An unavoidable part of our flawed human condition is the tendency to make mistakes, yet instead of accepting our failings and seeking to learn from them, we retain an innate proclivity towards seeking to attach fault onto others. Whether attempting to place a recognizable face onto an abstract problem, or to simplify the issue into an easy answer inhabiting a single responsible repository, the history of humanity is the history of blame. The Normans burnt at the stake a cockerel for witchcraft, swords were prosecuted in Ancient Greece for murder, and St. Bernard excommunicated a swarm of flies that were persistent in annoying him. Whether comforting to blame others, or merely an evolutionary response to an inescapable feeling of responsibility and societal pressure, we have routinely affixed fault, sometimes with malicious intent and other times blindly, to innocent parties.
Here are 18 famous scapegoats unfairly blamed that people wrongly believed, some still to this day, to be at fault:
18. The first recorded use of the term “scapegoat” was in reference to the Jewish Day of Atonement and the Judaic practice of exiling a goat in a symbolic casting off of one’s sins
The original scapegoat, an English translation of the Hebrew ăzāzêl loosely meaning “the goat that departs”, is a biblical figure who first appears in Leviticus as an animal who is symbolically burdened with the sins of man before being cast out into the desert. Occurring on the Jewish Day of Atonement, or Yom Kippur, two goats were brought to the temple wherein one was offered as a blood sacrifice and the other designated the “scapegoat”; throughout the day, the Israelites confessed their sins to the goat, figuratively attaching them to the animal, and thereafter it is expelled from the community taking their sins with him. This practice was not unique to the Jewish people and strong parallel can be made within Christianity, with the sacrifice of Christ in the role of a scapegoat allegedly washing away the original sin of mankind; similarly, a comparable practice is recorded in Ancient Syria as an act of ritual purification and in Ancient Greece in which an undesirable, namely a cripple, beggar, or criminal, is driven out in penitence in the wake of a disaster.
Furthermore, in an act of monumental irony the man responsible for the initial translation and introduction of the term into the English language, William Tyndale, was himself made into a scapegoat for his influential work. Translating the Bible during the early 16th century, of which over 80% of his work would be later copied into the King James Bible in 1611, Tyndale was condemned as a heretic and his actions were blamed as responsible for Henry VIII’s split with the Roman Catholic Church in 1534. Arrested the following year in Antwerp, incredibly at the behest of Henry VIII after Tyndale had written in opposition regarding the annulment of his marriage to Catherine of Aragon, Tyndale was found guilty of heresy and “strangled to death while tied at the stake, and then his dead body was burned” in October 1536; within just four years of his execution, Henry VIII had authorized the publication of Tyndale’s translations of holy scripture as the “Great Bible”: the first authorized edition of the Bible in English under the newly created Church of England.