Elaine Pagels earned a B.A. in history and an M.A. in classical studies at Stanford, and holds a Ph.D. from Harvard University. She is the author of Adam, Eve, and the Serpent; The Origin of Satan; and The Gnostic Gospels, which won the National Book Critics Circle Award and National Book Award. Her new book is Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, and Politics in the Book of Revelation.
From her Q & A with Jana Riess at Publishers Weekly:
How did you become interested in writing about the Book of Revelation?Pagels's The Gnostic Gospels is one of Mary Beard's five best books about religious cults in antiquity.
I never thought I would write about the Book of Revelation. It’s so dense; it’s so complex and puzzling. But then I found I was thinking about a number of themes, one of which has to do with politics and religion. Another part was the question of what is religion. So often religion is identified in terms coined by Christianity as sets of belief. But I had the sense that it not only involves practice, but also emotion and levels of our experience that are almost precognitive. The Book of Revelation is a beautiful case in point, because there’s nothing in it but visions and dreams and nightmares. It helps us understand how religion appeals to people even when it doesn’t seem to make rational sense.
You say in the book that we can begin to understand what John wrote only when we interpret his visions as “wartime literature” in the struggle against Rome.
It is such a strange book, with these terrifying images of...[read on]