Saturday, March 29, 2008

Banishing Goats: Leviticus 16

This post is part of a revolutionary Bible commentary by the Church of the Orange Sky.

More regaling stories of manly men worshipping their manly God through manly rites like killing an animal and pouring its blood over their heads.

First, God tells Moses that he's tired of Aaron coming and going as he pleases. He decides to levy a cover charge for entering his club, equal to one young bull. He also must wear his magic clothing, including his magic underwear (the Bible calls them the "sacred garments"). He has to pay for the bull himself on these occasions, God warns.

Next, God creates a new ceremonial day, the Day of Atonement. (In Hebrew this is Yom Kippur.) On this day the community is to present the high priest with two goats and he's to draw lots for the goats. It's interesting that God's will is revealed through rolling the dice. More early Israaelite divination, perhaps?

At any rate, the goat that "wins" gets killed in a sacrifice. The other becomes the "scapegoat." The high priest lays hands on the goat, professes the sins of the people, and then banishes the goat into the wild. According to the Biblical justification, "the goat will carry on itself all their sins to a solitary place."

It's an interesting ritual. It's also really the origins of our word "scapegoat," which is a slightly abbreviated form of "escape goat," the term first used by Tyndale in his translation of the Bible in the 16th century. So far this is the only goat who actually gets to survive the Israelites' tribal rituals - the only animal at all, actually. This goat is not killed in place of Jews for their sins - instead, the Jews' sins are transferred to the goat and he is symbolically ejected from the community. Not surprisingly, Christians have drawn the obvious parallel between the Jewish scapegoat and Jesus Christ - my Men's Bible makes this very argument, along with some irrelevant and typically self-loathing blather about how we are "constitutionally" evil and only God could remove our sins onto Jesus. (To give you a taste of the symbolic self-flagellation, the author of this particular "inspirational" passage says that only God sacrifices; that we can't and won't sacrifice; that sin has destroyed us; that we always push God away; that we are hostile to God; that we refuse to forgive God his righteousness or let him forgive us; that we reject dependence; and that we are proud. Jesus fucking Christ. Give it a rest, Mr. Tim Stafford.)

I think it's kind of a cool ritual, and a welcome break from the Levitican blood-letting.