Chernobyl - An Accurate Translation
What's in a name?. Happy names like rose and daisy can be found in streets, towns and cities everywhere – regardless of language. Even non-flowering plant names like fern, oak and cat-tails are common. Unpleasant names like mugwort and wormwood are much less common. Such names are rarely used except when negative connotations are deliberate, such as Wormwood Scrubs prison in England.
"Chernobyl Fallout: Apocalyptic Tale" was published by the New York Times on July 25, 1986. Claiming Chernobyl translated to Wormwood, potentially making it the third trumpet prophecy of Revelation, Serge Schermann failed to substantiate his sources and his story was largely discredited.
Armed with a couple of years of prior Russian language study, I decided to pursue original sources and dig deeper into the matter recently. Here are the verifiable facts:
1) Chernobyl and chornobyl are Russian and Ukranian words meaning literally "black stalks", referring to artemisia vulgaris – four-foot high grassy plants known in English as mugwort or "common wormwood".
2) Chornobyl (Чорнобиль) was the Ukranian city lending its name to the reactor.
3) Wormwood, according to my 1984 (note this pre-dates the meltdown) Merriam-Webster Dictionary is Artemisia, esp. Artemisia absinthium. The definition explicitly encompasses all varieties of Artemisia.
4) Mugwort (artemisia vulgaris) is closely related to artemisia absinthium, both genetically and in physical appearance.
5) Curiously, mugwort was not listed in my Merriam-Webster dictionary of nearly 160,000 words, underscoring the fact that it is best known as "common wormwood".
6) Prior to 1986 both Russian and Ukranian dictionaries included wormwood as a secondary definition for chernobyl/chornobyl and many internet translators still translate chernobyl into wormwood.
7) Wormwood acquired its name because of its ability to act as a "de-wormer" (i.e., expelling intestinal worm infestations). The de-worming ability extends throughout various artemisia species.
Polyn' ("полин" in Ukrainian or "полын" in Russian) is the primary term in Russian for artemisia absinthium or wormwood.
9) Pelyněk černobýl is the Czech name for artemisia vulgaris (i.e., mugwort) and translates literally as wormwood vulgaris, thus helping to explain the relationship between and origins of both polyn' and chernobyl.
10) Perhaps the most observable difference between mugwort and wormwood is whether the stalks are green or whether the stalks are dark green.
11) Apsinthos (Aψινθος), the Greek word found in the earliest surviving Revelation manuscripts, means "bitter like wormwood". Although often used to describe artemisia absinthia, "wormwood" is not an exact literal translation.
12) Historical translations include "Bitter" from the 1969 Worldwide English New Testament and "Wormwood (footnote - that is, Bitter)" from the 1973, 1984 New International Version of the Bible. Both of these predate the Chernobyl meltdown.
13) The world's oldest surviving Bible, the Codex Sinaiticus (available online) uses the Greek name Apsinthion (Aψίνθιον), a broadly encompassing term meaning "of the nature of absinthia. (Note: Some claim there is evidence of this word having been changed from Apsinthos.)
14) Only one of the many apocalyptic events described in Revelation was assigned a proper noun as a name (an obscure name at that).
The facts indicate that Chernobyl is an accurate translation for the term Wormwood, as used in the third trumpet prophecy of Revelation, regardless of whether one translates from original manuscripts or English language texts. Counter-arguments claiming Chernobyl isn't a good translation fail when subjected to scrutiny.
One question needing to be answered though is: What are the odds that an obscure name used in the Bible just happens to match the name of the city where one of the worst man-made disasters in history occurred? The odds of a mere coincidence would seem to be, mathematically speaking, extremely remote.
A more substantive counter-argument is that the Chernobyl disaster doesn't fit the description given of the third trumpet prophecy. That argument loses merit though when one examines the passage critically. Although often interpreted as a literal star, asteroid or comet falling to earth, it's worth considering that the later fifth trumpet "star" is an obvious figurative star, thereby lending further credence to Chernobyl as the third trumpet prophecy.
15) As with English, both the Greek and Aramaic words for star have multiple meanings.
16) The Greek word ἀστήρ means not only star and famous, but also strewn over the sky - fitting terminology for the Chernobyl explosion and radioactive fallout which heavily contaminated thousands of square miles of land in the Ukraine, Belarus and Russia, much of which will be uninhabitable for thousands of years.
17) An ever-increasing body of evidence suggests that the New Testament may have been originally written in Aramaic (i.e., the language Mel Gibson used in "Passion of the Christ") rather than Greek. The Aramaic word for star, kwkb, can be both noun and verb - for example, to be made a star, an interesting association since that definition applies literally to what happened at Chernobyl.
Wormwood is one of the important clues in Revelation. It stands uniquely alone among the events of Revelation in that it was given a name. Though perhaps not a unique name, the unarguable fact is that the name Wormwood is one which is rarely used. Adding further unique identification is the fact that it is a proper noun rather than a common noun.
Ultimately, one needs to form one's own conclusion as to whether Chernobyl fits the prophecy of Revelation. For me, the book of Revelation took on new meaning when viewed from a 20th/21st century perspective.