|The destruction of the temple in Jerusalem in 70 AD|
The "abomination of desolation" or "desolating sacrilege" is a term used by Jesus in Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14 (KJV, see Dan. 11:31; 12:11). The exact words τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, “abomination of desolation,” derive from LXX Dan 12:11: “From [the time] when the continual sacrifice is taken away and the abomination of desolation [τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως] is prepared to be given, [there shall be] a thousand two hundred and ninety days.”
Close approximations are also found in LXX Dan 11:31: “Forces [lit. arms] from him shall be established and profane the holy place of fear and take away the sacrifice and give the abomination of desolation [βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως].”
See also Dan 9:27. Daniel’s language may have been inspired by Jer 44:22 (LXX 51:22): “The LORD could no longer bear your evil doings and the abominations [LXX: βδελυγμάτων] which you committed; therefore your land has become a desolation [LXX: ἐρήμωσιν] and a waste and a curse, without inhabitant, as it is this day.”
The Danielic abomination is alluded to in 1 Macc 1:54-64: “Now on the fifteenth day of Chislev, in the one hundred and forty-fifth year, they erected an abomination of desolation [βδέλυγμα ἐρημώσεως] upon the altar of burnt offering. They also built altars in the surrounding cities of Judah" (1).
The Hebrew that underlies τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως, “the abomination of desolation,” is שִׁקּוּץ שֹׁמֵם šiqqǔṣ šōmēm), which literally means “an (or the) abomination that makes desolate” (so the RSV). It is “a derogatory pun on בעל שׁמם [ba˓al šāmayim], the Syrian counterpart of Zeus Olympius,” and may allude to Antiochus Epiphanes IV’s renaming of the Jerusalem temple in honor of Olympian Zeus (2 Macc 6:2), as J. J. Collins (Daniel, Hermeneia [Minneapolis: Fortress, 1993] 357) explains. שׁמם šāmēm occurs some ninety-five times in the Hebrew Bible and usually means “be desolate” or “be uninhabited.” It is frequently translated in the LXX with forms of ἔρημος, “desolate,” ἐρήμωσις, “desolation,” ἐρημοῦν, “to desolate,” or ἀφανίζειν, “to destroy,” and its various cognates. שׁקוץ šiqqǔṣ occurs some twenty-eight times in the Hebrew Bible and usually means “abomination.” It is frequently translated in the LXX with forms of βδελύσσειν/βδελύττειν, “to make abominable,” βδέλυγμα, “abomination,” βδελυγμός, “abomination,” or εἴδωλον, “idol,” or μίασμα, “defilement” or “pollution.” All of these occurrences are in reference to pagan worship or to one form of idolatry or another (e.g., Deut 29:17; 1 Kgs 11:5, 7; 2 Kgs 23:13, 24; Isa 66:3; Jer 4:1; 7:30, “they have set their abominations in the house which is called by my name”; 13:27; 16:18; 13:34, “They set up their abominations in the house which is called by my name”; Ezek 5:11, “you have defiled my sanctuary with all your detestable things and with all your abominations”; Zech 9:7; 2 Chr 15:8; in addition to the occurrences in Daniel) (2).
The prophecy in Daniel appears to point toward the same event. However, as a prophetic word, it may well have further future fulfillments. It was apparently understood that way by Jews who applied it to a crisis in A.D. 40 when the emperor Caligula intended to set up a statue of himself in the Temple. It was certainly taken by Jesus and the Gospel writers as a prophecy pointing to a future fulfillment.
Both Mark and Matthew report Jesus’ prediction of a future appearance of “the abomination of desolation” (cf. Mk 13:14; Mt 24:15). Luke interprets the prophecy as a prediction of the surrounding of Jerusalem by the armies of Rome (Lk 21:20; cf. Mk 13:14–23).
Many scholars (especially German) interpret the prophecy in terms of an antichrist figure not necessarily connected with the events of the Jewish war in A.D. 66–70. That seems to be how Paul appropriated the concept in 2 Thessalonians 2:4, where he refers to one who “exalts himself … so that he takes his seat in the sanctuary of God, proclaiming himself to be God” (if in fact this stems from the same prophecy) (3).
Both Mark and Matthew, after including Jesus’ prediction of the “abomination of desolation,” add the words “let the reader understand” (cf. Mk 13:14; Mt 24:15). The authors are alerting their readers to this reapplication of the Daniel prophecy and calling on them to discern how and when it is fulfilled. Perhaps it was for political reasons that the predictions were shrouded in symbolic language.
The prophecy concerning the “abomination of desolation” was likely fulfilled when the Jerusalem Temple was desecrated and destroyed in A.D. 70 though there are other events which befit the abomination. This too does not rule out the possibility of another fulfillment in the future.
1. Craig A. Evans, vol. 34B, Mark 8:27–16:20, Word Biblical Commentary (Dallas: Word, Incorporated, 2001), 317-18.
3. Dictionary of Jesus and the Gospels, ed. Joel B. Green, Scot McKnight and I. Howard Marshall (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1992), 23.