A scapegoat is one who is blamed and punished for the sins of others. The term is of particular importance to the Judeo-Christian tradition as the etymology appears in four different Hebrew texts: the Talmud, the Septuagint, the Vulgate, and the Book of Leviticus. Leviticus, the third book from the Torah, reflects the Levitical law and ritual pertaining to the priests of Levi, the tribe of the biblical son Jacob. Vulgate is the translated version of the Tanakh in Latin completed by St. Jerome in the year 405. The word comes from vulgus, meaning “the common people” because the book was accessible to the people of ancient Rome. Septuagint is the translated version of the Tanakh in Greek done in 3c. B.C.E. Its etymology is the “seventy translators,” the “seventy” from septem “seven”, and ginta “tens, ten times.” In final, Talmud, an Oral Law of Judaism, is a text that is applied to teachings contained in the biblical text and traditional learning from the wisdom of a Rabbi.
Scapegoat is an English translation of the term azazel. The Talmud breaks down the words into two parts: az “strong or rough”, and el “mighty”. When the two combine, it results in “the goat was sent from the most rugged mountains.” The Septuagint and the Vulgate both similarly interpret the word as “departing goat”. In the Septuagint, it writes, “goat sent out”, and in the Vulgate, it is, “emissary goat”. From the book of Leviticus, the word translates to “the sender away of sin.”
According to Leviticus, the ancient Israelites believed in transferring their sins to regular sin offerings. On the Day of the Atonement, which is on the tenth day of every seventh month in Jewish calendar, the High Priest of Israel sacrifices a bull for his sins and supplies two goats for the sins of the nation. He places one goat at the door of a Tabernacle in liberty so that it can run into the wilderness; this free goat, azazel, is never to be seen again. The other chosen goat is an offering, and it is slain. The pool of goat blood is taken to the Holy of Holies in the inner sanctuary of the Tabernacle and is sprinkled on sacred items. During the process of ritual, the High Priest confesses all the sins to Jehovah, and it is believed, by the end of the ceremony, Jehovah purifies the sins. An interesting note in the Jewish ritual is that the ritual itself uses the method of scapegoating, where the first sheep is designated to perish.
In today’s time, the term scapegoat goes beyond religious, developing a secular meaning. In the context of media, Rebekah Brooks was the scapegoat for the News International phone hacking scandal in 2011. When Murdoch, the Chairman of the company received allegations that his company phone hacked and bribed English citizens, Brooks immediately became the target for the witch-hunt because she was the Chief Executive Officer during the time.
In summary, scapegoating is likely to ensue in a negative and frustrating environment where an issue is unresolved. The members of the in-group inflict prejudice and responsibility on the out-group member especially in combination with social and political pressure. And in the case of the phone hacking scandal, it was Brooks, due to the lack of accountability in the superior management.
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