by Archdeacon Howard Stringfellow
Tuesday in Easter 5 (Year Two)
6 May 2010
In the First Lesson at Morning Prayer on May 4 we read: “When he has finished atoning for the holy place and the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall present the live goat. Then Aaron shall lay both his hands on the head of the live goat, and confess over it all the iniquities of the people of Israel, and all their transgression, all their sins, putting them on the head of the goat, and sending it away into the wilderness by means of someone designated for the task. The goat shall bear on itself all their iniquities to a barren region; and the goat shall be set free in the wilderness” (Leviticus 16:20-22).
My first encounter with this selection of holy Scripture was not in church or in Sunday School; it was in a Shakespeare class when the play discussed was The Merchant of Venice. The professor’s object in introducing us to the Biblical source for scapegoats was to say that Shakespeare’s intention was to make of Shylock a scapegoat on whose head had been placed “all the iniquities of the people” of Venice before he was banished to compulsory baptism. For many reasons, the professor said, this intended effect did not “work”: “all the iniquities” of the Venetians did not fit or properly belong on his head, and we, probably like the Elizabethans, have a question or two when the subject turns to baptism against one’s will.