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Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament

Abomination of Desolation

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ABOMINATION OF DESOLATION (τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως).—This phrase is found in the NT only in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14, in both cases forming part of the passage in which Christ predicts the woes to come on the Jews, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem. St. Mark’s words, which are probably move exact than those of St. Matthew, are: ὃταν δὲ ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως ἐστηκότα ὅπου οὐ δεῖ (ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω), τότε οἵ ἐν τῇ Ἰουδαίᾳ φευγέτωσαν εἰς τὰ ὄρη, κ.τ.λ. Three points in this account are to be noticed: (1) the change of gender* [Note: Dr. A. Wright (Synopsis2, 131) says that the masculine indicates that St. Mark interprets τὀ βδελυγμα to signify a man. But this does not seem necessary. The masc. appears to denote a personification rather than a person. Such personifications are not uncommon in prophetic and apocalyptic literature (Ezekiel 38, Revelation 2:1 [ἄγγελος] 2:20 [Ἱεζαβελ] 12:3 [δράκων]. In 2 Thessalonians 2:3ἁ ἄγθρωτος τῆς ἀνομιας (אִישׁ בִּליַעַל = Βελίαρ) may denote not a person, but a sin (ἀτοστασια); see Nestle in . Times, July 1905, p. 472 f.] τὸ βδέλυγμαἑστηκότα (cf. 2 Thessalonians 2:6-7, Revelation 21:14); (2) the ‘editorial note’ ὁ ἀναγινώσκων νοείτω, calling special attention to the prophecy (cf. Daniel 9:25, Revelation 2:7; Revelation 13:18); (3) the command to flee to the mountains, which seems to have been obeyed by the Christians who escaped to Pella (Euseb. Historia Ecclesiastica iii. 5; Epiphan. Haeres. xxix. 7). St. Matthew characteristically adds the words (absent from the best MSS [Note: SS Manuscripts.] [א BL [Note: L Bampton Lecture.] ] of St. Mark) τὸ ῥηθὲν διὰ Δανιὴλ τοῦ προφήτου; substitutes the neuter ἑστηκότα for the masc. ἑστηκότα; and instead of the quite general phrase ὅπου οὐ δεῖ has the more definite ἐν τόπῳ ἁγίῳ,—an expression which may refer to the Temple (cf. Acts 6:13; Acts 21:28), but (without the article) may mean nothing more than ‘on holy ground.’ To the Jews all Jerusalem (and, indeed, all Palestine) was holy (2 Maccabees 1:7; 2 Maccabees 3:1). St. Luke, writing most probably after the destruction of Jerusalem, omits the ‘editorial note’; and for ὅταν ἴδητε τὸ βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεως substitutes ὅταν ἴδητε κυκλουμένην ὑπὸ στρατοπέδων Ἰερουσαλήμ (Luke 21:20).

The phrase we are considering occurs three times in the LXX Septuagint of Daniel: [Note: The Hebrew text and its meaning are doubtful (see A. A. Bevan, Daniel, p. 192). Our Lord adopted the current view with which the LXX had made the Jews familiar.] Daniel 9:27 (βδ. τῶν ἐρημώσεων), Daniel 11:31 (βδ. τῶν ἐρημώσεων) and Daniel 12:11 (cf. Daniel 8:13), and is quoted in 1 Maccabees 1:54. The original reference is clearly to the desecration of the Temple by the soldiers of Antiochus Epiphanes, the ceasing of the daily burnt-offering, and the election of an idol-altar upon the great Altar of Sacrifice in b.c. 168 (1 Maccabees 1:33-59; Josephus Ant. xii. v. 4, BJ i. i. 1). Thus it is plain that Christ, in quoting the words of Daniel, intends to foretell a desecration of the Temple (or perhaps of the Holy City) resembling that of Antiochus, and resulting in the destruction of the national life and religion. Josephus (Ant. x. xi. 7) draws a similar parallel between the Jewish misfortunes under Antiochus and the desolation caused by the Romans (ὁ Δανίηλος καὶ περὶ τῆς Ῥωμαίων ἡγεμονίας ἀνέγραψε, καὶ ὅτι ὑπʼ αὐτῶν ἐρημωθήσεται). But the precise reference is not so clear.

(1) Blcek, Alford, Mansel, and others explain it of the desecration of the Temple by the Zealots just before the investment of Jerusalem by Titus (Josephus BJ iv. iii. 6–8, vi. 3). Having seized the Temple, they made it a stronghold, and ‘entered the sanctuary with polluted feet’ (μεμιασμένοις τοῖς ποσὶ παρῄεσαν εἰς τὸ ἄγιον). In opposition to Ananus, they set up as high priest one Phannias, ‘a man not only unworthy of the high priesthood, but ignorant of what the high priesthood was’ (ἀνὴρ οὑ μόνον ἀνάξιος ἀρχιερεὺς ἀλλʼ οὐδʼ ἐπιστάμενος σαφῶς τί ποτʼ ἧν ἀρχιερωσύνη). The Temple precincts were defiled with blood, and Ananus was murdered. His murder, says Josephus, was the beginning of the capture of the city (οὑκ ἂν ἁμάρτοιμι δʼ εἰπὼν ἀλώσεως ἄρξαι τῇ πολει τὸν Ἀνάνου θάνατον). In support of this view it is urged (a) that the ‘little Apocalypse’ (2 Thessalonians 2:1-12, a passage closely resembling this) clearly contemplates a Jewish apostasy; (b) that the word used in Daniel (שׁקּוּץ = βδέλυγμα) is properly used not of idolatry in the abstract, but of idolatry or false worship adopted by Jews (1 Kings 11:5, 2 Kings 23:13, Ezekiel 5:11); (c) that there was among the Jews a tradition to the effect that Jerusalem would be destroyed if their own hands should pollute the Temple of God (ἐὰν χεῖρες οἰκεῖαι προμιάνωσι τὸ τοῦ θεοῦ τέμενος, Josephus BJ iv vi. 3).

(2) Others (Bengel, Swete, Weiss) explain it by reference to the investment of Jerusalem by the Roman armies. A modification of this view is that of H. A. W. Meyer, who explains it of the ‘doings of the heathen conquerors during and after the capture of the Temple.’ When the city was taken, sacrifices were offered in the Temple to the standards (BJ vi. vi. 1, cf. Tertullian, Apol. 16). Between the first appearance of the Roman armies before Jerusalem (a.d. 66) and the final investment by Titus (just before Passover a.d. 70), there would be ample time for flight ‘to the mountains.’ Even after the final investment there would be opportunities for ‘those in Judaea’ to escape. St. Luke’s words (Luke 21:20) are quoted in support of this view.

(3) Theodoret and other early Commentators refer the prophecy to the attempt of Pilate to set up effigies of the emperor in Jerusalem (BJ ii. ix. 2).

(4) Spitta (Offenb. des Joh. 493) thinks it has to do with the order of Caligula to erect in the Temple a statue of himself, to which Divine honours were to be paid (Ant. xviii. viii. 8). This order, though never executed, caused widespread apprehension among the Jews.

(5) Jerome (Commentary on Matthew 24) suggests that the words may be understood of the equestrian statue of Hadrian, which in his time stood on the site of the Holy of Holies. Similarly, Chrysostom and others refer them to the statue of Titus erected on the site of the Temple.

(6) Bousset treats the passage as strictly eschatological, and as referring to an Antichrist who should appear in the ‘last days.’* [Note: Some (Keim, Holtzmann, Cheyne) hold the passage to be part of an independent Jewish (or Jewish-Christian) Apocalypse inserted subsequently in the Gospels. But it occurs in all the Synoptists, and ‘it is difficult to think that even these words … are without a substantial basis in the words of Christ’ (Driver).]

Of these views (1) and (2) are the most probable. Considerations of chronology make (3), (4), and (5) more than doubtful, while the warnings that the events predicted should come to pass soon (Matthew 24:33-34, Mark 13:28-30, Luke 21:29-33) and the command to flee ‘to the mountains’ seem fatal to (6). Between (1) and (2) the choice is not easy, though the balance of evidence is on the whole in favour of (1). St. Luke’s language (ὅταν ἵδητε κυκλουμένην ὑπὸ στρατοπέδων Ἰερουσαλήμ) is not decisive. He may not have intended his words to be an exact reproduction of Christ’s words so much as an accommodation of them which would be readily understood by his Gentile readers.

Literature.—R. W. Newton on Matthew 24 (1879); Bousset, Der Antichrist (1885), English translation by A. H. Keane, 1896; J. H. Russell, The Parousia (1887); articles in Hasting's Dictionary of the Bible (by S. R. Driver), Encyc. Bibl. (by T. K. Cheyne), Smith’s DB [Note: Dictionary of the Bible.] 2 [Note: designates the particular edition of the work referred] (by W. L. Bevan) the Commentaries of Bengel, Cornelius a Lapide, H. A. W. Meyer, Alford, Wordsworth, Mansel (in Speaker’s Commentary on NT, i. 139), H. B. Swete, St. Mark, ad loc.; A. A. Bevan, The Book of Daniel, ad loc.

H. W. Fulford.


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Bibliography Information
Hastings, James. Entry for 'Abomination of Desolation'. Hastings' Dictionary of the New Testament. https://www.studylight.org/dictionaries/hdn/a/abomination-of-desolation.html. 1906-1918.

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Thursday, November 21st, 2019
the Week of Proper 28 / Ordinary 33
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