Read Janet Howe Gaines’s short article “Lilith” as it originally appeared in Bible Review, October 2001.

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The angry Lilith is depicted on this ceramic bowl from Mesopotamia. The Aramaic incantation inscribed on the bowl was to plan to safeguard a man named Quqai and also his family members from assorted demons. The assignment begins: “Removed and also chased are the curses and incantations native Quqai child of Gushnai, and also Abi daughter that Nanai and also from your children.” although Lilith’s name does no appear, she might be determined by compare with photos of her on other bowls, wherein she is presented with her arms elevated aggressively and her skin spotted favor a leopard’s. Dating to about 600 C.E., this bowl from Harvard University’s Semitic Museum attests come the longevity of Lilith’s reputation in Mesopotamia as a seducer the men and murderer of children. Image: Courtesy that the Semitic Musuem, Harvard University.


The Isaiah passage lacks special, in explicate Lilith, yet it locates she in desolate places. The bible verse for this reason links Lilith straight to the demon the the Gilgamesh epic that flees “to the desert.” The wilderness traditionally symbolizes mental and physical barrenness; the is a place where creativity and also life itself are conveniently extinguished. Lilith, the feminine the contrary of mrs order, is banished from fertile territory and also exiled to barren wasteland.

English translators of Isaiah 34:14 sometimes absence confidence in their readers’ understanding of Babylonian demonology. The King James Bible’s prose rendition that the poem equates “the lilith” together “the screech owl,” recalling the ominous bird-like characteristics of the Babylonian she-demon. The Revised typical Version picks up on her nocturnal habits and also tags she “the night hag” rather of “the lilith,” while the 1917 Jewish publishing Society’s Holy Scriptures calls she “the night-monster.”6 The Hebrew text and also its best translations employ words “lilith” in the Isaiah passage, however other versions space true to her ancient image as a bird, night creature and also beldam (hag).

While Lilith is not stated again in the Bible, she walk resurface in the Dead Sea Scrolls found at Qumran. The Qumran sect was engrossed through demonology, and Lilith shows up in the Song because that a Sage, a chant possibly provided in exorcisms: “And I, the Sage, sound the majesty the His beauty come terrify and confound all the soul of damaging angels and also the bastard spirits, the demons, Lilith. . ., and also those that strike suddenly, to command astray the heart of understanding, and also to do desolate their heart.”7 The Qumran ar was surely familiar with the Isaiah passage, and the Bible’s sketchy characterization that Lilith is echoed by this liturgical Dead Sea Scroll. (Lilith may likewise appear in a second Dead Sea Scroll. See the following article in this issue.)

Centuries ~ the Dead Sea Scrolls were written, learned rabbis perfect the Babylonian Talmud (final modifying circa 500 to 600 C.E.), and female demons journeyed into scholarly Jewish inquiries. The Talmud (the name originates from a Hebrew word an interpretation “study”) is a compendium of legit discussions, tales of an excellent rabbis and also meditations on scriptures passages. Talmudic referrals to Lilith room few, but they administer a glimpse the what pundits thought around her. The Talmud’s Lilith recalls larger Babylonian images, for she has “long hair” (Erubin 100b) and wings (Niddah 24b).8 The Talmud’s picture of Lilith also reinforces enlarge impressions the her together a succubus, a demon in female form who had sex with men while the males were sleeping. Unwholesome sexual practices are attached to Lilith as she powerfully embodies the demon-lover myth.

One talmudic reference claims that world should not sleep alone at night, lest Lilith slay them (Shabbath 151b). Throughout the 130-year period between the death of Abel and also the birth of Seth, the Talmud reports, a distraught Adam separates self from Eve. During this time he becomes the dad of “ghosts and also male demons and female demons” (Erubin 18b). And also those who try to construct the Tower of Babel space turned into “apes, spirits, devils and also night-demons” (Sanhedrin 109a). The female night demon is Lilith.

About the moment the Talmud to be completed, people living in the Jewish swarm of Nippur, Babylonia, additionally knew the Lilith. She image has been unearthed on countless ceramic bowls well-known as incantation bowls for the Aramaic spells enrolled on them. If the Talmud displayed what scholar thought around Lilith, the incantation bowls, dating from around 600 C.E., show what typical citizens believed. One bowl currently on screen at Harvard University’s Semitic Museum reads, “Thou Lilith. . .Hag and Snatcher, ns adjure girlfriend by the solid One of Abraham, through the rock of Isaac, by the Shaddai that Jacob. . .to rotate away native this Rashnoi. . .and native Geyonai she husband. . .Your divorce and also writ and also letter the separation. . .sent through divine angels. . .Amen, Amen, Selah, Halleluyah!”9 The inscription is meant to market a woman named Rashnoi defense from Lilith. According to well-known folklore, demons not only killed human being infants, lock would likewise produce depraved offspring by it is registered themselves to human being beings and copulating at night. Therefore, ~ above this specific bowl a Jewish writ of divorce expels the demons from the home of Rashnoi.

Until the seventh century C.E., Lilith was known as a attention embodiment that dark, feminine powers. In the center Ages, however, the Babylonian she-demon take it on new and even more sinister characteristics. Sometime before the year 1000, The Alphabet that Ben Sira was introduced to middle ages Jewry. The Alphabet, an anonymous text, has 22 episodes, corresponding to the 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet. The 5th episode includes a Lilith that was come tantalize and terrify the population for generations to come. To part extent, The Alphabet of Ben Sira mirrors a familiar Lilith: She is destructive, she deserve to fly and she has a penchant because that sex. Yet this tale adds a brand-new twist: She is Adam’s an initial wife, prior to Eve, who boldly leaves Eden because she is treated together man’s inferior.

To learn much more about Biblical women through slighted traditions, take it a look in ~ the Bible history Daily function Scandalous ladies in the Bible, which includes articles on Mary Magdalene and Jezebel.

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The Alphabet’s narrative around Lilith is framed within a story of King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. The king young child is ill, and a courtier called Ben Sira is commanded come cure the boy. Invoking the surname of God, Ben Sira inscribes an amulet with the name of three healing angels. Climate he relates a story of exactly how these angels travel approximately the world to subdue evil spirits, such as Lilith, who reason illness and also death. Ben Sira cites the bible passage indicating the after developing Adam, God realizes that it is not great for guy to be alone (Genesis 2:18). In Ben Sira’s fanciful additions to the biblical tale, the Almighty climate fashions one more person native the earth, a female referred to as Lilith. Soon the human pair begins come fight, but neither one yes, really hears the other. Lilith refuses to lie underneath Adam during sex, but he insists the the bottom is her rightful place. He apparently believes the Lilith need to submissively execute wifely duties. Lilith, ~ above the various other hand, is attempting to ascendancy over no one. She is merely asserting her an individual freedom. Lilith states, “We are equal due to the fact that we are both created from the earth.”10

The validity that Lilith’s debate is much more apparent in Hebrew, where the native for man (Adam) and “earth” come native the exact same root, adm (nst) (adam <nst> = Adam; adamah <vnst> = earth). Because Lilith and also Adam are formed of the very same substance, they space alike in importance.