Scapegoats

From Facebook friends Dennis Lewis and Jess Anderson, this poignant editorial cartoon by Mike Luckovich:

This not long after Jeff Shaumeyer provided a link to an appalling scapegoat story in the Central Telegraph (of Australia):

‘Cyclone no time for atheist PM’

A CONTROVERSIAL church group has called on Prime Minister Julia Gillard to fall on her knees in prayer in the midst of the looming cyclone crisis facing Queensland.

“It is very sad that this dark chapter in Australia’s history is led by an atheist Prime Minister in Julia Gillard and an openly homosexual Greens leader… both who have no regard for God nor prayer,” Catch the Fire Ministeries said in a statement today.

President Dr Daniel Nalliah said Julia Gillard was not elected by the majority of the Australian people, but rather the personal decision of two power hungry independent MPs who catapulted Ms Gillard to the top job.

“Are we Aussies all paying for that decision? It is very well known that throughout history, in a time of national crisis, kings, prime ministers and presidents of countries around the world have turned to God, irrespective of whether they were Christian, Buddhist, Hindu or Muslim and asked for help or at least called the nation to pray for protection and for the victims of the disaster,” Dr Nalliah said.

Dr Nalliah … has already blamed the Queensland floods on Kevin Rudd speaking out against Israel.

He also blamed the Victorian bushfires on that state’s liberalisation of abortion laws.

Plenty of scapegoats there. Ok, there’s a lot of looniness going around.

Here’s a painting of a scapegoat, the Biblical scapegoat in fact, by William Holman Hunt:

The Wikipedia entry on the painting says (this morning) that

Hunt chose a subject derived from the Torah as part of a project to convert Jews to Christianity. He believed that Judaic views of the scapegoat were consistent with the Christian conception of the Messiah as a suffering figure. He wrote to his friend Millais, “I am sanguine that that [the Scapegoat] may be a means of leading any reflecting Jew to see a reference to the Messiah as he was, and not as they understand, a temporal King.”

The Book of Leviticus describes a “scapegoat” which must be ritually expelled from the flocks of the Israelite tribes as part of a sacrificial ritual of cleansing. In line with traditional Christian theology, Hunt believed that the scapegoat was a prototype for the redemptive sacrifice of Jesus, and that the goat represented that aspect of the Messiah described in Isaiah as a “suffering servant” of God. Hunt had the picture framed with the quotations “Surely he hath borne our Griefs and carried our Sorrows; Yet we did esteem him stricken, smitten of GOD and afflicted.” (Isaiah 53:4) and “And the Goat shall bear upon him all their iniquities unto a Land not inhabited.” (Leviticus 16:22)

What about the word scapegoat (earlier scape-goat and scape goat)? The scape in it is originally a variant of escape, and the compound with goat was, according to OED2,

Apparently invented by Tyndale (1530) to express what he believed to be the literal meaning of Hebrew ʿăzāzel, occurring only in Lev. xvi. 8, 10, 26. (In verse 10 he renders: ‘The goote on which the lotte fell to scape’.) The same interpretation is expressed by the Vulgate caper emissarius (whence the French bouc émissaire), and by Coverdale’s (1535) rendering ‘the fre goate’, but is now regarded as untenable. The word does not appear in the Revised Version of 1884, which has ‘Azazel’ (as a proper name) in the text, and ‘dismissal’ in the margin as an alternative rendering.

The formation of the word has been imitated in nonce-combinations (chiefly jocular) in which the name of some other animal is substituted for ‘goat’

That gives the first sense:

In the Mosaic ritual of the Day of Atonement (Lev. xvi), that one of two goats that was chosen by lot to be sent alive into the wilderness, the sins of the people having been symbolically laid upon it, while the other was appointed to be sacrificed.

The modern sense —

One who is blamed or punished for the sins of others. (So French bouc émissaire.)

is a development from this one, first attested in the OED in 1824.

And now union members have joined gays and Muslims (and atheists etc.) in ScapegoatLand.

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