Topics Biblical Interpretation
The Scapegoat: The Pseudepigrapha and Azazel
By Jeff A. Benner
In the realm of Biblical Books, there are four different groups of books; the Tanach (Old Testament), the New Testament, the Apocrypha and the Pseudepigrapha.
Judaism accepts the first as cannon, Christianity the first two, Catholicism the first three, but none of the major Judeo Christian religions accept the fourth within their cannon of scripture. This is to their disadvantage because the books of the Pseudepigrapha can often shed light on passages in the other three. One example of this is the scapegoat.
The following is a literal translation of Leviticus 16:7-10.
"And take the two goats and stand them up before YHWH at the entrance to the tent of meeting. And Aharon will give the two goats over to the casting of lots, one lot to YHWH and one lot to Azazel. And Aharon will bring the goat which over him was cast the lot to YHWH and make him a sin offering. And the goat which was over him the lot cast to Azazel, he will stand alive before YHWH to make atonement to send him to Azazel in the wilderness."
Each goat represents one type of person. The goat selected for YHWH represents the obedient servent who is committed to God; this one sacrifices his life to serve before YHWH. The other goat represents the haughty and proud who is free to live his life his own way, separate from YHWH and sent out into the wilderness.
While it would seem that the goat released into the wilderness has the better deal, this is not true, the goat that is sacrificed to YHWH is completely dedicated to YHWH while the other is sent out into the wilderness, probably to die from starvation. The Jewish tradition actually says that the goat was taken to a high place, a cliff, and thrown over it.
What exactly is Azazel? There have been three theories. The first is that it is a combination word meaning "goat" (az) and "shake" or "sent away" (azel), hence the translation in some Bibles of "scapegoat". The second is that the word is the place to which the goat was sent; a desert, solitary place, or a high place. The third is that Azazel is the name of an individual, angel or demon. The later makes more sense as the Hebrew says that one of the goats is "to" YHWH, while the other is "to" Azazel (one who is the opposite of YHWH). The Hebrew translated as "to" could also be translated as "for" or "belonging to."
Many times passages in the Bible cannot be understood correctly without outside sources to shed light on the ancient cultural understandings and background. While many people are attempting to interpret this passage based on the Bible alone, creating many different interpretations, the actual meaning of Azazel can be found in the book of Enoch.
ENOCH 8:1-3 And Azazel taught men to make swords, and knives, and shields, and breastplates, and made known to them the metals of the earth and the art of working them, and bracelets, and ornaments, and the use of antimony, and the beautifying of the eyelids, and all kinds of costly stones, and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways
ENOCH 10:1-8 Then said the Most High, the Holy and Great One spake, and sent Uriel to the son of Lamech, and said to him: 'Go to Noah and tell him in my name "Hide thyself!" and reveal to him the end that is approaching: that the whole earth will be destroyed, and a deluge is about to come upon the whole earth, and will destroy all that is on it. And now instruct him that he may escape and his seed may be preserved for all the generations of the world.' And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire... the whole earth has been corrupted 9 through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.
ENOCH 54:3-6 And there mine eyes saw how they made these their instruments, iron chains of immeasurable weight. And I asked the angel of peace who went with me, saying: "For whom are these chains being prepared? And he said unto me: "These are being prepared for the hosts of Azazel, so that they may take them and cast them into the abyss of complete condemnation, and they shall cover their jaws with rough stones as the Lord of Spirits commanded. And Michael, and Gabriel, and Raphael, and Phanuel shall take hold of them on that great day, and cast them on that day into the burning furnace, that the Lord of Spirits may take vengeance on them for their unrighteousness in becoming subject to Satan and leading astray those who dwell on the earth."
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