Brenda Cannon Henley: What is a scapegoat?

Brenda Cannon Henley: What is a scapegoat?

We tend to use terms all of the time in the English language that we really have little idea of what they mean. For instance, in a recent column, I quickly typed the word “scapegoat,” and then more slowly realized that I did not know for certain how the term originated or exactly what it meant.

When I was in high school in DeKalb County, Georgia, I was proud to be called an Angora, and yes, folks, that is a mountain goat. Our colors were green and gold and we were called goats, climbers and buttheads, among other traditional joking jabs, by fellow high schoolers with cool names like Tigers, Blue Devils and Cavaliers. There was a reason our school chose the angora. Our little town had a train track right down the middle of the area. The tracks ran parallel with Main Street, and one day in the summer months, a train got stuck and somehow, several boxcar doors broke open. An entire herd of angora goats got out and quickly began to munch their way on any green, growing thing they could find.

The goats soon spread all across the little town and they never could all be rounded up and returned to the rightful owners. Clarkston became “Goatville” and other choice entities, usually in a comedic manner. So, when the high school was built, the founding fathers chose the aristocratic angora as our mascot. It still is today.I took some time in studying the word “scapegoat” and determined its origin and true meaning. It is interesting, and though I had read the story in Scripture, it had slipped my mind. The best definition I found is: “Scapegoat – Noun — A person who is unfairly blamed for something that others have done.” A further explanation adds that a scapegoat is the object of irrational hostility and one who bares the blame for others.

Added information determines that a scapegoat is a goat upon whose head are symbolically placed the sins of the people after which he is sent into the wilderness in the biblical ceremony for Yom Kippur. Bible scholars and great writers have debated what the actual meaning is of the events as described in Leviticus 16 in the Old Testament, but for our word study today, we will take it literally.

Reading Verses 6-10, we learn, “And Aaron shall offer his bullock of the sin offering, which is for himself, and make an atonement for himself, and for his house. And he shall take the two goats, and present them before the Lord at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And Aaron shall cast lots upon the two goats; one lot for the Lord, and the other lot for the scapegoat. And Aaron shall bring the goat upon which the Lord’s lot fell, and offer him for a sin offering. But the goat, on which the lot fell to be the scapegoat, shall be presented alive before the Lord, to make an atonement with him, and let him go for a scapegoat into the wilderness.”

After studying this passage of Scripture and thinking about the word a good bit, I have decided that before I choose to add any impact I may have in naming anyone a scapegoat, I will get all the facts, think the matter over carefully, pray about it quietly, and probably not be involved. No one would want to be thought of as a scapegoat unless there is a really good reason for their willingness to so oblige. 

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