Who is Azazel?
Azazel is a fallen angel whose evil influence led to the corruption of humanity. Because he was a leader among the fallen angels, the Jewish Book of Enoch commands its readers to “ascribe all sin” to him.
Originally, Azazel was one of heaven’s angels, a gloriously beautiful man with wings on his back. When he sympathized with Satan, he was cast down to earth and became one of the “fallen angels.” Presumably, the evil that he spread as a fallen angel corrupted his beauty as well. By the time he became a major character in Jewish and Christian texts, he had taken on a demonic appearance.
The Dead Sea Scrolls describe Azazel as a demon
“chained to the rough and jagged rocks of Ha […] in utter darkness,”
while the Apocalypse of Abraham describes him as a carrion bird, a serpent, and as a demon with
“hands and feet like a man’s and on his back six wings on the right and six on the left.”
Today, like many demons, Azazel is drawn with red skin, glowing yellow eyes, and a barbed tail. He may also be found wearing goat skulls or dressed in goat bones, since Jewish desert tribes once sacrificed goats to him.
From the start, Azazel was one of heaven’s most powerful and clever angels. When God created man, Azazel revealed that he had a rebellious streak too, as he refused to bow to man and objected,
“Why should God create a human being, who will shed blood and confusion, while the angels prostrate before him and sing his glory day and night?”
In response to this defiance, God cast Azazel and many other angels down to earth. The punishment didn’t stop Azazel’s rebellion. He became a leader of the Grigori, a group of angels who married mortal women and produced a line of monstrous children. Then, he began teaching evil to humans. He taught men the art of warfare and of weapon-making, and he taught women “the art of deception,” which involved making and wearing cosmetics. Finally, he began teaching humans about witchcraft. His influence was so disastrous that, in the Book of Enoch, God says,
“The whole earth has been corrupted through the works that were taught by Azazel: to him ascribe all sin.”
For early Semitic tribes, Azazel (literally “strong one against God”) was a very real force of evil. It was common for them to make sacrifices to Azazel at the same time that they made sacrifices to their god, Yahweh. As described in the Hebrew Bible, Azazel’s sacrifices were made by driving a goat into the desert wilderness or by pushing it into a deep ravine. These sacrifices were not meant to honor Azazel as a deity; rather, they symbolized the people sending their sins back to their original source.
The Dead Sea Scrolls, the Book of Enoch, and the Apocalypse of Abraham provided more details about how Azazel came to earth, what he did to spread sin on earth, and how he was punished by God.
Azazel is a less well-known figure among Christians, since the Latin and English versions of the Bible translated his name as “scapegoat” or “wasteland.” Seventh Day Adventists acknowledge Azazel as Satan’s right-hand man and claim that a special kind of torment awaits him on the Day of Judgment.
Muslim tradition takes the story of Azazel even farther back, to the days when he ranked among the good angels. Some scholars believe that he was among the most wise and noble angels and that he fought against the jinn who lived on earth before humans. Others believe that he was a jinn who, as a reward for fighting against other jinn, was allowed to enter heaven and be called an angel.
Unfortunately, his position of honor made him arrogant, and when God created man, he refused to bow down to the new creation. For this reason, he was cast back to earth and became a plague on men.
Today, Azazel is not very well-known. He is only mentioned in the Bible twice, and very few people read the additional Jewish and Christian texts that provide more information about him.
A few works of fantasy have tipped their hats to Azazel. For example, he appears as a villain in X-men, Fallen, and Sandman.