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 purpose of this article is to give a plausible interpretation of the expression lz)z( on the basis of textual, semantic and contextual evidence, that is, its biblical context, rather than by comparing it to Ancient Near Eastern pagan rituals. One main question to be addressed is: How is the goat for Azazel ritual related to the biblical concept of atonement? Moreover, an attempt will be made to explain why the interpretation proposed in this article may well have been in the mind of both Jewish and Christian post-biblical interpreters.
The Etymology of the Expression Azazel
The idea that lz)z( is a metathesized form of l)zz( is very plausible. There is indeed enough textual evidence that this could be the case. In almost all biblical manuscripts the word Azazel in Lev 16,8.10.26 is spelled lz)z(, except once in the Samaritan Pentateuch. Here the spelling of Azazel is different in one out of three cases: the aleph and the second zayin are reversed, so that it does not read lz)z(, but l)zz(. Moreover, the spelling l)zz( occurs in a paraphrase of Leviticus 16 found among the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QT 26,13). It is unlikely that this instance of metathesis is due to a copyists error, because the same spelling occurs twice in another Qumran document (4Q180 1 7-8)11. Ancient Jewish interpreters may have changed the orthography deliberately to l)zz( in order to make sense out of the word lz)z(. However, another possibility is that l)zz( was the original spelling in Leviticus 16 which underwent metathesis at an early stage in the transmission of the Hebrew Bible, resulting in the form lz)z(. The latter seems more likely, because the etymology of lz)z( is best explained by reading it as l)zz(, both on a semantic and contextual basis.
The expression l)zz( is made up of two words: zz( and l). The latter is clearly the noun l), meaning god. The interpretation of Azazel given in this article takes l) as a reference to God himself, rather than a god or demonic creature. Some modern interpreters draw too close parallels between the biblical goat for Azazel ritual and Ancient Near Eastern pagan rituals. In the Hebrew Bible, the word l) never refers to a demonic creature. Besides, it is unlikely that the word l) means a god, because the other gods the Hebrew Bible speaks about are always described as the creation of people, in other words, their true existence is not acknowledged. Repeatedly the biblical writers affirm that there is no other God besides YHWH12. The Israelite