend think it"s dreadful that civilization keep reinterpreting this as if that were applying to them? and I thought no, it"s not awful. That"s precisely how the book has survived and also that tells us a lot around the power of religious imagination, for better and because that worse.

GROSS: for this reason there"s a component in Revelation wherein John charges the rival prophets amongst Jesus" pendant were seducing Jesus" servants to practice fornication and encouraging them come eat food sacrificed to idols. Would certainly you translate that because that us?

PAGELS: man speaks through a great deal of personal anger around a pair of prophets. He calls castle Jezebel and also Balaam. Now, those aren"t their real names, yet it"s about a man and a woman prophet who room prophesying things that the thinks are deeply, vigorously deceptive and also false. And also what I began to realize functioning on this publication is the those prophets, Christian prophets whom he challenges, are probably preaching what the Apostle Paul had actually taught and what hands-on worker of Paul taught about a generation ~ the fatality of Paul. They"re preaching the you don"t need to eat kosher food to be a follower of Jesus and also that girlfriend don"t need to practice - kind of engage in sexual techniques in the way that devout Jews to be taught come do. You can have much more open views around food and also sexual practices and also still it is in a monitor of Jesus. And also I think man was upset by that and also thought they to be wrong and also wrote against them.

GROSS: therefore the Jewish sexual legacies you"re talk about, is that prefer not engaging in sex during a woman"s expression period?

PAGELS: That"s part of it. And likewise it might mean because that a Jew come marry a non-Jew or to have actually a sexual connection with one or any type of sexual methods that were discouraged by traditional purity laws.

GROSS: therefore the publication of Revelation in the new Testament is really just one book of revelation amongst several, however the other books didn"t do it right into the canon. Number of of those books of revelation were discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, where, friend know, publications that didn"t do it right into the canon were discovered. You"ve written around those books. They"re now well-known as the Gnostic Gospels. Phone call us around some of the other publications of revelation that were uncovered there.

PAGELS: among the surprises the I discovered when I started to work-related on the publication of Revelation is the there isn"t just one. That is, most human being today think that there to be one publication of Revelation because there"s just one in the canon, yet I discovered that this was among an outpouring of publications that Jews to be writing, Christians to be writing, Greeks who complied with the Greek god or Isis were creating many books of revelation. The Revelation of Ezra, because that example, is one more revelation created by a Jewish prophet - not a monitor of Jesus - very comparable to John"s in numerous ways and very grieved about the roman Empire and concerned about the inquiry of God"s justice. However the various other revelations...

GROSS: permit me simply stop you right here for a second.

PAGELS: Yeah. Yeah.

GROSS: when we speak a book of revelation, we average a publication in i beg your pardon God or Jesus manifests self to the writer and speaks to him.

PAGELS: Yes. A publication of revelation - us have, for example, the Revelation of Ezra. It"s usually called Fourth Ezra through scholars, yet it"s one in which a prophet, a Jewish prophet, weeps over the fate that his world just as man is terribly grieved about what happened to Israel in the war. And also this prophet, who calls himself Ezra, is grieved about that exact same war and also he prays and asks God, how might you permit this happen? How can you let your world be destroyed? and also an angel appears to him and gives him visions indigenous God, i beg your pardon talk around the future and also the judgment and so forth and also the resulting the Messiah, who after all in this situation is no Jesus.

But other books of revelation talk around divine messages the come native - one of two people from Jesus self - construed in, say, the Revelation that John. There"s - we have actually one, uncovered with the Gospel that Thomas, that"s dubbed The secret Revelation of John. We have actually others, The Revelation the Zostrianos, i beg your pardon is not also Christian, the revelation referred to as Thunder, Perfect Mind, and also these space meant to be construed as divine messages. However what"s different around them is they"re - many of them room not around the end of the world. They"re around how you uncover the divine in the human being now.

GROSS: offer us an instance of that.

PAGELS: The Revelation the Zostrianos talks around a young male who is in despair due to the fact that he can"t find any kind of understanding that reality, that can"t make any kind of sense the the world. That goes into depression and also despair, decides to death himself, and also goes the end to perform it. And also suddenly a divine being, a blazing light appears and says, have actually you gone crazy? and also then he says he obtained internally a revelation. He claims that ns realized the the irradiate within me was higher than the darkness. It"s a really moving passage. And also he has actually a sense that there"s magnificent truth that can sustain him, and also that originates from a divine resource or understood to be.

There"s also one referred to as Thunder, Perfect Mind, in i beg your pardon a divine presence, usually construed to it is in God"s imminent presence in the world, pictured in feminine form, speaks as if she is everywhere and one should recognize this magnificent presence in the people even though frequently many human being are fully oblivious to the presence.

GROSS: therefore these publications of revelation the you"ve been describing, were any type of of lock candidates because that the canon, for the brand-new Testament?

PAGELS: It"s very interesting that some of these texts are Christian and most of lock were never really thought about as candidates for the canon due to the fact that the canon, ~ all, is supposed to it is in the publications you read in church, or worship, friend know? They space the books for windy worship. This other publications of revelation room usually understood as secret books, they"re advanced-level books. They"re publications you"re an alleged to read as soon as you"re on a spirituality quest and at a much more advanced level than beginning people. So people who start in a spiritual community would hear what"s review in worship and also people who continue along the path can read this other publications in addition.

GROSS: If you"re simply joining us, my guest is Elaine Pagels. She"s a professor of faith at Princeton University. Her brand-new book is called "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and Politics in the book of Revelation." She"s likewise the writer of the book "The Gnostic Gospels."

Let"s take a short break here, climate we"ll talk part more. This is fresh AIR.

(SOUNDBITE that MUSIC)

GROSS: If you"re simply joining us, mine guest is Elaine Pagels. She"s a professor of faith at Princeton University and author that the brand-new book "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy and also Politics in the book of Revelation." She"s likewise the writer of the publication "The Gnostic Gospels."

Revelation is cast as the story of great versus evil. It"s very black and white. There"s no nuance. There"s no, well, this human is right about that yet wrong around this. And also then there"s, friend know, there"s good people who are living under the negative regime and also some of those good people are going come die during the war, yet they"re just, girlfriend know, chaste bystanders. There"s no nuance like that. It"s great versus evil. What impact do friend think that has actually had, the really influential publication that has this image of pure an excellent versus pure evil?

PAGELS: Yes. By working on the publication of Revelation, I came to have a much higher respect for the power of this book and the way it"s inspired plenty of poets and painters and also writers and religious thinkers, girlfriend know, to think about an excellent and evil. Yet when it"s used in a an extremely specific, literal, political way, it"s often led human being to see conflict as miscellaneous non-negotiable, and also that have the right to be, in the civilization we live in currently - or in any world - a really deadly way of do the efforts to deal with human conflict. So i think we must understand exactly how this publication was written, come respect the power of it, acquisition it, together I said, seriously yet not literally, because when it"s bring away literally, it deserve to lead to frightening means of handle with conflict and an especially with war.

GROSS: Now, you first read Revelation seriously when you to be a teenager and also you had actually joined one evangelical church. Now...

PAGELS: Yes. Yes. Go ahead.

GROSS: currently you"re a religion scholar and you"ve check out Revelation over and also over and also over and read many texts about it, and also now you have actually this brand-new book around the book of Revelation. So can you compare for us exactly how you saw it once you were a teenager in an evangelical church and also how you view it now?

PAGELS: Well, i was lugged up in a household that was nominally Christian, not vigorously so in any way. And so as soon as I encountered an evangelical group about the age of 14, I simply plunged right into it because of the soot of the emotional strength of the music, the the preaching, that the team identity. The was rather wonderful, i thought, about the period of 14. And one the the books that that team read fervently and often is the book of Revelation. That"s about, girlfriend know, the an effective justice of God, the people of God versus the human being of Satan, and so forth.

About a year later, i realized I had actually to leave the group because I was told that among my closest friends, that was Jewish, to be going come hell. And I just suddenly said, wait a minute, that"s not what attracted me into this group, that"s no what ns loved about the messages i heard here, the is no anything to execute with what - the strength of Christianity together I taken it. You know, it"s ridiculous because Jesus and all of his followers were Jewish, come say nothing of anything else.

So I had actually to leave that group, and also becoming a scholar of religious beliefs is an amazing path since later I had to think, what is it around Christianity that was therefore compelling and powerful? i think the is about the spiritual imagination and also the sense of a spiritual dimension in life. But I additionally had to think, why go I have to leave the group? and I think it"s that insular sense of being in a righteous, homogenous, good group against sort of a faceless fixed of human being who were Satan"s people, the is a really dangerous method of looking at the world, in the 21st century particularly.

Both the those questions have been in front the me while i think around this publication today. And looking in ~ other publications of revelation, rather of having a vision the the world of the saved and also the damned, the great and the evil, these others have a global vision of human being beings, in fact of every beings, including nonhuman beings, as part of the same structure that life, and also that appears to me a compelling kind of vision and also maybe one the we need even more right now.

GROSS: because you write as a religion scholar and because you"re writing around historical Christianity, various interpretations the biblical texts, do you ever before get criticize by people who take it the holy bible literally and also think that the work you"re act is really misguided...

PAGELS: do I ever...

GROSS: ...and misleading?

PAGELS: You"re saying do I ever. Ns do really often. I typical many people write come me, contact me and also say lock know exactly what this publication means. Many human being would say, well, she"s not reading it together a believer. And that"s accurate. Due to the fact that I"m less interested in just believing these messages than knowledge them. And I don"t mean just understanding lock intellectually, but also understanding the emotionally power and the spirituality power, or the absence of it, that we find in them.

GROSS: and also what is the nature of the criticism you get? Is it - carry out you obtain angry letters?

PAGELS: There"s a many anger. There"s a the majority of outrage and also there are world who really want to explain to me that if ns would simply accept their understanding of the faith, which is authoritative and absolutely certain, i would recognize everything. And now together a scholar I identify that ns don"t and also that I"m quiet searching, and also they want to enlighten me with their version of truth. I"ve been under that road and also I didn"t find it compelling.

GROSS: If it"s not as well personal, deserve to I asking if you walk to church?

PAGELS: I periodically go to church because the traditions that ns feel closest come are often Christian traditions, but I regularly don"t go, as well, since there"s a street that that takes for the job-related I do. However the work I do additionally has questions around spiritual truth in it and those are several of the ones ns was trying to sort out in this book.

It"s not just a type of intellectual"s distant look at human being that i don"t agree with. It"s an effort to look empathically in ~ a phenomenon that i feel I have some knowledge about. Yet also, one needs to have part distance on this. At least, i do.

GROSS: The way you talk about distance it practically sounds choose a journalist won"t attend a political rally because, girlfriend know, a journalist is nonpartisan and has to reasonably report on things and also not take sides. The sounds choose you feel that method as a religious beliefs scholar.

PAGELS: I do in a way, except that I virtually feel in different way from that, that together a historian, if you want to understand something choose this, in a way you have to be on both political parties empathically. You have to understand various perspectives, both what"s an extremely compelling about this sort of religious prophecy and also what the hazards of that kind of team identity have the right to be.

GROSS: What perform you look because that in faith now compared to what you searched for when you were a teenager and discovered an evangelical church?

PAGELS: That"s a an excellent question. Ns think then ns was looking, as many human being do look at in religion, for some sort of authority, some type of answer, miscellaneous sure. Right? and also there space plenty of spiritual people of all kinds who might tell you that they know absolutely what"s right and they have the right to speak v authority and also they deserve to tell it to you.

Now, I understand that that feeling of authority needs to come from ourselves, and I was creating this because I do believe that there are some insights we have that are choose revelations, that space deeper truths, and also I quiet look for those. Yet they don"t come from somebody else or some publication or some preacher. Because that me, that"s no a resource I have the right to unequivocally think in. In fact, I"m not interested in believing it; I"m interested in how we find revelations, the way John thought he had done.

GROSS: for this reason what do you look for in religion, in the means you practice, come the degree that you execute practice?

PAGELS: What ns feel now is the there is something that I speak to a spiritual dimension in human life and there are truths that are truer than various other perceptions. And so i look because that that feeling of authenticity. I discovered some that that, say, in the Gospel the Thomas once - in the saying: If you bring forth what is within you, what you carry forth will save you. If you execute not carry forth what is within you, what you do not bring forth will ruin you.

I found some of the there. I find some of that in these other texts that speak around how the divine potentially speaks to every beings. I uncover some of the in the Gospel the Mark, in some classic Christian sources. And one can find few of it in the book of Revelation, depending upon how we see that and also read that.

GROSS: Well, Elaine Pagels, I desire to thank you so lot for talking through us.

PAGELS: thank you. I"ve really took pleasure in it.

GROSS: Elaine Pagels is the author of the brand-new book "Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and also Politics in the publication of Revelation." You deserve to read one excerpt on our website, freshair.priziv.org.

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