Abomination of Desolation

The abomination of desolation, abomination that makes desolate, or desolating sacrilege ( מְשׁוֹמֵֽםha-shikkuts meshomem, abominatio desolationis) is a term found in the Book of Daniel and the Gospels of Matthew and Mark, which means literally “an abomination that desolates” or “an abomination that depopulates”.


See also: Abomination (Bible)

The word “abomination” is described as a “detestable act” or “detestable thing” and in both biblical and rabbinic Hebrew, is a familiar term for an idol, or pertains to idolatrous worship, and therefore may well have the same application in Daniel, which should accordingly be rendered, in agreement with Ezra 9:1-4 “motionless abomination” or, also, “appalling abomination”. Some scholars—Hoffmann, Nestle, Bevan, and others—suggest that as a designation for Jupiter it is simply an intentional perversion of his usual appellation “Baal Shamem” (“lord of heaven”). This is quite plausible, as attested by the perversion of Beelzebub into “Βεελζεβούλ” (Greek version) in Mark 3:22, as well as the express injunction found in Tosef., ‘Ab. Zarah, vi. (vii) and Babli ‘Ab. Zarah, 46a that the names of idols may be pronounced only in a distorted or abbreviated form.

BON57681 Daniel in the Lions Den, mezzotint by J. B. Pratt, with hand colouring, pub. by Thomas Agnew and Sons, 1892 by Riviere, Briton (1840-1920) (after); 63.5x88.9 cm; Private Collection; Photo © Bonhams, London, UK; English, out of copyright

Daniel’s Answer to the King by Briton Rivière

Biblical occurrences


The phrase “abomination of desolation” (Hebrew: הַשִּׁקּ֥וּץ מְשׁוֹמֵם ; ha-shikkuts meshomem) is found in three places in the Book of Daniel, all within the literary context of apocalyptic visions.

And he shall make a strong covenant with many for one week; and for half of the week he shall cause sacrifice and offering to cease; and upon the wing of abominations shall come one who makes desolate, until the decreed end is poured out on the desolator.

— Daniel 9:27 (RSV-CE)

Forces from him shall appear and profane the temple and fortress, and shall take away the continual burnt offering. And they shall set up the abomination that makes desolate.

— Daniel 11:31 (RSV-CE)

And from the time that the continual burnt offering is taken away, and the abomination that makes desolate is set up, there shall be a thousand two hundred and ninety days.

— Daniel 12:11 (RSV-CE)

Synoptic Gospels

See also: Olivet Discourse

In the Gospel of Matthew and the Gospel of Mark, the term (Greek τό βδέλυγμα τῆς ἐρημώσεωςto bdelygma tēs erēmōseōs) is used by Jesus in the Olivet discourse. In the Matthean account, Jesus is presented as quoting Daniel explicitly. In the Gospel of Mark, the phrase “spoken of by Daniel the prophet” is absent in the Codex Sinaiticus.

So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

— Matthew 24:15-16 (RSV-CE)

But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains.

— Mark 13:14 (RSV-CE)

In Luke’s version of Jesus’ warning, the abomination is not mentioned, and the sign that it is time to flee Jerusalem is explicitly said to be that Jerusalem would be surrounded by armies.

But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, and let those who are inside the city depart, and let not those who are out in the country enter it.

— Luke 21:20-21 (RSV-CE)



See also: Historicism (Christianity)

According to Roman historian Cassius Dio, after the Temple was destroyed in 70 AD the worship overseen by the High Priest ceased. The Temple Mount was covered over with rubble and a pagan temple dedicated to Jupiter was built when Hadrian became Caesar (117 – 138 AD). Hadrian installed on the mount two statues: one of Jupiter and another of himself; this was seen by the Jews as idolatry. In addition, Hadrian expelled the Jews from Jerusalem altogether, only allowing them into the city on the fast of Tisha B’av (the ninth day of the lunar month of Av), a day of mourning for the destruction of the First and the Second Jewish Temples. This appears to have caused a second Jewish revolt with the intent of recapturing Jerusalem and restoring the Temple. In response, Rome sent six full legions with auxiliaries and elements from up to six additional legions, which finally managed to crush the revolt. The temple appears to have been rebuilt during the early Umayyad period as the al-Aqsa Mosque, which stands on the site today.

Rabbinical literature

There is a rabbinical consensus that the expression refers to the 168 BC desecration of the Second Temple by the erection of a Zeus statue in its sacred precincts by Antiochus IV Epiphanes (the flashpoint of the Maccabean Revolt). Some rabbis, however, see in it an allusion to Manasseh, who was reported to have set up “a carved image … in the house of God”.

Church Fathers

Church Father Augustine of Hippo (379) states, “For Luke very clearly bears witness that the prophecy of Daniel was fulfilled when Jerusalem was overthrown.” (vol. 6, p. 170)

John Chrysostom understood this to refer to the armies that surrounded Jerusalem and the factions fighting within it which preceded the destruction of the city.


John Calvin rejects the rabbinical view and wrote

In consequence of the obscurity of this passage it has been twisted in a variety of ways. At the end of the ninth chapter I have shewn the impossibility of its referring to the profanation of the Temple which occurred under the tyranny of Antiochus; on this occasion the angel bears witness to such a complete destruction of the Temple, as to leave no room for the hope of its repair and restoration. Then the circumstances of the time convinces us of this. For he then said, Christ shall confirm the covenant with many for one week, and shall cause the sacrifices and oblation to cease. Afterwards, the abomination that stupifieth shall be added, and desolation or stupor, and then death will distil, says he, upon the astonished or stupified one. The angel, therefore, there treats of the perpetual devastation of the Temple. So in this passage, without doubt, he treats of the period after the destruction of the Temple; there could be no hope of restoration, as the law with all its ceremonies would then arrive at its termination.”

John Wesley (1754) also rejects the rabbinical view and wrote,

When ye shall see the abomination of desolation—Daniel’s term is, ‘The abomination that maketh desolate’ (xi. 31); that is, the standards of the desolating legions, on which they bear the abominable images of their idols. Standing in the holy place—not only the temple, and the mountain on which it stood, but the whole city of Jerusalem, and several furlongs of land round about it, were accounted holy; particularly the mountain on which our Lord now sat, and on which the Romans afterward planted their ensigns.”

Modern biblical scholarship

Arch of Titus in Rome, showing spoils from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Arch of Titus in Rome, showing spoils from the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem.

Some claim the 1 Maccabees usage of the term pointing to an event prior to the prophecy given by Christ, in the actions of Antiochus IV Epiphanes in the mid-2nd century BC. Specifically, he set up an altar, probably to Zeus or Baal Shamem, in the Second Temple in Jerusalem and sacrificed swine on it around the year 168 BC. Many modern scholars believe that Daniel 9:27, 11:31 and 12:11 are examples of vaticinium ex eventu (prophecies after the event) relating to Antiochus.

Most modern scholars have concluded that Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 are prophecies after the event about the siege of Jerusalem in AD 70 by the Roman general Titus, after the First Jewish Revolt, and subsequent destruction of the Jewish Temple.

Some scholars, including Hermann Detering, see these verses as a vaticinium ex eventu about Emperor Hadrian’s attempt to install the statue of Jupiter Capitolinus on the site of the ruined Jewish Temple in Jerusalem leading to the Bar Kokhba revolt of 132-135 AD.


See also: Preterism

Preterists believe that Jesus quoted this prophecy in Mark 13:14 as referring to an event in his 1st century disciples’ immediate future, such as the siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD.

One commentator relates the prophecy to the actions of Caligula c. 40 AD when he ordered that a golden statue depicting himself as Zeus incarnate be set up in the Temple in Jerusalem. This prospect however, never came to fruition since he was assassinated in 41 AD along with his wife and daughter.

Christocentric interpretation

Some, such as Peter Bolt, head of New Testament at Moore Theological College, claim that the abomination of desolation in Mark 13 refers to the crucifixion of the Son of God; in other words, Jesus is referring to his own impending death.

In his book, Discourses in Matthew, Dr. David. P. Scaer, Lutheran theologian and professor of Systematic Theology and New Testament at Concordia Theological Seminary, states,

Within the context of the Fifth Discourse, which focuses on Jesus’ death and Jerusalem’s destruction, the best explanation for “the desolating sacrilege … standing in the holy place” is the crucifixion of Jesus at Golgotha (27:33). He is the “desolating sacrilege” and Golgotha is “the holy place”.


See also: Futurism (Christianity)

Interpreters with a futurist perspective think that Jesus’ prophecy deals with a literal, end-times False Prophet. Futurists consider the abomination of desolation prophecy of Daniel mentioned by Jesus in Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 to refer to an event in the future, when there appears “the man of lawlessness”.

Premillennialist futurists like Arthur Pink in his work The Antichrist attribute vast portions within the Old and New Testament to this future figure that will rise to global prominence politically, economically and militarily by setting up a governmental structure possessing sweeping powers over worship and the affairs of humanity.

Mixed interpretation

Multiple fulfillments

Methodist theologian Adam Clarke and Anglican bishop Thomas Newton interpret the abomination of desolation as a proverbial phrase that could include multiple events “substituted in the place of, or set up in opposition to, the ordinances of God, his worship, his truth, etc.” This allows for some or all of the examples in the following (incomplete) list to be viewed as partial fulfillments of this prophecy simultaneously:

  • the re-dedication of the Temple to Zeus by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 BC,
  • the worship of the Roman Standards on the Temple Mount under Titus in 70 AD and
  • the building of the Dome of the Rock by the Umayyad Caliph Abd al-Malik ibn Marwan in 691 AD.

The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints

The Joseph Smith–Matthew states (in verse 12) that the abomination of desolation spoken of by Daniel is the destruction of Jerusalem (first in AD 70). Later (in verse 32) it states that the abomination of desolation will be fulfilled again when at the end times, when Jerusalem is subject to much destruction before the Second Coming of Christ.


Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia