Azazel is the lead villain in my next Brodie Wade novel, but he is a bit of a mystery. Those in Christian circles have heard of angels like Gabriel, and Michael. And note their -el extensions on their names. Those are important! In Hebrew, their names reflected some attribute of God.
- Michael — Micha-el — “Who is like God?” or “The splendor of God”
- Gabriel — Gabri-el — “The strength of God.”
- Israel — Isra-el — “Triumphant with God”
My own name, Hanel, is Czech but can be traced back to Hebrew origins. In Hebrew, it was pronounced more like “Haniel” — “The joy/grace of God.”
So what does this have to do with our latest bad guy? Everything. A name is a very, very powerful thing!
- Azazel — Azaz-el — “The rugged one of God” (or “The rugged place of God”, in some circles. Keep reading.)
Azazel is only mentioned once in all of scripture, and even then, his name his hidden, and you have to know to look for it. Seriously.
Don’t believe me? Check this out…
And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the LORD, and the other lot for the scapegoat. — Leviticus 16:8 KJV
In Leviticus 16, the Israelites were instructed in ceremony to select two goats. They would flip a coin (literally, cast lots) to determine which one of them they would sacrifice to Yahweh (the Hebrew name for God). However, the other they were to set loose into the wild. The King James Version interprets the Hebrew word here into English as “for the scapegoat”, but if you dig into the original Hebrew of this text, the word there is…. you guessed it… “for Azazel”
Still don’t believe me? Here’s a breakdown of the original hebrew text (highlight mine)
Okay, I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking that I’m stretching things here to create a plot point where one shouldn’t exist. Well… that’s where it gets weird! (as if it wasn’t already)
Many teachers and experts in Jewish tradition and lore hold that “the rugged” part of the “name” references the rugged mountain or plane (i.e. Mount Horeb, according to their writings) where the angels that rebelled were thrown when they were cast down out of heaven. That is to say, it isn’t the name for a specific angel, but a whole class of angels: the outcasts. Demons.
But I have a hard time with this thought. This name appears again in the Dead Sea Scrolls from “the Book of Giants.” This writing is incredibly decayed, so it is difficult to know in what context the name appears. Is it in reference to an individual? A group? It is tough to decipher.
And the interpretation concerns Azazel and the angels who [came to the daughters of men; and] they bore to them giants. And concerning Azazel … and iniquity, and to cause them all to Inherit wickedness… judgements and judgement of the congregation.
That’s it. That’s all we know about this name from The Book of Giants, and the text can be read both as Azazel, the individual, and Azazel, the group of fallen angels. Nothing conclusive here.
Note the ellipses (…) and the [square brackets] in the text above. Those aren’t mine. Those are from the translators, and the reason they are there is because the text there has either been marred so that it is difficult to translate, so this is the best guess they could put together (the [square brackets]) or completely rotted through (the ellipses) and completely missing thus no guess can be made. But note the striking similarity to that and Genesis 6 when describing the Nephilim, a text for which we have many valid, identifiable, complete copies. It’s an uncanny resemblance.
What is “Nephilim?” I’m glad you asked. It is a Hebrew word that means “Giants”. Yep!
The only other (semi-credible) place I’ve found where Azazel appears in ancient texts is the Book of Enoch. No, The Book of Enoch is not a canonical book of the bible. This book was also amidst the Dead Sea Scrolls and it, too, is incredibly deteriorated. No full copy of that writing exists, so there is nothing to compare it to for validation and verification purposes. It very well could be an entire work of fiction, like a play… but if so, it would be one very dreary, boring, tiresome play.
No matter what it used to be, it is far more intact than the previous book. Enough of it exists that we can glean little bits from it, and it may help us to understand who Azazel may have been: group or individual.
There are several pages of text which are mostly complete, and far more legible than the previous citation. Note in the text below that YHWH is how Jewish scholars wrote Yahweh, because they didn’t want to incite the anger of God for using his name in an unworthy way:
The High Priest shall offer one for himself and his father’s house
XXVI … [The High Prie]st [shall cast lots on the two goats,] o[ne] lot for YHWH and one for Azazel. He shall slaughter the goat [on] which [YHWH’s lot has fellen and shall lift up] its blood in a golden bowl which is in [his ha]nd, [and do] with its blo[od as he has done with the blood of] his young bull and shall expiate with it for all the people of the assembly. He shall send up in smoke its fat and the corresponding grain-and drink-offering on the altar of the holocaust. Its flesh, skin and dung they shall burn beside his young bull. It is a sin-offering for the whole assembly. He shall expiate with it for all the people of the assembly and it shall be forgiven to them. He shall wash his hands and feet of the blood of the sin-offering and shall come to the living goat and shall confess over its head the iniquities of the children of Israel together with all their guilt, all their sins. He shall put them on the head of the goat and despatch it to Azazel in the desert by the hand of the man who is waiting ready. The goat shall bear all the iniquities of (the children of Israel).”
Sounds almost exactly like Leviticus 16:8, right? But more of it. Again, there is a ton of guess work going on here, making this far too unreliable to use for serious study. But for a peek behind the curtain to discover who Azazel is/was, it is fairly impressive. And in this text, Azazel is clearly identified as an individual.
But we still haven’t identified who Azazel is, his purpose for existing and his role in the world. Why he was so important to God, even though he was the enemy of God — a demon, a fallen angel — that God provided recurring meals for him based on Jewish tradition and ceremonial practice?
The texts just aren’t clear. But I have my own idea. Find out my take on who Azazel is when Brodie takes on his biggest and toughest case in Azazel has a Child.
That’s right, Brodie Wade fans. Brodie has been getting a little writing love and attention the past couple of days as ideas are coming to the front of my mind.
Cover image by Henry Vessa (https://www.flickr.com/photos/117278577@N03/)