Below is a video interview I did a week ago. The channel’s focus is (obviously) Wormwood and Planet X stuff, but we spent nearly all the time talking about other things. Wormwood came up (it was no secret to the hosts that I don’t think the Planet X material is coherent at all) but we quickly moved past it.
For those interested in Planet X debunking, check out Stuart Robbins’ PseudoAstronomy Podcast series on Planet X nonsense (a little halfway down that page). But for biblical material, here’s a novel suggestion: Why not let the Old Testament be our interpretive filter for the NT (Revelation 8:10-11) material on Wormwood? What a concept! And perhaps Second Temple literature (Jewish readings of the passage) might be helpful. Another amazing concept! Here’s an excerpt from G. K. Beale, The Book of Revelation: A Commentary on the Greek Text (New International Greek Testament Commentary; Grand Rapids, MI; Carlisle, Cumbria: W.B. Eerdmans; Paternoster Press, 1999), 478–481(boldfacing is mine):
As with the second trumpet, so again here a great fireball is thrown from heaven. This time it is not depicted as “a great mountain” but as “a great star burning like a torch.” If this is a continuation of the similar judgment of the first two trumpets, then the fire can again be understood as a metaphor of famine. We have observed elsewhere that stars represent angelic beings in Revelation, the OT, and post-biblical Judaism (see on 1:19). These angels themselves often corporately represent earthly peoples and kingdoms, and fire typically symbolizes judgment in the Apocalypse and other related literature (see on 8:8). The same must be the case here. As in v 8, we see here the judgment of an angel who is a legal-like representation of sinful people.
Furthermore, Midr. Rab. Exod. 9.9 interprets the Exod. 7:16–18 plague on the waters, which is still in the background of Rev. 8:10, as a judgment on heavenly beings (i.e., the Nile god) who are legal agents representing sinful people, the latter of whom are likewise affected. Isa. 24:21 is adduced in support of the midrashic interpretation: “the Lord will punish the host of heaven on high and the kings of the earth on earth” (cf. also b. Suk. 29a in its comment on Exod. 12:12). So similarly Midr. Rab. Exod. 23.15 affirms that both the Egyptians and their guardian angel were judged at the Red Sea).(27) This interpretation is supported by 1 En. 18:13 and 21:3, which describe the judgment of fallen angels as “stars like great burning mountains,” and 1 En. 108:3–6, which borrows the same image to portray the punishment of sinful people (cf. also 1 En. 86–88).
Rev. 8:10 appears, then, to portray judgment that people and their representative angel(s) endure throughout history and that precedes their final condemnation at the end of history. The burning star could, on the other hand, represent merely an agent of divine judgment. However, the observation that the descent of the burning mountain in v 10 is parallel to the descent of the burning star in v 8 also indicates that the star should be identified as an angelic representative of an evil kingdom undergoing judgment. Here the judgment of Babylon’s angel is in view, since v 8 concerns the judgment of Babylon the Great.
The identification of the star as Babylon’s representative angel becomes more convincing if v 10 is understood as alluding to Isa. 14:12–15.(28) There the judgment of the king of Babylon and his nation is said to occur because its guardian angel, “the star of the morning,” has “fallen from heaven, … thrust down to Sheol … to the recesses of the pit.” That the judgment of the Babylonian world system is in mind in Rev. 8:8, 10 is consistent with the imagery in Sib. Or. 5.158–60: “a great star will come from heaven into the divine sea and will burn up the deep sea and Babylon itself and the land of Italy.” [Heiser note here: Beale assumes a lot here with this specificity. While he is right about nations having “angels” — this is the Deut 32:8-9 worldview idea I spend so much time on in The Unseen Realm — the text of Isaiah 14:12-15 doesn’t describe Helel ben Shachar this way. Nevertheless, the material cited thus far makes it clear that stars = divine beings = mountains in some texts.]
The star is called “Wormwood,” and, as with the judgments in vv 7–9, a third of the waters that it strikes are turned into wormwood, and many people die from drinking the water. Philo, Vit. Mos. 1.100, also affirms that the Exodus plagues, including the plague on the waters, resulted in “a great multitude of people killed.” The scene of judgment here is based on Jer. 9:15 and 23:15, which both affirm that God “will feed them [Israel] … with wormwood and give them poisoned water to drink.” The polluting judgment comes because Israel’s religious leaders have spiritually polluted the nation with their idolatrous Ba’al worship. This judgment in Jeremiah is part of a description of coming famine, which is alluded to earlier in Jer. 8:13–14: “There will be no grapes on the vine and no figs on the fig tree, the leaf will wither, and what I have given them will pass away … the Lord has doomed us and has given us poisoned water to drink.” There also the woe of famine occurs because of idolatry (Jer. 8:19).
“Wormwood” is a bitter herb, and water contaminated by it can be poisonous if drunk over a long period. The occurrences of the word in Jeremiah are metaphors for the bitterness of suffering resulting from judgment. The metaphor was chosen to show that judgment was well-suited to the crime: because the prophets figuratively “polluted” Israel with idolatry, so God is pictured as polluting them with bad water, that is, with the bitterness of suffering. This figurative meaning is confirmed from the indisputable metaphorical uses of the word everywhere else in the OT, where it also represents severe affliction resulting from divine wrath (Deut. 29:17–18, again in connection with idolatry; Prov. 5:4; Lam. 3:15, 19; Amos 5:7; 6:12; cf. Hos. 10:4). The Targum to Jer. 9:15 and 23:15 places “wormwood” in a simile (“I am bringing distress … bitterness like wormwood”) and changes the “poisoned water” of the MT into “the cup of cursing.” So likewise in Rev. 8:11 Babylon, the prevailing world system, has influenced the earth-dwellers and some in the covenant community to become idolatrous. And the consequence of such idolatrous pollution is judgment on both Babylon and those held under its sway.
Against the OT background, the third trumpet does not unleash a woe in which water becomes literally poisoned. Rather, the tone is one of judgment that brings bitter suffering, including death, not only on “outsiders” to the covenant but also on purported members of the community of faith. The judgment could be identified specifically as famine, but this itself could represent even broader affliction. The obviously symbolic reference to “bitterness” in 10:9–10 (again using the verb πικραίνω, “make bitter”) also signifies judgment and points to the conclusion we have come to here (see on 10:9–10).
The judgment of poisoning water with wormwood in 8:11 conveys the idea of famine and so continues the theme of the preceding two trumpet woes. This is in line with ideas seen in early Jewish writings. In 4 Ezra 6:23 the blowing of the latter-day trumpet is directly associated with a judgment that brings conditions of famine, even affecting “the springs of fountains,” as in Rev. 8:10 (cf. 4 Ezra 6:22, 24). In Apoc. Abr. 31 the trumpet similarly introduces the final denouement, which consists of fire destroying all the ungodly (similarly Zech. 9:14). But this is not a mere shortage of good water. The severity is emphasized by the fact that people are forced to drink bad water and suffer from doing so.
The first three trumpets have been judgments of fire affecting parts of the earth, humanity, sea, and rivers. The partial nature of these woes is not only indicated by their limitation to “thirds” but also by the contrast with the related portrayal in Sib. Or. 4.174–77, where a trumpet heralds the burning of “the whole earth, the whole human race, and all the cities and rivers and the sea.”
The preposition ἐκ in the phrase ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων is to be rendered causally (“because of the waters”); the following ὅτι can be translated either as “that” or “because.” At the end of v 11 most mss. have ἐκ τῶν ὑδάτων (“because of the waters”) but uncial A has ἐπί (literally “upon”) instead of ἐκ (“from, because”). Nevertheless, both can have the basic meaning of “because.”(29)
πηγὰς ὑδάτων (“springs of waters,” Rev. 7:17) and πηγῆς τοῦ ὕδατος (“spring of water,” 21:6) are almost verbatim parallels to πηγὰς τῶν ὑδάτων (“springs of waters”) in 8:10. But both are modified by “life” (ζωή), whereas the phrase in 8:10 is directly linked to “death” (8:11: “many died from the waters”). This likeness and contrast suggest an antithetically parallel meaning: if the “living waters” of chs. 7 and 21 represent the reward of eternal, spiritual life for faithfulness through suffering (see on 7:17; 21:6; cf. 22:1), then the waters of death in ch. 8 represent a punishment of suffering associated with eternal, spiritual death; such a meaning would be a fitting transition to the fourth and fifth trumpets.(30)
27 Cf. Ginsberg, Legends of the Jews III, 25; VI, 6–8.
28 So likewise Caird, Revelation, 115; J. M. Ford, Revelation, 133; Sweet, Revelation, 163; Buchanan, Revelation, 215.
29 E.g., BAGD, 286, I.b.β.
30 Likewise Paulien, Decoding Revelation’s Trumpets, 280–81, 284–85.