The Bible’s wackiest writings are the subject of Elaine Pagels’ new book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation, excerpted in the Wall Street Journal:
The Book of Revelation is the strangest book in the Bible, and the most controversial. Instead of stories and moral teaching, it offers only visions—dreams and nightmares, the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, earthquakes, plagues and war. In the climactic battle scene, Jesus appears as a divine warrior, Satan is thrown into a pit, and all humans who had died faithful to God reign over the earth for 1,000 years.
The author, John of Patmos, was a Jewish prophet and a follower of Jesus who probably began to write around the year 90 after fleeing a war that had ravaged his homeland, Judea. But his Book of Revelation wasn’t unique. At the time, countless others—Jews, pagans and Christians—produced a flood of “books of revelation,” claiming to reveal divine secrets. Some have been known for centuries; about 20 others were found in Nag Hammadi, Egypt, in 1945.
So what do the other revelations tell us, and how did John’s come to trump the others? Unlike the Book of Revelation, the great majority of the others weren’t about the end of the world, but about finding the divine in it now. Many offered encouragement to seek direct contact with God—a message that some early Christian leaders ultimately chose to suppress.
The Revelation of Zostrianos, found in 1945, tells how the young author, tormented by questions and overwhelmed by depression, walked alone into the desert. Finding no place “to rest my spirit,” Zostrianos says he had resolved to kill himself. But he says that suddenly he became aware of a being radiating light, who “said to me, ‘Zostrianos…have you gone mad?’ ”
This divine presence, Zostrianos says, released him from despair and offered illumination…
[continues in the Wall Street Journal]