Wormwood is mentioned seven times in the Hebrew Bible, always with the implication of bitterness. The word wormwood appears several times in the Old Testament, translated from the Hebrew term לענה (la'anah, which means "curse" in Hebrew).
Wormwood is only mentioned once in the Book of Revelation: "The third angel sounded his trumpet, and a great star, blazing like a torch, fell from the sky on a third of the rivers and on the springs of water— the name of the star is Wormwood. A third of the waters turned bitter, and many people died from the waters that had become bitter." (Rev 8:10–11)
The Greek word is believed to refer to a plant of the genus Artemisia, used metaphorically to mean something with a bitter taste. The English rendering "wormwood" refers to the dark green oil produced by the plant, which was used to kill intestinal worms. In the Book of Revelation, it refers to the water being turned into wormwood, i.e. made bitter.
Certain commentators have held that this "great star" represents one of several important figures in political or ecclesiastical history, while other Bible dictionaries and commentaries view the term as a reference to a celestial being. A Dictionary of The Holy Bible states, "the star called Wormwood seems to denote a mighty prince, or power of the air, the instrument, in its fall."
Various religious groups and figures, including Seventh-day Adventists and the theologians Matthew Henry and John Gill, regard the verses of Revelation 8 as symbolic references to past events in human history. In the case of Wormwood, some historicist interpreters believe that this figure represents the army of the Huns as led by king Attila, pointing to chronological consistencies between the timeline of prophecy they have accepted and the history of the Huns' campaign in Europe. Others point to Arius, the emperor Constantine, Origen or the ascetic monk Pelagius, who denied the doctrine of Original sin.
A number of Bible scholars consider the term Wormwood to be a purely symbolic representation of the bitterness that will fill the earth during troubled times, noting that the plant for which Wormwood is named, Artemisia absinthium, or Mugwort, Artemisia vulgaris, is a known Biblical metaphor for things that are unpalatably bitter. The Ukrainian language word for "wormwood" is чорнобиль or "chornobyl", the Ukrainian name of the town of Chernobyl.
- Lewis, James R., Oliver, Evelyn Dorothy (1996), Angels A to Z, entry: "Wormwood", p. 417, Visible Ink Press
- Musselman, Lytton John (12 April 2007). "Wormwood". Plant Site: Bible Plants. Old Dominion University. Retrieved 2 June 2013.
- Danker, Frederick W (2000). "ἀψίνθιον". A Greek-English Lexicon of the New Testament and Other Early Christian Literature, Third Edition. University of Chicago Press. p. 161. ISBN 0-226-03933-1.
- Henry, Matthew, Commentary on the Whole Bible Volume VI (Acts to Revelation): Revelation Chap. VIII, Public domain, Library of Congress call no: BS490.H4, at Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- Rand, W. W. (1859), A Dictionary of the Holy Bible: for general use in the study of the scriptures; with engravings, maps, and tables, Entry: WORM WOOD at Internet Archive
- Gill, John, Exposition of the Entire Bible, Revelation 8:10 at bible.crosswalk.com
- Nichol, Francis D (1957), The Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary, Volume 7, Revelation, p. 789, Review and Herald Publishing Association, Washington, D.C.
- Johnson, B. W. (1891), The People's New Testament, The Revelation of John, Chapter VIII: The Seventh Seal Opened at the Christian Classics Ethereal Library
- Revelation in the Geneva Study Bible (1599) at bible.crosswalk.com