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 Adam’s First Wife Lilith

When God created Adam, he was lonely, so God created Lilith from the same dust from which Adam was molded. But they quarreled; Adam [the proverbial domineering male] wished to rule over Lilith. But Lilith [a militant feminist] was also proud and willful, claiming equality with Adam because she was created from the same dust. She left Adam and fled the Garden. God sent three angels in pursuit of Lilith. They caught her and ordered her to return to Adam. She refused, and said that she would henceforth weaken and kill little children, infants and babes. The angels overpowered her, and she promised that if the mother hung an amulet over the baby bearing the names of the three angels, she would stay away from that home. So they let her go, and God created Eve to be Adam's mate [created from Adam's rib, so that she couldn't claim equality]. And ever since, Lilith flies around the world, howling her hatred of mankind through the night, and vowing vengeance because of the shabby treatment she had received from Adam. She is also called "The Howling One."

You can see how this legend could lead to various interpretations, depending on whether you think she is noble (in rebelling against male domination) or evil (in vowing vengeance against innocent babies.)

But where does this legend come from? The author of Ben Sirah basically wove together three separate threads from centuries earlier works, because Lilith is a very ancient legend.

Let's start with the Bible as primary source material. Genesis of course mentions Adam and Eve, but -- please note -- doesn't mention Lilith. The idea of Lilith as a "prior first woman" before Eve arises much later. The only reference to Lilith in the Bible (Old or New Testaments) is Isaiah 34:14, probably written around 540 BC; it's a description of desolation, jackals and ravens among nettles and briers, etc.: "Goat demons shall greet each other; there too the lilith will repose." Most of the other creatures referenced in this poetry cannot be positively identified. The KJV, following the Vulgate, translates "the lilith" as "the night demon," confusing the lili- with the Hebrew word for night. But presumably Isaiah meant some sort of demon.

The notion of a lilith as a demon is probably Assyrian (say around 700 BC), incorporated into Isaiah by way of the ancient Israelite contacts with the mythologies of Babylonia and Chaldea. The Assyrians had three female demons, Lilit, Lilu,and Ardat Lilit. There's little doubt that the Hebrew lilith-demon mentioned in Isaiah was a folkloric adaptation of the Assyrian demons.

Several hundred years after Isaiah, we find Talmudic writings that describe Lilith (now as a named demon, rather than a broad category) as an irresistibly seductive she-demon with long hair (presumably worn loose, a sure sign of wantonness) and wings. Terey wants us to be sure to say that she's a succubus. She seduces unwary men, then savagely kills the children she bears for them.

From this, she becomes the demon responsible for the death of babies. In ancient times, one needed to protect against such demons; today, we blame other factors for the death of infants. To guard against Lilith, superstitious Jews would hang four amulets, one on the wall of each room of a newborn babe, with the inscription "Lilith - abi!" ["Lilith - begone!"] which some think is the origin, much later, of the English word "lullaby."