Taking her audience on a rollicking recap of the Book of Revelation in the New Testament, reknowned Bible scholar Elaine Pagels set out to answer several questions when she spoke at Colby Sept. 14: Who wrote this book and what was he thinking? What other books of revelation were written back then? How did this particular one get into the New Testament, and what makes it so appealing?
Pagels, the Harrington Spear Paine Foundation Professor of Religion at Princeton University, is the author of five books and is known for her work in translating the Nag Hammadi Library. She won the National Book Critics Circle Award and the National Book Award for The Gnostic Gospels and has received awards and fellowships from the MacArthur, Rockefeller, and Guggenheim foundations and the Institute for Advanced Studies at Princeton.
The occasion was the inaugural Compagna-Sennett Religious Studies Lecture, made possible by a recent gift from Robert Compagna ’76 and Jean Sennett Compagna ’76. Introducing Pagels, Crawford Professor of Religious Studies Nikky Singh said she anticipated a talk about "the exciting dialectic between familiarity and strangeness" in Revelation, which Pagels has studied for a forthcoming book.
Pagels, an animated speaker who roamed the stage in front of a large audience in Ostrove Auditorium, marveled that "people have been interpreting events based on this book written 2000 years ago"—a book that "barely squeezed into the canon" when it was included in one of several lists of canonical Christian literature in the fourth century. She cited music and showed artworks from inspired by or evoking themes in the Book of Revelation.
She answered her initial questions by giving a profile of John, the author—a Jewish prophet writing on an island off Turkey in the first century. She suggested that John used the evil powers and characters in Revelation to represent the (damned) Roman Empire, but that authorities in the fourth century reinterpreted the imagery to make heretics evil damned and Christians the saved.
The Religious Studies Department has an audio recording of the talk online.
Morning Sentinel writer Beth Staples '86 published an account of the lecture Sept. 15.