Thursday, July 31, 2014

The Lilith Myth

Several years ago, one of my students selected “Lilith” as the Old Testament person on which they wrote a report for my Old Testament History class.  Since I had not “exempted Lilith” from the selection choices of the students, I accepted the paper.  The paper was well written and received a good grade.  However, it also received several comments from me, specifically one that read “Lilith is not in the Old Testament”. 

More than once over the years I have had students ask me about Lilith.  Recently I was asked again and, instead of spending class time discussing this myth, I told the class I would send them a link to an article on this subject which I had previously posted on my blog.  I guess I had at one time intended to post such an article but never did!  So here are my thoughts on the subject.

1.  Who or What is Lilith?

a.  A Brief Answer to the Question.

Lilith (sometimes spelled “Lillith”) is a myth or legend.  Briefly, the story teaches Adam had a wife before Eve and her name was Lilith.  Evidently Lilith was a modern feminist for she had no interest in submitting to her husband.  Therefore she left him.  While there are several variations to the legend, Lilith is usually pictured as a wicked woman.   

b.  A More Detailed Answer.

For those who wish more information on Lilith, there are many books containing the story.  In fact, the story varies somewhat from one telling to another.  The following, however, is the more detailed answer I give to those who ask about Lilith.

(1)  According to the legend, God created man and woman on the 6th day of creation but that woman was not Eve. 

(2)  He created Adam from the dust of the ground and brought the animals before him to be named.  Time and time again, Adam saw the animals in pairs, male and female.  He became jealous of the love these pairs shared for one another  (some interpretations of this myth claim Adam even tried to copulate with the female of each species!).

(3)  Adam cried out to God that he needed a proper mate.  So God then formed Lilith also using the dust as He had done with Adam. 

(4)  Some teach that Adam and Lilith’s union produced an innumerable amount of demons that still trouble men today.  Others teach Lilith, after leaving Adam, had sex with Satan and that’s where the demons originated.

(5)  This 1st couple never had any peace together.  During sexual relations, Lilith did not want to lie beneath Adam because she viewed herself as his equal (both were formed from the dust).  As a result, Lilith left Adam.

(6)  Adam again complained to God, indicating a need for another helpmate.  God sent 3 angels to bring Lilith back.  They found her by the Red Sea (some say she was producing demons at the rate of 100 a day!).  The angels demanded she return to Adam or they would drown her.  Lilith refused and, after some debating with the angels, they finally left her.

(7)  Several variations of the story exist to explain the appearance of Eve.  The bottom line is that Adam needed a mate and God ultimately used one of Adam’s ribs to form Eve.

(8)  Some accounts of this myth have Lilith appearing in other Biblical accounts.  For example, some claim she is the demon who killed Job’s children.  Others claim she became the queen of Sheba with whom Solomon met.

2.  Is there any Scriptural Support for Lilith?

The short answer is “NO”.  Nevertheless, supporters of the myth use certain passages in their attempt to prove the existence of Lilith.

a.  Isaiah 34:14 – The New Revised Standard Version (NRSV) translation of the original Hebrew reads:

“Wildcats shall meet with hyenas, goat-demons shall call to each other, there too Lilith shall repose, and find a place to rest.”

Other translations render “Lilith” as “screech owl” or “night bird” or some other similar phrase.

The original (Hebrew) word is pronounced “Lilith”.  Quoting from Gesenius’ Lexicon concerning this word:

“… a nocturnal spectre, which had, according to the rabbins, the form of a beautiful woman, and lay wait for children by night.    It is really lamentable that any one could connect the word of God with such utter absurdity; many understand this nocturnal creature spoken of to be simply the screech owl.”

b.  Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:18-25

These two passages teach the creation of man.  To those who hold to the Lilith myth, Genesis 1 reveals the creation of Adam and Lilith while the Genesis chapter 2 passage is the creation of Eve.

What they fail to mention is that the context of Genesis 2 includes the creation of Adam.  Is this Adam different from the one created in Genesis 1?  If not then why do two separate creation narratives teach the creation of 1 man but 2 women?

Anyone who has spent some time studying Genesis 1 and 2 understand that Genesis 1 is simply a summary of God’s creative work.  Since the Scripture is God’s revelation to man and the work of Christ is the redemption of man, a more detailed explanation of the creation of man (and woman) is in order.  So Genesis 2 retells the creation of mankind in a more specific way.  There are two accounts but the creation of one man (Adam) and one woman (Eve).  Lilith is nowhere to be found.

3.  How did Such a Legend Begin?

Around the time of Christ, the Jews attempted to explain what appeared to be contradictions or inconsistencies with the Scriptures (e.g., Old Testament).  They developed a complex system of interpretation called the midrash.  One of the supposed inconsistencies was the two separate accounts of creation found in Genesis 1 and 2. 

Similar questions were addressed by the Jewish mystical literature of the 13th century known as the Kabbalah.  In various publications dating from the 9th to the 13th century, the legend of Lilith appears to develop.  These works include “The Alphabet of Ben Sira” (probably compiled in the 11th century) and “The Book of Splendour”, a Kabbalah work of the 13th century.

Lilith appears in various pieces of literature, even in Goethe’s 19th century work “Faust”. Lilith is part of the conversation between Faust and Mephistopheles.  While I never watched the show, I understand the TV sitcom “Cheers” had a character named Lilith who appeared to be modeled after the woman of this myth.  Furthermore, modern feminists have adopted Lilith as the symbol for their philosophy.

4.  Conclusion

While it is an interesting myth, that is all Lilith is:  a myth.  She and the account of her life is nowhere to be found in the Scripture.  She did not exist; she was never real; the stories are untrue.

I would recommend those who are fascinated by Lilith pick up their Bibles and become more interested in the revelation GOD has given to us rather than spending time in legends men have provided.

No comments: