Who is Azazel?
Azazel, in Jewish tradition, was a demon or bad spirit to whom a scapegoat was delivered bearing the Jewish people’s sins during the ancient custom of Yom Kippur (Day of Atonement). For the ceremony, two male goats were picked at random, one “for the Lord” and the other “for Azazel” (Leviticus 16:8). The Mishna describes a rite performed by the high priest in the Second Temple. After the high priest symbolically transferred all of the Jewish people’s sins to the scapegoat, the goat meant “for Azazel” was led into the desert and flung over a cliff to die. Azazel was the embodiment of uncleanness and was often represented as a fallen angel in later rabbinic texts.
The name Azazel stirs up a lot of controversy across many texts of major religions. For one, there appear to be many variations of Azazel, from being an elusive Spectre that receives a scapegoat full of sin from Aaron in Leviticus 16—from which the goat was cast down, in the apocryphal biblical text.
Azazel also takes the form of the personification of evil and wickedness, some saying he is a demon in a desert—a demon who controls other goat demons, and even a leader of fallen angels in the Book of Enoch.
In this article, I’ll aim to dissect and explain the meaning of Azazel across several religious texts and bring you some beliefs that many have regarding this elusive and mysterious entity.
Azazel in the Bible — the Day of Atonement
In the Bible, the term Azazel is used three times in Leviticus 16 where two male goats are sacrificed by Aaron in what would become known as the Day of Atonement.
In Leviticus 16, the biblical God lays down some very specific instructions for Moses to tell Aaron that these two goats are to be marked, as one to be sacrificed to him and one to be used as a scapegoat.
When the first goat is sacrificed to God, the second is to be kept alive and brought before him, where Aaron is instructed to place his hand on the head of the goat and transfer all the sins of the Israelites by a confession — thus, why the goat would become known as the scapegoat.
The goat would then be taken to a remote place with all its sins embodied within itself and be released into the wilderness of the desert. As can be seen in older versions of the Bible, the phrase ‘Azazel’ does not appear at all. However, if we look at more modern translations such as Leviticus 16:8, it reads
‘And Aaron shall cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the LORD and the other lot for Azazel.’
By this, it means to show us that Azazel is another entity, one who is considered to be the polar opposite of the biblical God; possibly even an evil entity, hence why he’s the one receiving the scapegoat with all the sin imbued with it.
Furthermore, this translation sees Azazel mentioned again in Leviticus 16:10 where it reads,
‘The goat which has been designated by lot for Azazel is to be stood alive before the LORD to make atonement on it by sending it away to Azazel in the wilderness.’
By this, we can understand that Azazel is an entity that lives in the wilderness or the desert as some say and that the goat he receives is a symbol—a symbolic representation of man casting away his past sins and delivering them to where they belong, out with Azazel.
While Azazel does not make another appearance within the Bible, some rabbis have deduced that the name Azazel itself gives away a clue as to its meaning.
Azaz meaning ‘strong’ or ‘rugged’, and El meaning ‘God’ or ‘of God’, could be referring to the rugged cliff from which the goat was said to have been pushed by him who has courted it out of the desert in the Jewish text Yoma—Talmudic text detailing the laws of ‘Yom Kippur’ – a Jewish holiday where Jews atone for sins of the previous year.
Azazel in the Book of Enoch — The Watchers (Fallen Angels)
In the Enochic literature, however, which are other Jewish religious texts that are rich with angels and demons, it tells us that Azazel was quite a prominent figure. He appears in the Book of Enoch—a book that details the fall of angels known as the Watchers.
The Watchers Lust Over the Women of the Earth
Before the Great Flood, the Watchers were angels that, under God’s instruction, were to watch over mankind and see that all was well amongst humanity. However, in chapter 6 of the Book of Enoch, we are told that the children of men had multiplied and that they had beautiful daughters which were born unto the world.
The angels saw these beautiful mortal women and lusted after them and decided that they wanted them as wives and wished to impregnate them with their seed. It’s understood that their leader was an angel known as Samyaza (or Samjaza). And in Chapter 6 of Enoch, he tried to dissuade them from committing to such a plan as he says,
‘I fear ye/(god) will not indeed agree to this deed, and I alone shall have to bear the penalty of a great sin.’
A less detailed version of this is also described in Genesis 6:1 through 8, where we see the watchers described simply as ‘The Sons of God who were the heroes of old and men of renown.’ However, Genesis does not attempt to show off the relationship between the sons of God or the watchers and the mortal women. It simply states that they had relations and married those they chose to.
The Book of Enoch states that the spawn between the Watchers and the mortal women were called the Nephilim, and while they are mentioned in Genesis 6:1 through 8, it is not detailed as to whether they are the spawn of the sons of God or whether they had spawned from some other means. There is no indication in Genesis that these sons of God led humanity astray.
However, in the Book of Enoch, the sons of God (the Watchers) are detailed as being malevolent as they ignore Samyaza’s warning to leave the women alone and instead convinced him to join in. They swear an oath that together they will take the mortal women and make them their own.
A list of angels who committed this act is also detailed here, but amongst their names, Azazel does not appear—yet.
The Offspring of the Women and the Watchers — The Nephilim
After the Watchers have their way with the mortal women, the women give birth to Giants or Nephilim. In chapter 7, the Book of Enoch details that these Watchers defiled the women and taught them charms and enchantments and taught them how to use plants for medicinal purposes.
The Watchers revealed the secrets of heaven to these women, told them of the secrets of God, and divulge sensitive information that mankind was not meant to be privy to.
Furthermore, the Giants which were born from these women turned against mankind and devoured them. Before long, they were openly killing birds, reptiles, fish, before devouring one another and drinking each other’s blood.
The Watchers and Azazel Teaches Humankind Things of the Heavens
By Chapter 8, Azazel is mentioned and singled out as being the entity who taught men to make swords, knives, shields, and breastplates. He taught them the metals of the earth and how to use them, before leading them astray and corrupting their ways.
While the leader, Samyaza, and the other Watchers are noted in this chapter as teaching various things, it’s interesting that Azazel is mentioned first, and given a much longer and more aggressive subject to teach the mortals.
While the others spoke about plants, the weather, astrology, and the earth, Azazel is the only one noted as showing mankind the tools he might use for war and battle. He’s also noted as the only angel to lead men away, despite the other angels doing the same thing—though the subject of their information is far more benign than swords and knives.
Given that Azazel will teach man such an intense and detrimental topic and given the fact that he is mentioned first in this chapter, many believe that Azazel is a leader of the Watchers, or at least, high enough that he commands the same respect from the angels as Samyaza does.
However, others dispute this, given that Azazel is not originally mentioned in chapter 6, where the main body of Watchers appears to be named. Others believe that it is here where Azazel achieves his fame because he is the only one who brought us the subject of warfare with man.
Azazel and Samyaza were Blamed for All!
In Chapter 9, Archangels Michael, Uriel, Raphael, and Gabriel gaze down from heaven and see the destruction being caused on earth—courtesy of the trifling of the Watchers.
What’s interesting is that they are quick to blame Azazel as they tell God,
‘Thou seest what Azazel hath done, who hath taught all unrighteousness on earth and revealed the eternal secrets which were (preserved) in heaven.’
They then accused Samyaza of his crimes, stating that he had the authority over the Watchers and should have known better. They state,
‘They have gone to the daughters of men upon the earth and have slept with the women, and have defiled themselves, and revealed to them all kinds of sin. And the woman had borne giants, and the whole earth has thereby been filled with blood and unrighteousness.’ — 1 Enoch 9:7-9
The Punishment of Azazel
In Chapter 10, God sends Archangel Uriel to Noah to tell him to ‘hide thyself’, and to reveal to him that the end is fast approaching, that the whole world would need to be destroyed, thus leading on to the story of Noah and the flood.
God also tells Archangel Raphael to,
‘Bind Azazel hand and foot and cast him into the darkness: and make an opening in the desert, which is in Dudael, and cast him therein. And place upon him rough and jagged rocks, and cover him with darkness, and let him abide there for ever, and cover his face that he may not see light. And on the day of the great judgment, he shall be cast into the fire.
And heal the earth which the angels have corrupted, and proclaim the healing of the earth, that they may heal the plague, and that all the children of men may not perish through all the secret things that the Watchers have disclosed and have taught their sons. And the whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.’ — 1 Enoch 10:1-9
So, as we can see, Azazel takes a chunk of the blame as all sin is ascribed to him. This might likely be the case because, as I mentioned earlier, he’s the only one out of all of the watchers who discloses to man the secrets of weapons.
Archangel Gabriel is sent forth by God to turn the giants against one another so that they might destroy each other. Meanwhile, Archangel Michael is sent to bind Samyaza and the other Watchers for 70 generations, where they can watch their sons destroy each other before being cast into the abyss of fire on their day of judgment.
Enoch Rebukes the Watchers and Azazel
Azazel is mentioned again in chapter 13, where Enoch himself, now established as a scribe in Chapter 12, is told to go to the Watchers and reprimand them saying,
“Ye have wrought great destruction on the earth: And ye shall have no peace nor forgiveness of sin: and inasmuch as they delight themselves in their children, The murder of their beloved ones shall they see, and over the destruction of their children shall they lament, and shall make supplication unto eternity, but mercy and peace shall ye not attain.” — 1 Enoch 12:5-6
He then singles out Azazel in chapter 13 saying,
‘Azazel, thou shalt have no peace: a severe sentence has gone forth against thee to put thee in bonds: And thou shalt not have toleration nor request granted to thee, because of the unrighteousness which thou hast taught, and because of all the works of godlessness and unrighteousness and sin which thou hast shown to men.’ — 1 Enoch 13:1-3
Here, Enoch is essentially clarified to both Azazel and the reader that the fallen watcher will never have peace and that his motives against mankind have damned him to a severe sentence that will see him in bonds.
In chapter 53, Enoch describes an event of which he has taken to another part of Earth and beholds a deep valley, burning with fire. He asks what he described as the angel of peace, as to what is going on. To which the angel replied that the fire he saw was being prepared for the host of Azazel, thus alluded to the ultimate fate of the fallen watcher.
Hatred Between Azazel and Enoch (Metatron)
In the third book of Enoch, sometimes have abbreviated as 3 Enoch, we see rabbi Ishmael ascend to the heavens where he sees God and meets some of his angels. One who goes by the name Metatron.
In the 3rd Book of Enoch 4:2, rabbi Ishmael asks Metatron who he is; to which Metatron replies that he’s Enoch, or at least once was. And that God had saved him and brought him into heaven during the days of the Great Flood.
Metatron goes on to tell rabbi Ishmael that when he arrived in heaven as Enoch, Azazel was there along with two other angels, Azza and Uzza, as noted in Book of Enoch 3: 4, 6.
Despite having been judged by God in the 1st Book of Enoch and bound by Archangel Raphael, there is either a discrepancy in the text or that God allowed Azazel back into heaven at some point.
Azazel detests Enoch’s ascension to heaven as well as his transformation into an angel. But God silences him and tells him about Enoch,
‘I delight in this one more than all of you, and hence he shall be a prince and a ruler over you in the high heavens.’ — 3 Enoch 4:8
This shows us that Azazel, if not destroyed or bound in the Book of Enoch 1, submits to Enoch in his angelic form and does not appear to be mentioned again, implying his subservience is now absolute.
This is furthermore confirmed in the 3rd book of Enoch 4: 9, where Enoch—as Metatron—states,
‘Forthwith all stood up and went out to meet me, prostrated themselves before me and said: “Happy art thou and happy thy father for thy Creator doth favor thee.”’ — 3 Enoch 4:9
Azazel in the Apocalypse of Abraham
Another text known as the ‘Apocalypse of Abraham’—an extra-canonical piece of Jewish literature in the first century—tells us that Azazel is portrayed as an unclean bird, who sabotages a sacrifice constructed by Abraham.
In the Apocalypse of Abraham 13: 6-14, Abraham is traveling with an angel (The angel’s name is ‘Yahoel’) who tells him to conduct a sacrifice in honor of God. But as he does, Abraham tells us that a bird descends upon the sacrifice and tells him to abandon the sacrifice and to leave the angel, this angel intends to burn the land and destroy him.
Abraham turns to the angel and asks for an explanation, but the angel replies in 13:7,
‘“This is ungodliness; this is Azazel.” He then turns his attention towards Azazel, the bird, and tells him, “Disgrace upon you Azazel! For Abraham’s lot is in heaven, but yours is upon earth. Because you have chosen and loved this but the dwelling place of your uncleanness.”’
By this, it can be assumed that the angel may have been referring to the times of Enoch where Azazel amongst his Watchers descended upon the earth and chose it as his grounds for which to mate with the women and teach humanity wickedness.
The angel goes on to say in a long rant against Azazel that he must from this man as he cannot lead Abraham astray as Abraham is his enemy. He also tells Azazel in 13:14 that the vesture which is in heaven was formerly Azazel’s but has been set aside for Abraham, and the mortality which was Abraham’s has been transferred to Azazel.
By this, we understand that Azazel was indeed once a part of heaven, furthermore, linking this with the Book of Enoch. However, we also understand that he has now been cast out—possibly bound as suggested in Enoch by Archangel Raphael, and in his bondage, he has become more like the mortals, powerless and weak as Abraham takes his place.
What’s interesting about this piece is that we do see Abraham setting for sacrifice to God in Genesis 15:11 and that birds do indeed descend upon the sacrifice as if to tarnish it; however, Abraham is not noted as driving them away, much as Azazel is driven away in the apocalypse of Abraham.
Azazel in the Quran
Azazel does not appear to be officially mentioned in the Quran, although, many Islamic interpreters believe that Azazel written as Azazil was the name of the devil before he was expelled from the heavens.
Some believers hold on to the idea that Azazel was an archangel, but the contrary was also a Jinn—an evil spirit or a demon in the Islamic faith.
Exegesis such as the Tafsir and the Stories of the Prophecies (Qisas Al-Anbiya) seem to tell us that Azazel was something of a hybrid between Jinn and Angel.
Other Ideas About Azazel in Various Texts
Further ideas by scholars who have studied the Sahaba (Companions of the Prophet) suggest that before the Islamic devil Iblis was cast out from heaven for his refusal to bow to Adam, Iblis was known as Azazel.
Some theories from these ideas include that Azazel was an angel who loses his position due to his refusal to bow to Adam, or that he was originally a Jinn that earned God’s favour and was welcomed into heaven, or that he was sent to earth to terminate the Jinn.
It seems that in all of these cases, Azazel grows arrogant and at the point of being asked to bow before Adam, he refuses every time believing that as an angel, he is superior to humans.
In another tale, a companion of a prophet (whose name was “Ubay ibn Ka’b”) claimed that the Jinn will once angelic creatures who descended upon earth to observe humanity but became entranced by the women. This would lead them to sexual deviancy, the drinking of wine, and even murder—a story that sounds awfully like the watchers in the Book of Enoch.
Supposedly, Azazel was one of these angels, but he turned away from the sinful ways of his companions and devoted himself to God.
Meanwhile, a group of Muslim philosophers from 8th century Iraq known as the Brethren of Purity or the Brethren of Serenity suggested that Azazel was a Jinn from the earth, and was captured by angels. However, he would impress upon the angels because of his strong moral compass and willingness to do good. He was brought before God and made one of his angels, until again, he was brought before Adam to whom he refused to bow before, causing him to be cast out.
A 9th-century Persian poet named Al-Hallaj recorded in a collection of stories known as the Tawasin that there were various theories about Azazel even back then. He notes that Azazel was known as Iblis only after his fall from grace and that Azazel was charged with a mission in heaven and mission on earth.
His mission in heaven was to preach to the angels and just show them good works, however, on earth, he preached to men about Jinn, showing them evil deeds. Essentially, what this tells us is that Azazel was well-intentioned. He showed the angels the way of goodness and told them that if they did these things, they would be rewarded.
However, when he went to earth, he only showed them the bad things and essentially told them ‘Don’t do these things because she won’t be rewarded’. Without being told the good things, humans had no comparison between good and evil, he simply only knew evil and therefore did not know right from wrong.
By this argument, the evil spread by Azazel is not through malice, but merely through a neglectful explanation.
Al-Hallaj also explains some intricacies about the name Azazel, notably, breaking down the phonics of the word and what he believes each syllable to represent. He finally ends by detailing the argument between Azazel and God, where Azazel tells God that he cannot understand how he expects him to bow before Adam, who was made from Earth whilst he was made from fire.
He even declares himself as a martyr before God, before he is banished and eventually returned to the flames from which he was spawned.
Azazel is mentioned in a whole range of religious texts, most of them non-canonical, but certainly interesting reads, nonetheless. Unfortunately, there also exists what I’ve determined to be a little fanciful fiction spewed out from so-called scholars and translators, as they seek to paint Azazel in a certain light, despite their claims not being backed up by any real religious source.
A lot of these are accounts or simply interpretations, most of them, modern ones. And there might be things that I have left out in this article, and this is simply because I could not find substantial evidence.
Art Credit: Douglas Deri.