Scape-goat (Hebrews עֲזָאזֵל Azazel) is the name given in the A.V. to one of the two goats used in the sin offering for the entire community of Israel on the great day of atonement, the goat which was to be sent away into the wilderness. To determine which of the two goats was to be slain, and which sent alive into the wilderness, it was ordered that the priest should "cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord [Jehovah], and the other lot for the scapegoat" (Le 16:8), but literally for Azazel (לִעֲזָאזֵל), a word nowhere else used. There can be no doubt that this has the appearance of being some sort of personage, or interest personified, standing over against Jehovah, or somehow contradistinguished from him. But opinions have from early times been divided on the subject.
1. The one followed by our translators, which regards it as a name for the goat itself, is of great antiquity, and has numbers on its side — Symmachus (τράγος ἀπερχόμενος), Aquila (τράγος ἀπολελυμμένος), the Vulgate (hircus emissarius), Luther, and many moderns, also recently Hoffmann. The term so understood is viewed as a compound of עֵז,goat and אָזִל, to go away. The chief objections to it are that עֵז is never used precisely of a goat; in the plural it bears the sense of goats generally, but in the singular it designates only she goat; and in Le 16:10,26, the goat and Azazel are expressly distinguished from each other, "the goat. (הִשָּׂעַיר) for Azazel." These are fatal objections, and have led to the general abandonment of the view.
2. By others it has been taken as the name of a place, either some mountain in the desert (Pseudo-Jonathan, Aben-Ezra, Jarchi), or a lonely and desolate region (Bochart, Deyling, Carpzov, Jahn). But this, also, is at variance with the natural import of the statements, especially with the expression in ver. 10, "to let him go for Azazel into the wilderness," which would then mean, for the wilderness into the wilderness. Nor could Jehovah on the one side, and a place on the other, form a proper antithesis.
3. Others, again, have taken the word as a pealpal form of the Arabic verb עזל, to remove, formed by modification from עֲזִלזִל, so that the meaning comes to be for a complete removing or dismissal (Tholuck, Steudel, Winer, Bähr). Grammatically, no objection can be urged against this view; and it undoubtedly accords well with the general import of this part of the rite. "The true expiation," to use the words of Bähr, "was effected by the blood of the first goat, which was set apart for Jehovah; on the other hand, the ceremony with the other goat appears as a mere addition made for special reasons, a kind of complement to the wiping away of the sins which had already been effected by means of the sacrifice... After the expiation had been accomplished by the sprinkling of the blood, the sin was still further to be carried away into the desert. What the first goat, which died as a sin offering, was no longer in a condition to set forth was supplied by the second, which was, as it were, one with the first, inasmuch as it carried the sin which had been covered entirely away, and that into the desert or desolate place, where it was quite forgotten; so that the idea of expiation, or the extermination of sin, was rendered thereby absolutely perfect" (Mic 7:19). In this view of the matter, the casting of the lots had for its object the assigning of one goat to Jehovah, namely, for an atonement to his justice, and the other to complete removal or bearing away into the oblivion of the desert — namely, of the sin which had been atoned; an explanation which accords well with the general idea of the transaction, and does no violence to the language. The objection of Hengstenberg, that it gives a cold and empty appearance to the peculiar word Azazel, a word coined for the occasion, to suppose it to have expressed only the comparatively common idea of complete removal, may perhaps be obviated by conceiving this idea to have been for the occasion invested with a kind of personified existence — much as Sheol, the region of departed spirits, became personified — the one the coverer or dark receptacle of people's lives, the other of their (forgiven) sins. Hence also, probably, the reason of the word being confined to this one occasion, there being no other in respect to which such utter personified oblivion could be predicated.
4. But there is still another class of writers who are disposed to claim for the word a more distinctly personal existence, and who would refer it directly to Satan. This view is certainly of high antiquity, and is expressed in the reading of the Sept. ἀποπομπαῖος, which means, not scape goat, or sent away, but the turner away, the averter. The expression of Josephus is somewhat dubious (Ant. 3, 10, 3), but it seems also to favor the same view; and it was very common with the rabbins, as in later times it has the support of many authorities Spenser, Ammon, Rosenmüller, Gesenius, etc., who hold it to be equivalent to the Roman averruncus, or evil daemon, which was supposed to inhabit desert places, and who needed to be propitiated; but adopted also, though purged of this idolatrous connection, by Witsius, Meyer, Alting, Hengstenberg (in his Bücher Moses, transl. by Robbins, N.Y. 1843); also quite recently by Vaihinger (in Herzog) and Kurtz (Sacrificial Worship of the Old Testament). These writers hold that the view in question best preserves the contrast between the two goats — one for Jehovah, and one for the great adversary Azazel — the latter a being as well as the former, and a being who (as daemons generally) was supposed to have his peculiar dwelling in the desert. The goat, however, that was sent to this evil spirit — emphatically the removed or separate one — was no sacrifice, but rather a witness that the accepted sacrifice had been made. It proclaimed, as it were, "that the horrible wilderness, the abode of impure spirits, is alone the place to which the sins of the people, as originally foreign to human: nature and society, properly belong; that Azazel, the abominable, the sinner from the beginning (Joh 8:44), is the one from whom they have proceeded, and to whom they must again with abhorrence be sent back, after the solemn atonement and absolution of the congregation have been accomplished" (Vaihinger). No doubt, as thus explained, the leading import of the transaction with this goat is in proper accordance with the service of the day; but it cannot appear otherwise than strange that, in the most sacred rite of the old covenant, Satan should be so formally recognized as, according to this view, he must have been; that he should there be recognized under a name which suggests a quite different idea concerning him than that under which he is elsewhere presented; and that, notwithstanding he was so publicly and so regularly associated with this name, it should never again be employed as a personal designation. Such peculiarities are rather startling, and dispose us, on the whole, to concur in the view which ranks third in the list of opinions now exhibited. SEE AZAZEL.