Lilith is known as a Mesopotamian night demon with a penchant for destroying children. She is also sometimes thought of as the first wife of the Biblical Adam. The Burney Relief, a Sumerian relief, is commonly thought to depict her; many believe there to be a connection between Lilith and Inanna, Sumerian Goddess of war and sexual pleasure.
- This article is about the demon Lilith. For other meanings of the word see Lilith (disambiguation).
Lilith in mythology
Various versions of the Lilith myth exist; Hieronymus associated Lilith with the mythical Greek Lamia, a Libyan queen who mated with Zeus. After Zeus abandoned Lamia, Hera stole Lamia's children, and Lamia took revenge by stealing other women's children.
Her original name in Sumerian was "Lilitu", and the transliteration from the Hebrew "לילית" may be as "Lilith," "Lillith," or "Lilit".
Lilith in the Bible and other ancient texts
Lilith's name only appears once in the Old Testament at Isaiah 34:14, where it is translated as "great owl" in the King James Version of the Bible, leading to Lilith often being portrayed in imagery as an owl (this interpretation has been disputed).
However, some interpret 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, to mean that Adam had a wife before Eve, and that this could have been Lilith. However, this divergence is often explained as a careless weaving together of two discrete biblical creation myths, as the Bible describes man being created in both Genesis 1:26 and 2:27.
Lilith's name also appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls in passages that are based on the above-noted Isaiah reference, and in various places in the Talmud and the Zohar.
Lilith as Adam's first wife
The first clear reference to Lilith as the first wife of Adam is in an anonymous medieval work called The Alphabet of Ben-Sira. In it, Lilith is described as refusing to assume a subservient role to Adam during sexual intercourse and eventually deserted Adam. 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 despatched 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, and did not return to Adam.
This story has similarities with the original Mesopotamian myth, where Lilith killed children, and so the practice of protecting children by placing Lilith amulets around their necks with the names of the three angels became a custom of many Jewish communities in medieval times.
This legend was mistakenly included in an English language book of rabbinic works (the author seemingly assumed that any ancient book read in the Jewish community must have been a rabbinic work). However, contrary to popular belief, the The Alphabet of Ben-Sira is not a Jewish religious text; rather, it is a collection of perverse stories about heroes of the Bible and Talmud. Modern historians are unsure of its original purpose, although it may have been a collection of risqué folk-tales, a refutation of Christians, Karaites or other separatist movement, or simply an anti-Jewish satire.
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Lilith, Adam's Mythological First Wife
Discussion of the non-canonical Jewish tradition of Lilith from a conservative Christian viewpoint.
Information, pictures and links regarding the apocryphal first wife of Adam.
All You Ever Wanted to Know about Lilith
Compilation of legends about the demoness of Jewish tradition.
The Lilith Shrine
Discussing historical sources and modern views on the Judaic demoness, along with art and pictures.
The Lilith Myth
Discussion of the apocryphal Jewish demon queen from the Gnosis archive.
The Myth of Lilith
A Jewish folktale about the evil spirit's possession of young girls.
Looking for Lilith
Essay critical of the sources of the Lilith legend.
Examination of the various Lilith legends and their sources.
Jewish Encyclopedia: Lilith
Judaic folklore about the child-stealing demoness.