The Way It Happened

Revelation 8:11, Wormwood

[T]he name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter.

//In Revelation, seven trumpets blare in turn, initiating multiple horrors upon the earth. This verse stems from the third trumpet, which foretells a great star, burning like a torch, falling from the sky. John of Patmos names this star “Wormwood.”

Wormwood is a bitter plant. John gave this blazing star (or perhaps just a particularly large fireball–many have related the imagery of this chapter to the eruption of Vesuvius in 79 A.D.) the name “Bitterness.” It may be a reference to the polluted waters from the falling ash. Deuteronomy uses the term “Wormwood” to warn Israel of their destruction if they become disobedient. If this chapter in Revelation truly refers to the volcanic eruption of Vesuvius, then John connects the pestilence caused by its spreading ash to the covenantal punishment described in the books of Moses.

The next trumpet to sound marks a third of the sun being struck, and a third of the day going dark, an eerily precise description of the ashen haze when Vesuvius erupted, as reported by Pliny the Younger: “The sun was blocked out by the eruption and the daylight hours were left in darkness.” Ash from the eruption reached Africa, Syria, and Egypt, causing pestilence. John’s name for the fireball he describes, Wormwood, is perfect.

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