Figure Photo of the Day: Azazel

azazel

Azazel, by Ridureyu

On the Day of Atonement, the ancient Jews would sacrifice two goats for their sins. One would die messily to remind the Israelite community of the punishment for sin. On the other, they placed the guilt of the nation, and sent it into the wilderness “for Azazel.” The exact meaning of this passage is unclear, although it most likely just means, “As a scapegoat, released for our guilt.” And yes, this did prefigure the Messiah. Also, to keep the goat from wandering back into town, they would usually kick it off a cliff. Many commentators find this to be an example of disobedience for the sake of convenience. But that’s another story!

Since nobody can just let things be, a tradition soon developed that Azazel was a demon – a chief of Hell, the demon who taught mankind about weapons and cosmetics (grrrr, makeup!), and chief of the Grigori, the demons who mated with human women to produce the Nephilim and indirectly cause The Flood. As one of the Grigori, Azazel was bound and imprisoned early, trapped in a pit of jagged rocks until the final Judgement. According to this tradition, Azazel would be allowed free to claim the sacrificial goat as his, with this act of killing it before returning to his punishment yet another illustration of the power and penalties of unforgiven sin. Azazel in this form is often depicted as a muscular, goat-horned man wielding a trident or mancatcher, usually carrying the goat to its doom. It is hard to tell precisely when the concept of Azazel as a demon first emerged. We have not found any mentions of it before the Second Temple period, though the name obviously exists in the instructions for the Day of Atonement.

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