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.
plausible rendering for the word zz( is furious power or powerful wrath20. Therefore, given lz)z( is a metathesized form of l)zz(, a likely rendering for the expression Azazel is the powerful wrath of God. Yet it needs to be investigated whether this interpretation of Azazel fits within its context.
The Biblical Context of the Expression Azazel: The Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16
The goat for Azazel ritual is found in a passage which has as its main theme The Day of Atonement (notice the recurrence of the root rpk vv. 6, 10, 11, 16, 17-18, 20, 24, 27, 30, 32-34; cf. Myrpkh Mwy in Lev 23,27.28). Moreover, it is significant that the goat for Azazel plays a direct role in atonement:
The goat on which the lot fell for Azazel shall be presented alive before YHWH to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away into the wilderness to Azazel (v. 10).
Aaron is supposed to lay his hands on the head of the goat for Azazel while confessing the sins of the people, putting the sins on the goats head before it is driven into the wilderness (vv. 21-22). So the goat for Azazel is an important element in atoning for sin.
The Hebrew word for to make atonement in Lev 16,10 is rpk. Its primary meaning is uncertain21. Yet a case can be made that in atonement for sin Gods anger is placated, in other words, he is propitiated or appeased. Elsewhere in the Hebrew Bible making atonement is equated with turning away the wrath of God. In Numbers 16, Moses tells Aaron to make atonement for the sinful Israelites, because wrath has gone out from YHWH in the form of a plague (v. 46). Aarons act of atonement stops the plague, the expression of Gods anger (vv. 47-48)22. Numbers 25, describing Phinehass killing of the Israelite and the Midianite woman, also clearly speaks of atonement as a means to appease Gods wrath. The mixed couple killed by Phinehas clearly symbolizes evil. In v. 11 God says about Phinehas: He has turned back my wrath from the Israelites by manifesting such zeal among them on my behalf that in my jealousy I did not consume the Israelites. In v. 13 the same thought is expressed in slightly different terms: He [Phinehas] was zealous for his God and made atonement for the Israelites. Phinehass zealous act is described as both turning away Gods wrath and atoning for the Israelites, showing that atonement is a way to appease God23.