The Case for Lilith
By Mark Wayne Biggs
Of all the Jewish myths, the story of Lilith is undoubtedly the most fascinating. According to her legend Lilith was the first wife of Adam. But she was a failed mate who rebelled against her husband and fled from the garden to become the mother of demons. Her legend has influenced more modern monster mythologies than any other Jewish myth.
Her tale was not only the original source material for medieval beliefs in succubae and night-hags, but as the mother of estries she also lies at the root of modern vampire lore. Her creation story also fueled Jewish notions about Golems, and has thus helped inspired the modern version of this myth, Frankenstein.
Although Lilith is not widely known amongst those normally considered well versed in [Bible] scripture, given the validity of her legend, her prominence in the Bible more than matches her prominence in modern monster mythologies. As we shall see, Lilith is the first Sotah, the archetype of the adulterous wife who turned aside from her husband and who was subjected to the supernatural bitter water trial.
She is the Serpent who caused Adam and Eve to fall. She and her seed are the chess pieces of Lucifer’s struggle against God and man. Her firstborn, Azazel, is the infamous seed of the Serpent. He is locked in epic battle with the promised seed of Eve. Due to his exalted position Azazel plays a prominent role in Israel’s Yom Kippur ceremony. He is the recipient of the sacrificial scapegoat, or literally, the goat “to Azazel”. There are intriguing evidences that in her quest to conceive Azazel Lilith was responsible for bringing upon the earth the race of Nephilim, the giant offspring of angels and women, and as such she was the ultimate cause for Noah’s flood.
According to commonly known versions of her legend, Lilith was created by God from the soil of the earth at the same time as Adam. She was intended as Adam’s mate, but Lilith was rebellious against her husband. She quarreled continuously with Adam and refused to sexually submit to him from an inferior position below. At her rebellion’s culmination she unleashed her long hair and shouted the ineffable name of God. She thereby supernaturally sprouted wings and took flight from the garden. After her departure Adam became lonely and sought to recover his errant wife. At his behest Jehovah sent three angels to return her. They found Lilith in the midst of the Red Sea. But she refused to return with them. She chose instead to become the mother of demons. She did this not only by mating with demons, but by also stealing semen from men at night while they slept. Because of Lilith’s refusal, the angels cursed her that every day 100 of her demon seed would die, and for Adam God created Eve as a replacement for his rebellious mate. In revenge Lilith resolved that she would visit Eve’s children in childbirth and kill those whom she found were not protected by the names of the three angels.
As we shall see, there are deeper mysteries to Lilith’s legend that may be derived from a careful study of the Biblical text. These details confirm tenets held by the Zohar of Kabalah concerning Lilith. The Zohar is perhaps the most important book on Lilith outside of the Bible. The Zohar explains Lilith’s rebellious nature. It states that after God had formed Adam’s and Lilith’s bodies from the earth, Lilith became animated by the defective light of Lucifer, whereas Adam became animated by the holy spark of God’s perfect light. From Genesis it is apparent that Lucifer’s defective light entered Lilith through a defiling mist which erupted from the ground and watered her body. This preempted God’s spirit in animating her. Therefore Lilith is said to be created from filth and sediment, whereas Adam is said to be created from dry dust, as he was untouched by the defiling mist. He was animated by God’s perfect light that entered him with the breath of God’s holy spirit filled his nostrils.
According to the Zohar and numerous Biblical evidences, Lilith later returned to the garden under the title of the Serpent. Genesis reveals that the Serpent Lilith deceived Eve into eating of the forbidden tree and thereby caused her and Adam to fall. Because of this God cursed the Serpent Lilith and her seed. He declared that a doomed rivalry would exist between Lilith and Eve and between their seed. Lilith would bruise the heal of Eve’s seed, but Eve’s seed would crush the head of Lilith. Lilith being identified as the Serpent also links her to Leviathan, which Job 26 and Isa 27 describe as a winged serpent fleeing before God. Leviathan is commonly held to refer to the Serpent of Eden, and thus Lilith. From a study of Leviathan we learn again that Lucifer is intimately fused with Lilith, and that Lilith was created in the same fashion as Adam. She was a golem fashioned from the dust of the earth and animated by Lucifer’s defective light.
Lilith’s legend preceeds Judaism. Her first mention is found in a Sumerian king list which dates from about 2400 BCE. That list states that the father of the great hero Gilgamesh was a Lillu demon. The first substantial written record of Lilith comes in the epic Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree (circa 2000 BCE). In that epic the demoness Lilith and a snake haunt a great tree situated in a holy garden of the gods. As we shall see later, this tale has strong parallels with Genesis’ story of the garden of Eden and tree of knowledge of good and evil.
Lilith appears by name only once in the Bible. This comes in Isaiah 34, which describes her as a bird like demon who dwells in an utterly desolate land once at the ocean’s floor. She is intimately fused with a snake, and she is a killer of younglings. There is also a reference to Lilith in Proverbs 30 under the title of Alukah. Proverbs’ heavily mystic passages speak of two types of barren women given over to the power of Alukah. Alukah serves as a source of cursing and death to one barren woman and the catalyst in granting a promised seed to the other. As we shall see, Alukah has strong parallels to the cursing agent in the bitter water trial of the Sotah. According to the Zohar this agent is the spirit of Lilith. In the Middle Ages legends became prevalent that Alukah was the mother of estries – female bird-like winged monsters whom were said to devour children and drink their blood. Esteries are the earliest known incarnations of the modern vampire legend, and their similarity to Lilith are obvious.
Lilith makes a handful of appearances in the Talmud (circa 400 CE). Her mentions are painfully brief, as the writers assume she is known entity to the reader. One Talmudic writer warns that she comes in secret at night to men in their sleep, much like a succubus or night hag, to steal semen from them. Another writer holds that she stole semen from Adam in such a manner, and with this she inseminated her first seed.
Lilith’s legend struck a cord in medieval Christian circles. Michelangelo depicted Lilith as the Serpent in his famous paintings on the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel, and she is likewise depicted as the tempting Serpent in a carving on the Notre Dame cathedral in France. Lilith appears in many other artworks of the era as the Serpent.
Most people acquainted with the Bible consider Lilith’s legend as merely a colorful and interesting fictional myth with no Biblical basis. This is certainly an understandable position, as the legend’s version of early events in the garden appear completely incongruous with the plain written record of Genesis as it is commonly known. Yet, if there is such scant evidence for Lilith, how could the rabbis of the Talmud and Zohar teach her existence? These writers are the most learned and sophisticated Jewish scholars over the last two thousand years. On what basis did these experts adopt ideas that appear in conflict with the plain Biblical record? As we shall see, the plain Biblical record is perhaps not so plain after all.
There is actually numerous textual evidences in Genesis supporting most of Lilith’s legend. This evidence lies in the literal Hebrew of the account and the logical deductions that may be therefore derived by applying the literal wording. This Genesis evidence supports all the essential facets of Lilith’s legend, such as why she is said to be created from mud and muck, and not dust like Adam. It also identifies her as the Serpent. The analysis by which this evidence will be developed in this section is probably much the same means by which the rabbis originally concluded details of her legend. Based solely on Biblical evidence, this analysis makes a strong case for Lilith. And the details of her history and nature surmised from the analysis is remarkably in sync with her most ancient legends.
I have found that a coherent collection of Biblical arguments supporting the case for Lilith has been heretofore non-existent in the public domain. In fact, the only argument usually put forward – that Genesis speaks of two creation accounts of a man and woman – is almost always presented in an outrageously flawed manner. The faulty argument generally follows the notion that none of the creation events described in Ge 2 are a recap or retelling of creation events that happened in Ge 1. Thus the reasoning goes, when Ge 1:26-29 speaks of the creation of a man and woman and Ge 2:18-22 then speaks of the creation of Eve, the two passages must refer to different events. This simplistic argument is based on outrageously faulty logic. If all of Ge 2 was read as documenting new events not specified in Ge 1, then Ge 2:7 would imply there are also two Adams!
Furthermore, there would be two whole planets, each with its own ocean, atmosphere, and biosphere! We must recognize that parts of Genesis 2 do recap Genesis 1, and the Lilith argument must be put forth with more care and much more rigor.
Critics of the Lilith legend could argue that if the Lilith legend was true, then why is her existence in Genesis so tenuously written that simply misinterpreting a few verses makes her seemingly disappear from the account. While it is true that for mystical reasons much of Genesis’ early accounts of Lilith seem to have been written so as to purposely obscure her role, in Genesis’ later text she does play a very prominent and overt role as the Serpent of Eden. The Serpent is second in prominence only to Adam himself in the early chapters of Genesis. (The prominence of the Serpent in early Genesis is demonstrated in several ways. The Serpent is the first speaking character other than Adam (Ge 3:1). The Serpent also has a more dominate role than Eve based on the number of words each speaks and the number of words spoken to each. The Serpent speaks 26 Hebrew words compared to Eve’s 22. The Serpent also receives more attention from God. The curses God heaps upon the Serpent consist of 33 Hebrew words. The curses God inflicts upon Eve takes a mere 13 words.) We shall see that there is strong textual evidence in Genesis that the Serpent can be safely identified as Lilith.
Perhaps the most indisputable evidence is the parallels between God’s curses upon the Serpent and upon Eve. Part of the Serpent’s curse is that it and its seed would be locked in enemity with Eve and her seed, and that although the Serpent would wound Eve’s seed, Eve’s seed would crush the head of the Serpent. This curse clearly establishes that the Serpent plays the role of a rival to Eve. Thus the Serpent is implied to be a woman. This notion is strongly reinforced by the parallelism between the curses of the Serpent and Eve to the bitter water trial. The Serpent, in the role of the defiled Sotah, eats dust and is cursed in her belly, and she shall be slain by the innocent seed. Eve, as the innocent woman in trial, shall endure pain in childbirth, but shall be saved by her seed. There is also evidence that the Hebrew for “serpent”, nachash, cannot indicate a snake, but rather implies the serpent was a human inhabited by demonic spirits.