🔼The name Azazel: Summary
- Entire Removal, Strength Of God, She-Goat Of Going Away
- Disputed, but perhaps originally from a verb that meant to remove completely.
- Or else from (1) verb עזז ('azaz), to be strong, and (2) the word אל ('el), God.
- Or else from (1) the noun עז ('ez), she-goat, and (2) the verb אזל (azal), to go away.
🔼The name Azazel in the Bible
Whether Azazel is a Biblical name or not is not immediately clear, although Azazel as a phenomenon possibly went through a similar evolution as did Lilith. Both appear in the Bible as seemingly ordinary yet rare and highly specialized words, which so appealed to the imagination of the audience that corresponding personages were invented and subsequently written about as if they had existed all along.
Azazel is a word that is commonly translated with our (specially invented) word scapegoat. "In the Ethiopian book of Enoch," says the Oxford Companion to the Bible, "Azazel is a fallen angel". In the Midrash — the ancient homiletic commentary on the Hebrew Scriptures — Azazel is deemed a demon.
It's not unusual in the Bible to name spirit-beings (think for instance of the angels Michael and Gabriel) but that Azazel was probably not a recognized demon/angel is argued by Leviticus 16:8, where two lots are cast over two goats; one goat is for YHWH and the other is either "to be" the scapegoat or is "for" Azazel. If the second goat is "for" Azazel, Leviticus 16:8 would violate an enormous volley of laws and ordinances, including the First Commandment (Exodus 20:3-6, also see Exodus 22:20, 2 Chronicles 34:25, 1 Corinthians 10:20, and for a similar ritual that certainly doesn't involve a secondary personage, see the law of the scapebird in Leviticus 14:1-7).
So no, Azazel is not a Biblical name.
🔼Etymology and meaning of the name Azazel
Since Azazel as a personage is so hotly debated, the origin and meaning of the name is immediately unclear as well. The Oxford Companion to the Bible reports that since in the Midrash the scapegoat was supposed to be hurled over a cliff, the rabbis decided that the word azazel meant Precipice.
The etymology of the rabbis is most likely false, and their goat-slinging is also a bit over the top, so to speak. The beauty of the Levitical scapegoat is that the goat itself was completely oblivious to what it was supposed to do. When all the doings were done, the goat would probably wander off while the Israelites realized that all they could do with sin is distantiate themselves from it and let God lead it away to wherever he would want it to go. Knowing goats, the banished scapegoat would probably B-line straight back to the Israeli herd (also not an unbiblical idea; see Proverbs 26:11 and Matthew 12:43-45).
BDB Theological Dictionary and HAW Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament refer to an Arabic verb azala, meaning to banish or remove. BDB is usually a bit careful with translating names but in this case firmly states Entire Removal as meaning for Azazel.
Another possibility (forwarded by T. K. Cheyne) is that the name Azazel consists of two parts, namely:
In names אל ('el) usually refers to אלהים ('elohim), that is Elohim, or God, also known as אלה ('eloah). In English, the words 'God' and 'god' exclusively refer to the deity but in Hebrew the words אל ('l) and אלה ('lh) are far more common and may express approach and negation, acts of wailing and pointing, and may even mean oak or terebinth.
And (2) The verb עזז ('azaz), meaning to be strong:
The verb עזז ('azaz) means to be strong. Adjective עז ('az) means strong, mighty or fierce and adjective עזוז ('izzuz) means mighty or powerful. Nouns עז ('oz) and עזוז ('ezuz) mean strength, might or fierceness.
Noun עזניה ('ozniya) denotes some kind of bird of prey (this word may actually be a convenient import from another language) and noun עז ('ez) denotes a she-goat (this word may actually derive from a verb that means to be wayward or perhaps strong-headed).
Verb עוז ('uz) means to bring into refuge or to seek safety. Noun מעוז (ma'oz) describes a place or agent of safety.
That way the name Azazel would mean Strength Of God, which wouldn't make a lot of theological sense since the scapegoat has nothing to do with God's strength and everything with the purification of Israel.
By far the most attractive solution (we think here at Abarim Publications) is the one used by the Septuagint and Vulgate and some other ancient sources. They see the first part of the name Azazel to come from the word עז ('ez), meaning she-goat (treated above). And the second part, they say, comes from the verb אזל (azal), meaning to go away:
The verb אזל (azal) means to go away, on or about.
That way the name Azazel would mean She-Goat Of Going Away, which is near perfect and probably as good as it gets.
The problem with this solution is that in Leviticus 16 never the word עז (she-goat) is used but always שעיר (sa'ir), meaning he-goat (see the name Seir, or our article on the incredible significance of hair in the Bible). It would take a trick or two to link the name She-Goat Of Going Away to a he-goat, but it may be done by merit of the gender inversion principle, which also makes Christ (male) turn into the Body of Christ (female).
Finally we should notice one last curiosity about the name Azazel. All four occurrences of this word in the Bible are preceded by the letter lamed, the very common prefix ל, meaning to, towards, at, in, by etcetera:
The particle ל (le) means to or onto and may describe a physical or mental motion toward or a behavioral effort, an evolutionary one or express determination or purpose. The name of this letter, lamed, describes a cattle prod or goad.
In Leviticus 16:8 this makes perfect sense; one lot is to YHWH and the other lot is to Azazel. But in the other three occurrences, there is no such tandem, yet the word azazel remains prefixed with ל. Translations such as that of Jay P. Green solve this by consistently translating the whole combination, לעזאזל (l'azazel), with "for complete removal," and that may be the best way to go.
However, by keeping the lamed in front of azazel, even when it doesn't seem necessary anymore, may have prompted a Hebrew audience to have associations with the verb לעז (la'az), meaning to speak unintelligibly (Psalm 114:1):
The verb לעע (la'a) means to pass the throat wildly — either in the sense of to talk wildly or to swallow down. This verb also occurs in the form לוע (lua'). Noun לע (lo'a) means throat.
This (very creative) Hebrew audience would then perhaps have thought of the tower of Babel incident, where speech became unintelligible (Genesis 11:7), or would have hoped for a reunification of the languages in a time when the scapegoat would no longer be needed (Acts 2:5-11).