Saturday, May 11, 2019

The Scapegoat

Alice C. Linsley

Leviticus 16:11-16 contains instructions for Aaron's first entrance into the Tent of Meeting and the veiled Shrine of the High God YHWH. Aaron is to prepare by washing himself and vesting in the garments of the high priest. He is to offer a bull to make expiation for himself and for his household. He is to slaughter the bull and with his finger he is to sprinkle some of the bull's blood over the "cover" on the east side and in front of the cover he is to sprinkle the blood seven times with his finger. By this means Aaron is to "purge" the Shrine of the uncleanness and transgression of the Israelites.

After he has made expiation for himself and his household, Aaron is to purge the altar that is before the LORD. He is to take some of the blood of the bull and the he-goat and apply it to the horns of the altar and the rest of the blood is to be sprinkled on the altar seven times with his finger. (Lev. 16:17-19. All references used in this post follow the verse numbers of the Hebrew Bible.)

Leviticus 16 also speaks of another goat. This is the goat that is to be sent away and it is usually referred to as the "scapegoat." However, the goat is designated "Azaz-el" which means the "strong one of God." This goat is led by a ruler of the people, designated itti, to the wilderness where it is released. This goat also makes expiation (verse 10). The ruler who sets the Azaz-el free in the wilderness is to wash his clothes and bathe his body before he re-enters the camp (verse 26).

It is interesting that the remains of the sacrificed bull and goat are also to be taken outside the camp where they are to be consumed in fire (holocaust). He who burns them is to wash his clothes and bathe himself before he may re-enter the camp (verse 28).

Christians have noted parallels to the Gospel narratives about Jesus Messiah. He was driven into the wilderness by the Holy Spirit where he contended with temptations.

Jesus is a "sent-away" son. In the Bible the sent-away sons are the heroes and it is to them that God delivers a kingdom.

His death was on a hill "outside the camp" of Jerusalem.

He was crucified by the Romans, but he was led to them by the High Priest, a ruler of the people.

His blood is regarded as the final and sufficient covering for the sins of the world.

Christians believe Jesus to be the "strong man" and this sheds a different light on the parable of the strong man in Mark 3.

A shaved priest (korah) sacrificing a ram

What happened to the ram?

Leviticus 16:5 mentions a ram that is to be offered also, but the ram is not mentioned again in the entire chapter. This is curious because the ram was a sacred offering among the Horite Hebrew, Aaron's ruler-priest caste. The "binding of Isaac" (Akadeh) in Genesis 22 ends with Isaac's life being spared through divine intervention and the substitution of a ram.

For Abraham the Horite Hebrew, the lamb was associated with the east and the rising of the sun. The ram was associated with the west, the setting sun, and the future. This belief emerged from the solar imagery of the Proto-Gospel. Horus, the son of Ra was depicted as being one with the Father. He rode with the Father on the solar boat. The boat of the morning hours was called Mandjet and the boat of the evening hours was called Mesektet. While Horus was on Mandjet he was in the form of a lamb. While in the Mesektet, he was in his ram-headed form.

It was the custom of the Hebrews in Egypt to observe certain festivals. One was the festival of the death and resurrection of Horus who was called "son" of God. This lasted five days and involved sowing wheat seed in the fields. Perhaps this is why Jesus spoke of his impending death using the image of a seed being sown in the ground in order to give life (John 12:24).

Another festival involved a three-day journey into the wilderness. This likely involved sacrifice of a ram, an animal that was sacred to the Egyptians. (See Exodus 3:18; 5:3, and 8:26-28.) This is why Moses said to Pharaoh that the Hebrew clans had to make a three-day journey into the wilderness. "...for the sacrifices that we offer to the LORD our God are an abomination to the Egyptians. If we offer in the sight of the Egyptians sacrifices that are an abomination to them, will they not stone us?”

There is an interesting linguistic connection between the ram and the soul in ancient Egyptian thought. Both are the same word - ba. No wonder the Egyptians did not kill rams!

Related reading: Rabbinic Take on the Word Azazel; What Abraham Discovered on Mount Moriah; The Ra-Horus-Hathor Narrative; Sent-Away Sons

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