Jacqueline C.R. De Roo, «Was the Goat for Azazel Destined for the Wrath of God?», Vol. 81 (2000) 233-242
This article is a proposal to read the enigmatic word lz)z(, occurring in Lev 16,8.10.26, as a metathesized form of l)zz( on the basis of textual, semantic and contextual evidence, and to interpret it as a reference to the powerful wrath of God. This interpretation of the expression Azazel fits its biblical context, because the goat for Azazel evidently had an atoning function (Lev 16,10), it was a means to atone for sin (vv. 21-22). Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible, making atonement for sin is equated with appeasing Gods wrath (Num 16,46-48; 25,6-13). Likewise, the goat for Azazel, carrying the sins of the people, is for the powerful wrath of God, to placate his anger. The proposed interpretation of the goat for Azazel ritual may also have been in the mind of some post-biblical interpreters, both Jewish and Christian.
The Enigma of the Expression Azazel
Both ancient and modern interpreters have been intrigued by the ritual of atonement found in Leviticus 16. The heart of the ritual revolves around two goats which are chosen by lot, one for YHWH (hwhyl) and one for Azazel (lz)z(l). The former is to be slain and offered as a sin-offering to YHWH, the latter is to be sent away alive in the wilderness for Azazel (vv. 8-10, 26). The expression for Azazel is puzzling and various interpretations have been given1. These are surveyed below:
a. The word lz)z( characterizes the goat itself and is a combination of two Hebrew words: lzw) z( or lz) z(2 which can be rendered as departing goat, hence (e)scapegoat. This is a very early interpretation, already found in the Septuagint which translates the Hebrew word lz)z(l in Leviticus 16 as tw|= a)popompai/w| or tou= a)popompai/ou for the one sent away (vv. 8, 10), ei)j th_n a)popomph_n a)fh/sei for the one sent away for release (v. 10) and lz)z(l ry(#h as to_n xi/maron to_n diestalme/non ei)j a!fesin the goat which is determined for release (v. 26). The same interpretation is reflected in the Vulgate which renders it as caper emissarius3.
b. The word lz)z( is the goats destination and means a rough and difficult place or precipice. This interpretation is already found in Rabbinic literature (Yom 67,2)4. G.R. Driver suggests that lz)z( may have been derived from the Arabic azâzu(n) rough ground to which a formative lamed was added5.