God is Judge

Chapter 13

A Commentary on the book of Daniel

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The Daily and the Abomination


The “abomination” of Dan. 9:27 is usually linked with the removal of the “daily” or continual sacrifice (תמיד , tāmīd) of Daniel 8:12-13. Although the interpretation of the phrase “abomination of desolation” is still debated in scholarly circles (some of the proposals will be examined anon) all suggestions rest on the historical context of the Antiochene crisis. The earliest extra-biblical interpretation of the phrase “abomination of desolation” (or desolating sacrilege) is found in 1 Macc. 1:54 where it references the disruption of the daily sacrifice by Antiochus Epiphanes.  However, the Antiochene crisis did not exhaust the interpretation of the “abomination” as the phrase was applied by Christ as a sign of the imminent destruction of Jerusalem.


The critical view interprets Daniel chs.7-9 against the background of the Antiochene crisis. Daniel chs.7-8 can be treated as a unit as both visions are dated to Belshazzar’s reign and Daniel 8:1 references the previous vision in Daniel ch.7 - moreover both visions focus on the devastations wrought by the “little horn”.  However, the case for regarding Daniel ch.9 as belonging together with Daniel ch.7-8 is considerably weaker. It is often assumed that disruption of the daily sacrifice (Dan. 8:9-14) and the introduction of the “abomination of desolation” (Dan. 9:27) are linked and this is encouraged by a number of parallels between both prophecies. This is further supported by the fact that chapters 8 and 9 employ Jeremiah’s writings, thus demonstrating inner biblical correspondence. Nevertheless, similar language does not necessarily imply that the same event is being described – if different events share similar subject matter they will naturally share similar vocabulary and echo the same prophetic texts (such as Jeremiah). 


The exegesis presented here proposes a disjunction between chapters 7-8 and chapter 9. Similar to the critical view, the crisis in Daniel ch.7-8 is identified with the Antiochene desecration of the temple.  In contrast with the critical view the Seventy Prophecy of Daniel 9 is understood as anticipating the first century Roman crisis and destruction of the    Continued  ˃

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temple.[1] Despite the Antiochene desecration and the Roman destruction occurring some 235 years apart, the parallels between the prophecies of chapters 7-8 with chapter 9 can be explained by the focus of both prophecies on the disruption of the cult. The similarities between the two prophecies probably encouraged the additions that we find in the various translations (here we think particularly of the OG) which attempt to identify Daniel 9 with the Antiochene crisis.


While the influence of Jeremiah on the prophecy of Daniel 9 is generally recognised the same cannot be said for Daniel 8. The Seer was “astonished (šmm) at the vision (of chapter 8), but none understood it” (RV “but there was none to make it understood”). Daniel was ‘astonished’– the prophet Jeremiah uses the same word[2] to describe the apostasy of the people: “My people hath changed their glory for that which doth not profit (idols).  Be astonished, (šmm) O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the Lord.  For my people have committed two evils; they have forsaken me the fountain of living waters, and hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jer.2:12,13 KJV).   “And it shall come to pass at that day, saith the Lord, that the heart of the king shall perish, and the heart of the princes; and the priests shall be astonished, (šmm) and the prophets shall wonder.  Then said I, Ah Lord God! Surely thou hast greatly deceived this people and Jerusalem, saying, Ye shall have peace; (cf. by peace shall he destroy many, Dan.8:25) whereas the sword reacheth unto the soul” (Jer.4:9, 10 KJV). “…to make their land desolate, and a perpetual hissing; every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished, (šmm) and wag his head” (Jer.18:16 KJV). The Seer declares (Dan. 8:27) that “None    Continued  ˃


[1] The Seventy Prophecy is only partially fulfilled by the events of AD 70. The reader is referred to chapters 16, 17 and 18 for the exegesis of this complex prophecy.

[2] The verb šmm (שָׁמֵם) occurs ca. 28x in the OT denoting the sense of revulsion or astonishment when confronted with the results of divine judgment and/or desolation (the source of the sense of revulsion or awe often marked by the preposition ‘l as in Daniel 8:27.

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understood it” (the vision) – The same word[3] is employed by Jeremiah: “And I will make Jerusalem heaps, and a den of dragons, and I will make the cities of Judah desolate without inhabitant.  Who is the wise man, that may understand this? and who is he to whom the mouth of the Lord hath spoken, that he may declare it, for what the land perisheth and is burned up like a wilderness, so that none passeth through?  And the Lord said, because they have forsaken my law…” (Jer.9:11-13 KJV). Daniel who was wiser than all the ‘wise’ men of Babylon understood – “none of the wicked shall understand; but the wise shall understand” (Dan.12:10). 


The verb šmm (שָׁמֵם) which denotes the astonishment or desolation (horror) brought on by the vision (Dan. 8:27) is in some way related to the term that describes the desolation of chapter 9 (of course this does not mean that chapter 8 is describing the same incident as chapter 9). Significantly, when prophesying the seventy year captivity Jeremiah[4] echoes Leviticus; “I will bring the land to desolation (šmm), and your enemies who dwell in it shall be astonished (šmm) at it” (Lev. 26:32). In Daniel šmm occurs 4x in reference to the happešaʿ šōmēm, the desolating rebellion (Dan. 8:13); or šiqqûṣ šōmēm, the desolating abomination (Dan. 12:11; mĕ šōwmēm in 9:27; 11:31).


Johan Lust[5] discusses the construction in Dan. 9:27 and admits that the Hebrew is grammatically difficult and the LXX probably reflects the    Continued  ˃


[3] The verb byn (בּין) occurs 22x in Daniel. In the vision accounts it becomes a technical word for understanding visions. Dan. 1:4, 17; 8:5, 16f, 21, 23, 27; 9:2, 22f; 10:1, 11f, 14; 11:30, 33, 37, 45; 12:8, 10; Jer. 2:10; 4:22; 7:5; 9:11, 16; 23:20; 25:16, 27; 30:24; 34:18f; 39:4; 48:45; 49:7; 52:7.

[4] And this whole land shall be a desolation and astonishment (šmm), and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years. (Jer 25:11)

[5] Johan Lust, Cult and Sacrifice in Daniel the Tamid and the Abomination of Desolation, in idem The Book of Daniel: Composition and Reception, Vol.,2, (ed., J.J. Collins, P.W. Flint, Brill, Boston:Leiden,2002, 671-688),685

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Hebrew status constructus. The difficulty of the expression accounts for the different renditions in the translations which are often interpretive paraphrases.  Is it abomination of desolation or abomination of the desolator or the abomination that causes desolation i.e., the desolating abomination?


What is the abomination?


According to the critical view the removal of the daily sacrifice in chapter 8 and the setting up of the abomination of desolation in chapter 9 describe the same events. The liberal view attributes both of these desecrations to Antiochus Epiphanes and regards the term abomination of desolation as a dysphemism.[6]  Following this proposal the vowels for “heavens”(šāmēm) were re-pointed to šōmēm, “desolating” to form a derogatory pun on the divine epithet ba'al šāmēm, Lord of the heavens, this being the Hebrew equivalent for the Greek idol of Zeus Olympios, to whom  Antiochus dedicated the temple (2 Macc. 6:2). Replacing baʿal, Lord, with šiqqûṣ, abomination (or happešaʿ, rebellion). It is not an unknown practice for the Jews to alter names in this fashion[7] and it is possible that this reflects the bias of Maccabean era copyists, but was this the intent of the original author? 


[6] Dysphemism is the substitution of a harsh, disparaging, or unpleasant expression for a more neutral one. Dysphemy is related to “blasphemy,” but is less focused in scope, and therefore not directly synonymous.

[7] The name of Merib-Baal (Baal is my advocate) was changed to Mephibosheth (exterminating the idol). Interestingly, Johan Lust (2002:676) notes  that if bōšett was known as a dyphemism for Baal…….one might expect to find the term as a substitute for baʿal in a contemptuous deformation of the Phoenician deity Baal-samem, rather than finding only its vowels in a deformation of  שׁמם (šāmēm).

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In his well argued article Johan Lust examines the various scholarly proposals for the ‘abomination’ including the case for a statute or the introduction of an astral cult based on a meteorite (idol).  Lust concludes that there is no good reason to interpret the phrase as a contemptuous deformation of Baal [i.e. as a dysphemism] as in several other passages the term stands for pagan gods, without being a deformation of their name. Lust suggests that it refers to heathen sacrifices; “The relevant texts in Daniel as well as in 1 Maccabees and Josephus suggest that the “abomination” is a sacrifice replacing the Tamid [daily sacrifice], or the altar upon which this sacrifice was offered. Daniel and perhaps Josephus when he does not follow 1 Maccabees, seems to plead in favour of the first view, and 1 Maccabees in favour of the second”.[8] 


Although Johan Lust’s conclusion that the ‘abomination’ is somehow linked to the sacrifice and/or the altar is plausible it does not automatically follow that the Antiochene desecration of the altar was the inspiration for the prophecy. According to liberal scholarship the prophecy was composed just before, or during the Antiochene crisis, which accounts for the historical accuracy but also explains why Daniel’s time periods are (sic) slightly out.  In this view the author expected that the persecution would soon end and wrote ‘resistance literature’ in the guise of a pseudographic  apocalypse – the ‘end’ was anticipated but still fuzzy – which is why the prophecy graduates  from historical realism to  optimistic idealism.


The ‘abomination of desolation’ and removal of the ‘daily’ is not inspired by Antiochus’ actions but by the actions of Manasseh. In Jeremiah 15:4 the prophet records that God; “.....will hand them over to trouble, to all kingdoms of the earth, because of Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, for what he did in Jerusalem”. The desolation and exile that Jeremiah predicts is therefore a direct consequence of Manasseh’s behaviour. Manasseh was twelve years old when he ascended to the throne after the premature death of his father Hezekiah. His policy was reactionary and he deliberately sabotaged the reformation that his father had set in motion. One can speculate that his actions were motivated by resentment and anger directed at    Continued  ˃


[8] Idem, (2002: 687)

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Yahweh. His name (which probably does not reflect his ascension name) means “forgetting my father’s house” and is a negative assessment of his reign. Amongst other things Manasseh deliberately subverted the cult by erecting altars in the temple courts (2 Kings 21:5) and installing an idol (2 Kings 21:7) he also polluted Jerusalem with innocent blood (according to rabbinic legend he had Isaiah murdered). Manasseh’s reign ends with repentance and restoration.  Manasseh is typical of those who reject Yahweh and commit apostasy. During the Ezra-Nehemiah reformation a corrupt priest also called (renamed) Manasseh was expelled from the Jerusalem priesthood. He founded a rival priesthood and Samaritan temple on Mt Gerizim.  Although Antiochus was an external aggressor a corrupt Jewish elite (including elements of the priesthood) supported his policy of enforced Hellenism. While recognising that Daniel chs. 7-8 (not Daniel ch. 9) has an application to the Antiochene crisis the theory that the prophecy was inspired by that crisis is rejected.




The removal of the “daily” sacrifice (Dan. 8:12-13) and the “abomination” (Dan. 9:27) are separate incidents that share a common motif – desecration of the Sanctuary and deliberate provocation of Yahweh by sacrilegious behaviour. It is fitting that the visions of Daniel chs. 7-8 are dated to Belshazzar’s reign because he committed sacrilege with the temple vessels.


Leviticus warned that disobedience would result in enforced Sabbath rest for the land - the subsequent desolation (šmm) of the land would even astonish (šmm) Israel’s enemies. In Jeremiah the enforced Sabbath rest becomes 70 years of captivity - the heavens and the prophets are astonished (šmm) by the apostasy and the resulting destruction of the temple by the Babylonians. Daniel is also desolated/astonished/horrified (šmm) by the visions of Daniel chs.7-8 because the visions depict a further desecration of the temple (the Antiochene crisis), after the return from the 70 year captivity.  But even the desolating rebellion (hppš šmm) of Dan. 8:13, for all its eschatological significance, is not “the end” but only a snapshot (an apocalyptic moment) in a much longer period of desolations lasting 490 years (7x70) which climaxes in Daniel 9:26-27 with the appearance    Continued  ˃

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of a desolating abomination (me šmm) and another destruction of the Sanctuary. However, even the Roman siege, removal of the daily and burning of the Second Temple in 70 AD did not completely fulfil the Seventy Prophecy of Daniel 9. Therefore, Daniel 8 should be understood as a digression on the Greek period. It is nevertheless an important digression establishing significant typological patterns that are assimilated in NT eschatology.