The Law commands two goats be offered, a yearly atonement for the people's sins. One goat is sacrificed on the altar, but interestingly, the other is sent off eastward from the Temple as a scapegoat. First the King James Version (KJV/AV):
Although the details of the complex offering are unknown to the average English-speaker, the idea of 'scapegoat', a substitute for sin or blame, is as familiar as apple-pie. This is because naturally enough, of the powerful and near-endless influence of the King James, or Authorized Version, on our very way of speaking.
'And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat.'
The American KJV follows suit, with scapegoat, as does the New American Standard (NASV - 1971, 1995), World English Bible (WEB).
The Roman Catholic Douay-Rheims edition varies but little, with "emissary goat", not a significant difference, if less popular.
Young's Literal Translation (YLT - 1898) and the Revised Young's Literal Translation (RYLT) give a clear idea, of the meaning of scapegoat, with "goat of departure", which certainly describes its function in the ritual.
Webster's Bible Translation (WBT - ) hyphenates the words, with "scape-goat", leaving the rendering essentially the same.
Even the New International Version (NIV - 1984) gets it right without a fuss: scapegoat.
What can go wrong?
Rather suddenly, with the Revised Version (RV, 1882), we have "Azazel". A proper name of some kind, capitalized!
We are told by the Germans that it refers to some kind of Desert Demon, whom the Israelites sacrificed to under Moses or shortly after, on an equal par with Jehovah the Exclusive and Jealous God. One goat for Jehovah, and one for Azazel, just in case. This of course is 'modern scholarship'.
A 'brilliant innovation' in translation based on the latest research in 1880. ...
It matters not that the God of Israel, the Old Testament is a Jealous, Monotheistic God, who in His very first commandment banishes all other 'gods' to oblivion.
Because, according to the latest new 'scientific' techniques, context doesn't matter, even if it is an overwhelming doctrine permeating throughout the Torah and a thousand years of history.
The new 'Canon' is of course,
(1) 'Prefer the Harder Reading.'
- Because obviously, (not even the 'scribe' this time, but) every translator and commentator for the last 2,000 years were confused, incompetent to translate the word, and naturally emended every translation to 'smooth over' the difficult text. [/sarcasm]
And so, we find, following suite, and not wishing to appear naive and out-of-date, the Darby Bible Translation (DBT), the American Standard Version (ASV), the Bible in Basic English (BBE), GOD'S WORD (GWT, 1995), English Standard Version (ESV, 2001) and even the New Living Translation (NLT, 2007).
On what authority is this nonsense actually based? The reader will be utterly shocked to learn it comes from late speculation by Jews in the Middle Ages, as found in the Book of Enoch:
"the main interpretations have been (a) a local deity, a wilderness goat-demon: Later Jewish literature, notably the Book of Enoch, understood Azazel as a demon, one of the fallen angels and brings him into its complex mythology of supernatural angels and demons."Thats right: The translators of a whole line of 'modern versions', from the RV , ASV, ESV, right up to the NLT, have introduced a damnable heresy and piece of obvious nonsense from the Ethiopic Book of Enoch, a work from the 1st century A.D. rejected by Jews and Christians alike for 2,000 years.
Well, there is no denying that the Book of Enoch is some kind of Jewish Apocalyptic literature from the 1st century. Fragments of it were found at Qumran, with the Dead Sea Scrolls. But it is notable that it is nowhere quoted by Jesus, the Apostles, or Paul, and only briefly does it appear to be mentioned by Jude, although this too is disputed. Obviously Enoch is not in anyone's Canon of Holy Scripture, not the Jews, nor the Catholics, Greek Orthodox, not even the Muslims, excepting the small Coptic Christian Church in Egypt.
Real scholars however identify Enoch as an obvious pseudonymous forgery, and not written by the Biblical Enoch. So what were they thinking in the O.T. Committee room of the Revised Version in 1882? Were they intending to embrace the Coptic Bible? No one knows, except that this was no decision of scholarship, but rather a bizarre short-circuit of the brain, some kind of mass-hypnosis, with the culprit, an early Houdini-like character, perhaps Aleister Crowley himself, escaping in the confusion.
Does 'Prefer the Harder Reading' really lead inevitably to the Book of Enoch?
Or are the majority of sensible translators, such as those behind the King James Version and even the Jewish Talmud correct in rejecting such an assinine piece of foreign drivel?
Lets check the Rabbis: They too speculated later about this early text:
" Rabbinic interpretation understood Azazel to be a cliff off which the goat was driven to its death. The Rabbis, interpreting "Azazel" as "Azaz" (rugged), and "el" (strong), refer it to the rugged and rough mountain cliff from which the goat was cast down (Yoma 67b; Sifra, Ahare, ii. 2; Targ. Yer. Lev. xiv. 10, and most medieval commentators)."... (from the Jewish Encyclopedia).Whether or not the Rabbis were correct in their speculations about the etymology of this word (which after all is secondary to its actual usage in any case), they hardly embraced the 'modern' view. Instead, we are told:
"...Most modern scholars, after having for some time indorsed the old view, have accepted the opinion mysteriously hinted at by Ibn Ezra and expressly stated by Nahmanides to Lev. xvi. 8, that Azazel belongs to the class of "se'irim," goat-like demons, jinn haunting the desert, to which the Israelites were wont to offer sacrifice (Lev. xvii. 7 [A. V. "devils"] (from the Jewish Encyclopedia).
Understand the real source here now. Not the Rabbis. Not the Talmud itself. Not Jewish tradition. But the opinion of the Spanish-born Jewish scholar Nahmanides (1194-1270 A.D.), writing in the Dark Ages at a time of near-illiteracy, even among Jews.
Thus we have: (a) an apocryphal and pseudonymous work from the 1st century, using the word "Azaziel" or something like it as the name of a fallen angel (not a 'desert-demon', and (b) we have the opinion of a 13th century Spanish philosopher that it meant 'desert-demon', something impossible to harmonize either with the Book of Enoch or Leviticus.
And we have 'most modern scholars' (read "idiots") rejecting the context of the entire Bible, and all of Jewish and Christian tradition (including the Coptics who read Enoch as Scripture!), and embracing the opinion of Nahmanides, which turns out to be a Jewish fable.
But don't blame the Jews. They rejected this horse-poop 800 years ago, and prefer the ordinary and obvious meaning of 'azazel' as defined by the context of 3,000 years of Judaism without Nahmanides, or the book of Enoch.
Now it turns out that even more modern scholarship supports the KJV (who knew?):
"Of course, all of that may be for naught if this Hittite parallel is correct and the term is connected with a type of offering.
“In the Leviticus 16 ritual a crux has always been the term laʿazāʾzēl rendered in the Septuagint and Vulgate by “as a scapegoat” (followed by the English AV), but replaced in more recent English translations by “for Azazel,” sometimes thought to denote a wilderness demon. Appealing to scapegoat rites in the Hurrian language from the Hittite archives, Janowski and Wilhelm would derive the biblical term from a Hurrian offering term, azazḫiya. This is particularly appealing to me. There were two goats used in the Leviticus 16 ritual. One is designated for Yahweh as a “sin offering” (Heb. ḥaṭṭāʾṭ, LXX peri hamartias) (16:9), and the other is “for Azazel,” but is presented alive before Yahweh to make atonement, and is sent away into the wilderness “to/for Azazel.” The contrast is twofold: (1) Yahweh versus Azazel, and (2) sin offering versus Azazel. If one adopts the first, Azazel seems to be a divine being or demon, who must be appeased. But if one adopts the second as primary, the word ʿazāʾzēl represents the goal of the action. In the system of Hurrian offering terms to which Wilhelm’s azazḫiya belongs, the terms represent either a benefit that is sought by the offering (e.g., keldiya “for wellbeing,” cf. Heb. šelāmîm), or the central element offered (e.g., zurgiya “blood”). If Janowski and Wilhelm’s theory is correct, the Hebrew term would not denote a demon as recipient of the goat, but some benefit desired (e.g., removal of the sins and impurities) or the primary method of the offering (e.g. the banishment of the goat).”Similar rituals are widely attested in the ancient Near East with examples from Ebla and elsewhere. I'm sure much more could be said about the practice and its ancient parallels. Leviticus 16 and the term Azazel provide a fascinating example of how misunderstandings and speculation sometimes spin off into elaborate traditions that fall far from the likely original meaning of the biblical text.
Harry A. Hoffner, Jr., “Hittite-Israelite Cultural Parallels” in Hallo, W. W., & Younger, K. L. (2003). Context of Scripture, vol. 3 (xxxii). Leiden; Boston: Brill.
King James Version: 1.
Modern Versions: 0.