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Hastings' Dictionary of the Bible [1]

AZAZEL . The name in Hebrew and RV [Note: Revised Version.] of the desert spirit to whom one of the two goats was sent, laden with the sins of the people, in the ritual of the Day of Atonement (  Leviticus 16:8;   Leviticus 16:10;   Leviticus 16:26 RV [Note: Revised Version.] , see Atonement [Day of]). Etymology, origin, and significance are still matters of conjecture. The AV [Note: Authorized Version.] designation scapegoat ( i.e. the goat that is allowed to escape, which goes back to the caper emissarius of the Vulgate) obscures the fact that the word Azazel is a proper name in the original, and in particular the name of a powerful spirit or demon supposed to inhabit the wilderness or ‘solitary land’ (  Leviticus 16:22 RV [Note: Revised Version.] ). The most plausible explanation of this strange element in the rite is that which connects Azazel with the illicit worship of field-spirits or satyrs (lit. ‘he-goats’) of which mention is made in several OT passages (  Leviticus 17:7 ,   Isaiah 13:21 etc.). It may have been the intention of the authors of   Leviticus 16:1-34 in its present form to strike at the roots of this popular belief and practice by giving Azazel, probably regarded as the prince of the satyrs, a place in the recognized ritual. Christianity itself can supply many analogies to such a proceeding. The belief that sin, disease, and the like can be removed by being transferred to living creatures, beasts or birds, is not confined to the Semitic races, and has its analogy in Hebrew ritual, in the ceremony of the cleansing of the leper (  Leviticus 14:53 ). In the Book of Enoch ( c [Note: circa, about.] . b.c. 180) Azazel appears as the prince of the fallen angels, the offspring of the unions described in   Genesis 6:1 ff.

A. R. S. Kennedy.

Holman Bible Dictionary [2]


Easton's Bible Dictionary [3]

 Leviticus 16:8,10,26

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia [4]

a - zā´zel עזאזל , ‛ăzā'zēl ἀποπομπαῖος , apopompaı́os  ; the King James Version Scapegoat, the Revised Version, margin "removal"):

I. The Meaning of the Word

1. The Passages to Be Considered

2. The Proposed Interpretations

(1) The Etymology

(2) The Explanation

II. What is Done in Connection with Azazel

1. The Significance of This Action

2. The Jewish Liturgy

I. The Meaning of the Word

1. The Passages to Be Considered

This word is found in connection with the ceremony of the Day of Atonement (which see). According to  Leviticus 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 ( Leviticus 16:5 ), "one lot for Yahweh, and the other lot for Azazel." In  Leviticus 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  Leviticus 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   Leviticus 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.

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 ‛azalā , and translated it as "lonesomeness," "desert." Now there is an inclination to regard it as a reduplication from ‛ăzalzēl , derived from the root ‛āzal . 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  Leviticus 16:10 ,  Leviticus 16:22 ,  Leviticus 16:26 , we would have an acceptable sense, if we regarded this word as expressive of a distinct locality in the wilderness (compare Jewish Tradition , II, 2). But this interpretation is impossible, since the law in Lev 16 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 || and to think of some personal being. Some interpret this word as referring to a demon of the wilderness (compare  Psalm 106:37;  Deuteronomy 32:17;  Leviticus 17:7;  2 Chronicles 11:15;  Isaiah 13:21;  Isaiah 34:14;  Matthew 12:43;  Luke 11:24;  Revelation 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  Leviticus 6:6;  Leviticus 8:1;  Leviticus 9:6;  Leviticus 10:4;  Leviticus 13:1; 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 Lev 16. 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  Leviticus 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,  Leviticus 16:20 , 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 ( Leviticus 14:7 ,  Leviticus 14:49 ff), which throughout suggests Lev 16. In this place we have also the sevenfold sprinkling (compare   Leviticus 14:16 with   Leviticus 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 Lev 16 as also in Lev 14 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   Leviticus 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  Leviticus 16:10 , compare  Exodus 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 apopompaı́os , diestalménos , and also to that of Aquilos, who translates trágos apoluómenos , apoleluménos , kekrataiōménos , and of Symmachus who translates aperchómenos , aphieménos . (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 tḗn apopómpēn , 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 ‛ēz 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  Leviticus 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 Lev 16 in particular, so that in  Leviticus 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  Leviticus 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   Leviticus 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 , 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-Hadûdû ( Bēth - ḥudêdûn , 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.

Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature [5]

[so Milton] (Hebrews Azazel', עֲזָאזֵל ), a word of doubtful interpretation, occurring only in the ordinance of the festival of expiation ( Leviticus 16:8;  Leviticus 16:10;  Leviticus 16:26).

1. Some contend that it is the name itself of the Goat Sent into the desert. So Symmachus Τράγος Ἀπερχόμενος Aquila Τράγος Ἀπολελυμένος , Vulgate Hircus Emissarius; but not the Septuagint (for Τῷ Ἀποπομπαίῳ in  Leviticus 16:8, is by no means to be explained, with Theodoret and Cyril, by Τῷ Ἀποπεμπομένῳ , nor the Mishna (for the expression שֵׂעִיר הִשְּׁתִּלֵּחִ , Hircus Emissus, of Yoma, 4, 2; 6:1, 2, is only added as a gloss on account of the occurrence of שִׁלִּח in the Hebrews text). It should also be observed that in the latter clause of  Leviticus 16:10, the Sept. renders the Hebrew term as if it was an abstract noun, translating לִעֲזָאזֵל by Εἰς Τὴν Ἀποπομπήν . Buxtorf (Heb. Lex.) and Fagius (Critici Sacri in loc.), in accordance with this view of its meaning, derived the word from עֵז , A Goat, and אָזִל , to depart. To this derivation it has been objected by Bochart, Winer, and others, that עֵז denotes a She-Goat. It is, however, alleged that the word appears to be epicene in  Genesis 30:33,  Leviticus 3:12, etc.

But the application of עֲזָאזֵל to the goat itself involves the Hebrew text in insuperable difficulties. In v. 10, 26, the Azazel clearly seems to be distinguished as that For or To which the goat is let loose. It can hardly be supposed that the prefix which is common to the designation of the two lots should be used in two different meanings, if both objects were beings.

2. Some have taken Azazel for the name of the place to which the goat was sent.

(1) Aben-Ezra quotes the words of an anonymous writer referring it to a hill near Mount Sinai. Vatablus adopts this opinion (Critici Sacri, in Leviticus 16).

(2) Some of the Jewish writers, with Le Clerc, consider that it denotes the cliff to which the goat was taken to be thrown down. So Pseudo- Jonathan, Saadias, Arabs Erpenii and Jarchi, interpret a Hard or Diffcult Place (comp. Mishna, Yoma, 6, 6).

(3) Bochart (Hieroz. 1, 749 sq.) regarded the word as a "pluralis fractus" signifying Desert Places, and understood it as a general name for any fit place to which the goat might be sent. This has the approbation of Hackmann (Praecid. Sacr. 1, 232-275). But Gesenius remarks that the "pluralis fractus," which exists in Arabic, is not found in Hebrew. Moreover, on this interpretation the context (ver. 10) would contain a palpable tautology, for the goat was to be sent to Azazel in the wilderness. Moreover, no such place as Azazel is elsewhere mentioned; and had it been a mountain, הִר would not have been omitted.

3. Many of those who have studied the subject very closely take Azazel for a personal being to whom the goat was sent.

(1) Gesenius gives to עֲזָאזֵל the same meaning as the Sept. has assigned to it, if Ἀποπομπαῖος is to be taken in its usual sense; but the being so designated he supposes to be some false deity who was to be appeased by such a sacrifice as that of the goat. He derives the word from a root unused in Hebrew, but found in Arabic, עָזִל , To Remove or Take Away (Hebrews Lex. s.v.). Ewald agrees with Gesenius, and speaks of Azazel as a daemon belonging to the preMosaic religion.

(2) But others, with scarcely less superstition, have regarded him as an evil spirit, or the devil himself. So, among the rabbins, Menahem, who mentions the four arch-daemons Sammael, Azazel, Azae1, and Machazeel. In Pirke Elieser, c. 46, it is stated that Azazel, for the propitiation of which the goat was let loose, is the same daemon with Sammael (compare Eisenmenger, Entd. Judenth. 2, 157; Zohar, Ad Genesis 2, in Castell, Opp. Posth. p. 309). In the apocryphal book of Enoch, Azazel (not Azazyel) is among the chief of the spirits by whose doctrine and influence the. earth was corrupted (8:1; 10:12; 13:1 sq.; 15:9), and among the Greek writers the same name (Azalzel, Ἀζαλζήλ ) occurs (Fabric. Cod. Pseudepigr. 1, 18, 183; sometimes Azaol, Ἀζαήλ , but this by confusion for another daemon, Asael); and in Syrian authors (Cod. Nasar. 1, 240) it is the name of an evil spirit otherwise called Barbag. The same title ( Ἀζαζήλ ) among the Gnostics signified either Satan or some other daemon (Epiphan. Haer. 34); on which account Origen (Contra Cels. vi, p. 305, ed. Spenc.) did not hesitate, in the passage of Leviticus in question, to understand the Devil as meant. From the Jews and Christians, the word passed over to the Arabians (see Reland, De Rel. Mo. hammed. p. 189); and so, in later magical treatises, Azazel and Azael are reckoned among the genii that preside over the elements. Among moderns this view has been copiously illustrated by Spencer (De legibus Hebraeorum ritualibus, 3, diss. 8, p. 1039-1085), and has been assented to by Rosenm Ü ller (ad Leviticus in loc.), Ammon (Bibl. Theol. 1, 360), Von Coln (Bibl. Theol. 1, 199), Hengstenberg (Christol. I, 1, 36). The following are the arguments used in its support:

(a) The contrast of terms ("to the Lord," "to Azazel") in the text naturally presumes a person to be intended, in opposition to and contradistinction from Jehovah.

(b) The desert, whither the consecrated goat of Azazel was sent away, was accounted the peculiar abode of daemons (see  Isaiah 13:21;  Isaiah 34:13-14;  Baruch 4:35;  Tobit 8:3;  Matthew 12:43;  Revelation 18:2; Maimonid. Nevoch. 3, 30).

(c) This interpretation may be confirmed by the early derivation of the word, i. q. עזזאּאל , signifying either Strength Of God (comp. Gabriel), if referred to a once good but now fallen angel, Or Powerful Against God, as applied to a malignant daemon. Spencer derives the word from עִז , fortis, and אָזִל , explaining it as Cito Recedens, which he affirms to be a most suitable name for the evil spirit. He supposes that the goat was given up to the devil, and committed to his disposal. Hengstenberg affirms with great confidence that Azazel cannot possibly be any thing but another name for Satan. He repudiates the conclusion that the goat was in any sense a sacrifice to Satan, and does not doubt that it was sent away laden with the sins of God's people, now forgiven, in order to mock their spiritual enemy in the desert, his proper abode, and to symbolize by its free gambols their exulting triumph. He considers that the origin of the rite was Egyptian, and that the Jews substituted Satan for Typhon, whose dwelling was the desert.

On the other hand, this explanation is forbidden by the total absence in the O. Test. of any reference to evil genii; and it would be especially abhorrent to the spirit of the Mosaic economy to suppose a solemn offering of this kind to have been made out of deference to any of those daemons the propitiation of which the law so explicitly condemns ( Leviticus 17:7;  Deuteronomy 22:17; comp.  2 Chronicles 11:15;  Psalms 106:37). The obvious objection to Spencer's view is that the goat formed part of a sin-offering to the Lord. Few, perhaps, will be satisfied with Hengstenberg's mode of meeting this difficulty.

4. A better explanation of the word renders the designation of the lot לָעֲזָאזֵל , "for Complete sending Away" = Solitude, Desert, by reduplication from עָזִל (the root adopted by Gesenius), being the Pealpal form, which indicates intensity (see Ewald, Kr. Gr. p. 242; .comp. Lehrgeb. p. 869), so as to signify total Separation . (Tholuck, Hebr. p. 80; Bahr, Symbolik D. Mos. Cultus, 2, 668), i.e. from sin, q. d. a bearer away of guilt; a sense agreeable to the rendering of the Sept. ( Άποπομπαῖος , as explained by Suidas, and as used by Pollux, v. 26), the solution of Josephus (Ant. 3, 10, 3), and the explanation of other ancient writers (Cyrill, contra Julian. 9; comp. Suicer, Thesaur. Eccles. 1, 468). The only objection that has been offered to this interpretation is that it destroys the exact antithesis between Jehovah and Azazel, by making the latter a thing and not a person, like the former. But this assumes that it was the design of Moses, in expressing himself thus, to preserve an exact antithesis, which is by no means evident. If we render "the one for Jehovah and the other for an utter removal," a meaning sufficiently clear and good is obtained. (See Day Of Atonement).

For a farther discussion of the import and application of this word, see Prof. Bush, Azazel, or the Levitical Scape-goat, in the Am. Bib. Repos. July, 1842, p. 116-136; Hermansen, Obs. de nomine Azazel (Havn. 1833; comp. Theoleg. Literaturbl. 1835); Gesenius, Thes. Heb. p. 1012 sq.; Schaffshausen, De hirco emissario ejusque ritibus (Lips. 1736); Shroder, De Azazelis hirco ejisque rit. (Marb. 1725); Von Slooten, De hirco qui expiationis die cessit Azazeli (Franec. 1726); Frischmuth, De hirco emissario (Jen. 1664-1668); Zeitmann, Dehirci emissarii ductore (Jen. 1701). (See Scape-Goat).