Science Fair Project Encyclopedia
The scapegoat was a goat that was driven off into the wilderness as part of the ceremonies of Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, in Judaism during the times of the Temple in Jerusalem. The rite is described in Leviticus 16.
In the Hebrew Bible
Two male goats were to be brought to the place of sacrifice along with a bull as part of the Korbanot ("sacrifices") in the Temple in Jerusalem. The high priest then cast lots for the two goats. One goat was offered as a burnt offering, as was the bull. The second goat was the scapegoat. The high priest placed his hands on the head of the goat and confessed the sins of the people of Israel. The goat was then led away into the wilderness, bearing the sins of the people with it, to be claimed by the fallen angel Azazel.
In Christian theology, the story of the scapegoat in Leviticus is interpreted as a symbolic prefiguation of the self-sacrifice of Jesus, who takes the sins of humanity on his own head, having been driven into the 'wilderness' outside the city by order of the high priests.
Figuratively, a scapegoat is someone selected arbitrarily to bear blame for a calamity. Scapegoating is the act of irrationally holding a person, group of people, or thing responsible for a multitude of problems.
Scapegoating is often more devastating when applied to a minority group as they are, by definition, in the minority; thus they find it difficult to defend themselves. A tactic often employed is to characterize an entire group of individuals according to the unethical or immoral conduct of a small number of individuals belonging to the group.
"Scapegoated" groups throughout history have included almost every imaginable group of people: adherents of different religion, people of different race or nation or political belief, people differing in behaviour of majority. However, scapegoating may also be applied to organizations, such as governments, corporations, or various political groups. As example serve immigrants, Communists, capitalists, "witches", the poor or the rich, lepers, gays and Roma.
In industrialized societies, scapegoating of traditional minority groups is increasingly frowned upon. In the extreme, this may result in socially-enforced rules regarding speech, as in political correctness.
Scapegoating in sports
In sports, scapegoats are common. In baseball, Bill Buckner is blamed for losing the 1986 World Series due to a critical error. In American football, Scott Norwood is blamed for losing the Super Bowl for the Buffalo Bills during Super Bowl XXV by missing a key field goal. Andrés Escobar, a Colombian football player, was killed after he scored an own goal that knocked his team out of the 1994 World Cup.
Scapegoating in Psychoanalytic Theory
Psychoanalytic Theory believes that unwanted thoughts and feelings can be unconsciously projected onto another who becomes a scapegoat for ones own problems. This concept can be extended to projection by groups. In this case the chosen individual, or group, becomes the scapegoat for the group's problems.
- 'The Scapegoat' (1854), William Holman Hunt
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