scapegoat

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scapegoat

Old Testament a goat used in the ritual of Yom Kippur (Leviticus 16); it was symbolically laden with the sins of the Israelites and sent into the wilderness to be destroyed

scapegoat

a person or group made, unjustifiably, to bear the blame for the problems and misfortunes of others. The term originates from the Biblical Jewish custom of ritually transferring the sins of the people onto a goat and then sending the (scape) goat into the wilderness, taking with it the guilt of the people.

In the context of ethnic relations, people may shift responsibility for misfortune and frustration onto relatively powerless groups, often visibly identifiable minorities such as Jews, blacks or Asians. The concept of scapegoating is associated with theories of FRUSTRATION-AGGRESSION which suggest that when a person or a group is prevented from reaching a goal (frustration), this will raise their levels of aggression. If the cause of this frustration is too powerful, unknown or complex, aggression may be vented on a more accessible or vulnerable target.

Thus minority groups may be blamed for many social problems, unemployment, economic decline, crime, by a majority group, without the necessity to analyse the real causes of these problems. In recent times in Europe, Jews and blacks have been scapegoats for economic, political and social problems. In the most extreme form, Jews were targets for GENOCIDE by the Nazi regime in World War II.

Scapegoat

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The high priest is to take two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. He is to cast lots for the goats—one for the Lord and the other for "Azazel" (literally, "the goat of removal," the scapegoat).

These instructions are found in the biblical book of Leviticus, chapter 16. They describe actions that are to be taken by the high priest on the Day of Atonement (see Judaism, Calendar of). Two goats were to be brought before him. He would place his hands on their heads and confess the sins of the people. One would be slaughtered as a sacrifice to God. The other—well, that's where the problem lies.

The Bible says the second goat is to be offered "to Azazel," but no one knows for sure what that means. The most popular explanation is that Azazel means "scapegoat," and that's how most Bibles translate it. The idea behind the scapegoat is that he is to be sent out into the desert, separated from the people "as far as the east is from the west." He escapes death, but he carries the sins of the people with him to his dying day. They sinned, he suffers. They were guilty, he pays the price. That's what "scapegoat" has come to mean: an innocent person who is forced to take the blame.

We use the word all the time in politics. Officials mess something up so they need to find someone who is at fault. Vice President Spiro Agnew became President Richard Nixon's scapegoat. He resigned and was forced out into a political desert. President Jimmy Carter was blamed for not bringing home the prisoners of war from Vietnam, so he took the political rap and became the nation's scapegoat.

But is that what the Bible really says "Azazel" means?

Many scholars today disagree with the traditional interpretation. They believe "Azazel" doesn't refer to the goat at all. Instead it refers to either the place the goat was sent (the desert) or the demonic presence that inhabited the desert—in other words, Satan, the one who first caused humans to sin. That sin, these scholars say, is now returned to him, or put back upon him. This interpretation would mean the guilty party pays for the sin, not an innocent scapegoat.

If this second view proves to be correct, it would really cause a linguistic problem, because even those who have never read the Bible have learned what a scapegoat is. And sometimes a scapegoat is handy to have around. We use the concept whenever we want to shift blame away from ourselves. We place it on someone or something else, a scapegoat. So if proper interpretation someday forces us to throw our whole understanding of scapegoat out the window and we lose the biblical excuse to place fault on someone else when we mess up, remember to blame the theologians.

scapegoat

sent into wilderness bearing sins of Israelites. [O.T.: Leviticus 16:8–22]
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