15

In Leviticus 16.8-10, there is a reference to Azazel (עֲזָאזֵל):

חוְנָתַן אַהֲרֹן עַל שְׁנֵי הַשְּׂעִירִם גֹּרָלוֹת גּוֹרָל אֶחָד לַיהֹוָה וְגוֹרָל אֶחָד לַעֲזָאזֵל:
טוְהִקְרִיב אַהֲרֹן אֶת הַשָּׂעִיר אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַיהוָֹה וְעָשָׂהוּ חַטָּאת:
יוְהַשָּׂעִיר אֲשֶׁר עָלָה עָלָיו הַגּוֹרָל לַעֲזָאזֵל יָעֳמַד חַי לִפְנֵי יְהוָֹה לְכַפֵּר עָלָיו לְשַׁלַּח אֹתוֹ לַעֲזָאזֵל הַמִּדְבָּרָה:

And Aaron shall place lots upon the two he goats: one lot "For the Lord," and the other lot, "For Azazel."
And Aaron shall bring the he goat upon which the lot, "For the Lord," came up, and designate it as a sin offering.
And the he goat upon which the lot "For Azazel" came up, shall be placed while still alive, before the Lord, to [initiate] atonement upon it, and to send it away to Azazel, into the desert.

It would be extraordinarily unusual for Aaron to be sacrificing a goat to a separate entity. Arguably the most important prayer in Judaism is the Shema, "Hear oh Israel, the Lord is G-d, the Lord is One!"

  • So, then, who or what is Azazel? Is Azazel a deity or a concept (as discussed under Wikipedia: Scapegoat)?
    • If the former, why would Aaron be sacrificing to a second entity?
    • If the latter, what did the ceremony actually mean?
  • jewishencyclopedia.com/articles/2203-azazel could help, especially if you can track down the references (see the bottom). – HDE 226868 May 9 '15 at 0:48
  • 1
    The name Azazel is typically associated with a demon though it could be a place in this instance. Every footnote I've seen on those verses (it's also in verse 26) says that we don't really know. – user93 May 9 '15 at 8:28
  • I think what the ceremony means is a little to close to dogma and not too much about mythology. Among the various Jews and Christians, there's probably a number of interpretations. – user93 May 9 '15 at 8:36
11

In Aron Pinker's article "A Goat for Azazel", in the Journal of Hewbrew Scriptures, he suggests Azazel (עזאזל), was originally it's homophone עזזאל, or "Powerful God", residing in the desert. In effect, both goats would be offered to the same God, in two different aspects and locations.

He concludes as follows:

Jewish tradition associates the outstanding manifestations or attributes of God with the deity’s various names. Thus with יהוה is associated “mercy,” with אלהים “justice,” with שלום “peace,” etc. It has been shown that significant evidence suggests that biblical עזאזל was originally the homophone עזזאל “Powerful God,” whose abode on earth was in the desert. Perhaps, עזזאל was associated with the deity’s attribute of strength, explaining the coming of the deity from the desert in theophanies.

The ritual described in Lev 16:5–26 was to the same God, potentially being at two locations—the Temple or the desert, and identified as יהוה and עזזאל respectively. This would explain the meticulous rite of ensuring sameness of sacrifice and leaving the final pick of the scapegoat to God via the procedure of a lot. On the unique Day of Atonement God (as יהוה and עזזאל ) was approached at both locations, there could not be even the slightest show of preference.

In later times, God’s abode in the Temple or Jerusalem completely displaced God’s desert abode, relegating it to evil forces as was the belief in Near-Eastern cultures. In this process עזזאל , or a derivative of this name, became a satanic figure.

This is hardly the only available interpretation, but he makes a very compelling, and well-supported, case.

  • Good find. I'm not sure if I can accept an answer with only one source / opinion on such a contentious issue, but I'll certainly upvote it. – durron597 May 10 '15 at 5:25
  • @durron597 - Frankly, I agree. It's nowhere near a comprehensive answer, but no way am I going to attempt that, and it seemed interesting enough to to be worth an answer. – femtoRgon May 10 '15 at 6:02

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