In Matt. 24:15 and Mark 13:14 it says,

"When ye therefore shall see the abomination of desolation, spoken of by Daniel the prophet, stand in the holy place, (in the Mark account, it says "where it ought not",

Jesus is not only referring to a specific term, "Abomination of Desolation", but also to a specific understanding which His disciples would have gained from the rabbis who taught on the prophecies of Daniel. This term," שִׁקּוּצִים֙ מְשֹׁמֵ֔ם" is used in various forms in Dan. 8:13, 9:27, 11:31, 12:11.

My question is: how would a pre-Christian era Jewish person have understood the meaning of this term? In your answer you can also include what changes in the meaning of the term to what it represents today, using the various Midrash and Mishnah sources.

  • When you say "also include what changes in the meaning of the term to what it represents today, using the various Midrash and Mishnah sources" are you asking what it means today for the Jew, rather then the Christian? Mar 19, 2015 at 8:36
  • @JonathanChell That is correct; I'm not interested in a primary Christian understanding(I have my views on the matter). I am interested in how a 1st century Jew would have understood the term, and what the term currently means from a Jewish perspective.
    – Tau
    Mar 19, 2015 at 20:19
  • First Maccabees (written mid- to late- second century BC) uses the term for a desecration of the temple under Antiochus Epiphanes. (Which is how most critical interpretations of Daniel read the phrase as well.)
    – user2910
    Mar 20, 2015 at 0:54
  • @MarkEdward In the Hebrew Bible I see a variety of terms to describe the same thing(I think); one is "Dumb One", the other is "Silent Abomination", another is "Mute Abomination". I find no such transcription in the KJV or other translations, so I'm curious as to what their understanding is, or whether the wording changed over time.
    – Tau
    Mar 20, 2015 at 6:20
  • 1
    @JoshuaBigbee The wording of the Hebrew Bible states something (IMO) that isn't mentioned in Christian circles. I have written copiously about "Christian" understanding of this term: what's needed is a Jewish understanding ; which has been noticeably absent from the discussion. The term is a "Jewish" term, therefore it needs a Jewish interpretation.
    – Tau
    Mar 23, 2015 at 21:54

2 Answers 2


The Idea in Brief

The Jewish (and pre-Christian) understanding of the abomination of desolation was the desecration of the Jewish temple reconstructed by Zerubbabel. The abomination of desolation (or, with more literalness: the abomination of what precipitates the vacating [of holiness]) had the primary Jewish understanding through Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who had desecrated the Jewish Temple through idolatry in 168 BCE. The secondary meaning had to do with the desecration of idolatry at Sinai, when the Jewish people substituted the place of Yahweh with the golden calf. That is, both of these desecrating events through idolatry had occurred on the same date in Jewish history.


Tractate Ta‘anit of the Babylonian Talmud deals with the general areas of repentance and penitence relating to divine discipline with an emphasis on fasting. In this tractate there appears several unfortunate events in the history of the Jewish peoples which have immediate relevance to the discussion at hand. For example, the several verses in Daniel regarding the "abomination of desolation" appear to correlate with the same date in Jewish history when Moses destroyed the tablets upon seeing the golden calf of idolatry. That is, this very same date in Jewish history was the public burning of the Torah by Antiochus IV Epiphanes, who then desecrated the Temple with profane sacrifices and the great image of idolatry. The following citation is the relevant portion taken from the English translation of the Babylonian Talmud by Jacob Neusner (2011), Tractate Ta'anite 4:1, XIII-XVII [Folio 28B and Folio 29A] - please click the image to enlarge.

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The mention here of "Apostomus" appears to be Antiochus IV Epiphanes. That is, the abomination included both the desecration of the Torah and Temple, in which Antiochus IV Epiphanes erected the infamous idol. These observations in the Gemarah of the Talmud comprise the first line commentary on the Mishnah (which is the core of the Talmud), and therefore carry gravitas on the Jewish (and pre-Christian) understanding of the meaning of "abomination of desolation."


The abomination of desolation (or, in colloquial contemporary English, the abomination which wipes out what is holy) appears to relate to idolatry, which displaces Yahweh as the object of divine worship. That is, Jewish oral tradition (as found in the Babylonian Talmud) correlates the date of the desecration of the Zerubbabel's Temple through idolatry by Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 168 BCE with the date that the Exodus generation had substituted the worship of Yahweh with the golden calf of idolatry.

Neusner, Jacob (2011). The Babylonian Talmud: A Translation and Commentary (Vol. 7a). Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 154-155.

  • Thank you for pursuing this question! I also welcome further responses, as the question of "whether or not same understanding continues today" has not been addressed in your response. I actually have(or had) a copy of Jacob Neusner's Midrash in Perspective-it escaped my mind when I posed this question. Thank you for your response!
    – Tau
    Mar 28, 2015 at 0:32
  • @All I awarded Joseph my "bounty" as it was due to expire; I believe there is more to be added to a Jewish understanding of שִׁקּוּצִים֙ מְשֹׁמֵ֔ם, please feel free to add responses to this question.
    – Tau
    Mar 28, 2015 at 0:46
  • That explains Daniel's use of the term and how it was understood historically to be the Temple's desecration by Antiochus, but the question then moves into Jesus' use in the gospels. If you are correct the his audience would have most likely thought of that when he mentions the abomination in the holy place. So, can we say they expected a desecration of the Temple to be the fulfillment of Jesus' prophecy? The events leading up to the destruction of the Temple around 70AD would then parallel the events in 168BCE.
    – Joshua
    Mar 28, 2015 at 19:07

Here's an idea that came to me a while ago and perhaps could help: Some translations of Leviticus 20:13 qualify that act as "abomination." So, there's one of the words involved (at least according to some translations).

As for that which "causes desolation:" Perhaps it is also connected to the lifestyle based on those acts (this last part is my personal view).

  • Asking us to downvote your answer is not helpful; we don't set out to downvote answers just because we disagree with them. We need a more substantive and supported answer that allows us to see what you mean and how you arrived at your conclusions. Mar 27, 2015 at 21:29
  • Yeah! I got 2 downvotes! (so far) I knew it!!! ;)
    – aksub
    Mar 27, 2015 at 21:44
  • On a more serious note: The answer which got the bounty, mentioned "desecrating events through idolatry." Sodomy is idolatry, as is noted in Romans 1:25-27 (which talks about the issue directly and clearly), coupled with 1 Corinthians 6:19 (about the body -or only a Christian's body?Hm...- being the Temple of the Holy Spirit). On a less serious note: I'm already fading! (this answer and comments are grey!) Wow.
    – aksub
    Apr 5, 2015 at 2:49

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