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The importance of this Scriptural expression is chiefly derived from the fact that in Matthew 24:15, and Mark 13:14, the appearance of the "abomination of desolation" standing in the "Holy Place" (Matthew), or where "it ought not" (Mark), is given by Our Lord to His disciples as the signal for their flight from Judea, at the time of the approaching ruin of Jerusalem (Luke 21:20).
The expression itself is confessedly obscure. To determine its meaning, interpreters have naturally betaken themselves to the original Hebrew of the book of Daniel; for our first Evangelist distinctly says that "the abomination of desolation" he has in view "was spoken of by Daniel the prophet"; and further, the expression he makes use of, in common with St. Mark, is simply the Greek phrase whereby the Septuagint translators rendered literally the Hebrew words shíqqûç shômem found in Daniel 12:11; 9:27; 11:31.
Unfortunately, despite all their efforts to explain these Hebrew terms, Biblical scholars are still at variance about their precise meaning. While most commentators regard the first "shíqqûç", usually rendered by "abomination", as designating anything (statue, altar, etc.) that pertains to idolatrous worship, others take it to be a contemptuous designation of a heathen god or idol.
Again, while most commentators render the second "shômem" by the abstract word "desolation", others treat it as a concrete form referring to a person, "a ravager", or even as a participial known meaning "that maketh desolate".
The most recent interpretation which has been suggested of these Hebrew words is to the following effect: The phrase shíqqûç shômem stands for the original expression bá' ál shámáyîm (Baal of heaven), a title found in Phoenician and Aramaic inscriptions, and the semitic equivalent of the Greek Zeus, Jupiter, but modified in Daniel through Jewish aversion for the name of a Pagan deity.
While thus disagreeing as to the precise sense of the Hebrew phrase usually rendered by "the abomination of desolation", Christian scholars are practically at one with regard to its general meaning. They commonly admit, and indeed rightly, that the Hebrew expression must needs be understood of some idolatrous emblem, the setting up of which would entail the ultimate desolation of the Temple of Jerusalem (1 Maccabees 1:57; 4:38). And with this general meaning in view, they proceed to determine the historical event between Our Lord's prediction and the ruin of the Temple (A.D. 70), which should be regarded as "the abomination of desolation" spoken of in Matthew 24:15, and Mark 13:14.
But here they are again divided. Many scholars have thought, and still think, that the introduction of the Roman standards into the Holy Land, and more particularly into the Holy City, shortly before the destruction of the Temple, is the event foretold by Our Lord to His disciples as the signal for their flight from Judea. It is true that the standards were worshipped by the Roman soldiers and abhorred by the Jews as the emblem of Roman idolatry. Yet they can hardly be considered as the "the abomination of desolation" referred to in Matthew 24:15. The Evangelist says that this "abomination" is to stand in the "holy place", whereby is naturally meant the Temple (see also Daniel 9:27, where the Vulgate reads: "there shall be in the Temple the abomination of the desolation"), and the Roman standards were actually introduced into the Temple only after it had been entered by Titus, that, too late to serve as a warning for the Christians of Judea.
Other scholars are of the mind that the desecration of the Temple by the Zealots who seized it and made it their stronghold shortly before Jerusalem was invested by Titus, is the event foretold by Our Lord. But this view is commonly rejected for the simple reason that "the abomination of desolation" spoken of by Daniel and referred to in St. Matthew's Gospel, was certainly something connected with idolatrous worship.
Others, finally, interpret Our Lord's warning to His disciples in the light of the history of the attempt to have his own statue set up and worshipped in the Temple of Jerusalem. The following are the principal facts of that history. About A.D. 40, Caius Caligula issued a peremptory decree ordering the erection and worship of his statue in the Temple of God. He also appointed to the government of Syria, bidding him carry out that decree even at the cost of a war against the rebellious Jews. Whereupon the Jews in tens of thousands protested to the governor that they were willing to be slaughtered rather than to be condemned to witness that idolatrous profanation of their holy Temple. Soon afterwards Petronius asked Caligula to revoke his order, and Agrippa I, who then lived at Rome, prevailed upon the Emperor not to enforce his decree. It seems, however, that Caligula soon repented of the concession, and that but for his untimely death (A.D. 41) he would have had his statue set up in Jerusalem (E. Schurer, History of the Jewish People in the Time of Christ, I Div. II, 95-105; tr.).
In view of these facts it is affirmed by many scholars that the early Christians could easily regard the forthcoming erection of statues in the Temple as the act of idolatrous abomination which, according to the prophet Daniel 9:27, portended the ruin of the House of God, and therefore see in it the actual sign given by Christ for their flight from Judea. This last interpretation of the phrase "the abomination of desolation" is not without its own difficulties. Yet it seems preferable to the others that have been set for by commentators at large.
APA citation. (1907). The Abomination of Desolation. In The Catholic Encyclopedia. New York: Robert Appleton Company. http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01046a.htm
MLA citation. "The Abomination of Desolation." The Catholic Encyclopedia. Vol. 1. New York: Robert Appleton Company, 1907. <http://www.newadvent.org/cathen/01046a.htm>.
Transcription. This article was transcribed for New Advent by Donald J. Boon.
Ecclesiastical approbation. Nihil Obstat. March 1, 1907. Remy Lafort, S.T.D., Censor. Imprimatur. +John Cardinal Farley, Archbishop of New York.
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