Awful, awful fever yesterday. Picking up again with chapter 16…
This portion takes place right after chapter 10, where Aaron’s two sons died for unclear reasons. It actually perhaps clears up those reasons a little, since it begins by telling Aaron that only he is allowed inside the holiest of holies, and only day every year (the 10th day of the 7th month).
Yup, that’s right, this is about Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement. It’s a different set of rituals from the atonement/sin offerings back in chapter 4.
The biggest difference is the use of “scapegoats,” two goats, onto which he places first his own sins (so that he can perform the sacrifices) and then the sins of all the people of Israel.
I put “scapegoat” in quotes, because that’s the traditional (read: KJV) rendering of a Hebrew term that only appears in this chapter, azazel. Some interpreters, including the Septuagint, rendered this as “departs,” hence “scape-goat” (“scape” being Shakespearean-era “escape” or “run away from”).
But both the NRSV and the NCT keep it as Azazel, since a lot of Biblical translators and scholars think the term is actually the name of a demon or monster in the desert that would eat the goats and consume the sins. This idea was definitely embraced by the writers of the Book of Enouch, who listed Azazel as a fallen angel, as did other Jewish mystics. Early Christian writers considered Azazel a demon. So yes, evidence points to Azazel being a demon.
The Bible hasn’t touched much upon the existence other supernatural beings yet. God might have been talking to his celestial court back in Genesis 1. God said he declared war on the Egyptian gods. But where do these beings come from? What’s their relationship to God? Nothing has really been said on this so far.
Nowadays, of course, Jews can’t perform any of the sacrifices or scapegoating because there isn’t a temple to do sacrifices in, but they do keep the portion that is described as “a statute to you for ever” (“an unchanging statute” in the NCT): fasting. Well, actually, the NRSV says “deny yourselves” and the NCT says “practice asceticism” (a very Buddhist thing).
While the fasting is the most obvious thing (especially when you’re in school and a bunch of your friends either got the whole day off or sat out at gym), you’re also supposed to deny yourself other things. Traditionally those include bathing, wearing nice shoes, wearing perfume, and of course having sex. All of which an Indian ascetic tradition like Buddhism would appreciate, making the NCT’s translation very apt.
The Japanese: chokugo “immediately afterwards” (v 1), kouro “censer” (v 12), kuberu “to throw on the fire, to burn,” tadayou “to float, to hang in the air” (v 13), kugyou suru “to practice asceticism” (v 29), zaiseki “responsibility/liability for a crime” (v 30), ogosaka na “solemn, dignified” (v 31).