1 – Introduction and Clue #1
2 – Clue #2: What Kind of Desolation?
3 – Clue #3: “Overspreading of Abominations” in a Time of War
4 – Clue #4: The “God of Forces”
5 – Clue #5: Better Perspective on Matthew 24
6 – Clue #6: Historical Precedents
7 – Clue #7: Perspective of Ancient Times
8 – Clue #8: What about Daniel 11:31 and 12:11?
9 – Clue #9: Idol Worship in a Secular World?
10 – Clue #10: “Image” and “Abomination” – Separate Inventions
11 – Summary
12 – Appendix: News Articles
Clue #8 – What about Daniel 11:31 and 12:11?
These verses contain the phrases, “shall place the abomination”, and “the abomination that maketh desolate set up.” Both sound as if an idol is being installed.
But there’s more to these expressions than meets the eye. The words “place” and “set up” were both translated from a very common Hebrew word meaning “to give”. It’s one of those catch-all words that can be used in many different ways. This was common in ancient languages whose vocabularies were limited compared to modern English.
As a result translators often had to do some guesswork and judge a word’s meaning by its context. For example, in Daniel 11:31 it would be inappropriate to say, “arms… shall give the abomination”. Thus, a translator would normally insert some other word instead.
Since the setting for the abomination was the “holy place”, the translator must have assumed that the phrase “abomination that maketh desolate” was talking about an idol. And so to go along with that assumption he chose the words “place” and “set up”.
But now here we have to understand that a person’s cultural environment tends to influence his outlook and choice of words. And way back in 1611 the KJV translators didn’t have access to the information we have now – the benefit of enough historical hindsight – to understand what this phrase really meant. In our modern world we have these engines of destruction, these desolating abominations, and we’ve even seen them enter into “holy places”. And so a modern translator might use a word like “deliver” or “send” instead. “Arms… shall send in the abomination that makes desolate”.
Modern translations have not done so, however – probably because of the influence and limitations set down by venerable scholars of the past. It has been too difficult to step “outside the box” of past thinking, to escape the boundaries set by former interpreters who had convinced themselves and everyone else that this had to be talking about an idol.
But we need to think differently and re-translate some of these ancient words according to an understanding of modern developments and inventions. Our interpretation of certain passages needs to catch up with the realities of our present world, not be stuck in the world of the past so much.
Anyway, getting back to these tricky words, “place” and “set up”, here are a few helpful facts and figures (information based on Young’s Analytical Concordance to the Bible in the section “Index-Lexicon to the Old Testament”):
In the original Hebrew the word nathan (meaning “give”) appears 1,973 times in the Old Testament (King James Version). Out of this number the word was translated as “give” 1,023 times, and the rest of the 950 times, the word nathan was assigned a myriad of 66 varying translations, including the ones in Daniel 11:31 and 12:11 – “place” (used 4 times) and “set up” (used only once).
So, all that to say, this word nathan was a pretty flexible one, and to get the right translation of it requires an accurate knowledge of what the passage is talking about, its proper context. (And way back in 1611 they didn’t have that.)
Some of the words, used in other passages to translate nathan, could easily describe the arrival of a war engine of destruction into the “holy place” – words such as “send”, “deliver”, “bring forth”, “set forth”, “shoot”, “thrust”.
To conclude, we do not always have to make our theory conform to the translation; instead, in many cases like this one, we can adjust the translation a bit to suit the modern reality.
One last minor point: In Matthew 24:15 and Mark 13:14 the abomination of desolation is pictured as “standing in the holy place”. We might think this carries the idea that something is going to be installed there. But “standing” can just as easily convey the idea that an object moves to a certain spot, stands there for awhile, and then moves on.