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No longer take comments. Post's 'labels' are unreliable for linking or searching. Use the INDEX OF POSTS instead. A fairly accurate, but incomplete INDEX of Posts & good overview and understanding of this blog READ SOME REASONS TO REJECT ORTHODOX JUDAISM my April 2014 post or click link above. Born into an Orthodox Jewish family (1950's) and went to Orthodox Yeshiva from kindergarten thru High School plus some Beis Medrash.Became an agnostic in my 20's and an atheist later on. My blog will discuss the arguments for god and Orthodox Judaism and will provide counter arguments. I no longer take comments. My blog uses academic sources, the Torah, Talmud and commentators to justify my assertions. The posts get updated. IF YOU GET A MESSAGE THAT THE POST IS MISSING - LOOK FOR IT IN THE INDEX or search or the date is found in the address.

Sunday, October 27, 2013

Yom Kippur Origins

It will be helpful to first read my prior post on the Torah Scapegoat here which discusses some background and also Azazel. This is a follow up discussion on Azazel and Yom Kippur itself. Evidence will be provided showing the similarity of the Yom Kippur conception and rituals to other Ancient Near East cultures(ANE). (Side Note: that Babylonians and Assyrians believed evil is punishment of a fault that angered the divinity. The Hittites believed the purpose of man was to serve the gods and in return for this service the gods provided various kinds of protections. Otherwise the gods would bring punishments. Both are similar to concepts found in the tanach and still sermonized by Orthodox Judaism to this day.)

Some have argued that the ancient jews borrowed Yom Kippur from the Babylonians. But the evidence seems to be Yom Kippur combines features from DIFFERENT  ANE festivals and rituals,  sometimes with modification and adds additional features such as the lots.

According to Orthodox Jewish tradition the Torah was allegedly given by God to the Jews at Mount Sinai or Horeb. Thus it appears Yahweh surveyed ANE and perhaps other cultures and incorporated  many of their laws, expressions, related myths and  rituals into the torah (for example circumcision, niddah taboo, scapegoat ritual, animal sacrifice, incense burning, holy of holys, etc etc:). Or more likely, the ancient Israelites were similar to other ANE cultures and followed similar traditions and beliefs for example as indicated in the side note above.


The Biblical laws relating to Yom Kippur are found in Lev. xvi. (ceremonies); ib. xxiii. 26-32 (list of holidays); ib. xxv. 9 (ushering in the jubilee); Num. xxix. 7-11 (sacrifices).

 It occurs on the tenth day of the seventh month, and is distinguished by abstaining thereon from food and by an elaborate ceremonial. In the early morning the high priest, in his robes of office (described Ex. xxviii., xxxix.), offered the daily morning sacrifice (Num. xxix. 11; Ex. xxix. 38 et seq.) and performed the ordinary morning rite of dressing the lamps, which was accompanied by an offering of incense (Ex. xxx. 7). Next in order was the festival sacrifice of a bullock and seven lambs (Num. xxix. 7 et seq.). Then began the peculiar ceremonies of atonement, for which the high priest put on special vestments of linen (Lev. xvi. 4). With his hands placed on the head of a bullock (contributed from his own means), he made confession of his own sins and of those of his nearer household (verse 6, see Rashi). The two goats contributed by the people (verse 5) were placed before him, being designated by lot, the one for a sin offering "for the Lord," and the other to be sent away into the wilderness "for Azazel" (verses 7-10). Once more the high priest made confession over his own bullock, for himself and his wider household—his brother priests (verse 11a). After killing the animal (verse 11b) and receiving its blood into a vessel, he took a censer full of live coals from the altar of burnt offering (Ex. xxvii. 1-8) and two handfuls of fine incense into the sacred recess behind the curtain, the Holy of Holies; there he placed the incense on the coals, the cloud of incense enveloping the so-called "mercy-seat" (verse 12 et seq.), and offered a short prayer (Yoma v. 1). He returned for the vessel containing the blood of the bullock and reentered, sprinkling some of it with his finger eight times between the staves of the Ark (verse 14; Ex. xxv. 13-15). He then left the sacred compartment to kill the people's goat (marked "for the Lord"); with its blood he reentered the Holy of Holies, there to perform the same number of sprinklings in the same place (verse 15).

By these rites the most holy place was rendered free from all impurities attaching to it through the intentional or unintentional entrance of unclean persons into the sanctuary (verse 16, see Rashi; Num. xix. 13, see Rashi). By sprinkling the bullock's blood and similarly that of the goat eight times against the curtain, the entrance to the Holy of Holies was purified (verse 16b, see Rashi). No one was permitted to remain in the sanctuary while the high priest officiated in the Holy of Holies (verse 17). The high priest then mixed the blood of the bullock and goat, and put some of it on the four corners of the altar of incense (Ex. xxx. 1-10); he furthermore sprinkled some of it with his finger seven times on the surface of the altar, cleaned of its coal and ashes (verse 18 et seq.), while the remainder was poured out at the base of the altar outside (Lev. iv. 7). The live goat was now brought forward. The high priest laid his hand upon its head and confessed "all the iniquities of the Israelites, and all their transgressions, even all their sins," which were thus placed upon the goat's head. Laden with the people's sins, the animal was sent away into the wilderness (verses 20-22). The high priest then took those portions that belonged on the altar out of the bodies of the bullock and the goat, and placed them temporarily in a vessel; the carcasses of the animals were sent away "to the place where the ashes are thrown out" (Lev. iv. 12) and burned there (verse 27; Yoma vi. 7). Clothed in his ordinary robes, the high priest offered another goat for a sin-offering (Num. xxix. 11), and two rams for a burnt offering, one of which was contributed by himself (verse 24). The altar portions of the bullock and goat were now burned on the altar (verse 25; Yoma l.c.; see Bertinoro), and the daily evening sacrifice was offered (Num. xxix. 11; Ex. xxix. 41). Once more the linen garments were put on, for the high priest again repaired to the Holy of Holies in order to remove thence the censer; the sacred vestments were then deposited in the sanctuary. In his ordinary robes, the high priest closed the service with the evening rite of lighting the lamps, which was accompanied by an offering of incense (Ex. xxx. 8; Yoma vii. 4).

{Update 2/9/2014 From Ancient Texts for the Study of the Hebrew Bible - Kenton Sparks 2005

Page 167 Day of Atonement Leviticus  16 “Seems to mimic the Akitu .”; “This is confirmed by the close verbal similarities between the Israelite and Mesopotamian rites ( c.f. Kipper and Kuppuru), by similar ritual actions in the ceremonies, and by the fact that both rites were observed as New Year temple purgation rites” }
The following information unless otherwise noted is found in  the Origin of the Biblical Scapegoat Ritual: the Evidence of Two Eblaite Texts by Ida Zatelli Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 48, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 254-263.

From the Ebla archives discovered in 1975 which have been dated 2400-2300 B.C.E

"(And) we purge the mausoleum. Before the entry of  Kura and Barama a goat, a silver bracelet (hanging from the) goat's neck, towards the steppe of Alini we let her go." Kura and Barama are two gods. The mausoleum is being purified through this goat ritual.

"Purification rites of the eliminatory type such as those of the scape-goat at Ebla and in the Bible are attested throughout the ancient Near East. "  [There are many such rituals, but details vary as well. Sometimes the motivation of the rituals or the details are similar to Yom Kippur sometimes not. Examples will be provided later in this post.]

The Hittites also have rites that last seven days, and the number seven occurs frequently in Eblaite and Jewish rituals. (also see my post  here which mentions only a few examples of the numerous occurrence of seven in ANE myths.  Another Mesopotamian  ritual  involves seven loves of bread see Wright below  page 68).

"In Mesopotamian literature there are elimination rituals where it seems that live animals are not used as vehicles for taking evil away.  However, conceptually they are similar to the biblical ritual of the scapegoat. "

Why a goat ? Perhaps because there was the tomb of the Lord of the goat in Ebla. "The Lord's throne has caprine protomai and the environment suggests a connection
between the animal and the subterranean world of the dead. Elsewhere in the Near East goats are depicted in tombs as a sort of chthonian power." [Also see Mackenzie below.]

"The Babylonian New Year Festival akitu deserves separate consideration because it is partially comparable with the complex biblical ritual of yom hakkippurim and also with the ritual for the purgation of the mausoleum of NE-nas in the Ebla texts (see Milgrom [n. 10], pp. 1067-70)”. Included in the Babylonian New Year Fesival is the purgation of dragging a beheaded ram thru the temple to remove the impurity.  "The performing of  purgation is called kuppuru very probably linked with the Hebrew kipper”.  The Hebrew custom differs in two important ways. No regal context for yom  kippur, and kuppuru does not sprinkle blood .  However,  the Hittite ritual of Ulippi does involve smearing blood on the cult utensils, building and  the god statue.

In the ANE emergency rites and rites for the elimination of various forms of evil (diseases, curses etc:) were common. A significant one in the Torah is Leviticus 14:2 - 7....  one birds is killed and its blood purges the people and house; the other bird set free to carry away impurity. Thus the Hebrew scape-goat rite was intended to carry away impurities that have occurred as a result of transgressions.

"Also, fasting and other restrictions, common to the whole Near East, should be seen as forms of purification widely used in preparation for a feast day, not only to indicate a period of mourning. Therefore, they were probably connected with the ritual of yom hakkippurim from the outset of its complex elaboration." [Note:  On Yom Kippur Orthodox  Jews fast.]


Here is a limited number of ANE rituals similar to the Torah scapegoat as found in The Disposal of the Impurity:Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature(Atlanta, 1987), David Wright .

P 49 - [Regarding the Hittite ritual of Pulisa]. "Both rites [the hebrew scapegoat and Pulisa] are essentially similar in that impurity is removed from the community and sent away from it to the open country or enemy land"

P 53 - Ritual of Ashella.

P 57 - Ritual of Ambazzi - similar to the hebrew scapegoat and was a disposal rite.

P 58 Ritual of Huwarlu - wave a dog over the King and Queen - being a transfer rite it is similar in conception to the Torah’s scapegoat.

P  60  "The Mesopotamian corpus of ritual  material... yields many examples of eliminating evil by transfer and disposal which relate conceptually to the biblical scapegoat rite."

P 62 fifth day of Akitu festival wipe carcass of temple with a sacrificed ram. [somewhat similar to Torah ritual of sprinkling blood on things in or part of the temple. Also see the Akitu in the above quote from Zatelli. There are other similarities between Akitu and Yom Kippur which include among other things animal sacrifice, burning  incense and taking place in the seventh month. Akitu does not have lots drawn for goats and there are other differences in the details]

[Side note: As mentioned in a previous post Sabbath the number seven is ubiquitous in the torah and may have related to moon cults. That post showed seven had special  meaning to ANE cultures too. There are many examples in other ANE cultures and another example is on Page 68 there is a ritual  utilizing 7 loaves of bread. These can not be mere coincidences]


Page 333 in the book Myths of Babylonia and Assyria by Donald Mackenzie - "Tammuz,  like Anshar as sentinel of the night heaven, was a goat as was Nin-Ginsu of Lagash" . "The goat was also associated with Merodach. Babylonians, having prayed to that god to take away their diseases or their sins and released the goat which was DRIVEN into the wilderness”.

Page 162 The Hittites by O.R. Gurney 1975 edition : There was a scapegoat type ritual against pestilence. "Thou, O Yarris, hast inflicted evil on this country and its camp; but let this donkey lift it and carry it into the enemys country."
Page 508-509 in the book  Ancient Israel by Roland de Vaux 1965 edition

The New Year Babylonian Ritual in Nisan involved:

- Purify the Sanctuary with water, oil and perfume
- Behead  a sheep and rub corpse against temple to remove temple impurities
- Two men carried sheep away to be thrown in river. The two can not return until the end of the feast. They became impure by contact with the sheep. Similarly, the torah has a man leading the goat away becoming impure.

"No one can deny there is a marked similarity with the [torah] ritual of the scapegoat....". A difference is the torah scapegoat carries way the people's sins. "In their researches into primitive civilizations of folklore, scholars have collected evidence of many more or less similar rites [to the torah scapegoat ritual] about transferring of guilt, stain or sickness to animals". Roland also says its more probable that Azazel is the name of a supernatural being or a devil.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

The Torah Scapegoat

This post will introduce Azazel associated with Yom Kippur, also called the Day of Atonement. I discuss Yom Kippur in a follow up post see Yom Kippur). The Yom Kippur rituals  have parallels in SEVERAL other ANE (Ancient Near East) cultures suggesting cross pollination,  borrowing or a common originating conception or some combinations thereof. 

Azazel we have the following description: "In Lev. xvi. the single allusion to Azazel is as follows: On the tenth day of Tishri (see Atonement Day) the high priest, after first performing the prescribed sacrifices for himself and his family, presented the victims for the sins of the people. These were a ram for a burnt offering, and two young goats for a sin-offering. Having brought the goats before Yhwh at the door of the tabernacle, he cast lots for them, the one lot "for Yhwh" and the other "for Azazel." The goat that fell to Yhwh was slain as a sin-offering for the people. But the goat of Azazel (now usually known as the "scapegoat") was made the subject of a more striking ceremony. The high priest laid his hands upon its head and confessed over it the sins of the people. Then the victim was handed over to a man standing ready for the purpose, and, laden as it was with these imputed sins, it was "led forth to an isolated region," and then let go in the wilderness."

1) From The Rabbis, interpreting "Azazel" as "Azaz" (rugged), and "el" (strong), refer it to the rugged and rough mountain cliff from which the goat was cast down.  Ibn Ezra hints and expressly stated by Nachmanides that Azazel belongs to the class of "se'irim," goat-like demons, jinn haunting the desert, to which the Israelites were wont to offer sacrifice.
Talmudical interpretation: the term "Azazel" designated a rugged mountain or precipice in the wilderness from which the goat was thrown down, using for it as an alternative the word. An etymology is found to suit this interpretation. "Azazel" is regarded as a compound of "az"  strong or rough, and "el"  mighty, therefore a strong mountain. This derivation is presented by a Baraita, cited Yoma 67b, that Azazel was the strongest of mountains.
Another etymology connects the word with the mythological "Uza" and "Azael," the fallen angels, to whom a reference is believed to be found in Gen. vi. 2, 4. In accordance with this etymology, the sacrifice of the goat atones for the sin of fornication of which those angels were guilty. 

2) Zatelli suggests the spelling Azzael as found in the Qumran texts was changed to a more"neutral" spelling Azazel, which was initially was probably a Canaanite Demon. The Origin of the Biblical Scapegoat Ritual: the Evidence of Two Eblaite Texts by Ida Zatelli Vetus Testamentum, Vol. 48, Fasc. 2 (Apr., 1998), pp. 254-263 .

3) David Wright on page 21 in The Disposal of the Impurity:  Elimination Rites in the Bible and in Hittite and Mesopotamian Literature(Atlanta, 1987), "The evidence indicates, instead, Azazel is the name of a god or demon."  The evidence includes the Torah parallel phrasing of Yahweh and Azazel as referring to a being. In Enoch Azazel is a demon. The etymology best explained is from zz-l meaning like a fierce/angry god.  Page 73 - he then speculates as follows. Based on comparative religion and etymology Azazel was an angry god causing havoc. Evil was placed on the goat and sent as an appeasement offering. This would be similar to a Hittite plague ritual.  Alternately, the goat was  only a custodian/transporter of evil (not an appeasement offering, but perhaps accompanied by some offerings) like in the Ambazzi and Shurpu ritual rituals. The Torah codification probably altered the more ancient custom.

4) Robert Graves and Raphael Patai in Hebrew Myths The Book of Genesis 1964 Page 105 - Azael seems to represent Azazel (god strengthens). The goat transfers sins to their instigator fallen angel azazel who lays imprisoned at the cliffs foot. Since Azazel is not a Demon, there is no violation of Leviticus 17:7.  P 101 he cites Yalqut Gen 44,  Bereshit Rabbati 29-30 that "...Azazel as some call Azael" 

5) From the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible by Editors Toorn, Becking , Horst 1995 under Azazel: The thesis Azazel as a desert Demon has found acceptance and advanced till today.(Supported by textual evidence of Leviticus 16:8-10). Strobel adds it was the integration of a pre Israelite EL ritual into the Day of Atonement holiday. The entry goes on to say the ritual was a type of elimination of pollution rite or elimination of divine anger rite and HAS PARALLELS outside the Old Testament. Examples include a Canaanite Scapegoat Ritual and other such rituals as performed in Mesopotamia, Ugaritic, Hittite - Hurrian.

6) Y.M. Grintz in Do Not Eat On the Blood ASTI8 (1971) 103 Note 57 suggests that Azael or Uza is the goddess Al-Uzza.  [Also see Graves and Pattai citation that Azazel was Azael and also the Talmud's second  etymology]

It is this latter possibility that I will elaborate on below.

In The Book of Goddesses and Heroines (1981) by Paricia Monaghan there is the following information:

P.10 Al-Uzza a desert goddess of the Morning Star. The name means the mighty or strongest. [See Graves and Patai above that relates Azazel to strength as well]. She was one of the religious trinity of Ancient Arabians.

P. 200 Al-Lat, Menat) were the other 2 female goddeses making up the trinity all seen as one.

P.  30 "Astarte, Ashtoreth, Athtarath" this goddess merged with or was confused with Anat, Asherah, Atargatis.  Astarte was also probably Ishtar.

P22 Aphrodite - ancient mother goddess of Eastern Mediterranean.

P 15-16 Anakita is said to be Identical to Anat (west of Persia) and the Greeks said she was Identical to Aphrodite.

P. 16,17 Anat , Anath was fused with Asherah,

P153 Ishtar, Ashdar, Astar, Istar, Istaru  are basically the same goddess. According to scholar Mark S. Smith, Astarte may be the Iron Age (after 1200 BC) incarnation of the Bronze Age (to 1200 BC) Asherah.

 www. - Al-‘Uzzá was also worshiped by the Nabataeans, who equated her with the Greek goddess Aphrodite Ourania (Roman Venus Caelestis). - Her[Aphrodite] cult in Greece was imported from, or influenced by, the cult of Astarte in Phoenicia.  - Astarte (Ishtar) was accepted by the Greeks under the name of Aphrodite or, alternatively, Artemis.

[Using the above information a plausible case be made that Al-Uzza could have been merged/confused /associated/ with or be Asherah.  Also it is known the Ugaritic El has Asherah as a consort and she is associated with Yahweh (perhaps even as a consort according to some scholars). At some point in Israelite history Yahweh merged with El according to some scholars.  In addition, since Al-Uzza was an ancient Semitic goddess, it is plausible she may have been worshiped in some form by members of the ancient Israelites This suggests the possibility we have his (Yahweh),  and her (Azazel/Azael)  goats in the ritual. ]