The first man and woman: Adam and.... Lilith?
Many people know the story of Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden, as described in Genesis 2 of the Old Testament. In short, it explains that God first created a man from the dust of the ground. But, because the man needed a helper in his job to look after the God's Garden of Eden, God created a woman from the rib of the man. In this story it's clear that Eve is subordinate to her male counterpart. However, according to Jewish legend God created another woman at the same time he created a man. This was a woman who was equal to Adam. Her name was Lilith.
Genesis 1 versus Genesis 2
The story of Lilith originated from the fact that there seem to be two different stories of Creation in the Bible and the Jewish Torah. Many believe that these two stories contradict each other. In Genesis 1, God creates both man and woman simultaneously: "God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." (Genesis 1:27)
Then in the second part of Genesis, a more detailed version of the story is given. The difference is that in this story God first created the man and decided to create the woman later on. "The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” (Genesis 2:18) And so he created Eve out of Adam's rib. This seems a little off, doesn't it? That's exactly what the rabbanic sages thought when trying to explain this passage in midrashim (i.e. interpretations of the Tanakh). And so they figured that there must have been a woman created prior to Eve. But who could that be?
Who is Lilith?
The first reference of Lilith can be found in the Epic of Giglamesh, an epic poem from Mesopotomia (now known as Iraq) around 2000 BC. In this poem Lilith is a demon who lives in the dragon's nest in the Huluppu-Tree. She flees into the wilderness after the dragon is slayed. This first indication doesn't give us much information, other than the fact that she is a demon and has once inhabited a tree.
Other Sumerian and Mesopotomian myths speak of female vampires and night-demons called "lillu" and "lilin". This could be that base of later stories wherein Lilith is portrayed as a seductress of men.
Later she's mentioned four times in the Babylonian Talmud (central text of Judaism), where she's related to the death of baby's, "If an abortion had the likeness of Lilith its mother is unclean by reason of the birth, for it is a child, but it has wings." ( BT Niddah 24b). Also, she's said to be the cause of men's nocturnal emissions. A little more information about her appearance is given, she supposedly has long hair and a pair of wings.
The name of Lilith is only named once in the Bible itself in Isaiah (34:14): "Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, goat-demons shall call to each other; there too Lilith shall repose, and find a place to rest." In the original text Lilith is read as "lilitu", which can be read in various ways. In the Latin Vulgate it is translated into "lamia", a demon from Greek mythology who murdered children. The King James Version translates it into "screech owl" and other versions take the Bablyonian translation of "night".
All these works give us the impression that Lilith is a vicious demon. Beautiful but deadly and responsible for one of the greatest crimes we can think of, killing the innocent. It's not until anywhere between 700 to 1000 A.D. that Lilith is linked to the story of Adam and Eve for the first time.
The Alphabet of Ben Sira
Finally, we get to the work that links Lilith to our Adam and Eve story. The Alphabet of Ben Sira(ch) is a medieval text by an unknown author attributed to Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira. The second half of the book consists of 22 stories, one of which gives us a complete tale of Adam and Lilith.
The story starts with a citation of Genesis 2, "While God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' . He also created a woman, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith." So in this story God created the woman from the same material as he created the man. Soon after the creation, Lilith and Adam start to fight. Lilith will not lie beneath Adam while they 'make love', because she is made from the same earth and thus equal. She speaks out God's name and flees the Garden.
Adam asks God to send three angels, Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof, to bring her back. God agrees, under the condition that if Lilith won't return he will permit one hundred of her children to die every day. The angels find Lilith 'in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown', which seems to be a reference to the myths of Lilith being a seductress, luring men to their death. Lilith refuses to come back. ""'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.'" Because the angels keep insisting her to come back, she promises she will leave alone the infants with amulets bearing the names of the three angels.
The author of this story has woven all myths about Lilith together and used her to 'fill the gap' in the story of Adam and Eve. And so Lilith became the infant-slaying, men-seducing demon who would not bow down to Adam.
Modern day Lilith
Today there are many adaptations to the story of Lilith. By feminists she is perceived as a role-model for women and a symbol of women's independence, as she stood up to Adam and followed her own plan. She even fled the comfort of her home (the Garden of Eden) and chose the unknown rather than being subordinate to a man. For this reason an independent Jewish feminist magazine has been named after her.
Some say the story of Lilith has been altered by men and Lilith was actually a goddess (linked to the Mesopotamian goddess of love and war).
Others believe that Lilith came back as the serpent that lures Eve to eat the apple. Several depictions of Lilith include a serpent, around her neck or as a part of her body.
Had you ever heard of Lilith before?
Books about Lilith
Whether you believe Lilith is a demon, slaying children while bearing hundred of them every day and at the same time giving men wet dreams or you believe she is a goddess of love and war, assertive and powerful, is entirely up to you. You might even have your own ideas of her role in the Garden of Eve. One thing is certain, she will surely give you some food for thought.
© 2013 Mirmana