In the Arena

On Scapegoats

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There seems to be some confusion out there–even among anthropologist commentators–about the meaning of scapegoat sacrifice in the ancient world (i.e. before the famous scapegoat passage in Leviticus that is read every Yom Kippur, which effectively changed the meaning of the ritual and made the scapegoat an innocent…goat).

My understanding of this comes from Stanford Professor Rene Girard, author of Violence and the Sacred, a masterful study of the various forms of sacrifice in the ancient world. Dr. Girard told me:

In Greek mythology, the scapegoat is never wrongfully accused. But he is always magical. He has the capacity to relieve the burden of guilt from a society. This seems a basic human impulse. There is a need to consume scapegoats. It is the way that tension is relieved and change takes place.”

As for Imus, his firing was a projection of this society’s guilt about locker-room racist/sexist “humor.” A classic scapegoat, if not by the current definition.

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