The one who led the goat into the desert and sent it off to the demon Azazel must take a bath and wash his clothes before coming back into camp.
Lev 16:26, CEV
There is a general principle about Bible translations that goes something like this, “If you’re going to put something weird in your translation, footnote it.” I was looking at Hebrews 13 and the phrase “go outside the camp.” And this led me to Leviticus 16:26. I was pretty surprised to see the CEV rendering without any kind of footnote or cross-reference. In their favor, I will say that the translators put a good note in at Leviticus 16:8:
f 16.8 Azazel: It was believed that a demon named Azazel lived in the desert.
The online NLT Study Bible has this:
The term Azazel is found only in 16:8, 10, 26. This word has generally been interpreted in four different ways: (1) as a word meaning “the goat of going away”; (2) as a demon that lived in the wilderness; (3) as a strengthened form of the Hebrew word for “go, leave,” meaning “utter loss”; and (4) as a rocky cliff over which the goat was pushed. Since this goat represented the removal of the sins of Israel from the camp (16:22), the first interpretation is probably the simplest solution.
The NET Bible Online has this note.
I think many translators hope that their translation will stand on its own. But in practice most people have some sort of Biblical knowledge before they get to read your translation. So if you’re going to say something quite different from the dominant Bible translation it’s a good idea in my opinion to footnote, share the alternative and explain why you chose this rendering. At the very least we should put something in like that indicates that we’re aware of the more common rendering.
If the CEV had at least a cross-reference at Lev. 16:26 to verse 8, there wouldn’t have been any confusion on my part.
Another resource that I found helpful was the NIV Archaeological Study Bible.
You have to admit this is a freaky passage of Scripture. It sounds like the Israelites are indulging in some syncretism. The NET translation really brings that out:
and Aaron is to cast lots over the two goats, one lot for the Lord and one lot for Azazel.
A Better Bible would show the ambiguity of this passage without creating undue alarm.
The CEV Learning Bible has a footnote that seems to get things exactly backwards:
16.26 one who led the goat… take a bath and wash his clothes: The person who led the goat out of the camp carrying the people’s sins and those who removed the remains of the bull and goat from the camp had to wash and change clothes, since they had come into contact with holy things. See also Heb. 13.11.
Here are some more sources for information on this passage and the mysterious Azazel:
http://www.answers.com/topic/azazel: A good roundup of sources about Azazel.
http://bible.cc/leviticus/16-26.htm: A comparison 13 English translations of this verse.