Angry Robot

Revelation and the Gnospels

This Seminar about Long-Term Thinking is worth listening to. It’s from Elaine Pagels, who has written books about the Book of Revelation and the Gnostic gospels.

“The Book of Revelation is war literature,” Pagels explained. John of Patmos was a war refugee, writing sixty years after the death of Jesus and twenty years after 60,000 Roman troops crushed the Jewish rebellion in Judea and destroyed Jerusalem.

Jesus had prophesied the destruction of Jerusalem, so its occurrence was not just a horror to early Christians, although it most certainly was that. It also presented the possibility that if he had been right about that, perhaps his other prophecies would also come true. Maybe he was coming back, and if so… well, cue hallucinatory revenge fantasy.

Pagels also talks a bit about the apocryphal gospels, a subject I love. In super short form, the New Testament originally had many more books in it, such as the Gospel of Thomas and the Gospel of Mary Magdalene. The early Church, starting with Athanasius the Bishop of Alexandria in 367 began to canonize the New Testament, excluding such works. Perhaps not entirely by coincidence, the excluded books often painted a different picture of Jesus than what has become common today. The Gospel of Mary quotes Jesus as saying, “Do not lay down any rules beyond what I appointed you, and do not give a law like the lawgiver lest you be constrained by it.” In the Gospel of Thomas, he says “That (resurrection) which you are awaiting has (already) come, but you do not recognize it.” He presents spiritual awakening as an interior and personal journey, one not requiring a bureaucracy of church representatives.

Anyway, it’s a good listen, and a glance into a fascinating world.