Parthian shot

Parthian shot

From Asimov’s Guide to the Bible, pp. 1207f:


And now at last, the seventh seal is broken and one might expect the climax of the vision to approach, but it still doesn’t. Instead a new series of seven events begins in the form of seven angels, each of whom blows a trumpet in turn, with gruesome disasters following each trumpet sound. When the fifth angel blows his trumpet, hell itself opens:

Revelation 9:2.…and there arose a smoke out of the pit…

Revelation 9:3. And there came out of the smoke locusts upon the earth…


Revelation 9:7. And the shapes of the locusts were like unto horses prepared unto battle … and their faces were as the faces of men.

The picture being drawn by John here is clearly inspired by the great terror of the east — the Parthian cavalry, swooping in like a cloud of locusts, dealing their deadly strokes and fading away before they could be properly opposed. The Roman general, Crassus, was defeated in this manner in eastern Syria in 53 B.C. That defeat had never been properly avenged and it was never forgotten.

ParthianCavalryThe characteristic weapons of the Parthian horsemen were their bows, which they could use with great effect. Even when retreating, they could rise in their saddles and shoot, in unison, one rapid volley of arrows back at their pursuers. This "Parthian shot" was often quite effective. It is to such tactics that Revelation may be referring, when they speak of the locusts as:

Revelation 9:10. And they had tails like unto scorpions, and there were stings in their tails…

When the sixth angel sounds his trumpet, the picture of the Parthian cavalry is continued. The sixth angel is instructed:

Revelation 9:14.…Loose the four angels which are bound in the great river Euphrates.

The Euphrates was a boundary in a double sense. First it was the boundary of Israel in the great days of David and Solomon and had been the ideal boundary of Israel ever since. Second, it was the boundary of the Roman realm during most of the days of its empire. The "angels" bound in the Euphrates controlled the enemy hosts on the other side.

The army controlled by these angels of the Euphrates was made to seem unbelievably numerous — an impression made on the awed infantry when they were the object of the sudden onrush of a contingent of horsemen:

Revelation 9:16. And the number of the army of the horsemen were two hundred thousand thousand…

This is the number obtained if one makes use of the Greek "myrioi" as a synonym of unnumerability, emphasizes it by repetition ("an innumerable, innumerable quantity"), and then doubles it for good measure. If "myrioi" is taken as ten thousand, it becomes two myriad myriad or two hundred thousand thousand, or two hundred million — a number equal to the entire population of the United States.


One Response to Parthian shot

  1. R. F. Barentsz says:

    Parthia .. the inventor of the compound bow, the light and the heavy cavalry, and an army supplied in the desert by water and food brought to them by a quarter master corps .. is all Parthian .. and if one thinks the three wise men rode into Bethlehem alone is absurd .. history from several accounts tell of the Magi always traveled with no less than 20,000 troops .. this is why King Herod did not blow his cork when asked where the new King was being born .. he was out numbered and out classed by the Parthian Army .. and under orders from Rome not to start any trouble that Rome would have to “support”.

    Parthia being the tail that stings is very interesting ..

    Bar – Ber in my name can be either Hebrew – grain – barley – barn or Aramaic Chaldean – son – condition. It is definitely German / Kerman from Southern Parthia.

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