While the Devil and Satan as rebellious spiritual powers at enmity with Yahweh, the God of Israel, are well-known figures, there are others who are perhaps less well-known though no less important for understanding the nature of the demonic powers presented in the Scriptures. Within Second Temple literature there is a demonic figure commonly associated with Cain and his descendants’ corruption in Genesis and the corruption of the material world. That figure is the fallen angel Azazel. It is not a coincidence that Azazel is also the figure referenced in the institution of the Day of Atonement ritual (Lev 16). The figure of Azazel within the ritual atonement practiced in Israel and later Judea was understood by the first century AD to be the same demonic figure found behind the narratives of Genesis 4-6 leading up to the flood of Noah.
While it is entirely possible within the original context of Leviticus 16:8, 10, and 26 that the goat “for Azazel” may indicate that the goat is going to be used as a scapegoat, in early Jewish interpretation as represented within Second Temple literature, Azazel is a demonic figure. He is sometimes, but not always, associated with the serpent of Genesis 3. The source of the initial identification of Azazel as such a demonic entity may be a connection between Azazel’s association with the wilderness in the Day of Atonement ritual and the “goat demon” in the wilderness whose worship is condemned in Leviticus 17:7, not long after the description of the ritual in the text.
The primary extant source for the portrayal of Azazel as a demonic entity of the wilderness associated with the Day of Atonement ritual is the Enochic literature and other literature under its influence. The relevant portion of 1 Enoch is the Book of the Watchers which comprises the first 36 chapters of the text. The Book of the Watchers consists of a retelling of the early chapters of Genesis from an apocalyptic perspective which purports to reveal spiritual realities underlying the scriptural text. In the case of the genealogy of Cain and his descendants, 1 Enoch describes that the various technological and cultural innovations made by Cain and his line came into existence through the revelation of secret wisdom by rebellious angels. Azazel is the chief angelic being involved in the revelation of this wisdom as described in 1 Enoch 8:1–3. A direct connection is made here between the metallurgical innovations attributed to Tubal-Cain in Genesis 4:22 and the work of Azazel. The result is that “the world was changed” because of the impiety and sexual immorality of human beings at Azazel’s instigation, rendering everything subject to corruption.
Later in 1 Enoch, the results of Azazel’s wickedness and patronage of wicked men are summarized more broadly. First Enoch 9:6 states, “See then what Azazel has done. That he has taught all sin on the earth and revealed the eternal mysteries which were made in heaven.” In 1 Enoch 10, divine judgment is pronounced against Azazel to be carried out by the Archangel Raphael. First Enoch describes this judgment as his being bound hand and foot, thrown into a hole in the desert from a rocky crag, and buried in sharp rocks, likely related to the tradition of throwing the goat for Azazel from such a crag which evolved in later Judean practice. This was not a part of the original ritual, in which the goat was not expressly killed, but likely came into the practice for practical reasons, i.e. to prevent the goat from wandering back from its exile. From this bound imprisonment, Azazel will be hurled into the lake of fire on the last day (10:4–6, cf. 54:5).
The figure of the Devil or the ‘Evil One’ as he appears in the Johannine literature, in particular, has a number of resonances with the figure of Azazel which may already be apparent. Cain is described as the son, and therefore image, of the evil one (1 John 3:12). Other sinners, particularly those who conspire to murder the righteous, are identified likewise (John 8:44). The dragon of the Apocalypse is bound and subdued within the earth until the time of the end (Rev 20:1-3). On that day, he is hurled into the lake of fire (v. 10). It is worth noting that the imagery of the lake of fire is not found as such in the Old Testament, but is found in 1 Enoch, St. Matthew’s Gospel, and St. John’s Apocalypse.
After describing the scene of his punishment, 1 Enoch 10:8 describes the charges against Azazel, “And the whole earth has been corrupted by the teaching of the works of Azazel. To him ascribe all sin.” This statement has both a historical and ritual significance. It ascribes to Azazel as a hostile spiritual power the responsibility for human sin and the corruption of the earth through his works. The ascription of all sin to Azazel also mirrors the pronouncement by Aaron over the goat for Azazel of all the sins of the people (Lev 16:21). This language regarding Azazel also parallels closely the language used by 1 John regarding the devil. In particular, it mirrors 1 John 5:19’s statement that “the whole world lies under the power of the evil one” and 3:8’s statement that the Son of God appeared to destroy “the works of the devil.”
The other significant text describing Azazel as a demonic entity is the Apocalypse of Abraham. He is described in this text in terms remarkably similar to those of the Enochic literature proper, arguing for an influence of the latter on the former. Specifically, in both texts, Azazel is the leader of the band of rebel angels who have conspired against God. Both connect the angels to the stars of the heavens. In both, Azazel is responsible for revealing the secrets of heaven and is, therefore, cast out into the wilderness where he is imprisoned.
The Apocalypse of Abraham uses the Enochic portrayal of Azazel to dramatize a final, eschatological Day of Atonement. Abraham’s angelic companion who accompanies him through his series of apocalyptic visions is Yahoel. This heavenly figure is described in high priestly terms, beginning with his described attire. The end of Abraham’s journey is, in fact, the heavenly sanctuary that the Apocalypse depicts as being the true temple of God over against the earthly copy. Just as the entrance of the high priest into the earthly sanctuary accompanies the sending away of the sins of the people to Azazel in his goat, so also is the entrance into the heavenly sanctuary to purify the creation accompanied by the sending out and final condemnation of Azazel. The action of the Apocalypse of Abraham surrounding Azazel revolves around his condemnation to the fiery pit. Along with him, the angels and humans whom he has led into sin are likewise condemned. This condemnation of Azazel and his “children” is part and parcel of the final cleansing of the heavenly sanctuary. In a parallel with the works of Azazel, Yahoel teaches the rite of condemnation to Abraham who performs the condemnation as a “priest in training.” All of these themes play out in the Epistle to the Hebrews as Christ is portrayed as the great high priest entering the heavenly sanctuary and performed the eschatological Day of Atonement. It is precisely here that themes of the purification of sacred space in atonement and the defeat of hostile spiritual powers connect into one conceptual reality in Messianic prophecy.
Azazel is also mentioned as a demonic being in similar terms in 4Q180 and 4Q203, the “Book of the Giants.” Both of these Qumran texts describe the punishment of Azazel. In both, he receives the responsibility, and the punishment, for all of the sins of the other fallen angelic beings as well as those instigated by them and committed by human agents. This tradition likely evolved from the depiction of demonic entities dwelling in the wilderness in certain Akkadian texts describing demons who escape the underworld through crags and crevices in the ground to make their abode in desert places. The terminology used to describe these demonic spirits is the same used to describe sin “crouching” as it awaited Cain (Gen 4:7).
Second Temple traditions regarding Azazel present him as a devil figure who is responsible for the corruption not only of humanity through sin, but of the world itself through the corruption and curse brought about by that sin. Having been corrupted by his works, performed by his spiritual children beginning with Cain, the whole world now lies under his power. To free the world from his power and corruption, his works must be destroyed and this takes place through the atonement. Within these Second Temple traditions, a final eschatological Day of Atonement is envisioned, performed by a heavenly high priest. In New Testament texts as diverse as St. Matthew’s Gospel, Hebrews, and the Johannine literature, Christ is described as the one who performs this high priestly function. This atonement is made not only for the sins of the Christian assembly, the Church, as it once had been for Israel, but now also “for the whole world” in purifying the world of the corruption and curse resulting from sin. Christ fulfills the Day of Atonement ritual not only by, once and for all, purifying the Church and the world from sin and its corruption, but also by finally defeating Azazel, the demonic agent behind that evil and setting the creation free.