Tuesday, December 16, 2008

The Lost Story of Lilith

The Christian and Hebrew creation story is well known. God created Adam from the dust of the ground, and saw that he needed a companion. He put Adam into a deep sleep and from his rib formed Eve. The two lived in Eden’s paradise, until the original sin was committed. This tale’s validity is rarely questioned by believers, but the Bible and other historical text may suggest that there is more to the story.

The Hebrew term liyliyth, which translates to Lilith, the “name of a female goddess known as a night demon who haunts the desolate places of Edom (Hebrew Lexicon),” was only found once in the Hebrew bible, but replaced in the King James Version with screech owl. "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest" (The Holy Bible King James Version) Although mention of Lilith in the bible is extremely minimal, she does reappear in the Dead Sea Scrolls, which contained the oldest Old Testament text and many unpublished biblical passages.

And I, the Instructor, proclaim His glorious splendour so as to frighten and to te[rrify] all the spirits of the destroying angels, spirits of the bastards, demons, Lilith, howlers, and [desert dwellers…] and those which fall upon men without warning to lead them astray from a spirit of understanding and to make their heart and their […] desolate during the present dominion of wickedness and predetermined time of humiliations for the sons of lig[ht], by the guilt of the ages of [those] smitten by iniquity – not for eternal destruction, [bu]t for an era of humiliation for transgression.

As in the Dead Sea Scroll passage above, Lilith is demonized in Jewish folklore. She comes into homes within the first days of a child’s existence (a time period of eight days for boys, or up until circumcision, and twenty days for girls) and causes sickness and even death. To protect their children from this demoness, three angels’ names are inscribed on an amulet and placed around their neck. Lilith is also said to be a tempting seductress, taking advantage of men, often in their sleep (the said cause of wet dreams), producing demon spawn called Lilin. Semen for Lilith’s demon spawn is said to even be collectable in the marriage bed, which is why certain modesty and rituals must be followed. Lilith’s first ‘victim,’ claimed to be non-consensual was Adam.

Jacob had entered this gateway to faith.
Adhering to that faith, he had to be tested
in the same place his fathers had been tested,
entering in peace and emerging in peace.
Adam entered but was not careful.
Seduced by her, he sinned with that whore of a woman, the primordial serpent. (Penn Tech)

Lilith by John Collier

The primordial serpent referred to in the text is said to be Lilith, who through pure seducing powers (and sometimes wine) led God-seeking men such as Adam and Jacob, as stated above, but also Abram, Noah, and Isaac. Lilith has also been depicted as a serpent in other ways as well; specifically, the one who tempted Eve, causing the first sin of man. In many paintings depicting the original sin, the snake is only just at the bottom half, wrapping up the tree, but woman at the top half, handing Eve the apple.

And the Serpent, the Woman of Harlotry, incited and seduced Eve through the husks of Light which in itself is holiness. And the Serpent seduced Holy Eve, and enough said for him who understands. And all this ruination came about because Adam the first man coupled with Eve while she was in her menstrual impurity – this is the filth and the impure seed of the Serpent who mounted Eve before Adam mounted her. Behold, here it is before you: because of the sins of Adam the first man all the things mentioned came into being. For Evil Lilith, when she saw the greatness of his corruption, became strong in her husks, and came to Adam against his will, and became hot from him and bore him many demons and spirits and Lilin. (Torah)

The Fall of Man by Cornelis van Haarlem

The Fall of Man Lucas Cranach

The Temptation of Adam and Eve by Michelangelo

The myths of Lilith as a killer of babies, a seductress, the serpent who tricked Eve do not stem from, but come together in The Alphabet of Ben Sira. The story told was an answer to a plea (or rather threat) of the king, who’s son had fallen ill. The king said that if his son was not better, Ben Sira must pay the consequence of death. The following story was told in response:

"The angels 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' He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately 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 I am to be 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 angels 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."

After following the advice in the story, the king’s son was said to recover. While this is just said to be folklore, the previous mentioning of Lilith in both the published Bible and the Dead Sea Scrolls at least confirm her presence. Further, some believe that “The idea that Adam had a wife prior to Eve may have developed from an interpretation of the Book of Genesis and its dual creation accounts; while Genesis 2:22 describes God's creation of Eve from Adam's rib, an earlier passage, 1:27, already indicates that a woman had been made: "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God created he him; male and female created he them." The text places Lilith's creation after God's words in Genesis 2:18 that "it is not good for man to be alone"(Wikipedia). When Lilith left Adam, God then created Eve, who was formed from Adam’s rib so that she was a part of man, not equivalent like the identically made Lilith.

The legend of Lilith is controversial for many reasons. First, it disassembles the creation that has been preached in Christianity for thousands of years. Secondly, Adam having a wife before Eve raises questions about Christianity’s treatment of divorce. Where some newer sects of religion allow room for divorce under certain circumstances, some, like Evangelicals for instance, believe that even if dire circumstances lead to divorce, no other partner should be taken.

“But I say that a man who divorces his wife, unless she has been unfaithful, causes her to commit adultery. And anyone who marries a divorced woman commits adultery" (The Holy Bible).

Perhaps the most contentious matter, however, is that Lilith refused to submit to Adam, claiming equality. While some feminists claim that this story justifies equality for women, religious authorities and evangelicals dismiss this as exaggerated feminine nonsense. They believe that accepting the story as Lilith as Adam’s disobedient, independent first wife, women can wrongfully use the story and use Lilith as a symbol in there feminist agenda.

However, denying Lilith’s story may also serve a higher purpose for the church. The Old Testament, Holy Scripture in both Judaism and Christianity, makes multiple statements about women which place them at a subservient level. In Genesis 3:17 God says to Eve “I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee” (The Holy Bible) This passage in Genesis was taken literally, decreasing women’s rights, making them property of their fathers or their husbands. "...God, by creating Adam first and also by creating woman for man), has set the gender-based role and responsibility of males in the most basic unit of society (the family) to be that of leader, provider and self-sacrificial protector and likewise has set the gender-based role and responsibility of females to be that of help and nurture and life-giving under male leadership and protection” (Religious Tolerance).

Further more, Eve’s deception painted a negative depiction of women. Religious figures such as Saint Augustine, Martain Luther, and Saint Tertullian have all spoke ill of women because of their connection to Eve. Saint Tertullian said "Do you not know that you are each an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives in this age: the guilt must of necessity live too. You are the Devil's gateway: You are the unsealer of the forbidden tree: You are the first deserter of the divine law: You are she who persuaded him whom the devil was not valiant enough to attack. You destroyed so easily God's image, man. On account of your desert even the Son of God had to die." and Saint Augustine stated “What is the difference whether it is in a wife or a mother, it is still Eve the temptress that we must beware of in any woman......I fail to see what use woman can be to man, if one excludes the function of bearing children.”

It is possible that in order to keep social settings how the church believed it should be, with the man as the head of the household and the woman as his helper in the home, the church had to adapt the story as Eve as the first wife instead of Lilith. Lilith showing her independence would be detrimental to social order. With the ‘first wife’ story covered up, the demon Lilith can still appear without consequence. Additionally, the fall of man can be blamed on Eve, and serves a purpose in explaining various things such as man’s exile from Eden and pain in childbirth.

While Lilith’s story is mostly speculation, there is no questioning her existence in the Bible; her story holds just as much merit as any story in the other found there. People will believe what they want, or what they are taught. If Lilith was Adams first wife, it may lead to new ways to look at Genesis, and furthermore, new ways to look at history and relations between men and women.

Works Cited
Lilith - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia." Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia. 16 Dec. 2008 .
"Lilith." Teaching with Technology at Penn. 16 Dec. 2008 .

N/A. The Holy Bible: King James Version, Black, Pew. Peabody Massachusetts: Hendrickson Publishers, 2008.
"Online Bible - Search Bible Study Tools - Gateway to Resources." Online Bible - Search Bible Study Tools - Gateway to Resources. 16 Dec. 2008 .

"The status of women in throughout the history of Christianity." ReligiousTolerance.org by the Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance. 16 Dec. 2008 .
The Complete Dead Sea Scrolls in English (Penguin Classics). London: Penguin Classics, 2004.
The Torah. New York: Henry Holt And Co., 1997.

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