Terry Gross spoke with Elaine Pagels on Fresh Air yesterday about her new book, Revelations: Visions, Prophecy, And Politics In The Book Of Revelation. I have been a huge fan of Pagels ever since reading The Gnostic Gospels back in college.
In this new book, Pagels reframes the Book of Revelations, the most popular book of the Bible among Christians, within the temporal context in which it was written. She argues that, rather than an apocalyptic vision of the end times, the text was meant to be a wart-time satire and screed against the Romans who had destroyed Jerusalem, but was also influenced by the recent eruption of Mount Vesuvius.
It's likely that the number of the beast, 666, is meant to be a not to subtle numeric symbol for a Roman emperor, probably Nero.
Most importantly, she argues that John (not the John of the Gospel) was not a Christian. In 90 AD, Christianity had not yet been invented, so to speak. All of the writers of the New Testament, save maybe Paul, were Jews who followed Jesus, not Christians.