In the Old Testament, a goat that was symbolically burdened with the sins of the people and then killed on Yom Kippur to rid Jerusalem of its iniquities. Similar rituals were held elsewhere in the ancient world to transfer guilt or blame. In ancient Greece, human scapegoats were beaten and driven out of cities to mitigate calamities. In early Roman law, an innocent person was allowed to assume the penalty of another; Christianity reflects this notion in its belief that Jesus died to atone for the sins of mankind.

This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise.
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