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Abomination of desolation

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The Abomination of Desolation is a Biblical term for a specific act: the desecration of the Jewish temple via the setting up of an image of a pagan god inside the sanctuary, followed by the sacrifice of a sow or other animal considered unclean. This act occurred only once in the historical record, when Antiochus IV Epiphanes profaned the Second Temple, sparking the Maccabean Revolt.


The Hebrew root for abomination is שׁקץ, shākac, “to be filthy,” “to loathe,” “to abhor,” from which is derived שׁקּץ or שׁקּוּץ, shikkuc or shikkūc, “filthy,” especially “idolatrous.” This word is used to describe specific forms of idolatrous worship that were especially abhorrent, as that of the Ammonites and the Moabites (1 Kings 11:5-7; 2 Kings 23:13). When Daniel undertook to specify an abomination so surpassingly disgusting to the sense of morality and decency, and so aggressive against everything that was godly as to drive all from its presence and leave its abode desolate, he chose this term as the strongest among the several synonyms, adding the qualification “that maketh desolate” (Daniel 11:31; 12:11). The same noun, though in the plural, occurs in Deuteronomy 29:17; 2 Kings 23:24; Isaiah 66:3; Jeremiah 4:1, 7:30, 13:27, and 32:34; Ezekiel 20:7-8 and 20:30; Daniel 9:27; Hosea 9:10; and Zechariah 9:7. The New Testament equivalent of the noun is βδέλυγμα, bdél-ug-ma = “detestable,” i.e. (specially) “idolatrous.” Alluding to Daniel, Christ spoke of the “abomination of desolation” in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14.

Historical Background

Since the invasion of the Assyrians and Chaldeans, the Jewish people had been without political independence. From the Chaldeans the rulership of Judea had been transferred to the Persians, and from the Persians, after an interval of 200 years, to Alexander the Great. From the beginning of the Persian sovereignty the Jews had been permitted to renew their religious and political commonwealth, thus establishing a state under the rulership of priests, for the high priest was not only the highest functionary of Judaism, but also the chief magistrate in so far as these prerogatives were not exercised by the king of the conquering nation. Ezra had given a new significance to the Tōrāh by having it read to the whole congregation of Israel and by his vigorous enforcement of the law of separation from the Gentiles. His emphasis of the law introduced the period of legalism and finical interpretation of the letter which called forth some of the bitterest invectives of our Saviour (Mathew 23). Specialists of the law known as “scribes” devoted themselves to its study and subtle interpretation, and the pious beheld the highest moral accomplishment in the extremely conscientious observance of every precept. But in opposition to this class, there were those who, influenced by the Hellenistic culture, introduced by the conquests of Alexander the Great, were inclined to a more “liberal” policy. Thus, two opposing parties were developed: the Hellenistic, and the party of the Pious, or the Chasidim, hăsīdhīm (Hasidaeans, 1 Maccabes 2:42; 7:13), who held fast to the strict ideal of the scribes. The former gradually came into ascendancy. Judea was rapidly becoming Hellenistic in all phases of its political, social and religious life, and the “Pious” were dwindling to a small minority sect. This was the situation when Antiochus IV Epiphanes set out to suppress the last vestige of the Jewish religion by the application of brute force.

Antiochus Epiphanes

Antiochus IV, son of Antiochus the Great, became the successor of his brother, Seleucus IV, who had been murdered by his minister, Heliodorus, as king of Syria (175-164 B.C.). He was by nature a despot; eccentric and unreliable; sometimes a spendthrift, fraternizing in an affected manner with those of lower station; sometimes cruel and tyrannical, as witness his aggressions against Judea. Polybius (26 10) tells us that his eccentric ideas caused some to speak of him as a man of pure motive and humble character, while others hinted at insanity. The epithet Epiphanes is an abbreviation of theós epīphanes, which is the designation given himself by Antiochus on his coins, and means “the god who appears or reveals himself.” Egyptian writers translate the inscription, “God which comes forth,” namely, like the burning sun (Horos or Helios) on the horizon, thus identifying the king with the triumphal, appearing god. When Antiochus Epiphanes arose to the throne, Onias III, as high priest, was the leader of the old orthodox party in Judea; the head of the Hellenists was his own brother Jesus, a man who preferred to designate himself by the Greek name Jason, indicating the trend of his mind. Jason promised the king large sums of money for the transfer of the office of high priest from his brother to himself and the privilege of erecting a gymnasium and a temple to Phallus, and for the granting of the privilege “to enroll the inhabitants of Jerusalem as citizens of Antioch.” Antiochus gladly agreed to everything. Onias was removed, Jason became high priest, and henceforth the process of Hellenizing Judea was pushed energetically. The Jewish religion was not attacked, but the “legal institutions were set aside, and illegal practices were introduced” (2 Maccabees 4:11). A gymnasium was erected outside the castle; the youth of Jerusalem exercised themselves in the gymnastic art of the Greeks, and even priests left their services at the altar to take part in the contest of the palaestra. The disregard of Jewish custom went so far that many artificially removed the traces of circumcision from their bodies, and with characteristic liberality, Jason even sent a contribution to the sacrifices in honor of Heracles on the occasion of the quadrennial festivities in Tyre.

Suppression of the Jewish Religion

Under these conditions it is not surprising that Antiochus should have had both the inclination and the courage to undertake the total eradication of the Jewish religion and the establishment of Greek polytheism in its stead. The observance of all Jewish laws, especially those relating to the Sabbath and to circumcision, were forbidden under pain of death. The Jewish religion was set aside, and in all cities of Judea, sacrifices were ordered to be brought to the pagan deities, with representatives of the crown everywhere enforcing the edict. Once a month a search was instituted, and whoever had secreted a copy of the Law or had observed the rite of circumcision was condemned to death. In Jerusalem on the 15th of Chislev of the year 145 aet Sel, (December, 168 B.C.) a pagan altar was built on the Great Altar of Burnt Sacrifices in front of the Temple, and on the 25th of Chislev, sacrifice was brought on this altar for the first time (1 Maccabees 1:54, 59). This evidently was the “abomination of desolation.” The sacrifice, according to 2 Maccabees, was brought to the Olympian Zeus, to whom the temple of Jerusalem had been re-dedicated. This act of Antiochus was considered so revolting that Mattathias, a former priest of the course of Joarib (1 Chronicles 24:7), overthrew the pagan altar and summoned any who would follow him to drive away the pagan deities, leading to the revolt under Judas the Maccabee.


In Matthew 24:15, Christ told His disciples that during the last days, those who would see the abomination of desolation as spoken by Daniel the prophet needed to flee to the mountains. This event is to occur once again in the re-built Third Temple during the seventeenth week (Daniel 9:27; 12:11) when the anti-Christ breaks his 7-year covenant with Israel and erects an image to himself in the sanctuary.


  • 1913 International Standard Bible Encyclopedia