In Leviticus 16:8

And Aaron shall cast lots over two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel.

It appears that Azazel is translated as scapegoat. Strong’s Hebrew 5799 occurring 4x. עֲזָאזֵל and means entire removal.

When looking at the roots of this word I see that Azaz means “strength” and El “God”. Can someone shed some light on the meaning of this word please?

Strong’s Hebrew 5810 Azaz means “to be strong” Strong’s Hebrew 410 El means God(s)

  • @Kate: Are you asking the exact meaning of the word (which you have already seemed to understand), or are you asking what the word is referring to in that particular scripture?
    – user862
    Jun 13, 2013 at 6:58

2 Answers 2


Although I'm familiar with the traditional Orthodox Jewish understanding of the word עזאזל, it's my personal belief that the Hebrew word עזאזל, which occurs four times in the Tanakh (Lev. 16:8 x1; Lev. 16:10 x2; Lev. 16:26 x1), is the proper name of a fallen angel, i.e. an evil spirit/ demon. This Hebrew name is very similar to one found in 1 Enoch.

For example, in 1 Enoch 10:8-9, it is written,

8 And the whole earth has been corrupted 9 through the works that were taught by Aza(z)el: to him ascribe all sin.

καὶ ἠρημώθη πᾶσα ἡ γῆ ἀφανισθεῖσα ἐν τοῖς ἔργοις τῆς διδασκαλίας Ἀζαήλ· καὶ ἐπ’ αὐτῷ γράψον τὰς ἁμαρτίας πάσας

English | Greek

While some rabbis traditionally believe עזאזל to refer to a particular place, yet other Jewish rabbis such as Ibn Ezra and Moshe ben Nachman did in fact assert that עזאזל was the proper name of a demon.

Rabbi Avraham Ibn Ezra (ראב"ע)

In his commentary on Lev. 16:10, Ibn Ezra wrote (in part),

ואין צריך, כי המשתלח איננו קרבן כי לא ישחט ואם יכולת להבין הסוד שהוא אחר מלת עזאזל, תדע סודו וסוד שמו, כי יש לו חברים במקרא ואני אגלה לך קצת הסוד ברמז, בהיותך בן שלשים ושלש תדענו.

which is translated as,

But there is no need (for this comment), for the [goat] sent is not a sacrifice, since it is not slaughtered. And if you can understand the secret of the word that is after עזאזל, you shall know the secret and the secret of his name, for it has parallels in scripture, and I shall reveal to you some of the secret with a hint: when you are thirty-three years old, you shall know it.

What does Ibn Ezra mean? Why thirty-three years old? The עזאזל first occurs in Lev. 16:8. If you count thirty-three verses from Lev. 16:8, you end up at Lev. 17:7. In Lev. 17:7, it mentions the Israelites sacrificing to שְׂעִירִם. Ibn Ezra is hinting that עזאזל is a demon, perhaps one of the שְׂעִירִם. In his commentary on Lev. 17:7, regarding the שְׂעִירִם, he states, הם השדים, that is, "They are shedim" (cp. Deut. 32:17). There seem to be some apparent similarities to 1 Enoch.

If you recall in 1 Enoch, it states that all sin is to be ascribed to Ἀζαήλ (1 Enoch 10:9). And, what happens on Yom Kippur? One goat is kept alive, while the other goat is sent to Azaz'el after all the sins of the entire Jewish people are confessed upon it by the High Priest (see Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon: Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Avodat Yom ha-Kippurim, Chapter 2, Halakha 6).

There's another interesting fact. Azaz'el's goat (לַעֲזָאזֵל) is said to be sent הַמִּדְבָּרָה (ha-midbarah), "to the wilderness." The LXX translates this as εἰς τὴν ἔρημον (eis ten erēmon). Coincidentally, 1 Enoch describes τὴν ἔρημον ("the wilderness," "the desert") as the very location of Azaz'el.

In 1 Enoch 10:4-5, it is written,

4 And again the Lord said to Raphael: 'Bind Azazel hand and foot, and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening 5 in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein.

Καὶ τῷ Ῥαφαὴλ εἶπεν Δῆσον τὸν Ἀζαὴλ ποσὶν καὶ χερσίν, καὶ βάλε αὐτὸν εἰς τὸ σκότος, καὶ ἄνοιξον τὴν ἔρημον τὴν οὖσαν ἐν τῷ Δαδουὴλ κἀκεῖ βάλε αὐτόν

English | Greek

Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman (רמב"ן)

In his commentary on Lev. 16:8, Rabbi Moshe ben Nachman makes a similar assertion to Rabbi Ibn Ezra concerning the meaning of the word עזאזל.

He writes,

והנה התורה אסרה לגמרי קבלת אלוהותם וכל עבודה להם, אבל ציווה הקב"ה ביום הכיפורים שנשלח שעיר במדבר לשר המושל במקומות החורבן, והוא הראוי לו מפני שהוא בעליו ומאצילות כוחו יבא חורב ושממון כי הוא העילה לכוכבי החרב והדמים והמלחמות והמריבות והפצעים והמכות והפירוד והחורבן, והכלל נפש לגלגל מאדים, וחלקו מן האומות הוא עשו שהוא עם היורש החרב והמלחמות...ובחלקו עוד השדים הנקראים מזיקין בלשון רבותינו, ובלשון הכתוב להלן יז ז): שעירים.

which is translated as,

Now the Torah has absolutely forbidden the acceptance of gods and all worship to them. However, the Holy One, blessed be He, commands us on Yom ha-Kippurim (the Day of Atonement) that we should release a goat in the wilderness, to the "prince" who rules over wastelands, and this (goat) is fitting for it because he is its master, and destruction and waste emanate from his power, which in turn is the cause of the stars of the sword, wars quarrels, wounds, plagues, division and destruction... Also in his portion are the devils called "destroyers" in the language of our rabbis, and in the language of our scriptures, "se'irim" (demons).

  • Wow, thank you so much for the information. I suppose the 33 years could also refer to Jesus as he was 33 when he died. I was noticing that when you said In Lev. 17:7, it mentions the Israelites sacrificing to (((שְׂעִירִם))). I looked up the word "שְׂעִירִם" (sair) and it is Strong's Hebrew 8164 and means "rain drops".
    – Kate
    Jun 14, 2013 at 22:46
  • 2
    @Kate: "33 years" could not refer to Jesus. Ibn Ezra was not a Christian. He wouldn't say such a thing. The reason Ibn Ezra is being so secretive is because Jews do not typically contradict traditional understandings of scripture as established by their predecessors. Back in the days of the Mishna, rabbis generally believed that Azazel should be understood as a mountain. Ibn Ezra didn't really believe that although he said that was possibly the "simple" (pshat) interpretation of the scripture. But, the "secret" (sod) interpretation is that it refers to an angel/ demon.
    – user862
    Jun 14, 2013 at 22:57
  • @Kate: See Strong's 8163.
    – user862
    Jun 14, 2013 at 22:58
  • yes I saw that 8163
    – Kate
    Jun 14, 2013 at 23:03
  • 2
    Could you please drop a link or a really short description in the first paragraph about what the traditional interpretation is? Also, I think it would be helpful if you point out there that your interpretation isn't something you made up, but is the result of extensive reading and pondering the options. The way you wrote the first paragraph makes it sound... controversial?... novel? I'm not sure the right word to use, but I think it would make your answer stronger if it didn't start off calling out "the traditional Orthodox Jewish understanding". (But this is a very interesting answer!) Jul 12, 2013 at 23:49

I would not translate Azazel as being the goat itself. The verse at Lev. 16:10 specifically says that Aaron the priest would draw lots on Yom Kippur day -- the Day of Atonement. There were two lots corresponding to two goats there before the altar. The lottery would determine which goat became a communal offering at the Temple, and "and the he goat upon which the lot For Azazel came up, shall be placed while still alive, before the Lord, to [initiate] atonement upon it, and to send it away to Azazel, into the desert." So since the goat is to be "for Azazel" it can't be the name of the goat.

Azazel appears to be a place, and the word itself gives us some clue as to what kind of place this is and its purpose. Lets go back and get into context. All of the sins of Israel are placed on this goat which is to go to Azazel. The Torah implies that that the goat is going to be simply set free to do what he wants. Not so. According to the Oral tradition of the Jews, recorded not long after the destruction of the Second Temple, the goat was indeed left to run but he was deliberately chased to a cliff where he would be either be forced over the cliff to his death or grabbed and thrown over the cliff to die. This is explained in the Babylonian Talmud at Yoma 67b. The Mishna to that section of Talmud teaches also that as the goat's body hit the rocks its limbs would fall off. This seems odd, but let's continue.

At Yoma 67b the Talmud offers three definitions of the word Azazel: The first explanation argues that it means hard and rough. (The word az in hebrew means strong) The second opinion argues that Azazel means the hardest of mountains. (The third opinion is a midrashic reference to the atonement process and not relevant to this discussion.) These two definition appears to be descriptive of the place to where the goat was chased. Indeed, not far from Jerusalem is a mountain, called Har Azazel, which has one side covered with flintstone, a very hard rock which (if you saw it you would understand that any animal hitting those stones would be ripped to pieces.

There are other explanations for the word. The Septuagint translates Azazel in Lev. 16:10 as "the one to be sent away." Rabbi J.H. Hertz argues that "Azazel" is a rare technical Hebrew noun, contracted from azlazel -- which means "dismissal" -- and applied exclusively here to define the animal on whom all of Israel's sins have been symbolically attached and which will meet his doom when he's thrown off a cliff to its death.

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