Flesh Becomes Word
A Lexicography of the Scapegoat or, the History of an Idea
Publication Year: 2013
Published by: Michigan State University Press
Title Page, Copyright
New evidence suggests the English word “scapegoat” was a portent of epochal passage in the dawn of the modern age, a sign in whose semantic evolution we may read the demise of religion and the advent of the secular world. By religion we understand an older, collective form of social existence and its metaphysical...
Chapter 1. Rites of Riddance and Substitution
Aaron dispatches the goat “for HaShem” (literally “the Name,” a circumlocution for the ineffable name of God), aspersing its blood upon the horns of the altar as well as inside the Tabernacle, while the goat for Azazel is “set alive before HaShem,” in an official way suggesting to some the legitimization of a more ancient, pagan custom that...
Chapter 2. Ancient Types and Soteriologies
At the threshold of the Christian era, the historical path of the scapegoat divides in two directions: on the one hand, the first Christian Day of Atonement typologies; and on the other, two early conceptions of Christ’s saving work that have little if anything to do with the Day of Atonement. One writer notes that “the doctrine...
Chapter 3. The Sulfurous and Sublime
At a symbolic and structural level, the scapegoat begins its life as a Christian type divided from itself. The personification of Azazel in later Jewish ritual becomes a type of Jesus in the first Christian readings, but the scapegoat’s itinerary remains unchanged. It walks a path of abuse and exile that leads to the netherworld...
Chapter 4. Economies of Blood
With the exclusion of the Devil as a player of any consequence—the locus of death and the enemy whom Christ came to defeat—the meaning of the saving operation changes dramatically. The two most important writers associated with this move are Anselm of Canterbury and Thomas Aquinas, both of whom relegate the Devil to a titular...
Chapter 5. The Damnation of Christ’s Soul
The creedal item of Christ’s “Descent into Hell” (descensus ad infernos) is at the heart of one of the “lesser but vigorous controversies of the Reformation era”1 (late sixteenth to early seventeenth century), where the last, crucial determinants of the scapegoat’s semantic formation are evident. A single chapter of that long-running debate...
Chapter 6. Anthropologies of the Scapegoat
We have come to the end of our typological history of the scapegoat. What remains is to adduce the word’s earliest nonexegetical, metaphorical uses. Before we do this, let us pause to situate our corrected history within a broader theoretical framework or two. Patterns in the data under review in this first portion of our study need...
Chapter 7. The Goat and the Idol
The revelation of the scapegoat progressively disables the religious forms and cultural institutions that depend for their efficacy on its occlusion. One of the first casualties is pagan religion, with its mythology and overtly sacrificial rites. We recall the Roman world of the apostolic age, its temples, shrines, and sacred groves, its games and...
Chapter 8. A Figure in Flux
“Ultimately, everything we say here is an attempt to understand the semantic evolution of the word and evaluate its impact,” Girard writes. “Our whole hypothesis has existed silently in common language since the emergence of what is called rationalism.”1 The huge importance he assigns the scapegoat proceeds from a theoretical intuition...
Chapter 9. Early Modern Texts of Persecution
The intersection of two lives provides a point of altitude from which to take the lay of the land in seventeenth-century New England, where a series of related public scandals discloses the scapegoat’s transformation from type into metaphor. When we speak of the scapegoat as a revelation of human violence, it is to these persecutions...
Chapter 10. A Latent History of the Modern World
Among the earliest metaphorical uses of the expression a clear majority appear in the political writing of the period, with its often withering characterizations of politicians and kings. Peter Heylyn uses it in the Cyprianus anglicus of 1668 to comment on a tract published “against the Lord Treasurer, who is now made the Scape-Goat, to bear all...
Conclusion: The Plowbeam and the Loom
Tyndale’s English translation of the New Testament began circulating in 1525 with a first successful run of 3,000 copies at Worms in Germany. Cheap, portable, and easily smuggled, the Bibles quickly found their way onto English soil, much to the alarm of church authorities, who greeted their unwelcome intrusion with interdictions...
Appendix: Katharma and Peripsēma Testimonia