a-za'-zel `aza'zel apopompaios; the King James Version Scapegoat, the Revised Version, margin "removal"):


1. The Passages to Be Considered

2. The Proposed Interpretations

(1) The Etymology

(2) The Explanation


1. The Significance of This Action

2. The Jewish Liturgy

I. The Meaning of the Word

See a list of verses on AZAZEL in the Bible.

1. The Passages to Be Considered:

This word is found in connection with the ceremony of the Day of Atonement (which see). According to Le 16:8, Aaron is to cast lots upon the two goats which on the part of the congregation are to serve as a sin offering (16:5), "one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel." In 16:10, after the first goat has been set apart as a sin offering for Yahweh, we read: "But the goat, on which the lot fell for Azazel, shall be set alive before Yahweh, to make atonement for him, to send him away for Azazel into the wilderness." In 16:26 we read: "And he that letteth go the goat for Azazel shall wash his clothes, and bathe his flesh in water." Before this, in 16:21 f mention had been made of what should be done with the goat. After the purification of the (inner) sanctuary, of the tent of meeting, and of the altar, the living goat is to be brought, "and Aaron shall lay both his hands upon the head of the live goat, and confess over him all .... their sins; and he shall put them upon the head of the goat, and shall send him away by the hand of a man that is in readiness into the wilderness: and the goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a solitary land: and he shall let go the goat in the wilderness." But in this last mentioned and most important passage the term under consideration is not found.

See also the McClintock and Strong Biblical Cyclopedia.

2. The Proposed Interpretations:

(1) The Etymology.

Some have derived the word from `az plus 'azal (fortis abiens, "passing away in his strength" or from an intentional alteration of 'el plus `azaz, robur Dei, "strength of God"; compare below the angel of the Book of Enoch); while others have regarded the word as a broken plural of a substantive in the Arabic `azala, and translated it as "lonesomeness," "desert." Now there is an inclination to regard it as a reduplication from `azalzel, derived from the root `azal. If we accept this view, although it is without certainty and an exact analogue cannot be found, we could conclude from the way in which this noun has been formed that we have before us not an abstract term (remotio, "removal," or abitus, "departure"), but a concrete noun, or an adjective, longe remotus ("far removed") or porro abiens ("going far away").

(2) The Explanation.

In Le 16:10,22,26, we would have an acceptable sense, if we regarded this word as expressive of a distinct locality in the wilderness. But this interpretation is impossible, since the law in Le 16:1-34 was given during the wanderings in the wilderness and accordingly presupposed a constant change in the encampment, even if this should be regarded only as the historical background. By the use of the same preposition le- in connection with Yahweh and Azazel, it seems natural to regard the expressions as entirely II and to think of some personal being. Some interpret this word as referring to a demon of the wilderness (compare Ps 106:37; De 32:17; Le 17:7; 2Ch 11:15; Isa 13:21; 34:14; Mt 12:43 ff; Lu 11:24 ff; Re 18:2) and explain the term as "one who has separated himself from God," or "he who has separated himself," or "he who misleads others." But a demon of this kind could not possibly be placed in contrast to Yahweh in this way; and as in the Book of Enoch 6:6; 8:1 ff; 9:6; 10:4 ff; 13:1 ff; 69:2 one of the most prominent of the fallen angels who taught mankind the arts of war and luxury, revealed secrets to them, and is now bound in the wilderness, and is there preserved for the final judgment, because he was mainly responsible for the presence of evil in the world, is called Azael (also Azazel, or Azalzel), it is highly probable that this name was taken from Le 16:1-34. In later times the word Azazel was by many Jews and also by Christian theologians, such as Origen, regarded as that Satan himself who had fallen away from God. In this interpretation the contrast found in Le 16:8, in case it is to be regarded as a full parallelism, would be perfectly correct. But it must be acknowledged that in Holy Scripture, Satan is nowhere called by the name of Azazel, and just as little is the wilderness regarded as his permanent place of abode. Against these last two interpretations we must also recall that in the most significant passage, namely, Le 16:20 ff, the term Azazel is not found at all. The same is true in the case of the ceremony in connection with the purification of leprous people and houses (Le 14:7 ff,49 ff), which throughout suggests Le 16:1-34. In this place we have also the sevenfold sprinkling (compare Le 14:16 with Le 16:14 f); and in addition two animals, in this case birds, are used, of which the one is to be slain for the purpose of sprinkling the blood, but the other, after it has been dipped into the blood of the one that has been slain, is to be allowed to fly away. In this way the essential thought in Le 16:1-34 as also in Le 14:1-57 seems to be the removal of the animal in either case, and it is accordingly advisable to interpret Azazel adjectively, i.e. to forego finding a complete parallelism in Le 16:8, and to regard the preposition in connection with Yahweh as used differently from its use with Azazel, and to translate as follows: "And Aaron shall cast lots over both goats, the one lot [i.e. for the one goat] for Yahweh, and one lot for the goat that is destined to go far away." On the preposition le- used with the second Azazel in Le 16:10, compare Ex 21:2. With this interpretation a certain hardness yet remains for our linguistic sense, because we cannot find a good translation for the adjective. But in favor of this interpretation and against the personal interpretation we can appeal also to the feeling of the Septuagint translators who translate apopompaios, diestalmenos, and also to that of Aquilos, who translates tragos apoluomenos, apolelumenos, kekrataiomenos, and of Symmachus who translates aperchomenos, aphiemenos. (The general idea expressed by all these words is "removal," "sending away," "releasing" or "dismissal.") It is true that the Septuagint in one place translates eis ten apopompen, which however could be also an abstract circumlocution for a conception that, though used elsewhere, is yet awkward. In the Vulgate, we have caper emissarius and Luther says "der ledige Bock," which are probably based on a wrong etymology, since `ez signifies only a goat or perhaps this word "Bock" is here only supplied from the connection, and that quite correctly, so that Luther and the Vulgate can also be cited in favor of our interpretation.

II. What Is Done in Connection with Azazel.

1. The Significance of This Action:

Both goats, according to Le 16:5, are to be regarded as a single sin-sacrifice, even should we interpret Azazel as demon or Satan, and we are accordingly not at all to understand that a sacrifice was brought to these beings. This too is made impossible by the whole tenor of the Old Testament in general, as of Le 16:1-34 in particular, so that in Le 16:8 the two members introduced by the preposition le- would not at all be beings of exactly the same importance. Both goats, so to say, represent two sides of the same thing. The second is necessary to make clear what the first one, which has been slain, can no longer represent, namely, the removal of the sin, and accordingly has quite often aptly been called the hircus redivivus. But what is to be represented finds its expression in the ceremony described in Le 16:20 f. Whatever may be the significance of the laying on of hands in other connections, whether the emphasis is placed more on the disposal or on the appropriation of the property, at this place it certainly is only a symbol of the transfer of guilt, which is confessed over the goat and is then carried into the wilderness by the goat upon which it has been laid. In order to make this transfer all the more impressive, both the hands are here brought into action, while e.g. in Le 1:4 only one hand is used. The fact that the goat is accompanied by somebody and that it is to be taken to an uninhabited place is to indicate the absolute impossibility of its return, i.e. the guilt has been absolutely forgiven and erased, a deep thought made objectively evident in a transparent manner and independently of the explanation of Azazel, which is even yet not altogether certain. In the personal interpretation, we could have, in addition to the idea of the removal of the guilt, also a second idea, namely, that Azazel can do no harm to Israel, but must be content with his claim to a goat which takes Israel's place.

2. The Jewish Liturgy:

The actions in connection with Azazel, as was also the case with the Day of Atonement, were interpreted more fully by the Talmud and the traditions based on it (compare ATONEMENT, DAY OF, sec. III, 2). The lots could be made of different materials; in later times they were made of gold. The manner of casting the lots was described in full. The goat that was to be sent into the wilderness was designated by a black mark on the head, the other by one on the neck. On the way from Jerusalem to the wilderness, huts were erected. From a distance it was possible to see how the goat was hurled backward from a certain cliff, called Beth-Hadudu (Beth-chadedun, 12 miles East of Jerusalem). By means of signals made with garments, news was at once sent to Jerusalem when the wilderness had been reached.

Wilhelm Moller

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