Scapegoats in the Book of Mormon

Recently, scholar Andrei Orlov* uploaded a paper to Academia.edu, entitled “The Curses of Azazel”.  In this paper, Orlov uses the ancient document, Apocalypse of Abraham, to discuss the scapegoat of Yom Kippur, the Festival of Atonement.  His excellent article made me think of how such issues may also be found in the Book of Mormon. I will discuss it momentarily, after a brief introduction to the Festival of Yom Kippur and some other important issues to consider.

Yom Kippur

During Yom Kippur, the high priest performs very important functions. Among these ordinances, is entrance into the Holy of Holies (the only time during the year it is entered), sanctifies the instruments and Mercy Seat, and utters the sacred and ineffable name of God, “YHWH”. As he enters the Holy of Holies, he wears a special priest garb, which includes a turban/mitre, a sash, and the robes.  On his robes are bells, which tinkle as he moves, so those waiting outside for him can listen in and ensure he is still alive. If the high priest enters unworthily, God would strike him dead, and the silence of the bells would tip off his assistants to pull his body out by the rope attached to him for such an event. On the turban, one finds the name of “YHWH”. It is the unspeakable, ineffable name. Only the high priest knew the correct pronunciation. Some of his assistants would know portions of the pronunciation, but not all, so that at the death of the high priest, the assistants could each whisper their portion of the Name into the ear of the newly chosen high priest, allowing him alone to then know the full pronunciation.  The Name, as Orlov notes in his article, is extremely important. To have God’s name was to have his power to create, destroy, or perform miracles. Orlov notes from several ancient texts of fallen angels, or Watchers, who found out the Name and misused its power on the earth, causing them to be rejected by God.

One of the other major events in Yom Kippur, is that of the two goats. Two goats are chosen and brought before the high priest. One will be the sacred sacrifice, given to God. For Christians, this represents the sacrifice of Jesus by his Father.  The other goat, known as the scapegoat, also has an important role to play.  The high priest, prior to dressing in his temple robes, pronounces the sins of the people. Laying both hands on the head of the goat, he transfers those sins from Israel to the goat. A crimson wool thread is placed on the head of the goat. The goat is then sent into the wilderness, although some ancient texts show that it is pushed off a cliff, where it dies in a wilderness area. Those who lead the goat to the wilderness/death, then are to wash their clothes and become clean again from touching that which is unclean. Tradition has it that the scarlet thread became white, once the scapegoat was dead.  Orlov suggests that this directly ties in with Isaiah’s initial plea to Israel:

Wash you, make you clean; put away the evil of your doings from before mine eyes; cease to do evil;  Learn to do well; seek judgment, relieve the oppressed, judge the fatherless, plead for the widow. Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. (Isa 1:16-18)

With this ordinance, the nation of Israel is absolved of its sins once a year.  For early Christians, both goats represented different aspects of Christ’s life: the sacrificial goat and the one who takes upon himself all the sins of the people.
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Black Lives Matter AND…

I have a unique background that few other white LDS members have. I lived in the deep South for 17 years, assigned during most of that time in stake and ward missionary callings. I was instrumental in beginning the work among African Americans in Montgomery, Alabama 30 years ago. With two full time missionaries, I opened the work in Tuskegee, and was their group leader until a branch was established. One of my greatest honors was being “adopted” as an honorary black brother to my dear deceased friend, Renee Olsen, who said I was among a few white Mormons that understood the black world (Margaret Blair Young being the foeremost expert in this area, IMO).

Still, I realize I do not carry the burden placed upon blacks by even well meaning whites of all religions and political views. Yes, even white Democrats do not understand and many of their words and actions harm more than help. When asked if Black Lives Matter, Bernie Sanders responded by saying “all lives matter”.

The problem is, for blacks, this is comparing apples to oranges. They are equivalent.

All Lives Matter means we should care and help all people, regardless of what class or caste they are placed in by nature and society.

However, Black Lives Matter is different. Unlike whites and many others, racial prejudice still lives on. Separate water fountains happened in the recent past, which was experienced by many older blacks we know. Today, most whites do not think that racism still happens. It does. More blacks are stopped by police than whites. Blacks, though a minority population, take up almost half of prison beds. Government ‘helps’ the poor (mostly blacks), by giving women welfare only if there is no man in the home. Teachers give up on black kids quicker than white kids. Even the Academy Awards demonstrated racist tendencies by giving no nominations to blacks this year.

If you were walking down a dark street, what would be your initial response if some young black men were to walk towards you? Would you feel the same if it were some white boys?

Black Lives Matter should not be compared to All Lives Matter. Both are valid statements, but mean different things. It is best if we do not insist on one over the other. They are both important, with different connotations. Black Lives Matter AND All Lives Matter.

We need to care for all people, from the womb to the deathbed. This is what Christ would have us do. But we also need to look at blacks as our brothers and sisters, treat them with dignity, and help lift them out of the tragic poverty and dependency that we have placed them in.

Christmas’ True Purpose

This Christmas morning, my wife’s cousin Facebooked that her son passed away today. Travis was born trapped inside a motionless body. Unable to walk, talk, or move his arms, many thought for years that he was in a total vegetative state. His mother always knew something that doctors only in the last few years were able to determine: Travis was awake and alive inside, with a functioning mind and brain.

Teresa would take Travis on vacations, cruises and trips anywhere and everywhere. Her Facebook page lights up with many of his adventures. One of their favorite vacation places was her Mom’s farm in southern Indiana, where we would often visit and spend time with Travis.

While his passing today on Christmas is a sad event, it is also a moment to reflect and rejoice. What better day for him to walk through that spiritual door into the next room, where loved ones and God await him?

Christmas is important, not because a child was born of a virgin, but because that child brought about the atonement and resurrection of all mankind. Because of Jesus Christ, each of us will live again. No longer will Travis be bound by useless limbs and a silent voice. During his mortal life, Jesus made the lame walk, the mute to speak, and raised the dead. Because of Christ’s mercy and love, today Travis walks, speaks, and lives eternally, never to taste of death, pain or suffering again.

And for this reason, while I mourn with his mother, sister and family, because we will all miss Travis, I also rejoice that Travis lives on this very Christmas day, and that we will one day see him again, and he will embrace us – something he was not able to do in mortality.

Reading Nephi Discussing John’s Apocalypse

Coming up in the next few weeks in LDS Sunday School classes, we will be discussing the Book of Revelation. As a new member back in December 1975, I recall hearing many messages regarding the Last Days, using the apostle John’s Revelation to figure out the tragedies and events of the Last Days.

Sadly, one way in which we miss out on what is found in Apocalypse is by looking at what it says on the surface, without using one of the best tools given us via the Restoration of the Gospel. Continue reading

Zion and the Tree of Life in the Latter Days

I joined the Church in 1975. Back then, much of what was going on in the world and believed by the world matched my new LDS views.  There were issues regarding the new sexuality that pushed against the Church’s stance on chastity, however. Still, most things were kosher between the world and church.

40 years later, we see huge divisions between the world and Church. The chasm between the two have grown large enough that many believers are being forced off the fence. Continue reading