Andrei Orlov

High Priest Yahoel and Azazel

an excerpt from A. Orlov “The Eschatological Yom Kippur in the Apocalypse of Abraham: Part I: The Scapegoat Ritual,” in: Symbola Caelestis. Le symbolisme liturgique et paraliturgique dans le monde Chrétien (Scrinium, 5; eds. A. Orlov and B. Lourié; Piscataway: Gorgias Press, 2009) 79-111.


... Like in the Enochic tradition where the profiles of both protagonists[1] and antagonists[2] often reveal their cultic affiliations, in the Slavonic apocalypse too both Azazel and Abraham are envisioned as priestly figures. As has already been mentioned, this sacerdotal vision permeates the fabric of the entire pseudepigraphon, in which all main characters are endowed with cultic roles. The most spectacular cultic attributes are, of course, given to Yahoel, who is presented in the text as the heavenly high priest and the celestial choir-master. The repeated instructions about sacrificial rites and proper liturgical procedures that he conveys to his human apprentice Abraham reveal Yahoel as the most distinguished sacerdotal figure of the story. It is possible that, in his role as instructor and revealer of cultic mysteries, Yahoel discloses his teachings to the patriarch not only in speech but also through direct participation in priestly praxis. One such instance may be seen in chapters 13 and 14 of the Slavonic apocalypse, where Yahoel appears to perform one of the central ordinances of the Yom Kippur atoning ceremony, in which impurity is transferred onto Azazel and the scapegoat is dispatched into the wilderness.

Thus, in Apoc. Ab. 13:7-14 the following arcane encounter between the high priest Yahoel and the scapegoat Azazel can be found:


… “Reproach is on you, Azazel! Since Abraham’s portion is in heaven, and yours is on earth,

Since you have chosen it and desired it to be the dwelling place of your impurity. Therefore the Eternal Lord, the Mighty One, has made you a dweller on earth. And because of you [there is] the wholly-evil spirit of the lie, and because of you [there are] wrath and trials on the generations of impious men.

Since the Eternal Mighty God did not send the righteous, in their bodies, to be in your hand, in order to affirm through them the righteous life and the destruction of impiety.

… Hear, adviser! Be shamed by me, since you have been appointed to tempt not to all the righteous!

Depart from this man! You cannot deceive him, because he is the enemy of you and of those who follow you and who love what you desire. For behold, the garment which in heaven was formerly yours has been set aside for him, and the corruption which was on him has gone over to you.”[3]



In view of the cultic affiliations of Yahoel, it is possible that his address to the scapegoat has a ritual significance, since it appears to be reminiscent of some of the actions of the high priest on Yom Kippur.  The first thing that draws attention is that Yahoel’s speech contains a command of departure: “Depart from this man!”  Crispin Fletcher-Louis has noted a possible connection between this command found in Apoc. Ab. 13:12 and the dispatching formula given to the scapegoat in m. Yoma 6:4 – “Take our sins and go forth.”[4]

Scholars have also pointed out that some technical terminology found in chapter 13 appears to be connected with Yom Kippur terminology. Thus, Daniel Stökl draws attention to the expression about “sending” things to Azazel in Apoc. Ab. 13:10,[5] which Alexander Kulik traces to the Greek term a)poste&llw or Hebrew xl#.[6] Stökl proposes that this terminology “might allude to the sending out of the scapegoat.”[7]

The phrase “dwelling place of your impurity” is also noteworthy since it alludes to the “purgation” function of the scapegoat ceremony, the rite which centered on removing the impurity heaped on the sacrificial animal to the “dwelling” place of the demon in the wilderness.

Putting reproach and shame on Azazel in Apoc. Ab. 13:7 and 13:11 may also relate to the ritual curses bestowed upon the scapegoat.

Another important detail of Yahoel’s speech is the angel’s mention that the corruption of the forefather of the Israelite nation is transferred now to Azazel.

Reflecting on this utterance of the great angel, Robert Helm sees its connection to the Yom Kippur settings by proposing that “the transference of Abraham’s corruption to Azazel may be a veiled reference to the scapegoat rite….”[8] Similarly, Lester Grabbe also argues that the phrasing in the statement that “Abraham’s corruption has ‘gone over to’ Azazel suggest[s] an act of atonement.”[9]

It is also possible that the high priest Yahoel is performing here the so-called “transference function” – the crucial part of the scapegoat ritual – when the high priest conveys the sins of Israel onto the head of the goat through confession and laying-on of hands.[10]


[1] On Enoch’s priestly roles, see M. Himmelfarb, “The Temple and the Garden of Eden in Ezekiel, the Book of the Watchers, and the Wisdom of ben Sira,” in: Sacred Places and Profane Spaces: Essays in the Geographics of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam (eds. J. Scott and P. Simpson–Housley; New York: Greenwood Press, 1991) 63–78; idem, “Apocalyptic Ascent and the Heavenly Temple,” in: Society of Biblical Literature 1987 Seminar Papers (SBLSP 26; Atlanta, GA: Scholars Press, 1987) 210–217.  See also: J. Maier, “Das Gefährdungsmotiv bei der Himmelsreise in der jüdischen Apocalyptik und ‘Gnosis,’” Kairos 5(1) 1963 18–40, esp. 23; idem, Vom Kultus zur Gnosis, 127–8; G. W. E. Nickelsburg, “Enoch, Levi, and Peter: Recipients of Revelation in Upper Galilee,” JBL 100 (1981) 575–600, esp. 576–82.; A. Orlov, The Enoch-Metatron Tradition, 70-76.

[2] On the priestly traditions related to the fallen Watchers see D. Suter, “Fallen Angel, Fallen Priest: the Problem of Family Purity in 1 Enoch 6–16,” HUCA 50 (1979) 115–35.

[3] Kulik, Retroverting Slavonic Pseudepigrapha: Toward the Original of the Apocalypse of Abraham (TCS, 3; Atlanta:Scholars, 2004) 20.

[4] C. Fletcher-Louis, “The Revelation of the Sacral Son of Man,” in: Auferstehung-Resurrection (eds F. Avemarie and H. Lichtenberger; Tübingen: Mohr-Siebeck) 282.

[5]  Ap.Ab. 13:9-10:  “And because of you [there is] the wholly-evil spirit of the lie,

and because of you [there are] wrath and trials on the generations of impious men. Since the Eternal Mighty God did not send the righteous, in their bodies, to be in your hand, in order to affirm through them the righteous life and the destruction of impiety.” Kulik, 20.

[6] A. Kulik, Apocalypse of Abraham. Towards the Lost Original (Ph.D. diss.; Hebrew University of Jerusalem, 2000) 90.

[7] D. Stökl, The Impact of Yom Kippur on Early Christianity: The Day of Atonement from Second Temple Judaism to the Fifth Century (WUNT, 163; Tübingen: Mohr/Siebeck, 2003) 94.

[8] Helm, “Azazel in Early Jewish Tradition,” 223.

[9] Grabbe, “The Scapegoat Tradition: A Study in Early Jewish Interpretation,” 157.

[10] Lev 16:21-22 “Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgressions, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness.” On the “transference” function see also Milgrom, Leviticus 1-16, 1041.