Dedicated to the writings of Saint Luke.

Thursday, March 17, 2005

The Abomination of Desolation

Does the “abomination of desolation” spoken of Daniel the prophet and mentioned by the synoptic gospel writers mean the same as the pollution of the Temple mentioned by Josephus? If so, then perhaps we have an additional tool for our understanding the phrase that is admittedly obscure. According to Goldstein, Josephus believed in the veracity of Daniel 7-12.[i] In fact, Josephus considered Daniel to be one of the greatest of the prophets.[ii]

In chapter 21, the Lucan Jesus gives a lengthy discourse which includes the prediction of the destruction of the Temple with these words: “the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another”. In verse twenty, Jesus tells his disciples: “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Matthew has inserted “So when you see the desolating sacrilege spoken of by the prophet Daniel, standing in the holy place (let the reader understand), to replace “But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.” Mark has inserted “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;” as his replacement of the same Lucan phrase. Thus the gospel writers interpreted the abomination to be fulfilled when Jerusalem surrounded. Scholars agree that the three synoptic gospel writers are all in some way making an allusion to three separate passages in Daniel 9-12 containing the identical phrase: “the abomination that causes desolation.”[iii]

What event occurring just prior to 41 CE, might refer to or act as a trigger to cause Luke to write to Theophilus and include the Danielic allusion to “its desolation has come near”?

The Jewish polemics against the earliest Christians included the allegation that Jesus threatened to destroy the Temple. Stephen's last sermon may have been a commentary on this allegation of the Jewish community.[iv] Nationalistic sentiments were on the rise in Jerusalem.[v] This time period was also particularly tense due to the belief that the Emperor Caligula (37-41 C.E.) who had proclaimed himself “the lord of the sea,” would soon be sending his army to enforce his demand that Judaism be abolished and that his statue be installed worship on the Temple Mount. In order to calm the rising tensions, the Emperor Claudius who succeeded Caligula, appointed Herod Agrippa king of Galilee, Peraea and Judea. His actions included executing and imprisoning leaders of the Christian community in Jerusalem.[vi] The tumult caused by the preaching of Stephen and his subsequent death[vii] was the first open hostility of the Jewish authorities to the followers of Jesus. In any event after Stephen's death, there was a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem.[viii] This persecution prompted Luke to appeal to Theophilus and to include the allusion to Daniel.

Jesus also predicted the destruction of the city of Jerusalem. Most scholars have dated Luke post 70 CE because they did not want to address the issue of predictive prophecy.

'This generation'[ix] refers to those who heard and saw Jesus as witnesses and who are now (the first generation) listening and/or reading Luke. All of the explicit references to the destruction of the city are to be found in the special material of the Gospel of Luke. Those most interested in the fate of Jerusalem were not Gentiles but were Jewish residents of the city. The Lucan Jesus tells the people the signs so that they will know when to leave the city. If Luke wrote to the Gentiles post 70 CE, the most impressive statement he could make would be: “Jesus predicted the destruction of the Temple and of Jerusalem and this prophecy was fulfilled.” If Luke were writing after 70 CE, he would have noted the separate fates of the city and Temple. Although Luke on numerous occasions emphasized the fulfillment of prophecy, nowhere in Luke or Acts does he indicate that the prophecy regarding the fate of the city and Temple has been fulfilled.[x]

The Temple is still standing when Luke addressed Theophilus. The Temple prophecy of Mark 13:2; Matt 24:2 and Luke 21:6 resembles and echoes the prophecies of Micah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel that God's imminent judgment on Israel would involve the overthrow of the Temple.[xi]

Full-scale war with Rome began in 66 CE, with the final actual siege against the city lasting from April to September 70 CE. Jerusalem at that time was teeming with refugees who flooded in from the ravaged countryside. In addition, many pilgrims traveled to Jerusalem to observe Passover. Anarchy reigned as warring factions of zealots killed thousands of their own citizens in a bloody civil war inside the gates, even while the Roman legions camped outside the gates of the city. Corpses were piled up throughout the city. Rival factions vying for control of the city torched granaries and storehouses. Water reservoirs were polluted. Thus, the population suffered famine and disease. Many Jews foraged for food outside the city walls at night. Romans captured thousands, reportedly crucifying 500 a day. About 6,000 Jews had followed a false prophet and sought refuge in an area of the temple, where they were burned alive. Josephus writes of the city streets flowing with blood, which even quenched some of the fires.
These events described by Josephus are certainly encompassed by Luke’s description of what will happened to those who do not depart from the city at their first opportunity after Jerusalem has been surrounded by armies. Luke stated: “For great distress shall be upon the earth and wrath upon this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led captive among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trodden down by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.”

The views of Josephus are of particular interest. During the assault on Jerusalem, he served as a Roman spokesman urging the people of the city to surrender. In his Wars of the Jews, which furnishes a full account of the struggle from his perspective on the Roman side, Josephus sees the miseries of the city as the fulfillment of an ancient oracle.

“For they [the prophets] foretold that this city [Jerusalem] should be then taken when somebody shall begin the slaughter of his own countrymen.”[xii]

Evidently, Josephus is thinking of Daniel's prediction because earlier he remembers that in consequence of violence springing up, the city would be taken and the sanctuary burned.

“For there was a certain ancient oracle of those men [the prophets], that the city should then be taken and the sanctuary burnt, by right of war, when a sedition should invade the Jews, and their own hand should pollute the Temple of God.”[xiii]

In his later work, Antiquities of the Jews, Josephus named Daniel as the source of this oracle.[xiv]

[i] Goldstein, 1 Maccabees, A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary, (Garden City, 1976), 560.
[ii] Ant 10.11.7
[iii] Daniel 9:27; 11:31; 12:11.
[iv] The death of Stephen is dated in 36 A.D.; James in 42 A.D. by B. Riecke, 'Judaeo-Christianity and the Jewish Establishment', Bammel and Moule, editors, Jesus and the Politics of His Day, (Cambridge 1984), 147. I date the death of Stephen to the short time period during which Jonathan served as High Priest in 37 CE.
[v] Gaston, No Stone on Another: Studies in the Significance of the Fall of Jerusalem, (Leiden 1970), 156.
[vi] Acts 12:1-9.
[vii] Acts 6:8 to 8:3.
[viii] Acts 8:1.
[ix] Lk. 21:32: 'Truly, I say to you that this generation will not pass away until all has taken place.'
[x] Nowhere in the NT does it state this prophecy has been fulfilled.
[xi] Mi. 3:12 cited at Jer. 26:18; Jer. 7:14-15 and Ezk. 24:21.
[xii] Wars 6.2.1.
[xiii] Ibid., 4.6.3.
[xiv] Antiquities 10.11.7.

copyrighted 2005


Post a Comment

<< Home