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READ BOOK Revelation Revealed

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READ BOOK Revelation Revealed

Pagels also writes about other books of revelation that were discovered in 1945 that are part of what are called the Gnostic Gospels. These are ancient texts that were left out of the Bible. Pagels wrote the bestseller "The Gnostic Gospels," which won a National Book Award. She's a professor of religion at Princeton University.

PAGELS: Yes. You know, what's amazing, Terry, is that we have 2,000 years of Christians taking this book and putting it into the New Testament. It was the most contested book in the whole New Testament. Should it be there, or does it not belong But it was put into the New Testament, and it was appropriated by Christians, and for 2,000 years Christians have been reading it as if it applied to events in their own time.

That is the way these amazing, vivid, prophetic images have always been read. And as you say, many people today, many Christians today, assume, well, of course John's a Christian. He was probably a follower of Jesus. It's a Christian book. And when, you know, the catastrophic events of the end time happen, everyone will have to be converted to Christianity.

Those images have proved enormously powerful. What I found so remarkable, Terry, is the way that people on both sides of a conflict could read that same book against each other. For example, in the Civil War, people in the North were reading John's prophecies, they're reading the Civil War with the terrible destruction of that war as God's judgment for America's sin of slavery.

"The Battle Hymn of the Republic" resounds with all of those imageries of the book of Revelation. People on the South, in the Confederacy, were also using the book of Revelation, seeing the war as the battle of Armageddon at the end time and using it against the North. And that's the way it was read in World War II. That's the way it was read even in the war in Iraq.

PAGELS: What's fascinating is that anyone who reads the book and becomes involved in its prophecies has the sense that we're just about there. This is almost the end time. We're right on the cusp. And that's because I think he had the sense that somehow Jesus should come now, and the world should end, and God's justice should prevail.

GROSS: So the Book of Revelation in the New Testament is really just one book of revelation among several, but the other books didn't make it into the canon. Several of those books of revelation were discovered in 1945 in Nag Hammadi, where, you know, books that didn't make it into the canon were discovered. You've written about those books. They're now known as the Gnostic Gospels. Tell us about some of the other books of revelation that were discovered there.

PAGELS: One of the surprises that I found when I started to work on the Book of Revelation is that there isn't only one. That is, most people today think that there was one Book of Revelation because there's only one in the canon, but I discovered that this was one of an outpouring of books that Jews were writing, Christians were writing, Greeks who followed the Greek gods or Isis were writing many books of revelation. The Revelation of Ezra, for example, is another revelation written by a Jewish prophet - not a follower of Jesus - very similar to John's in many ways and very grieved about the Roman Empire and concerned about the question of God's justice. But the other revelations...

PAGELS: Yes. A book of revelation - we have, for example, the Revelation of Ezra. It's usually called Fourth Ezra by scholars, but it's one in which a prophet, a Jewish prophet, weeps over the fate of his people just as John is terribly grieved about what happened to Israel in the war. And this prophet, who calls himself Ezra, is grieved about that same war and he prays and asks God, how could you let this happen How could you let your people be destroyed And an angel appears to him and gives him visions from God, which talk about the future and the judgment and so forth and the coming of the Messiah, who after all in this case is not Jesus.

But other books of revelation talk about divine messages that come from - either from Jesus himself - understood in, say, the Revelation of John. There's - we have one, found with the Gospel of Thomas, that's called The Secret Revelation of John. We have others, The Revelation of Zostrianos, which is not even Christian, the revelation called Thunder, Perfect Mind, and these are meant to be understood as divine messages. But what's different about them is they're - most of them are not about the end of the world. They're about how you find the divine in the world now.

PAGELS: It's very interesting that some of these texts are Christian and most of them were never really considered as candidates for the canon because the canon, after all, is meant to be the books you read in church, or worship, you know They are the books for public worship. These other books of revelation are usually understood as secret books, they're advanced-level books. They're books you're supposed to read when you're on a spiritual quest and at a more advanced level than beginning people. So people who start in a religious community would hear what's read in worship and people who continue along that path might read these other books in addition.

GROSS: Now you're a religion scholar and you've read Revelation over and over and over and read many texts about it, and now you have this new book about the Book of Revelation. So can you compare for us how you saw it when you were a teenager in an evangelical church and how you see it now

PAGELS: Well, I was brought up in a family that was nominally Christian, not intensely so in any way. And so when I encountered an evangelical group about the age of 14, I just plunged right into it because of the intensity of the emotional power of the music, of the preaching, of the group identity. It was quite wonderful, I thought, about the age of 14. And one of the books that that group read fervently and often is the Book of Revelation. That's about, you know, the powerful justice of God, the people of God against the people of Satan, and so forth.

Both of those questions have been in front of me while I think about this book today. And looking at other books of revelation, instead of having a vision of the world of the saved and the damned, the good and the evil, these others have a universal vision of human beings, in fact of all beings, including nonhuman beings, as part of the same structure of life, and that seems to me a compelling kind of vision and maybe one that we need even more right now.

PAGELS: You're saying do I ever. I do very often. I mean many people write to me, call me and say they know exactly what this book means. Many people would say, well, she's not reading it as a believer. And that's accurate. Because I'm less interested in simply believing these texts than understanding them. And I don't mean just understanding them intellectually, but also understanding the emotional power and the spiritual power, or the lack of it, that we find in them.

Now, I understand that that sense of authority has to come from ourselves, and I was writing this because I do believe that there are some insights we have that are like revelations, that are deeper truths, and I still look for those. But they don't come from somebody else or some book or some preacher. For me, that's not a source I can unequivocally believe in. In fact, I'm not interested in believing it; I'm interested in how we discover revelations, the way John thought he had done.

5. "The obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26; see 1:5; 2 Cor 10:5-6) "is to be given to God who reveals, an obedience by which man commits his whole self freely to God, offering the full submission of intellect and will to God who reveals," (4) and freely assenting to the truth revealed by Him. To make this act of faith, the grace of God and the interior help of the Holy Spirit mu