On scapegoating



From the Scribe (6/27/14):


This afternoon I was going through my old posts, transferring them to flash drive in preparing Volume 2 of my collections of Blog-posts.   (Volume 2 will soon be available in e-book or “old-fashioned paperback version.”  See For a paperback or e-book version…)

In doing so I ran across this draft of a review of Daily Office readings for last May 19.  It was on scapegoating, but for some reason I never finished.  So here it is:

*   *   *   *

The Old Testament reading in the Daily Office for Monday, May 19, was Leviticus 16:1-19.  Of particular interest is the original idea of a scapegoat.

In modern usage a scapegoat is an individual, group, or country singled out for unmerited negative treatment or blame.   A whipping boy, “fall guy” or “patsy” is a form of scapegoat…    In ancient Greece a cripple or beggar or criminal (the pharmakos) was cast out of the community, either in response to a natural disaster (such as a plague, famine or an invasion) or in response to a calendrical crisis (such as the end of the year)…   In psychology and sociology, the practice of selecting someone as a scapegoat has led to the concept of scapegoating.

See Scapegoat – Wikipedia.   So the original idea was to make “atonement for sin,” an idea that turns a lot of people off (especially liberals and such).

So again, what’s the big deal about “sin?”

As Isaac Asimov explained, to sin “involves separation from God,” which means in turn an unhealthy separation from both The Force that Created the Universe and the community where you live.   Since the whole idea of most religions or spiritual disciplines is to “become one” with both that Force and that Community, that’s not a good thing.  So “atoning for sin” means getting “back on track on this idea of becoming one with God.”   (See On sin and cybernetics.)

Getting back to the Daily Office OT reading for last May, God – through Moses – directed his brother Aaron to take a bull and two goats, to get the people of Israel back on track to remaining one with “God and neighbor.”  Aaron was then directed as follows:

[T]ake the two goats and set them before the Lord at the entrance of the tent of meeting; 8and Aaron shall cast lots on the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel.* 9Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin-offering; 10but the goat on which the lot fell for Azazel* shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, so that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel.

So what the heck is Azazel?

The term is used three times in the Hebrew Bible – what we call the Old Testament – and  has been “traditionally understood either as a scapegoat, or in some traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, as the name of a fallen angel or demon.”

The medieval scholar Nachmanides (1194–1270) identified the Hebrew text as also referring to a demon. . .   However, he did not see the sending of the goat as honoring Azazel as a deity, but as a symbolic expression of the idea that the people’s sins and their evil consequences were to be sent back to the spirit of desolation and ruin, the source of all impurity. The very fact that the two goats were presented before God, before the one was sacrificed and the other sent into the wilderness, was proof that Azazel was not ranked alongside God, but regarded simply as the personification of wickedness. . .

(See Azazel – Wikipedia.)  And by the way, in keeping with the theory that there is “nothing new under the sun,” Azazel these days has become a “comic book supervillain.”

That is, these days he appears in comic books published by Marvel, and in particular those featuring the X-Men. A mutant with the power of teleportation, he is the father of the X-Man Nightcrawler.”  See Azazel (Marvel Comics) – Wikipedia.

As to the reappearance of Azazel – albeit as a comic figure – see Ecclesiastes 1:9:

What has been will be again,
    what has been done will be done again;
    there is nothing new under the sun.



The upper image is courtesy of “fridayfunfact.files.wordpress.com/2011/12/scapegoat.jpg.”

The full text of the “scapegoat” passages:

11 Aaron shall present the bull as a sin-offering for himself, and shall make atonement for himself and for his house; he shall slaughter the bull as a sin-offering for himself. 12He shall take a censer full of coals of fire from the altar before the Lord, and two handfuls of crushed sweet incense, and he shall bring it inside the curtain 13and put the incense on the fire before the Lord, so that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy-seat* that is upon the covenant,* or he will die. 14He shall take some of the blood of the bull, and sprinkle it with his finger on the front of the mercy-seat,* and before the mercy-seat* he shall sprinkle the blood with his finger seven times.

15 He shall slaughter the goat of the sin-offering that is for the people and bring its blood inside the curtain, and do with its blood as he did with the blood of the bull, sprinkling it upon the mercy-seat* and before the mercy-seat.* 16Thus he shall make atonement for the sanctuary, because of the uncleannesses of the people of Israel, and because of their transgressions, all their sins;


There is also a physical Mount Azazel, located in the “Judean Desert 14 km southeast of Jerusalem.” See Let us tour Eretz Yisroel: Mount Azazel:  “A road through the desert connects Jerusalem with Mount Azazel or Jabel Muntar. . .     Most likely, this very road was used to march the scapegoat to its death on the high place of Mount Azazel.”

“As Isaac Asimov explained…”  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at page 157 (on Leviticus).

On the idea of becoming “one with The Force That Created the Universe” (and even your most obnoxious neighbor), see Some Bible basics from Vince Lombardi and Charlie Chan:

Hear what our Lord Jesus Christ said: “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your strength, and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment, and the second is like unto it: you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets.

As to the modern-day “comic book” version:  “Azazel claims that many years ago an ancient horde of demonic humanoid mutants from biblical times called the Neyaphem were in an epic battle with a group of angelic xenophobic mutants. . .   The Neyaphem’s leader, Azazel, was the only one who was able to breach the dimensional void for brief periods of time due to his teleportation powers. His only hope to return to Earth was by impregnating women because his children are linked to his dimension.”   (Which also sounds patently familiar.)


On “nothing new under the sun,” see also Ecclesiastes – Wikipedia:

Ecclesiastes has had a deep influence on Western literature: American novelist Thomas Wolfe wrote:   “[O]f all I have ever seen or learned, that book seems to me the noblest, the wisest, and the most powerful expression of man’s life upon this earth — and also the highest flower of poetry, eloquence, and truth.  I am not given to dogmatic judgments in the matter of literary creation, but if I had to make one I could say that Ecclesiastes is the greatest single piece of writing I have ever known, and the wisdom expressed in it the most lasting and profound.”


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *