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Abomination of Desolation


This cryptic apocalyptic expression is employed contemptuously in Daniel to describe the profanation of the Temple by the King of Syria, antiochus iv epiphanes, who had the statue of Zeus Olympios placed there; in the New Testament the expression is used in the "little apocalypse" of Christ's eschatological discourse to call attention to the blasphemous activity of the Antichrist (prefigured by Antiochus) that is to be expected prior to the Parousia.

In Daniel. The only Old Testament usage of the now traditional expression "abomination of desolation" or "the horrible abomination" is found in the Book of Daniel (9.27; 11.31; 12.11). Scholars now see in this mysterious expression [Heb. šiqqû (me ) šōmēm ] a veiled description of the blasphemous actions of Antiochus IV, described with clearer detail in Maccabees (1 Mc 1.57; 2 Mc 6.2). Thus, chapter 11 of Daniel describes Antiochus's ruthless persecution climaxed by the erection of the abomination of desolation in the Temple; the texts of Maccabees tell of the desecration of the Temple by the soldiers of Antiochus and the setting up of the idol Zeus Olympios on the altar. Since Baal Shamem (Aramaic, baal šamēm, lord of the heavens) is the Aramaic title of Zeus Olympios, scholars look on the abomination of desolation as a veiled and contemptuous reference to this idol. By replacing the name of Baal with šiqqû (abomination, detested thing) and by eliminating the vowels of šamēm (heavens) and substituting those of bōšet (shame), the author obtained the Hebrew expression šiqqû šōmēm (abomination of desolation). The entire expression would then refer to the statue of Baal Shamem (alias Zeus Olympios) that Antiochus IV erected in the Temple in 167 b.c.

In Christ's Eschatological Discourse. In Mt 24.15 and Mk 13.14 the abomination of desolation is linked with the fall of Jerusalem and the end of the world. Since the abomination of desolation is presented as "standing," with a grammatical switch from the neuter τò βδέλυγμα to the masculine participle στηκότα (Mk 13. 14; see Taylor, 511512), the text itself suggests that the abomination is really symbolic of a man. Noting the similarities between the eschatological discourse of Christ in the Synoptics (Mt 24.439; Mk 13.531) and St. Paul's description of the Antichrist (2 Thes 2.312), it is probable that the abomination of desolation is to be identified with the "man of sin," "the son of perdition," "the wicked one," who in the last days "sits in the temple of God and gives himself out as if he were God" (2 Thes 2.4). When Matthew cautions "let him who reads understand," his purpose is to recall the hideous desecration wrought by Antiochus (cf. 1 Mc 1.57) as a warning to his readers concerning the blasphemous activity of the Antichrist. According to earlier commentators, the prophecy was fulfilled when the Emperor Caligula attempted to have his statue erected in the Temple in a.d. 40, or when the fiery zealots turned the Temple into a fortress in a.d. 68, or at the actual destruction of the Holy City and the Temple by Titus in a.d. 70. Although the last opinion merits consideration, recent commentators hold that it is more likely that Matthew and Mark were not so much concerned with indicating a purely historical event, but actualized a traditional expression by applying it to the godless and blasphemous activity of the Antichrist at the end of time.

Bibliography: w. foerster, "Βδέλυμγα," g. kittel, Theologisches Wörterbuch zum Neuen Testament (Stuttgart 1935) 1:598600. r. h. charles, Commentary on Daniel (Oxford 1929). j. a. montgomery, Daniel (International Critical Commentary; New York 1927) 388390. v. taylor, ed., The Gospel according to St. Mark (London 1952) 511515.

[f. j. montalbano/eds.]

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