What are the strange biblical origins of the term "scapegoat"? And what does it have to do with the Jewish Day of Atonement?




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From the Lenkin Family Collection, the National Library of IsraelThere is also another way of understanding the word Azazel, and that is as the name of a supernatural being to whom the poor goat must be sacrificed. If God is the essence of good, Azazel is an evil demon or a lesser god that is fed by the sins of the people.This second interpretation comes from the Jewish apocrypha, or more specifically the First Book of Enoch, which details Azazel’s awful nature. Here there is no trace of a helpless animal forced to carry the sins of the collective through no fault of its own. Rather, Azazel is the rebellious angel at the head of a heavenly plot to take over the earth.The First Book of Enoch retells the story cited in Genesis (6, 1–4) of the angels who had relations with the daughters of men. The offspring of their unnatural union were the nefilim—giants of renown who filled the earth. Enoch, the seventh generation between Adam and Noah, is naturally the central figure of this book and is chosen to bring God’s message to the rebellious angels. One of those evil angels, and second in importance only to their leader Shemhazai, is our Azazel.Azazel’s influence on mankind is destructive and eternal: he “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 coloring tinctures.” He teaches humans not only how to make weapons of war, he shows them the power of artifice and hypocrisy. And as a result of this destructive influence, “there arose much godlessness, and they committed fornication, and they were led astray, and became corrupt in all their ways.”Although Enoch warned the rebellious angels, they remained steadfast in their destructive ways. And were punished for it. Thus, Azazel finds himself bound in the desert. This is in fact an original and interesting explanation of the origin of the sacrifice of the scapegoat in the desert:And again the Lord said to 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 for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment he shall be cast into the fire.”Azazel appears in other Jewish works from the first centuries CE, and even more interestingly, he has a starring role in various Christian traditions. The religion that grew out of Judaism also preserved something of the scapegoat from the Book of Leviticus. According to some of the early Church Fathers, Azazel was even one of the names of the devil himself. Is it any wonder that so many illustrations show the devil with the hindquarters and hooves of a goat?