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Lilith (/ˈlɪlɪθ/; Hebrew: לִילִית, romanized: Līlīṯ) is a female figure in Mesopotamian and Judaic mythology, alternatively the first wife of Adam and supposedly the primordial she-demon. Lilith is cited as having been "banished" from the Garden of Eden for not complying with and obeying Adam. She is mentioned in Biblical Hebrew in the Book of Isaiah, and in Late Antiquity in Mandaean mythology and Jewish mythology sources from 500 CE onward. Lilith appears in historiolas (incantations incorporating a short mythic story) in various concepts and localities that give partial descriptions of her. She is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud (Eruvin 100b, Niddah 24b, Shabbat 151b, Baba Bathra 73a), in the Book of Adam and Eve as Adam's first wife, and in the Zohar Leviticus 19a as "a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man".
The name Lilith stems from lilû, lilîtu, and (w)ardat lilî). The Akkadian word lilu is related to the Hebrew word lilith in Isaiah 34:14, which is thought to be a night bird by some modern scholars such as Judit M. Blair. In the Ancient Mesopotamian religion, found in cuneiform texts of Sumer, Assyria, and Babylonia Lilith signifies a spirit or demon.
Lilith continues to serve as source material in today's popular culture, Western culture, literature, occultism, fantasy, and horror, often depicted as a woman fighting for equality and striving for fairness.
In some Jewish folklore, such as the satirical Alphabet of Sirach (c. 700–1000 AD), Lilith appears as Adam's first wife, who was created at the same time and from the same clay as Adam.[a] The legend of Lilith developed extensively during the Middle Ages, in the tradition of Aggadah, the Zohar, and Jewish mysticism. For example, in the 11th-century writings of Isaac ben Jacob ha-Cohen, Lilith left Adam after she refused to become subservient to him and then would not return to the Garden of Eden after she had coupled with the archangel Samael.
Interpretations of Lilith found in later Jewish materials are plentiful, but little information has survived relating to the Sumerian, Akkadian, Assyrian and Babylonian view of this class of demons. While researchers almost universally agree that a connection exists, recent scholarship has disputed the relevance of two sources previously used to connect the Jewish lilith to an Akkadian lilītu – the Gilgamesh appendix and the Arslan Tash amulets. (see below for discussion of these two problematic sources). In contrast, some scholars, such as Lowell K. Handy, hold the view that though Lilith derives from Mesopotamian demonology, evidence of the Hebrew Lilith being present in the sources frequently cited - the Sumerian Gilgamesh fragment and the Sumerian incantation from Arshlan-Tash being two - is scant, if present at all.: 174
In Hebrew-language texts, the term lilith or lilit (translated as "night creatures", "night monster", "night hag", or "screech owl") first occurs in a list of animals in Isaiah 34. The Isaiah 34:14 Lilith reference does not appear in most common Bible translations such as KJV and NIV. Commentators and interpreters often envision the figure of Lilith as a dangerous demon of the night, who is sexually wanton, and who steals babies in the darkness. In the Dead Sea Scrolls 4Q510-511, the term first occurs in a list of monsters. Jewish magical inscriptions on bowls and amulets from the 6th century AD onward identify Lilith as a female demon and provide the first visual depictions of her.
In the Akkadian language of Assyria and Babylonia, the terms lili and līlītu mean spirits. Some uses of līlītu are listed in the Assyrian Dictionary of the Oriental Institute of the University of Chicago (CAD, 1956, L.190), in Wolfram von Soden's Akkadisches Handwörterbuch (AHw, p. 553), and Reallexikon der Assyriologie (RLA, p. 47).
Archibald Sayce (1882) considered that Hebrew lilit (or lilith) לילית and the earlier Akkadian līlītu are derived from Proto-Semitic. Charles Fossey (1902) has this literally translating to "female night being/demon", although cuneiform inscriptions from Mesopotamia exist where Līlīt and Līlītu refers to disease-bearing wind spirits.
Samuel Noah Kramer (1932, published 1938) translated ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as "Lilith" in Tablet XII of the Epic of Gilgamesh dated c. 600 BC. Tablet XII is not part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but is a later Assyrian Akkadian translation of the latter part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh. The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is associated with a serpent and a zu bird.[b] In Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, a huluppu tree grows in Inanna's garden in Uruk, whose wood she plans to use to build a new throne. After ten years of growth, she comes to harvest it and finds a serpent living at its base, a Zu bird raising young in its crown, and that a ki-sikil-lil-la-ke made a house in its trunk. Gilgamesh is said to have killed the snake, and then the zu bird flew away to the mountains with its young, while the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke fearfully destroys its house and runs for the forest. Identification of the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith is stated in the Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999). According to a new source from late antiquity, Lilith appears in a Mandaean magic story where she is considered to represent the branches of a tree with other demonic figures that form other parts of the tree, though this may also include multiple "Liliths".
Suggested translations for the Tablet XII spirit in the tree include ki-sikil as "sacred place", lil as "spirit", and lil-la-ke as "water spirit", but also simply "owl", given that the lil is building a home in the trunk of the tree.
A connection between the Gilgamesh ki-sikil-lil-la-ke and the Jewish Lilith was rejected on textual grounds by Sergio Ribichini (1978).
Kramer's translation of the Gilgamesh fragment was used by Henri Frankfort (1937) and Emil Kraeling (1937) to support identification of a woman with wings and bird-feet in the disputed Burney Relief as related to Lilith. Frankfort and Kraeling identified the figure in the relief with Lilith. Modern research has identified the figure as one of the main goddesses of the Mesopotamian pantheons, most probably Ereshkigal.
The Arslan Tash amulets are limestone plaques discovered in 1933 at Arslan Tash, the authenticity of which is disputed. William F. Albright, Theodor H. Gaster, and others, accepted the amulets as a pre-Jewish source which shows that the name Lilith already existed in the 7th century BC but Torczyner (1947) identified the amulets as a later Jewish source.
The word lilit (or lilith) only appears once in the Hebrew Bible, in a prophecy regarding the fate of the kingdom of Edom, while the other seven terms in the list appear more than once and thus are better documented. The reading of scholars and translators is often guided by a decision about the complete list of eight creatures as a whole.[c] Quoting from Isaiah 34 (NAB):
(12) Her nobles shall be no more, nor shall kings be proclaimed there; all her princes are gone. (13) Her castles shall be overgrown with thorns, her fortresses with thistles and briers. She shall become an abode for jackals and a haunt for ostriches. (14) Wildcats shall meet with desert beasts, satyrs shall call to one another; There shall the Lilith repose, and find for herself a place to rest. (15) There the hoot owl shall nest and lay eggs, hatch them out and gather them in her shadow; There shall the kites assemble, none shall be missing its mate. (16) Look in the book of the LORD and read: No one of these shall be lacking, For the mouth of the LORD has ordered it, and His spirit shall gather them there. (17) It is He who casts the lot for them, and with His hands He marks off their shares of her; They shall possess her forever, and dwell there from generation to generation.
In the Masoretic Text:
Hebrew: ,וּפָגְשׁוּ צִיִּים אֶת-אִיִּים, וְשָׂעִיר עַל-רֵעֵהוּ יִקְרָא; אַךְ-שָׁם הִרְגִּיעָה לִּילִית, וּמָצְאָה לָהּ מָנוֹח
u-pagšu ṣiyyim et-ʾiyyim, w-saʿir ʿal-rēʿēhu yiqra; ʾak-šam hirgiʿa lilit, u-maṣʾa lah manoaḥ
Eberhard Schrader (1875) and Moritz Abraham Levy (1855) suggest that Lilith was a demon of the night, known also by the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Schrader's and Levy's view is therefore partly dependent on a later dating of Deutero-Isaiah to the 6th century BC, and the presence of Jews in Babylon which would coincide with the possible references to the Līlītu in Babylonian demonology. However, this view is challenged by some modern research such as by Judit M. Blair (2009) who considers that the context indicates unclean animals.
The Septuagint translates both the reference to Lilith and the word for jackals or "wild beasts of the island" within the same verse into Greek as onokentauros, apparently assuming them as referring to the same creatures and omitting "wildcats/wild beasts of the desert" (so, instead of the wildcats or desert beasts meeting with the jackals or island beasts, the goat or "satyr" crying "to his fellow" and lilith or "screech owl" resting "there", it is the goat or "satyr", translated as daimonia "demons", and the jackals or island beasts "onocentaurs" meeting with each other and crying "one to the other" and the latter resting there in the translation).[e]
et occurrent daemonia onocentauris et pilosus clamabit alter ad alterum ibi cubavit lamia et invenit sibi requiem—Isaiah (Isaias Propheta) 34.14, Vulgate
The translation is, "And demons shall meet with monsters, and one hairy one shall cry out to another; there the lamia has lain down and found rest for herself".
Wycliffe's Bible (1395) preserves the Latin rendering lamia:
Isa 34:15 Lamya schal ligge there, and foond rest there to hir silf.
Isa 34:14 there shall the Lamia lye and haue her lodgyng.
Douay–Rheims Bible (1582/1610) also preserves the Latin rendering lamia:
Isa 34:14 And demons and monsters shall meet, and the hairy ones shall cry out one to another, there hath the lamia lain down, and found rest for herself.
Isa 34:14 and the screech owl shall rest there, and shall finde for her selfe a quiet dwelling.
Then the King James Version (1611):
Isa 34:14 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 "screech owl" translation of the King James Version is, together with the "owl" (yanšup, probably a water bird) in 34:11 and the "great owl" (qippoz, properly a snake) of 34:15, an attempt to render the passage by choosing suitable animals for difficult to translate Hebrew words.
Later translations include:
Major sources in Jewish tradition regarding Lilith in chronological order include:
The Dead Sea Scrolls contain one indisputable reference to Lilith in Songs of the Sage (4Q510–511) fragment 1:
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 with the Massoretic text of Isaiah 34:14, and therefore unlike the plural liliyyot (or liliyyoth) in the Isaiah scroll 34:14, lilit in 4Q510 is singular, this liturgical text both cautions against the presence of supernatural malevolence and assumes familiarity with Lilith; distinct from the biblical text, however, this passage does not function under any socio-political agenda, but instead serves in the same capacity as An Exorcism (4Q560) and Songs to Disperse Demons (11Q11). The text is thus, to a community "deeply involved in the realm of demonology", an exorcism hymn.
Joseph M. Baumgarten (1991) identified the unnamed woman of The Seductress (4Q184) as related to the female demon. However, John J. Collins regards this identification as "intriguing" but that it is "safe to say" that (4Q184) is based on the strange woman of Proverbs 2, 5, 7, 9:
Her house sinks down to death,
And her course leads to the shades.
All who go to her cannot return
And find again the paths of life.—Proverbs 2:18–19
Her gates are gates of death, and from the entrance of the house
She sets out towards Sheol.
None of those who enter there will ever return,
And all who possess her will descend to the Pit.—4Q184
The above statement by Hanina may be related to the belief that nocturnal emissions engendered the birth of demons:
The Midrash Rabbah collection contains two references to Lilith. The first one is present in Genesis Rabbah 22:7 and 18:4: according to Rabbi Hiyya God proceeded to create a second Eve for Adam, after Lilith had to return to dust. However, to be exact the said passages do not employ the Hebrew word lilith itself and instead speak of "the first Eve" (Heb. Chavvah ha-Rishonah, analogically to the phrase Adam ha-Rishon, i.e. the first Adam). Although in the medieval Hebrew literature and folklore, especially that reflected on the protective amulets of various kinds, Chavvah ha-Rishonah was identified with Lilith, one should remain careful in transposing this equation to the Late Antiquity.
The second mention of Lilith, this time explicit, is present in Numbers Rabbah 16:25. The midrash develops the story of Moses's plea after God expresses anger at the bad report of the spies. Moses responds to a threat by God that He will destroy the Israelite people. Moses pleads before God, that God should not be like Lilith who kills her own children. Moses said:
[God,] do not do it [i.e. destroy the Israelite people], that the nations of the world may not regard you as a cruel Being and say: 'The Generation of the Flood came and He destroyed them, the Generation of the Separation came and He destroyed them, the Sodomites and the Egyptians came and He destroyed them, and these also, whom he called My son, My firstborn (Ex. IV, 22), He is now destroying! As that Lilith who, when she finds nothing else, turns upon her own children, so Because the Lord was not able to bring this people into the land... He hath slain them' (Num. XIV, 16)!
An individual Lilith, along with Bagdana "king of the lilits", is one of the demons to feature prominently in protective spells in the eighty surviving Jewish occult incantation bowls from Sassanid Empire Babylon (4th–6th century AD) with influence from Iranian culture. These bowls were buried upside down below the structure of the house or on the land of the house, in order to trap the demon or demoness. Almost every house was found to have such protective bowls against demons and demonesses.
The centre of the inside of the bowl depicts Lilith, or the male form, Lilit. Surrounding the image is writing in spiral form; the writing often begins at the centre and works its way to the edge. The writing is most commonly scripture or references to the Talmud. The incantation bowls which have been analysed, are inscribed in the following languages, Jewish Babylonian Aramaic, Syriac, Mandaic, Middle Persian, and Arabic. Some bowls are written in a false script which has no meaning.
The correctly worded incantation bowl was capable of warding off Lilith or Lilit from the household. Lilith had the power to transform into a woman's physical features, seduce her husband, and conceive a child. However, Lilith would become hateful toward the children born of the husband and wife and would seek to kill them. Similarly, Lilit would transform into the physical features of the husband, seduce the wife, she would give birth to a child. It would become evident that the child was not fathered by the husband, and the child would be looked down on. Lilit would seek revenge on the family by killing the children born to the husband and wife.
Key features of the depiction of Lilith or Lilit include the following. The figure is often depicted with arms and legs chained, indicating the control of the family over the demon(ess). The demon(ess) is depicted in a frontal position with the whole face showing. The eyes are very large, as well as the hands (if depicted). The demon(ess) is entirely static.
One bowl contains the following inscription commissioned from a Jewish occultist to protect a woman called Rashnoi and her husband from Lilith:
Thou liliths, male lili and female lilith, hag and ghool, I adjure you by the Strong One of Abraham, by the Rock of Isaac, by the Shaddai of Jacob, by Yah Ha-Shem by Yah his memorial, to turn away from this Rashnoi b. M. and from Geyonai b. M. her husband. [Here is] your divorce and writ and letter of separation, sent through holy angels. Amen, Amen, Selah, Halleluyah! (image)—Excerpt from translation in Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur James Alan Montgomery 2011 p. 156.
The pseudepigraphical 8th–10th centuries Alphabet of Ben Sira is considered to be the oldest form of the story of Lilith as Adam's first wife. Whether this particular tradition is older is not known. Scholars tend to date the Alphabet between the 8th and 10th centuries AD. The work has been characterized by some scholars as satirical, but Ginzberg concluded it was meant seriously.
In the text an amulet is inscribed with the names of three angels (Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof) and placed around the neck of newborn boys in order to protect them from the lilin until their circumcision. The amulets used against Lilith that were thought to derive from this tradition are, in fact, dated as being much older. The concept of Eve having a predecessor is not exclusive to the Alphabet, and is not a new concept, as it can be found in Genesis Rabbah. However, the idea that Lilith was the predecessor may be exclusive to the Alphabet.
The idea in the text 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 Alphabet text places Lilith's creation after God's words in Genesis 2:18 that "it is not good for man to be alone"; in this text God forms Lilith out of the clay from which he made Adam but she and Adam bicker. Lilith claims that since she and Adam were created in the same way they were equal and she refuses to submit to him:
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 Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, to bring her back.
Said the Holy One to Adam, "If she agrees to come back, what is made is good. 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 wo
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