In 69 CE, Roman legions circled the walls of Jerusalem, poised to attack. Nervous Jewish factions fought among each other, clashing over the best way to prevent a violent end to their four-year rebellion. Amidst the turmoil, the holiest day of the Jewish calendar approached, Yom Kippur. On this day, nothing was more important for the white-robed High Priest than flawlessly following the liturgy for the Sabbath of the Sabbaths. The strict emphasis on the ceremonial details is reflected in Jewish oral tradition: “Every act of Yom Kippur is done in order; an act done out of order is invalid” (Mishnah 5:7). The stakes were high: the fifteen animal sacrifices, performed throughout the day, made atonement for all of Israel. The day’s sanctity required a unique, and admittedly mysterious, order of service involving two goats. We know much about the Azazel Goat ceremony because of the biblical requirements carefully outlined in Leviticus 16. Other post-biblical traditions rose up around Yom Kippur over the centuries and were codified in rabbinic and historical texts. One geographic aspect of the two-goat ceremony, however, has been lost to history.
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