Lilith, Adam's first wife

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Lilith, Adam's first wife

Post  Admin on 11/4/2008, 9:50 pm

Lilith, Adam's first wife

Lilith, Adam’s first wife—and other stories about her.
That bible-like stories (like those about Lilith) give insights to the process of creation of religious stories.
From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The most balance and complete account of the legends concerning Lilith at, arguable the best encyclopedia on the web.

Lilith, the first wife of Adam, and other legends. Connected to Akkadian (Sumerian) mythology tenuous from a translation of a verse in Isaiah, which in the King James translation was rendered screech owl (a species of owl). Other translation rendered the text night owl, might monster, night hag, and night creature. A Hebrew tradition exists in which an amulet is inscribed with the names of three angels and placed around the neck of newborn boys in order to protect them from the lilin until their circumcision. This practice lends weight to the argument that Lilith had existed in earlier Hebrew mythology and is not the creation of later medieval authors. There is also a Hebrew tradition to wait a while before a boy's hair is cut so as to attempt to trick Lilith into thinking the child is a girl so that the boy's life may be spared. Lilith's name also appears in a list of demonic creatures in the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q510 frag. 11.4-6a; frag. 10.1f), in a passage referring to Isaiah 34:14. The word "lilith" appears several times in the Talmud. In Tractate Niddah 24b it refers to a winged human, while in Erubin 100b it refers to something with long hair.

Akkadian Mythology: Lilith has been identified with ki-sikil-lil-la-ke4, a female demon in the Sumerian prologue to the Gilgamesh epic.

Kramer translates:

a dragon had built its nest at the foot of the tree

the Zu-bird was raising its young in the crown,

and the demon Lilith had built her house in the middle.


Then the Zu-bird flew into the mountains with its young,

while Lilith, petrified with fear, tore down her house and fled into the wilderness

Wolkenstein translates the same passage:

a serpent who could not be charmed made its nest in the roots of the tree,

The Anzu bird set his young in the branches of the tree,

And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.

The Gilgamesh passage quoted above has in turn been applied by some to the Burney relief (Norman Colville collection), which dates to roughly 1950 BC and is a sculpture of a woman who has bird talons and is flanked by owls. [This connection is one of fantasy rather than logic—jk.]

The key to this identification lies in the bird talons and the owls. While the relief may depict the demon Kisikil-lilla-ke of the Gilgamesh passage or another goddess, identification with Lilitu is more tenuous and likely influenced by the "screech owl" translation of the KJV. A very similar relief dating to roughly the same period is preserved in the Louvre

The Britannica writes of Lilith:

female demon of Jewish folklore; her name and personality are derived from the class of Mesopotamian demons called lilû (feminine: lilitu). In rabbinic literature Lilith is variously depicted as the mother of Adam's demonic offspring following his separation from Eve or as his first wife, who left him because of their incompatibility. Three angels tried in vain to force her return; the evil she threatened, especially against children, was said to be counteracted by the wearing of an amulet bearing the names of the angels. A cult associated with Lilith survived among some Jews as late as the 7th century AD.

Erubin 18b says that after the expulsion from Eden, Adam was separated from Eve for 130 years, during which time the seed he wasted created "ghouls, demons and lilin". I. e. in Talmudic tradition, not Lilith but Adam engendered the lilin, a connection that may be the origin of the later association of Lilith and Adam.

In some passages of the Kabbala, as well as in the 13th century Treatise on the Left Emanation [2], Lilith is the mate of Samael.

In others, probably informed by The Alphabet of Ben Sira, she is Adam's wife (Yalqut Reubeni, Zohar 1:34b, 3:19 [3])

The passage in Genesis 1:27 — "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them" (before describing a mate being made of Adam's rib and being called Eve in Genesis 2:22) is sometimes believed to be an indication that Adam had a wife before Eve.

A medieval reference to Lilith as the first wife of Adam is the anonymous The Alphabet of Ben-Sira, written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries. Lilith is described as refusing to assume a subservient role to Adam during sexual intercourse and so deserting him ("She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.'"). Lilith promptly uttered the name of God, took to the air, and left the Garden, settling on the Red Sea coast. As a side note, this places Lilith in a unique position, for she left the Garden of her own accord and before the Fall of Man, and so is untouched by the Tree of Knowledge. However, according to legend, she also knows the "true name of God". The Alphabet of Ben-Sira is the earliest surviving source of the story, and the conception that Lilith was Adam's first wife became only widely known with the 17th century Lexicon Talmudicum of Johannes Buxtorf

The background and purpose of The Alphabet of Ben-Sira is unclear. It is a collection of stories about heroes of the Bible and Talmud, it may have been a collection of folk-tales, a refutation of Christian, Karaite, or other separatist movements; its content seems so offensive to contemporary Jews that it was even suggested that it could be an anti-Jewish satire [4], although, in any case, the text was accepted by the Jewish mystics of medieval Germany.

Lilith then went on to mate with Asmodai and various other demons she found beside the Red Sea, creating countless lilin. Adam urged God to bring Lilith back, so three angels were dispatched after her. When the angels, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, made threats to kill one hundred of Lilith's demonic children for each day she stayed away, she countered that she would prey eternally upon the descendants of Adam and Eve, who could be saved only by invoking the names of the three angels. She did not return to Adam.


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Re: Lilith, Adam's first wife

Post  Admin on 11/4/2008, 9:51 pm

What's the story on Lilith, Adam's "first wife"?
Dear Straight Dope:

What's this I hear every so often about Lillith, Adam's (as in adam and Eve) first wife?

— Jack-E in killeen

We dunno what you've heard. You could have heard Lilith is a model for Oppressed Womanhood. You could have heard she's a succubus who gives men wet dreams. You could have heard that she's a demoness who murders babies. You could have heard that she's a goddess, the wife of Death.

On the one hand there are all these (and likely other) interpretations. On the other hand there are the legends themselves, which are also quite varied, from Jewish folklore. Let's start with a paraphrase of the most familiar legend, which dates to medieval times, from the controversial work known as the Alphabet of Ben Sirah, including a few of our own interjections:

When God created Adam, he was lonely, so God created Lilith from the same dust from which Adam was molded. But they quarrelled; Adam [the proverbial domineering male] wished to rule over Lilith. But Lilith [a militant feminist] was also proud and willful, claiming equality with Adam because she was created from the same dust. She left Adam and fled the Garden. God sent three angels in pursuit of Lilith. They caught her and ordered her to return to Adam. She refused, and said that she would henceforth weaken and kill little children, infants and babes. The angels overpowered her, and she promised that if the mother hung an amulet over the baby bearing the names of the three angels, she would stay away from that home. So they let her go, and God created Eve to be Adam's mate [created from Adam's rib, so that she couldn't claim equality]. And ever since, Lilith flies around the world, howling her hatred of mankind through the night, and vowing vengeance because of the shabby treatment she had received from Adam. She is also called "The Howling One."

You can see how this legend could lead to various interpretations, depending on whether you think she is noble (in rebelling against male domination) or evil (in vowing vengeance against innocent babies.)

But where does this legend come from? The author of Ben Sirah basically wove together three separate threads from centuries earlier works, because Lilith is a very ancient legend.

Let's start with the Bible as primary source material. Genesis of course mentions Adam and Eve, but -- please note -- doesn't mention Lilith. The idea of Lilith as a "prior first woman" before Eve arises much later. The only reference to Lilith in the Bible (Old or New Testaments) is Isaiah 34:14, probably written around 540 BC; it's a description of desolation, jackals and ravens among nettles and briers, etc.: "Goat demons shall greet each other; there too the lilith will repose." Most of the other creatures referenced in this poetry cannot be positively identified. The KJV, following the Vulgate, translates "the lilith" as "the night demon," confusing the lili- with the Hebrew word for night. But presumably Isaiah meant some sort of demon.

The notion of a lilith as a demon is probably Assyrian (say around 700 BC), incorporated into Isaiah by way of the ancient Israelite contacts with the mythologies of Babylonia and Chaldea. The Assyrians had three female demons, Lilit, Lilu,and Ardat Lilit. There's little doubt that the Hebrew lilith-demon mentioned in Isaiah was a folkloric adaptation of the Assyrian demons.

Several hundred years after Isaiah, we find Talmudic writings that describe Lilith (now as a named demon, rather than a broad category) as an irresistibly seductive she-demon with long hair (presumably worn loose, a sure sign of wantonness) and wings. Terey wants us to be sure to say that she's a succubus. She seduces unwary men, then savagely kills the children she bears for them.

From this, she becomes the demon responsible for the death of babies. In ancient times, one needed to protect against such demons; today, we blame other factors for the death of infants. To guard against Lilith, superstitious Jews would hang four amulets, one on the wall of each room of a newborn babe, with the inscription "Lilith - abi!" ["Lilith - begone!"] which some think is the origin, much later, of the English word "lullaby."

OK, that's legend one: a she-demon who kills babies.

Legend two: early rabbinic writings about Adam and Eve. There are rabbinic midrashim, stories filling in the gaps in the text, that tell of Adam and Eve after they leave the garden. Adam is angry with Eve for causing so much trouble, so he leaves her, and is beset by demons (called "lilith"; the name is still a generic category of demon). A particular lilith called Penzai seduces Adam and becomes pregnant. Got it? So that legend associates a lilith with Adam.

Legend three: an early midrash that puzzles about why Eve is created from a rib of Adam, why not created equally with him? The midrash suggests the creation of a prior "first woman" (unnamed) who doesn't work out as a fitting companion for Adam.

OK, so around a thousand years later (give or take a few centuries), the Alphabet of Ben Sira creates the story we started with, tying together all three legends, merging (1) Lilith the child-slaying night-demon story with (2) Penzai the lilith who seduces Adam with (3) the "prior first woman" story.

This mingling of legends provided a good Jewish context for the ancient custom of making the Lilith amulets (thus exonerating the custom from the taint of superstition or witchcraft.) That's why the legend of Lilith as Adam's first wife doesn't emerge until medieval times, although the strands of the story are much earlier.

The Zohar, the great book of Jewish mysticism from the 12th Century, adds yet another dimension. The Zohar generally doesn't mention Lilith by name, but refers to her as the wife of Samael, the Angel of Death ... and sometimes as the wife of Satan. She sleeps with men, causing wet dreams, and she collects semen from the marriage bed. (Flowing semen is a symbol of life, the white fluid, contrasted with flowing blood as a symbol of death, the red fluid, so the demoness who kills children collecting semen is symbolically very neat.)

So that's the legend(s) and their origin(s). A little confusing, but demonology is not an exact science.

Now, a brief footnote in Modern Times. You can imagine that modern feminists would latch on to the rabbinic story of punishment for resisting male domination, and use Lilith as a symbol. It's a two-edged symbol, of course, since Lilith as a demon who destroys newborns pre-dates the medieval explanation of Lilith as a rebellious wife. However, the modern use of Lilith as a symbol of oppressed womanhood is quite strong.

For tons more information, check out http:/

A warning, though: because Lilith is used a modern symbol, some websites have distorted the legends to meet their political agendas. That's OK, we're not quibbling with that, that's one of the reasons that legends and mythologies persist is that they can grow and develop. We're just saying, be careful to separate modern interpretations from earlier historic ones.

— Dex and Terey, with an assist from RvkhMccabi


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Re: Lilith, Adam's first wife

Post  Admin on 11/4/2008, 9:54 pm

The Story of Lilith
The Alphabet of Ben Sira Question #5 (23a-b)
Tr. Norman Bronznick (with David Stern & Mark Jay Mirsky) (Stern90)

The Alphabet of Ben Sira is the earliest form we know of the Lilith legend familiar to most people (that is, to most people who are familiar with Lilith at all). It is here that we find Lilith as Adam's first wife. Scholars tend to date the Alphabet between the 8th and 10th centuries, CE. Whether the story itself is older, or, if so, how much older is not possible to say. Amulets like the one described in the first paragraph are, of course, much older. The author of the Zohar, R. Moses de Leon, was aware of the Alphabet's version of Lilith, at least according to Gershom Scholem (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 174), but he also knows other, probably older, Lilith traditions which do not mesh well with this one. No attempt is made, apparently, to harmonize them. For one of these other traditions, and comments on whether the author was familiar with the Alphabet, see Treatise on the Left Emanation. The idea of Eve having a predecessor is also not new to Ben Sira, and can be found in Genesis Rabbah . But those traditions make no mention of Lilith, and, in fact, do not mesh well with Ben Sira's version of the story. [AH]
Soon afterward the young son of the king took ill, Said Nebuchadnezzar, "Heal my son. If you don't, I will kill you." Ben Sira immediately sat down and wrote an amulet with the Holy Name, and he inscribed on it the angels in charge of medicine by their names, forms and images, and by their wings, hands, and feet. Nebuchadnezzar looked at the amulet. "Who are these?"
"The angles who are in charge of medicine: Snvi, Snsvi, and Smnglof. After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Gen. 2:18). He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith began to fight. She said, 'I will not lie below,' and he said, 'I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while am to be in the superior one.' Lilith responded, 'We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.' But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: 'Sovereign of the universe!' he said, 'the woman you gave me has run away.' At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angles to bring her back.

"Said the Holy One to Adam, 'If she agrees to come back, fine. If not she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.' The angels left God and pursued Lilith, whom they overtook in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown. They told her God's word, but she did not wish to return. The angels said, 'We shall drown you in the sea.'

"'Leave me!' she said. 'I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.'

"When the angels heard Lilith's words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: 'Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.' She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels' names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers."


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