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Azazel (demonology)

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Azazel [ə-ˈzā-zəl], also known as Azazael or Azâzêl (Hebrew: עֲזָאזֵל, Azazel; Arabic: عَزازِيل, Azāzīl) is a term used three times in the Hebrew scriptures, and later in Hebrew mythology as the enigmatic name of a demonic character. The meaning of Azazel is that of "who God strengthens".

The term in the Bible is limited to three uses in Leviticus 16, where a goat is designated a-aza'zeyl; either "for absolute removal" or "for Azazel" and outcast in the desert as part of Yom Kippur.

Hebrew Leviticus

Leviticus 16:8–10 reads:

"and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for Azazel. 9And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; 10while the goat designated by lot for Azazel shall be left standing alive before the Lord, to make expiation with it and to send it off to the wilderness for Azazel."

The meaning of Azazel is uncertain; possibly the name of a place or a demon, traditionally a scapegoat; also verses 10, 26". Most scholars accept the indication of some kind of demon or deity, however Judit M. Blair notes that this is an argument without supporting contemporary text evidence.

Ida Zatelli (1998) has suggested that the Hebrew ritual parallels pagan practice of sending a scapegoat into the desert on the occasion of a royal wedding found in two ritual texts in archives at Ebla (24th C. BC). A she-goat with a silver bracelet hung from her neck was driven forth into the wasteland of 'Alini' by the community. There is no mention of an "Azazel".

According to The Expositor's Bible Commentary, Azazel is the Hebrew word for scapegoat. This is the only place that the Hebrew word is found in the whole Hebrew Old Testament. It says that the Book of Enoch, (extra-biblical Jewish theological literature, dated around 200 B.C.) is full of demonology and reference to fallen angels. The EBC (Vol 2) says that this text uses late Aramaic forms for these names which indicates that The Book of Enoch most likely relies upon the Hebrew Leviticus text rather than the Leviticus text being reliant upon the Book of Enoch.

In Greek and later translations

The translators of the Greek Septuagint understood the Hebrew term as meaning the sent away, and read: "and Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Lord and the other lot for the scapegoat (Greek apompaios dat.).

And Aaron shall present the goat on which the lot fell for the Lord, and offer it as a sin offering; but the goat on which the lot of the sent away one fell shall be presented alive before the Lord to make atonement over it, that it may be sent away (Greek eis ten apompen acc.) into the wilderness."

Following the Septuagint, the Latin Vulgate, Martin Luther and the King James Bible also give readings such as Young's Literal Translation: 'And Aaron hath given lots over the two goats, one lot for Jehovah, and one lot for a goat of departure;'

This is rendered Za-za-e'il (the strong one against/of God), according to the Syriac Peshitta Version, as in Qumran fragment 4Q180.

The rite of the scapegoat in Rabbinical literature

Mount Azazel (Jabel Muntar) in the Judean Desert, to which the goat was sent, and from which it was pushed.Cliffs of Mount Azazel (Jabel Muntar).The Mishnah (Yoma 39a) follows the Hebrew Bible text; two goats were procured, similar in respect of appearance, height, cost, and time of selection. Having one of these on his right and the other on his left, the high priest, who was assisted in this rite by two subordinates, put both his hands into a wooden case, and took out two labels, one inscribed "for Yahweh" and the other "for absolute removal" (or "for Azazel"). The high priest then laid his hands with the labels upon the two goats and said, "A sin-offering to Yahweh" (thus speaking the Tetragrammaton); and the two men accompanying him replied, "Blessed be the name of His glorious kingdom for ever and ever." He then fastened a scarlet woolen thread to the head of the goat "for Azazel"; and laying his hands upon it again, recited the following confession of sin and prayer for forgiveness: "O Lord, I have acted iniquitously, trespassed, sinned before Thee: I, my household, and the sons of Aaron Thy holy ones. O Lord, forgive the iniquities, transgressions, and sins that I, my household, and Aaron's children, Thy holy people, committed before Thee, as is written in the law of Moses, Thy servant, 'for on this day He will forgive you, to cleanse you from all your sins before the Lord; ye shall be clean.'"

This prayer was responded to by the congregation present. A man was selected, preferably a priest, to take the goat to the precipice in the wilderness; and he was accompanied part of the way by the most eminent men of Jerusalem. Ten booths had been constructed at intervals along the road leading from Jerusalem to the steep mountain. At each one of these the man leading the goat was formally offered food and drink, which he, however, refused. When he reached the tenth booth those who accompanied him proceeded no further, but watched the ceremony from a distance. When he came to the precipice he divided the scarlet thread into two parts, one of which he tied to the rock and the other to the goat's horns, and then pushed the goat down (Yoma vi. 1–8). The cliff was so high and rugged that before the goat had traversed half the distance to the plain below, its limbs were utterly shattered. Men were stationed at intervals along the way, and as soon as the goat was thrown down the precipice, they signaled to one another by means of kerchiefs or flags, until the information reached the high priest, whereat he proceeded with the other parts of the ritual.

The scarlet thread is symbolically referenced in Isaiah 1.18; and the Talmud states (ib. 39a) that during the forty years that Simon the Just was high priest, the thread actually turned white as soon as the goat was thrown over the precipice: a sign that the sins of the people were forgiven. In later times the change to white was not invariable: a proof of the people's moral and spiritual deterioration, that was gradually on the increase, until forty years before the destruction of the Second Temple, when the change of color was no longer observed (l.c. 39b).

Personification of impurity

The medieval mystic Nachmanides (1194–1270) identified the Hebrew text as referring to a demon, and identified this "Azazel" with Samael. However, he did not see the sending of the goat as honouring Azazel as a deity, but as a symbolic expression of the idea that the people's sins and their evil consequences were to be sent back to the spirit of desolation and ruin, the source of all impurity. The very fact that the two goats were presented before God, before the one was sacrificed and the other sent into the wilderness, was proof that Azazel was not ranked alongside God, but regarded simply as the personification of wickedness in contrast with the righteous government of God.

Maimonides (1134–1204) says that as sins cannot be taken off one’s head and transferred elsewhere, the ritual is symbolic, enabling the penitent to discard his sins: “These ceremonies are of a symbolic character and serve to impress man with a certain idea and to lead him to repent, as if to say, ‘We have freed ourselves of our previous deeds, cast them behind our backs and removed them from us as far as possible’.”

The rite, resembling, on one hand, the sending off of the basket with the woman embodying wickedness to the land of Shinar in the vision of Zechariah (5:6-11), and, on the other, the letting loose of the living bird into the open field in the case of the leper healed from the plague (Lev 14:7), was, indeed, viewed by the people of Jerusalem as a means of ridding themselves of the sins of the year. So would the crowd, called Babylonians or Alexandrians, pull the goat's hair to make it hasten forth, carrying the burden of sins away with it (Yoma vi. 4, 66b; "Epistle of Barnabas," vii.), and the arrival of the shattered animal at the bottom of the valley of the rock of Bet Ḥadudo, twelve miles away from the city, was signalized by the waving of shawls to the people of Jerusalem, who celebrated the event with boisterous hilarity and amid dancing on the hills (Yoma vi. 6, 8; Ta'an. iv. 8). Evidently the figure of Azazel was an object of general fear and awe rather than, as has been conjectured, a foreign product or the invention of a late lawgiver. More as a demon of the desert, it seems to have been closely interwoven with the mountainous region of Jerusalem.

Azazel in Jewish mythology

Pre-Jewish sources

Despite the expectation of Brandt (1889) to date no evidence has surfaced of Azazel as a demon or god prior to the earliest Jewish sources among the Dead Sea Scrolls.

Dead Sea Scrolls and 1 Enoc

In the Dead Sea Scrolls the name Azazel occurs in the line 6 of 4Q203, the Book of the Giants. This is a part of the Enochic literature about fallen angels found at Qumran.

According to the Book of Enoch, which brings Azazel into connection with the Biblical story of the fall of the angels, located on Mount Hermon, a gathering-place of demons from of old (Enoch xiii.; compare Brandt, "Mandäische Theologie," 1889, p. 38). Azazel is represented in the Book of Enoch as one of the leaders of the rebellious Watchers in the time preceding the flood; he taught men the art of warfare, of making swords, knives, shields, and coats of mail, and women the art of deception by ornamenting the body, dying the hair, and painting the face and the eyebrows, and also revealed to the people the secrets of witchcraft and corrupted their manners, leading them into wickedness and impurity; until at last he was, at the Lord's command, bound hand and foot by the Archangel Raphael and chained to the rough and jagged rocks of [Ha] Duduael (= Beth Ḥadudo), where he is to abide in utter darkness until the great Day of Judgment, when he will be cast into the fire to be consumed forever (Enoch viii. 1, ix. 6, x. 4–6, liv. 5, lxxxviii. 1; see Geiger, "Jüd. Zeit." 1864, pp. 196–204).


The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.
— 1 Enoch 10:8

According to 1 Enoch (a book of the Apocrypha), Azazel (here spelled ‘ăzā’zyēl) was one of the chief Grigori, a group of fallen angels who married women. This same story (without any mention of Azazel) is told in Genesis 6:2–4:

That the sons of God saw the daughters of men that they were fair; and they took them wives of all which they chose. […] There were giants in the earth in those days; and also afterward, when the sons of God came in unto the daughters of men, and they bore children to them, the same became mighty men which were of old, men of renown.

1 Enoch portrays Azazel as responsible for teaching people to make weapons and cosmetics, for which he was cast out of heaven. 1 Enoch 8:1–3a reads:

And Azazel taught men to make swords and knives and shields and breastplates; and made known to them the metals [of the earth] and the art of working them; and bracelets and ornaments; and the use of antimony and the beautifying of the eyelids; and all kinds of costly stones and all colouring tinctures. And there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray and became corrupt in all their ways.

The corruption brought on by Azazel and the Grigori degrades the human race, and the four archangels (Michael, Gabriel, Raphael, and Phanuel) saw much blood being shed upon the earth and all lawlessness being wrought upon the earth […] The souls of men [made] their suit, saying, "Bring our cause before the Most High; […] Thou seest what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were in heaven, which men were striving to learn."

God sees the sin brought about by Azazel and has Raphael “bind Azazel hand and foot and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert – which is in Dudael – and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there forever, and cover his face that he may not see light.”

Several scholars have previously discerned that some details of Azazel's punishment are reminiscent of the scapegoat ritual. Thus, Lester Grabbe points to a number of parallels between the Azazel narrative in 1 Enoch and the wording of Leviticus 16, including “the similarity of the names Asael and Azazel; the punishment in the desert; the placing of sin on Asael/Azazel; the resultant healing of the land.” Daniel Stökl also observes that “the punishment of the demon resembles the treatment of the goat in aspects of geography, action, time and purpose.” Thus, the place of Asael’s punishment designated in 1 Enoch as Dudael is reminiscent of the rabbinic terminology used for the designation of the ravine of the scapegoat in later rabbinic interpretations of the Yom Kippur ritual. Stökl remarks that “the name of place of judgment (Dudael) is conspicuously similar in both traditions and can likely be traced to a common origin.”

Azazel's fate is foretold near the end of 1 Enoch 2:8, where God says, “On the day of the great judgement he shall be cast into the fire. […] The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin."

In 3 Enoch

In the 5th Century 3 Enoch, Azazel is one of the three angels (Azza [Shemhazai] and Uzza [Ouza] are the other two) who opposed Enoch's high rank when he became the angel Metatron. Whilst they were fallen at this time they were still in Heaven, but Metatron held a dislike for them, and had them cast out. They were thenceforth known as the 'three who got the most blame' for their involvement in the fall of the angels marrying women. It should be remembered that Azazel and Shemhazai were said to be the leaders of the 200 fallen, and Uzza and Shemhazai were tutelary guardian angels of Egypt with both Shemhazai and Azazel and were responsible for teaching the secrets of heaven as well. The other angels dispersed to 'every corner of the Earth.'

In the Apocalypse of Abraham

In the extracanonical text the Apocalypse of Abraham (c.1stC AD), Azazel is portrayed as an unclean bird who came down upon the sacrifice which Abraham prepared. (This is in reference to Genesis 15:11: "Birds of prey came down on the carcasses, but Abram drove them away").

And the unclean bird spoke to me and said, "What are you doing, Abraham, on the holy heights, where no one eats or drinks, nor is there upon them food for men? But these all will be consumed by fire and ascend to the height, they will destroy you."
And it came to pass when I saw the bird speaking I said this to the angel: "What is this, my lord?" And he said, "This is disgrace – this is Azazel!" And he said to him, "Shame on you, Azazel! For Abraham's portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth, for you have selected here, [and] become enamored of the dwelling place of your blemish. Therefore the Eternal Ruler, the Mighty One, has given you a dwelling on earth. Through you the all-evil spirit [was] a liar, and through you [come] wrath and trials on the generations of men who live impiously.
— Abr. 13:4–9

Canon text also associates Azazel with the serpent and hell. In Chapter 23, verse 7, it is described as having seven heads, 14 faces, "hands and feet like a man's [and] on his back six wings on the right and six on the left."

Abraham says that the wicked will "putrefy in the belly of the crafty worm Azazel, and be burned by the fire of Azazel's tongue" (Abr. 31:5), and earlier says to Azazel himself, "May you be the firebrand of the furnace of the earth! Go, Azazel, into the untrodden parts of the earth. For your heritage is over those who are with you" (Abr. 14:5–6).

Here there is the idea that God's heritage (the created world) is largely under the dominion of evil – i.e., it is "shared with Azazel" (Abr. 20:5), again identifying him with Satan, who was called "the prince of this world" by Jesus. (John 12:31 niv)

Azazel in Christianity

Cyril of Alexandria sees the apompaios (sent-away one, scapegoat) as a foretype of Christ.

Origen ("Contra Celsum," vi. 43) identifies Azazel with Satan.

Adventists teach that the scapegoat, or Azazel, is a symbol for Satan. It has been interpreted to be a prefigure of the final judgment by which sin is removed forever from the universe. Through the sacrifice of Jesus, the sins of the believers are forgiven them, but the fact that sins were committed still exist on record in the "Books" of heaven (see Revelation 20:12). After the final judgment, the responsibility for all those forgiven sins are accredited to the originator of sin, Satan. After which, Satan is destroyed in the Lake of Fire. Sin no longer will exist anywhere.

They believe that Satan will finally have to bear the responsibility for the sins of the believers of all ages, and that this was foreshadowed on the Day of Atonement when the high priest confessed the sins of Israel over the head of the scapegoat. (Leviticus 16:21)

Some critics have accused Adventists of giving Satan the status of sin-bearer alongside Jesus Christ. Adventists have responded by insisting that Satan is not a saviour, nor does he provide atonement for sin; Christ alone is the substitutionary sacrifice for sin, but holds no responsibility for it. In the final judgment, responsibility for sin is passed back to Satan who first caused mankind to sin. As the responsible party, Satan receives the wages for his sin and the sins of all the saved – namely, death. Thus, the unsaved are held responsible for their own sin, while the saved are no longer held responsible for theirs.

Azazil in Islam

Azazil (Arabic: عزازيل ‘Azāzīl) does not feature in the Qur'an, but is said to be the original name of Iblis, or Satan. Iblis was the Jinn (or spirit) who worshiped Allah (God) from amongst the ranks of the angels. He denied Allah's command to bow down before Adam and later tempted Adam to eat from the forbidden tree. He made a promise to tempt mankind into sin and lead them all astray – those who are heedless of the signs of Allah (God). The word Iblis means "to despair" and Azazil despaired of the Mercy of God, thus earning him that title.

Ibn Abbas, and Ibn Masoud and some companions, said: that Iblis was the main chief between Angels in the 1st sky close to the earth and Ibn Abbas said: Iblis name was Azazel عزازيل then Allah change him to Satan as the story mentioned in The Quran.(from book of prophets stories for Ibn Kathiir).

The Quran does mention the story of two angels Harut and Marut, who were confined within the land of Babylon, teaching magic and other forbidden knowledge to those who seek such knowledge. At a request for dispensing any such information, they were required to declare that they were only there for the trial of men who inquired for knowledge of magic; anything they have taught (magic) can only harm and not profit the student at all. The Quran also mentions some underlying correlation with the king Sulaiman (Solomon) without elaborating furthermore. There is no mention of any penalty for the actions of the two angels, although the penalty mentioned for magic is the same as that for being a disbeliever in God: namely, everlasting hellfire.

Azazil is referenced as another name for Iblis in the Tawasin, the collection by the 10th Century Sufi writer and martyr, Mansur Al-Hallaj. Chapter Six of that writing is dedicated to the self-defence of Iblis, and in one section Hallaj explains how each of the letters of Azazil's name relate to his personality.

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