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Biblical Beasts: Goat

Sunday, July 24, 2011
Goats do no not have the best reputation. They have come to be associated with the devil and Satanism. Much of the goat's diabolic symbolism is linked to its behaviour. Isidore of Seville describes the goat as "a lascivious animal; it likes to butt heads and is always ready to mate. Because of its lust its eyes are slanted (square pupils). The nature of goats is so hot that their blood can dissolve diamonds". The goat's reputation is also not really helped by Christ's description of the last judgement, where the goats are put to the left and banished to hellfire.

However, one should not blacklist the grumpy goat. Both scripture and Christian writers have found much that is good. Medieval bestiaries often see the goat as a symbol of Christ in creation:

The goat's love of high mountains represents Christ, who also loves high mountains, that is, the prophets, angels and patriarchs. As the goat feeds in the valleys, so does Christ in the church, where good works are his food. The sharp eyesight of the goat shows the omniscience of God and his perception of the tricks of the devil.
It is no surprise that the goat could be held in such esteem. There are over a hundred references to the animal in the bible and the majority are either positive or neutral: they are fit to eat, they are kosher. Furthermore goats were slaughtered for honoured guests (as they still are) amongst the people of the Middle East. They were very much part of the temple system. The hair of goats was used to make a curtain for the Ark of the Covenant, the dwelling place of the Lord. They were also often offered as sacrificial sin and peace offerings at the altar. Most importantly on Yom Kippur, the Day of Atonement, two goats were brought to the Temple. one to be sacrificed and the other to be cast into the wilderness, symbolically carrying the sin of the community. This, of course, is the origin of the term 'scapegoat'. This special annual event points toward the true Day of Atonement, Good Friday, when Jesus takes all sin upon Himself on the cross. He is not only the Lamb of God, but the Scapegoat of humanity.

Mark Davoren


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