Re: Rev. 8:11-APSINQOS; wormwood

Carl W. Conrad (
Wed, 15 Jan 1997 04:46:36 -0600

At 9:23 PM -0600 1/14/97, Paul F. Evans wrote:

>List,In some reasearch in Lamentations, I came across this figurative
expression which is use in Rev. 8:11 without explanation. It is
APSINQOS, translated wormwood. My question is about the Greek side of
this word. Is this a the word used to translated the 8 or so Hebrew
instances of "wormwood" (LAANAH) in the LXX? The only connection I
can establish is OT, with the notion of talking wildly. J. A. Seiss in
his "Apocalypse," speaks of this as being an intoxicating herb that is
capable of producing convulsions and paralysis. Leon Morris says that
it is not poisonous. They are obviously speaking of different things!
This doesn't tell me if, assuming there is a connection is with wild
talking, whether it is induced by intoxication or poisoning or both are
characteristic. For John it is obviously poisonous or is there a
reality that stands behind it? In the OT it is used entirely
firguratively, sometimes with heavy hints that it refers to some real
plant or herb. Is the word used in extra-biblical Greek literature in
a way that pinpoints, or clarifies its meaning? Scholars seem to
assume that it is a herb, some that it was medicinal, others that the
hebr was poisonous and others that it was not. All seem to agree that
the figure dpends upon a supposed severe bitterness of taste. I am
trying to determine if wormwood is entirely figurative and is
idiomatically understood, or if it has foundation in some thing real. I
have no means of access to these soruces, and I know that some of you
can do this is a few key strokes.

There are problems on the Hebrew OT and LXX side about which I can say
nothing, but I can point to a significant extra-biblical reference:
Lucretius, the Roman Epicurean poet, in De Rerum Natura, his poetic
exposition of Epicurean doctrine, has a few lines that appear in the
proem of Book I (I think he uses the same lines somewhere else wihin
the 6 books of the poem also, but the Book I reference is easy enough
to find; I don't have the exact line numbers because I don't have a
text at hand): he speaks of Epicurean philosophy as a bitter medicine
that needs to be taken if one is to be of sound mind about the universe
and appreciate the good things of life without looking to post-mortal
blessings or fearing post-mortal punishments (because it is based upon
a materialist atomist doctrine and denies the immortality of the soul).
He says that parents when they give wormwood (Latin n. pl.
<italic>absinthia</italic>) to children as a medicine the taste is so
bitter that the children would refuse it, so the parents coat the rim
of the goblet with honey--the ancient Roman equivalent of a
sugar-coated pill. I can't say anything more about the wormwood, but it
may possibly be one of those drugs that are poisonous if taken in an
excessive quantity but medicinal in the right dosage. At any rate, it
definitely has the reputation of exceeding bitterness.

I just realized that I do have Louw-Nida ready to hand. It says that
the herb APSINQOS, normally translated "wormwood" in English, was used
to kill intestinal worms--so there, I assume, is the source of the NAME
of the herb in English; it says also that the chief association with
APSINQOS is the bitter taste, and this, it asserts, is the primary
meaning in Rev. 8:11: #79.43 "... the meaning of APSINQOS in Re 8.11 is
not that the waters turned into a particular plant but that the waters
came to be as bitter as the plant in question."

Carl W. Conrad

Department of Classics, Washington University

One Brookings Drive, St. Louis, MO, USA 63130

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