Saturday, August 19, 2017

Speaking of the Midbar (Wilderness)--Lev. 16 and Azazel

This summer, I addressed some claims made by Mr. Jeff Benner about the biblical use of "wilderness" (midbar). Mr. Benner (relying on Hebrew etymology) claims that the ancient Israelites viewed the desert as a place of order. However, my contention is that while midbar might have that meaning in some places, that is not generally true of the word. I now present more evidence from a paper on Azazel (Leviticus 16) written by Aron Pinker. I will quote snippets of Pinker's study:

"Tawil's position has been adopted by Zatelli. She says, 'Perhaps the spelling עזזאל‎ in Qumran texts is acceptable for עזאזל‎; it has been changed into the more neutral עזאזל‎ in the textus receptus. Probably it was originally a kind of Canaanite demon—which developed in the Hebrew tradition—connected with the chthonian power expressed by goats. The wilderness is a symbol of the underworld.'"

"Milgrom felt that 'in pre-Israelite practice he [עזאזל‎] surely was a true demon, perhaps a satyr (cf. Ibn Ezra on Lev 16:8), who ruled in the wilderness—in the Priestly ritual he is no longer a personality but just a name, designating the place to which impurities and sins are banished.'"

"the scapegoat was sent out into the wilderness, which was considered to be one of the abodes of supernatural entities (Hab 3:3, Isa 13:21, 34:11–15)."

"Rudman shifts the focus from לעזאזל‎ to מדבר‎, claiming that the ritual as described by P, cleanses Israel (understood as a microcosm of creation) of sin (understood as chaos), and removes it outside creation itself into the chaotic area of wilderness."

Published Version of Pinker's Research:


Duncan said...

Duncan said...

Apparently NOT Canaanite.

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

"connected with the >>chthonian<< power expressed by goats" ?

"of or relating to the deities, spirits, and other beings dwelling under the earth."

Duncan said...

Footnote 52:-

52... Furthermore, it is doubtful that the Hebrew Bible ever considers "desert" as chaos, according to the definition given by Rudmen, which is on a par with the mythological sea monsters ....

.... seems contradictory.

See also:-


Standard medical practice.

Edgar Foster said...

Let me say at the outset that just because I post something does not mean full endorsement of the ideas espoused in the papers of others. Just wanted to repeat that disclaimer. The main purpose for submitting Pinker's remarks was as a reply to Benner's claim that the wilderness equals order in the ancient Israelite mind. I do not see how that claims holds up within the context of Azazel being sent to the wilderness. Pinker thinks that Azazel signifies the exact opposite.

Now I don't buy into the whole demon idea and whether it's Canaanite or not doesn't affect the issue at play here. "Most scholars" buy into the demon idea, but see

Footnote 52 is not contradictory in Pinker's study: he is disagreeing with Rudmen.

It is not important whether all/some of the ideas put forth by Pinker are accurate. The whole point of the blog entry was to challenge the concept that wilderness (midbar) is associated with order, especially within the context of the scapegoat (Azazel). Understanding the wilderness as order in this context is less plausible to me than taking the wilderness, in this case, to mean chaos, the underworld, or something tied to sin.

Edgar Foster said...

Another perspective:

Also here is a work by Heiser. Notice that he links the wilderness with "evil" and "unholy ground":

Duncan said...

a precipitous land (אֶרֶץ גְּזֵרָה)

This is the natural environment for this type of goat so I see no special need to attach disorder or order to the statements. The animal is freed and it goes home.

Isaiah on the other hand could colour the wilderness the way he does, being in an agriculturalist environment of civis. There are a number of commentators who have made this observation of Isaiah and the converse for other prophets.

Duncan said...

You do realise that Azazel may relate to a particular range of mountains? Or a particular mountain?

Edgar Foster said...

Whether we associate order (as Jeff does) or disorder (Pinker), my point is that disorder or something to that effect seems preferable in this case to disorder. If you read Heiser, he favors evil or unholy ground for the wilderness in this context and for Matthew 4:1.

Was the animal freed? We don't know what happened to it, but some report that the goat for Azazel was treated to an assisted exit from life, possibly via a cliff.

Edgar Foster said...

should have written that disorder is to be preferred to order in this case

Duncan said...

Duncan said...

They can hypothesize what they like but does it make sense?

Even chasing it off a clif will probably not kill it.

I have met these kinds of goats on hillsides & there agility is incredible.

If the animal was killed it would not fit standard practise and as far as I can tell throwing off a cliff would be classed as stoneing which we would expect to be explicitly stated.

Edgar Foster said...

The mountain interpretation is one possibility, but I think it is a remote one. Pinker includes that interpretive possibility in his study.

"But the goat on which the lot for the scapegoat fell shall be presented alive before the LORD, to make atonement upon it, to send it into the wilderness as the scapegoat. (Lev. 16:10 NASB)



Duncan said...

"A solitary place in the desert or a distinct locality in the wilderness has been
suggested, but this interpretation is not tenable, because constant change in campings was surely taken into consideration when the regulations of Leviticus 16 were given." - EVIDENCE?

The use of γην αβατον at LXX Leviticus 16:22 is interesting.

Duncan said...

Two possabilities.

Not this is not saying that he is killed. He will die eventually.

Duncan said...

LXX Jer 6:8 useful for comparison of viewpoint. Cf Jer 31:23,24.