posted on Jul, 17 2015 @ 05:02 PM
The ritual of the “scapegoat” was part of the ceremonial relating to Atonement.
We find the description in Leviticus ch16.
The first part of the rite appears in vv7-10.
Aaron, or whichever priest is presiding, will select two goats.
He will then “cast lots” to decide which one will be “for the Lord” and which one will be LA AZAZEL.
The second one will then be presented alive before the Lord, “that it may be sent away into the wilderness LA AZA’ZEYL”.
There are two strands of thought about the way that Hebrew word should be translated, and what it implies.
In writings found among the Dead Sea Scrolls, Azazel is identified as the name of a demon.
The current fashion is to accept that reading of the word.
Many modern translations (but not the NIV) talk about “the goat for Azazel”.
Commentators will suggest that Azazel was a local wilderness deity, once known to the Israelites, and that the goat was being sent in his
I don’t know that they come up with any satisfactory reason why a wilderness deity should want “sin” to be given to him, or why it should be
thrust in his direction against his will.
On the other hand, most translations of Leviticus, before modern times, assumed that the word was derived from AZEL, meaning “go away”.
AZ AZEL might mean “the goat that goes away”.
Alternatively, duplicating the “AZ” could have the effect of intensifying the meaning, into “going right away”. LA AZAZEL would then mean
something like “for the purpose of absolute removal”.
Thus from the early Greek translations, we find;
APOMPAIOS (“sent away”) in the Septuagint
APOLOLUMENON (“dismissed”) in the translation of Aquila.
APERCHOMENON (“going away”) in the translation of Symacchus.
The Vulgate Latin text gives us CAPRO EMISSARIO (“the emissary goat”).
While the traditional “scapegoat” of the AV comes, of course, from “escape”, which carries the same idea.
The main problem with the “demon called Azazel” interpretation is that this would stand in complete isolation within the Old Testament. There is
no other scriptural reference to any wilderness power which wants or deserves to have the ownership of “sin”.
Scholars who study the other cultures of the time can find parallels for a ritual of “sending away” bad spiritual things, but not, it seems, for
the intention of sending them TO anyone in particular.
So it’s possible that “Azazel the demon” is a complete misunderstanding. He comes from the demon-obsessed thought world of the era when the Dead
Sea Scrolls were written, rather than the thought-world of the early Israelites who developed the rite in the first place.
It would be comparable to the mistake of the men of Athens, who thought that Paul was talking about a new god called “Resurrection”.
In that case the traditional translations would have it right.
We can find support for that conclusion in the second part of the ritual, when the goat is dismissed (vv21-22).
“Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all the iniquities of the people of Israel… and he shall put
them upon the head of the goat, and send him away into the wilderness… The goat shall bear all their iniquities upon him to a solitary land; and he
shall let the goat go in the wilderness”.
There is no mention here of going “to Azazel” or in any particular direction.
The central thought is simply that the goat is taking the sin far, far away from God’s people.
So I think that gives us the real meaning of the scapegoat ritual.
It is not a case of sending the sin TO any place or entity.
Instead, the whole point is that the sin is being sent AWAY.
On previous occasions, I’ve described Original Sin as humanity taking itself out of alignment with God’s will, a misalignment which interferes
with their relationship with the God who made them.
If this is a fair description, then it’s obviously not possible for sin to be literally “carried away”.
What we have here is a dramatized metaphor which expresses and teaches two important points.
1 ) It is necessary for sin to be remedied. It must not be allowed to remain part of the life of the people.
2 ) It is possible to find a remedy for sin.
These are lessons which we can still absorb from the spectacle of the scapegoat.