Andrews University Seminary Studies, 32.3 (Autumn 1994) 217-226.

Copyright 1994 by Andrews University Press. Cited with permission.

 

 

 

AZAZEL IN EARLY JEWISH TRADITION

 

 

ROBERT HELM

Louisville, KY 40204

 

 

The term" Azazel," which appears four times in the prescriptions

for the Day of Atonement (Lev 16:8, 10, 26), has elicited much debate.

Although many scholars have identified Azazel with a demonic figure

to whom the sin-laden scapegoat was dispatched,1 the term remains

undefined in the biblical text. This article will attempt to demonstrate

that two noncanonical Jewish works, 1 Enoch and the Apocalypse of

Abraham, reveal a tradition in which Azazel was regarded as a demon,

and in which the scapegoat rite was utilized as a symbol of demonic

expulsion. Hence it will be argued that a segment of ancient Jewish

apocalypticists found a symbol of eschatological victory over demonic

forces in the rite involving Azazel and the scapegoat.

 

Azazel in 1 Enoch

Although 1 Enoch is attributed to the antediluvian prophet by that

name, its pseudonymous nature is readily apparent. In reality, it is a

composite work, produced by several authors who probably wrote

during the three centuries preceding the Christian era.2 In its current

form, 1 Enoch is a collection of five smaller documents: "The Book of

Watchers" (chaps. 1-36), "The Book of Parables" (chaps. 37-71), "The

Astronomical Book" (chaps. 72-82), "The Book of Dreams" (chaps.

83-90), and "The Epistle of Enoch" (chaps. 91-108).3 It is not known

 

1 The following works are examples of literature to this effect: Bernard J. Bamberger,

The Torah: Leviticus, A Modern Commentary (New York: Union of American Hebrew

Congregations, 1979), 160; M. M. Kalisch, A Historical and Critical Commentary on the

Old Testament (London: Longmans, Green, Reader, and Dyer, 1872), 2:328; Nathaniel

Micklem, "The Book of Leviticus," IB (1953), 2:77-78; Jacob Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, AB

(1991), 1021; Martin Noth, Leviticus, trans. J. E. Anderson (Philadelphia: Westminster,

1965), 125.

2 The Apocryphal Old Testament, ed. H. F. D. Sparks (Oxford: Clarendon, 1984),

173-177. However, some scholars assign "The Book of Parables" to the first century of

the Christian Era, or possibly even later.

3 Ibid.

217



218 ROBERT HELM

 

when these five "books" were combined, nor is it entirely clear in what

language or languages they were originally composed.4 The complete

text of 1 Enoch is known only in Ethiopic, although Greek, Latin, and

Aramaic fragments survive as well.5

In common with the general tenor of apocalyptic literature, the

view of reality presented in 1 Enoch consists of a sharp contrast between

the present evil age, which will end in judgment, and the new age of

bliss that is to follow.6 The book also stresses the relationship between

the locus of human activity and the cosmic or heavenly realm.7 Thus

it contains both temporal and spatial dimensions.8 The spatial dimension

becomes evident in the narrative of Semyaza (chaps. 6 and 7), in which

Semyaza leads his angel cohorts into rebellion by cohabiting with the

daughters of men, thus giving birth to giants and defiling the earth. The

background for this story is obviously Gen 6:1-4.

The figure of Azazel is abruptly introduced in 1 Enoch 8:

 

And Azazel taught men to make swords, and daggers, and shields

and breastplates. And he showed them the things after these, and the

art of making them: bracelets, and ornaments, and the art of making

up the eyes and of beautifying the eyelids, and the most precious

and choice stones, and all kinds of colored dyes. And the world was

changed. And there was great impiety and much fornication, and

they went astray, and all their ways became corrupt. (1 Enoch 8:1-3)9

 

This sudden interruption of the Semyaza narrative is usually attributed

to the editorial fusion of two independent traditions.10 However,

Hanson offers an alternative hypothesis. He takes it to be a case of

 

4 It is generally believed that 1 Enoch was composed in Aramaic. See D. S. Russell,

The Old Testament Pseudepigrapha. Patriarchs and Prophets in Early Judaism (Philadelphia:

Fortress, 1987), 26. However, Charles argues that "The Astronomical Book" was

originally written in Hebrew; see The Apocryphal Old Testament, 176.

5 Apocryphal Old Testament, 170-173. Also see John J. Collins, The Apocalyptic

Imagination (New York: Crossroad, 1984), 33.

6 George W. E. Nickelsburg, "The Apocalyptic Construction of Reality in 1 Enoch,"

Mysteries and Revelations, Journal for the Study of the Pseudepigrapha Supplement

Series 9, ed. John J. Collins and James H. Charlesworth (Sheffield: Sheffield Academic

Press, 1991), 58.

7 Ibid., 54.

8 Ibid., 53.

9 Apocryphal Old Testament, 190-191.

10 Leonhard Rost, Einleitung in die alttestamentlichen Apokryphen und Pseudepigraphen

einschliesslich der grossen Qumran-Handschriften (Heidelberg: Quelle und Meyer, 1971), 103.

See also Paul D. Hanson, "Rebellion in Heaven, Azazel, and Euhemeristic Heroes in

1 Enoch 6-11," JBL 96 (1977): 220.



AZAZEL IN EARLY JEWISH TRADITION 219

 

paronomasia, in which the name of one of Semyaza's subordinates,

Asael, invited a comparison with the Azazel of Lev 16.11 Regardless of

which of these positions is favored, it is apparent that the appearance

of the name" Azazel" in the Enoch passage functions as a significant

link with the Day of Atonement ritual described in Lev 16.

It must be admitted that the demonic nature of Azazel is only

implicit in Lev 16. However, 1 Enoch 8:1-3 depicts him in terms that

are explicitly demonic. In fact, his characteristics approach the satanic

in this passage, although he is never identified as Satan.12 Nevertheless,

he is portrayed as a corrupter and tempter of humanity, and the main

source of antediluvian impiety.

First Enoch 10:4-6 describes the eschatological punishment of

Azazel:

And further the Lord said to Raphael, Bind Azazel by his hands and

his feet, and throw him into the darkness. And split open the desert

which is in Dudael, and throw him there. And throw on him jagged

and sharp stones, and cover him with darkness; and let him stay

there forever, and cover his face, that he may not see light, and that

on the great day of judgment he may be hurled into the fire.13

 

This quotation is worthy of careful consideration, as Hanson finds a

direct link between the binding of Azazel in 1 Enoch 10 and the rite of

purgation associated with the scapegoat in Lev 16.14 These two passages

do indeed exhibit a number of striking parallels.

First, it should be noticed that just as a man was appointed to lead

the scapegoat away to the desert (Lev 16:21), so the angel Raphael was

directed to bind Azazel and banish him to the desert which is in Dudael

(1 Enoch 10:4). Second, both passages are concerned with purification

from sin. Hanson rightly recognizes the close relationship between Lev

16:21 and 1 Enoch 10:8.15 According to Lev 16:21, the sins of Israel

 

11 Hanson, 221.

12 The terms "demon" and "demonic" are to be distinguished from "Satan" and

"satanic." A "demon" is any malevolent spirit being. However, in Judeo-Christian

tradition, Satan is regarded as the demonic leader of the angels who fell from heaven,

God's primary adversary, and the chief tempter of humanity, including Adam and Eve.

First Enoch 8:1-3 contains a description of Azazel's masterful temptation of the entire

world; in this, his characteristics approach the satanic. Also 1 Enoch 69:1-2 lists him

among the fallen archangels. See Apocryphal Old Testament, 190-191, 251.

13 Ibid., 194-195.

14 Hanson, 221-222.

15 Ibid., 224.



220 ROBERT HELM

 

were transferred to the scapegoat through the laying on of hands.16

Thus the removal of the goat resulted in cleansing and renewal for the

entire camp. Likewise in 1 Enoch all sin was to be "written down"

against Azazel; his expulsion would usher in the restoration of the

earth, which had been ruined by the angel rebellion.

Notice God's command to Raphael:

 

And restore the earth which the angels have ruined, and announce

the restoration of the earth, for I shall restore the earth, so that not

all the sons of men shall be destroyed through the mystery of

everything which the Watchers made known and taught to their

sons. And the whole earth has been ruined by the teaching of the

works of Azazel, and against him write down all sin. (1 Enoch

10:7-8)17

 

Hanson argues for the existence of a further parallel between

1 Enoch 10 and the rendition of Lev 16 in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan (also

known as Jonathan Ben Uzziel or Targum of Palestine).18 He believes

that the formulation, ". . . split open the desert which is in Dudael, and

throw him there" (1 Enoch 10:4), is related to Pseudo-Jonathan's use of

rFaPA (send or cleave) instead of HlawA (send), in reference to the

expulsion of the scapegoat from the camp of Israel (Lev 16:22).19

Inasmuch as rFaPA can denote "to cleave" or "break open," as well as "to

send,"20 Hanson suggests that the author of the Enoch text employed

a subtle paronomasia by playing alternate word meanings over against

each other, thus attaining the notion of the desert being opened to

receive Azazel.21 It is of interest that in certain Akkadian texts, demons

are said to inhabit desolate wastelands after leaving the netherworld

through a crack or hole in the ground.22 Hence this Akkadian literature

 

16 M. C. Sansom, "Laying on of Hands in the Old Testament," ExpTim 94 (1982-

1983): 324.

17 Aprocryphal Old Testament, 195.

18 According to Hanson, this particular Targum "bears close affinities with 1 Enoch"

(223). Although the date of Pseudo-Jonathan has been debated, its foundations apparently

go back to pre-Christian times. See Ernst Wurthwein, The Text of the Old Testament,

trans. Erroll F. Rhodes (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1987),78. Thus it is likely that both

1 Enoch and the original form of Pseudo-Jonathan were approximately contemporaneous

in development.

19 Hanson, 223.

20 Ibid. Also see "rFaPA" in BDB.

21 Hanson, 223.

22 Hayim Tawil, "Azazel the Prince of the Steppe: A Comparative Study," ZAW 92

(1980): 48-50.



AZAZEL IN EARLY JEWISH TRADITION 221

 

may represent an ancient source parallel to the thought expressed in

both Lev 16 and 1 Enoch 10.

These foregoing comparisons suggest that the imagery associated

with Azazel's punishment in 1 Enoch 10 is adapted from the description

of the scapegoat's expulsion in Lev 16. But why does the author of the

Enoch text link the goat designated "for Azazel" with Azazel himself?

That the scapegoat was regarded as the focus of evil, a visible representa-

tive of the demonic, is a probable solution to this problem. It should be

recognized that the Hebrew ryfiWA can denote either a male goat or a

demon.23 Perhaps this fact influenced the author of the Enoch text in

his perception of the scapegoat as a demonic figure. Also, the possibility

that lzexzAfEla can be understood as "in behalf of Azazel" is worthy of

consideration.24 If this rendition of the Hebrew noun and its inseparable

preposition is accepted, the scapegoat may be regarded as representing

Azazel himself. Thus the expulsion of the goat from the camp would

serve as a model for the banishment of sin and its demonic source.

Several additional references to Azazel also appear in 1 Enoch.25

However, they all describe him as fulfilling the role of a fallen

archangel, intent on deceiving the human race. Thus 1 Enoch confirms

the fact that "Azazel" was understood in demonic terms by a segment

of Jewish apocalypticists. Furthermore, it appears that they regarded

the scapegoat rite of Lev 16 as a representation of Azazel's eschatolog-

ical punishment.

It is possible that the authors of 1 Enoch developed the Azazel

tradition directly from data contained in Lev 16. Alternatively, it may

be that a larger, unpreserved tradition served as a source for certain

elements appearing in both Lev 16 and 1 Enoch. That the figure of

Azazel is introduced without explanation in Lev 16 suggests the

existence of some type of background source.

Gen 6:1-4 is another source which may underlie the references to

Azazel in 1 Enoch. The "sons of God," described in the Genesis

pericope as cohabiting with the "daughters of men," are interpreted in

the Enoch material as fallen archangels, including Semyaza and Azazel

(cf. 1 Enoch 6; 69:1-2).26 Also, the fact that Azazel is portrayed in

 

23 See BDB.

24 Gerhard Hasel, "Studies in Biblical Atonement II: The Day of Atonement," in The

Sanctuary and the Atonement, ed. Arnold V. Wallenkampf and W. Richard Lesher

(Washington, DC: Review and Herald, 1981), 122-123.

25 See 1 Enoch 13:1-2; 54:1-6; 55:4; 69:2 in Apocryphal Old Testament, 199, 233-234,

235,251.

26 Apocryphal Old Testament, 188-189, 251.



222 ROBERT HELM

 

1 Enoch 8:1-3 as corrupting humanity by teaching certain arts of

civilization probably reflects the influence of the culture-hero myth,

which was widespread in ancient society.27 The culture-hero myth

posits the appearance of supernatural beings in early history, who

taught the arts of civilization to humanity. In most versions of the

myth, the culture-heroes act as the beneficiaries of human beings.

However, negative versions also exist, which describe the teaching of

destructive arts, as in 1 Enoch.28 It seems likely that a combination of

elements derived from these diverse sources explains the enlarged role

played by Azazel in the Enoch material.

 

Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham

 

The origin of the Apocalypse of Abraham is even more obscure than

that of 1 Enoch. Currently, it is only represented in the Codex

Sylvester and in certain manuscripts of the Palaea interpretata, all of

which are in the Slavonic language.29 Some scholars believe that the

Apocalypse was first composed in Hebrew and later translated into

Slavonic, in the 11th or 12th century A.D. However, this has been

disputed.30 Charlesworth proposes A.D. 80-100 for the period of its

composition,31 but these dates are likewise uncertain. The fact that the

burning of the temple is mentioned in chapter 27 probably indicates

that at least a portion of the book is to be dated after A.D. 70.32 In any

case, it seems apparent that the book existed in its present form by the

fourth century A.D., as it is mentioned in the Clementine

Recognitions.33

Uncertainty also exists in regard to the authorship of the

Apocalypse of Abraham, although it is usually considered a composite

work. Most of the material in the Apocalypse derives from Jewish

 

27 For the relationship between the culture-hero myth and the development of the

Azazel tradition in 1 Enoch, see Hanson, 226-231.

28 Ibid., 229.

29 Apocryphal Old Testament, 364.

30 R. Rubinkiewicz, "The Apocalypse of Abraham," The Old Testament

Pseudepigrapha, ed. James Hamilton Charlesworth (Garden City, NY: Doubleday, 1983),

1:682-683.

31 James Hamilton Charlesworth, The Pseudepigrapha and Modern Research with a

Supplement, SBL Septuagint and Cognate Series 7S, ed. George W. E. Nickelsburg and

Harry M. Orlinsky (Chico, CA: Scholars, 1981),68.

32 Apocryphal Old Testament, 366.

33 Ibid.



AZAZEL IN EARLY JEWISH TRADITION 223

 

sources.34 However, Charlesworth and others posit chapter 29 as a

Christian interpolation.35

A number of references to Azazel appear in the Apocalypse.36 The

first of these is introduced in chapters 13 and 14, where Azazel is

described as an unclean bird which flies down on the carcasses of the

animals that Abraham has sacrificed (cf. Gen 15:9-11).37 But he is no

ordinary bird, for he enters into a verbal dispute with Abraham. His

demonic character soon becomes evident, as an angel refers to him as

"wickedness" (Apocalypse of Abraham 13:7).38 The angel goes on to utter

an interesting rebuke against him:

Listen fellow, be ashamed of yourself and go. For you were not

appointed to tempt all the righteous. Leave this man alone: you

cannot beguile him for he is your enemy, and the enemy of those

who follow you and dote on what you want. The garment that of

old was set apart in the heavens for you, is now set apart for him;

and the corruption that was his has been transferred to you.

(Apocalypse of Abraham 13:12-15)39

 

These verses depict Azazel as an evil spirit who tempts the

righteous. Furthermore, they imply that he has fallen from heaven, and

that his celestial office is subsequently to be given to Abraham.

Particular attention should be devoted to the last part of v. 15, as the

transference of Abraham's corruption to Azazel may be a veiled

reference to the scapegoat rite (cf. Lev 16:21).

Azazel also figures prominently in Abraham's vision of the

temptation of Adam and Eve:

 

And I looked into the picture, and my eyes ran to the side of the

garden of Eden. And I saw there a man, immensely tall, alarmingly

solid, such as I had never seen before, who was embracing a woman

that was the man's equal both in her appearance and her size. And

they were standing under one of the trees in Eden; and the fruit on

that tree looked like a bunch of dates. And behind the tree there

 

34 Ibid., 365-366. However, this does not prove indisputably that the author or

authors of the Apocalypse were Jewish. See p. 366. Nevertheless, it is convenient to

classify the work as a part of early Jewish tradition.

35 Charlesworth, 69. Some, however, would argue that this chapter suggests Christian

authorship for the entire Apocalypse.

36 Apocryphal Old Testament makes use of the variant spellings, "Azazil" and

"Azazail," in the Apocalypse of Abraham.

37 Apocryphal Old Testament, 378-379.

38 Ibid., 378.

39 Ibid.



224 ROBERT HELM

 

stood what looked like a snake, with hands and feet like a man's,

and wings on its shoulders, three on its right and three on its left.

And they held in their hands a bunch from the tree; and they were

eating--the two I had seen embracing. And I said, Who are these

who are embracing each other? Who is it who is between them?

And what is the fruit they are eating, Mighty Eternal One? And he

said, This is the human world: this is Adam, and this is their desire

upon the earth: this is Eve. And what is between them is the

wicked path they started on towards perdition, namely Azazil.

(Apocalypse of Abraham 23:3-9)40

 

Once again, Azazel assumes the role of tempter, appearing in the form

of a winged snake, and beguiling the couple into eating the forbidden

fruit. Thus his demonic nature is apparent in this passage as well.

Additional minor references to Azazel are found in chapters 20, 22, and

29;41 however they are quite incidental and have no real bearing on the

issues addressed in this article.

That Azazel is portrayed as a demon in the Apocalypse of Abraham

cannot be denied. In fact, the Apocalypse associates him with two

themes which Judeo-Christian tradition applies to Satan, namely, his

expulsion from heaven and his temptation of Adam and Eve under the

guise of a snake. These constitute further significant developments as

the figure of Azazel progressively merges with what might be termed

the satanic.

 

The Influence of the Mishnah and the Targums

 

Only three direct references to "Azazel" appear in the Mishnah,

none of which sheds any light on the meaning of the term.42 However,

Tractate Yoma is helpful in elucidating the practice of the scapegoat rite

in early Judaism, as it treats this topic fairly extensively.

Yoma 6:8 has special pertinence to the present discussion, as it

identifies UdUdHa tyBe (house of sharpness), the desert location outside

Jerusalem to which the scapegoat was driven.43 Hanson and Driver

both link UdUdHa tyBe (house of sharpness) with "Dudael," mentioned

in 1 Enoch 10:4 as the place of Azazel's banishment.44 Although the

 

40 Ibid., 385.

41 Apocryphal Old Testament, 383, 384, 389.

42 These references merely refer to the casting of the lot which was designated "for

Azazel." Cf. Yoma 4:1; 6:1, The Mishnah, trans. Herbert Danby (Oxford: Clarendon,

1983), 166, 169.

43 Yoma 6:8; see the variant readings contained in footnote 6. (cf:n. 47)

44 See Hanson, 223-224. Also see Godfrey R. Driver, "Three Technical Terms in the

Pentateuch," JSS 1 (April 1956): 97.



AZAZEL IN EARLY JEWISH TRADITION 225

 

Mishnaic traditions did not exist in written form when 1 Enoch was

composed, they probably had an oral history reaching back to that

time. Hence it seems likely that a common element exists in both of

these passages, in which case yet another connection between the

expulsion of the scapegoat and the banishment of Azazel is established.

Targum Onkelos offers minimal relevant data to this study.

However, its rendition of Lev 16:8 deserves consideration: "Then Aaron

should place lots upon the two goats, one lot for the Name of the Lord,

the other for Azazel."45 The use of the Aramaic phrase, "for the Name

of the Lord" (or "Yahweh") (yAy;Da xmAw;li),46 is interesting and calls for

explanation. It is possible that "Name" was inserted into the text to act

as a kind of buffer between Yahweh and humanity, as is often done in

the targams to minimize anthropomorphism.47 This sentence structure

no longer contains a direct parallelism between Yahweh and Azazel.

This could indicate that the compilers of the Targum regarded the term

"Azazel" as denoting something other than a personal being. However,

the evidence for this deduction is so scanty that it can hardly be held

with any certainty.

Targum Pseudo-Jonathan's use of rFaPA (send or cleave) in connec-

tion with the scapegoat's expulsion has already been considered in the

section devoted to the Enoch material.

A quotation from this Targum's version of Lev 16 contains addi-

tional data pertinent to the discussion:

 

And Aharon shall put upon the goats equal lots; one lot for the

Name of the Lord, and one lot for Azazel: and he shall throw them

into the vase, and draw them out, and put them upon the goats.

And Aharon shall bring the goat upon which came up the lot for

the Name of the Lord, and make him a sin offering. And the goat

on which came up the lot for Azazel he shall make to stand alive

before the Lord, to expiate for the sins of the people of the house

of Israel, by sending him to die in a place rough and hard in the

rocky desert which is Beth-hadurey.48

 

It is clear that Pseudo-Jonathan's description of the choosing of the goats

is far more innovative than that of Targum Onkelos. The insertion of

 

45 "The Targum Onqelos to Leviticus," The Aramaic Bible, trans. Bernard Grossfeld,

ed. Kevin Cathcart, Michael Maher, and Martin McNamara (Wilmington, DE: Michael

Glazier, 1988), 8:33.

46 Targum Onkelos, ed. A. Berliner (Berlin: Gorzelanczyck and Co., 1884), 128.

47 See footnote 4 in The Aramaic Bible, 33.

48 "The Targum of Palestine Commonly Entitled the Targum of Jonathan Ben

Uzziel on the Book of Leviticus," in The Targum of Onkelos and Jonathan Ben Uzziel on

the Pentateuch, trans. J. W. Etheridge (London: Longman, Roberts, and Green, 1865), 196.



226 ROBERT HELM

 

the phrase, "for the Name of the Lord," appears here as well; however,

there are also more significant additions which resemble the Mishnaic

and Enoch texts. In particular, Pseudo-Jonathan parallels the Mishnah,

in that the scapegoat is destined to die.49

The reference to the scapegoat's death in "a place rough and hard

in the rocky desert which is Beth-hadurey" merits careful scrutiny, as

it closely parallels the description of Azazel's punishment in 1 Enoch

10:4-5. Hanson equates "Beth-hadurey" with the "Dudael" of the Enoch

passage.50 Moreover, Pseudo-Jonathan's "rocky desert" has its counter-

part in the "desert which is in Dudael" and "jagged and sharp stones"

of Enoch. Thus it is clear that the author of the Enoch passage, in his

account of Azazel's banishment, was dependent on certain traditions

involving the removal of the scapegoat, which were recorded in Targum

Pseudojonathan.51

 

Conclusion

From the preceding analysis, it is evident that the authors of the

apocalyptic texts known as 1 Enoch and the Apocalypse of Abraham

regarded Azazel as a demon. In fact, a number of attributes commonly

associated with Satan appear in the depictions of Azazel contained in

these works. Furthermore, the author of 1 Enoch 10 apparently

conceived of the scapegoat rite (especially as it is formulated in the

Mishnah and in Targum Pseudo-Jonathan) as a paradigm of Azazel's

banishment. Thus ancient Jewish traditions appear to be in agreement

with the interpretation which finds in the expulsion of the scapegoat a

type or model of the eschatological defeat of demonic power.

 

49 Compare Yoma 6:6, The Mishnah, 170, with The Targums of Onkelos and Jonathan

Ben Uzziel on the Pentateuch, 196, 198. However, Yoma 6:6 describes how the scapegoat

was pushed over a cliff to its death, while Pseudo-Jonathan specifies that it would be

carried to its death by a tempestuous wind.

50 Hanson, 223-224.

51 Hanson also draws attention to Pseudo-Jonathan's "close affinities with 1 Enoch"

(223).

 

 

 

 

This material is cited with gracious permission from:

Andrews University

Berrien Springs, MI 49104

www.andrews.edu

Please report any errors to Ted Hildebrandt at: thildebrandt@gordon.edu