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The Lilith Shrine.
May 19, 2002 11:26 PM   Subscribe

The Lilith Shrine. As the story goes, Lilith was the first woman, being created at the same time as Adam but not from him, as with Eve. After refusing to submit to Adam's will, Lilith was cursed by God and ejected from the Garden of Eden. Although she is only mentioned in the bible once, do you suppose Lilith ever really existed?
posted by mcsweetie (25 comments total)

 
as an atheist, I would have to say no, but what do some of you believers think?
posted by mcsweetie at 11:28 PM on May 19, 2002


Lilith perhaps existed as a counter culture before the most ancient texts of the Torah were transcribed. Much like the fable of Adam and Eve, Noah etc. there is clearly the main thrust of any religion that wishes to demarcate cloth from non-cloth and that is that it, once satisfactorily deconstructed, looks more and more like social engineering. It would be wonderful to have the ancient Library of Alexandria extant, where we could perhaps explore the variegated cults and sects of the earliest form of what now is Judeo-Christendom. Presumably much was probably lost about this Lilith character in its destruction.

In Asimov's Guide to the Bible, Asimov has this to say at the end of his Lilith "category":

"The later rabbis personified the night hag and made her into Lilith, a beautiful woman who was Adam's wife before Eve was created. He could not endure her because she was so shrewish (or perhaps she could not endure him because he was so sober and grave) and they parted. She became a demon of the night who, according to some stories, joined with the serpent to bring about the fall of Adam and Eve, and who is of special danger to children ever since, perhaps because of her rage at her own childlessness."

One must wonder what kind of oral history was passed down to these "later rabbis" and why Lilith was feared so. How did the Lilith myth begin, in other words?
posted by crasspastor at 11:52 PM on May 19, 2002


In terms of the specific legend as a part of the bible, the story came out of a pair of lines in Genesis where it says something like "God created man and woman," and then it tells the story of how Adam was first, etc. The idea is that the line about "man and woman" is not a summary of the story that follows, it is its own story, and the woman in that story is Lilith, and the reason she doesn't exist by the end of the line is that we'd prefer not to remember her, etc.
posted by bingo at 12:14 AM on May 20, 2002


Lilith is one of my favourite mythological characters, mostly because she highlights the fictional nature of the work that modern mainstream religions are based on.

For me, Lilith alone reduces christianity (and its relations) to the same level as the Greek mythology presented in Xena; Warrior Princess. That is to say, a great story, but not even a little bit true.

She's also my favourite character in Cheers...
posted by krisjohn at 12:23 AM on May 20, 2002


Myth on myth, a piggyback myth.
posted by pracowity at 12:27 AM on May 20, 2002


i love her on cheers too.
posted by billybob at 4:50 AM on May 20, 2002


She isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible. Here is a more accepted translation of Isaiah 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. "

It fits the context, and transliterates screech owl from "liyliyth".

From a liberal scholar:

"...it is a hapax legomenon (a word that occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible) so we can't determine its meaning by comparison to other uses in the Bible -- we are forced to resort to cognate languages (Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, etc.), versions (early translations) or Jewish tradition to determine its meaning. The translation 'night creatures' represents a speculative attempt at rendering 'lilith' based on its similarity the Hebrew word 'laylah' -- night. (Lilith traditions also sometimes make this etymological connection - particularly since one of her roles is that of succubus, and she is often associated with owls -- as in this passage.) But a better connection (in my opinion) lies in the Assyrian 'lilitu' -- a nasty female spirit. It may be, however, that neither of these is right, and we simply don't have enough information to make an intelligent guess here. Jewish tradition, of course, points us in the direction of the mythological creature who is the subject of the Lilith page. I am not currently up on the versional evidence -- I will have to check it out.[1] Note that the translations also differ on the translation of 'sa'ir' -- is it a goat or a goat-demon/satyr? My guess is that the meaning of 'sa'ir' has to be determined by the meaning of 'lilith'. If 'lilith' is a demoness, then 'sa'ir' should be some sort of demon. On the other hand, if 'lilith' is some sort of undetermined animal, then sa'ir is a goat."

This particular Jewish tradition came a lot later than the writings of Genesis and Isaiah. The Lilith myth is Midrash material, not Jewish scriptural. Huge difference. Lilith is never called Adam's wife and is referred to only as a demon in the Talmud.
posted by aaronshaf at 5:43 AM on May 20, 2002


Correction: She isn't mentioned anywhere in the Bible + as a mythological godess or as Adam's wife. Midrash mythical Lilith does not equal Biblical Lilith.
posted by aaronshaf at 5:48 AM on May 20, 2002


I thought Lilith was the goddess of Labia Rock?
posted by bondcliff at 6:42 AM on May 20, 2002


aaronshaf: She isn't mentioned by name in the scripture, but the myth (and the "Jewish tradition" refered to in your quote) is directly tied to the line in Genesis I mentioned above.
posted by bingo at 6:52 AM on May 20, 2002


A girlfriend of mine who was interested in the Lilith myth once explained it to me like this: "See, Lilith wanted to be on top, but Adam wasn't down with that."
posted by starvingartist at 7:08 AM on May 20, 2002


Let us have clarification then:

The story of Lilith is related to the story in the Genesis account, but the legend of Lilith itself is in no way tied by source to the Talmud.
posted by aaronshaf at 7:55 AM on May 20, 2002


Er, not Talmud, but the Torah. That's where I was wrong. The Talmud includes that which was written waaaay after the Torah was.
posted by aaronshaf at 7:56 AM on May 20, 2002


Will someone correct me? (No more posts for Aaron...)
posted by aaronshaf at 7:58 AM on May 20, 2002


The story of Lilith is related to the story in the Genesis account, but the legend of Lilith itself is in no way tied by source to the [Torah].

But the Torah includes Genesis...

What I was taught as a lad in hebrew school, was that according to those who take the Lilith story seriously, she did in fact exist, and that line in Genesis is meant to be such an indication. It's a sort of "fundamentalist" view of Genesis...that, because the entire text is true, precise, and divinely inspired, it's a cop-out to say that God would waste a line on a stylistic flourish, that it's appropriate for us to read something deeper into every slightly ambiguous sentence.
posted by bingo at 8:58 AM on May 20, 2002


The problem with using Lilith to explain the discrepancy between the two creation stories is that it doesn't account for the question of whether animals were created before or after humans. If you want to have both creation stories meant literally, you have to have another adam, too, I think - so the first creation story is in the past, and then something happens and it's mostly destroyed and god starts over with a garden... or something. Seems a lot simpler to accept the stories as the resonant mythology of a culture, instead of trying to make them fit scientifically.
posted by mdn at 10:24 AM on May 20, 2002


A comparison of bible translations of Isaiah 34:14, none of which match the translation in mcsweetie's orignal link. It's always a matter of translation and interpretation.

I think to clarify aaronshaf, the Talmud is the rabbinical commentary, or oral/written tradition, that is rooted in Torah, which is the collection of the 'divinely inspired writings' of Moses and the prophets, etc..

Lilith is more referred to as 'the' Lilith, than just Lilith. In the Talmud it's referenced more as a sort of demon than a woman. Lilith also appears in the Kabbalah.

The whole thing seems to spring from a combination of bits and pieces from Torah, Talmudic and Kabalistic writings.

Again, so much is open to interpretation and translation.
posted by mikhail at 10:57 AM on May 20, 2002


Here's a side by side Hebrew - English version of Isaiah.

I meant to clarify more. Apparently the word Lilith is in Torah, and then taken up and commented on in the Talmud, and written about in the Kabbalah. It's only through these extended writings that any connection starts to be drawn between a "first Eve" and "Lilith". One which really doesn't seem to exist.
posted by mikhail at 11:37 AM on May 20, 2002


it doesn't account for the question of whether animals were created before or after humans. If you want to have both creation stories meant literally, you have to have another adam, too, I think - so the first creation story is in the past, and then something happens and it's mostly destroyed and god starts over with a garden... or something.

This reasoning could charitably be called silly. Either you haven't spent much time at all thinking about Genesis, or perhaps you are seeing what you want to see. I don't want to derail this thread, so if you (or anyone) would like my reasoning on this, feel free to email me.
posted by gd779 at 2:33 PM on May 20, 2002


It's only through these extended writings that any connection starts to be drawn between a "first Eve" and "Lilith". One which really doesn't seem to exist.

This really isn't true. One of the stories inspired the other, at least in terms of its emergence in Jewish tradition. This is the case whether you believe that either of these stories has a basis in reality or not.

Lilith became a demon after she was cast out from the garden. She bred with other demons, and she still does, according to the story. Whenever a man masturbates or has a wet dream, he is having sex with Lilith, a union that results in unholy demon-spawn. In kaballistically-inclined families, the sons of a dying man will say a special prayer over their father's deathbed, in order to protect their inheritance from the illegitamate siblings that their father has created with Lilith over the course of his life.

mdn: There is a rendition of the Lilith story somewhere in the Sandman graphic novel chronology, that actually does include a first Adam, who is actually a part of a hermaphroditic Adam-Eve creature.
posted by bingo at 2:41 PM on May 20, 2002


Newsflash: It's all lies. None of it happened.
posted by davidgentle at 3:13 PM on May 20, 2002


bingo: "It's only through these extended writings that any connection starts to be drawn between a "first Eve" and "Lilith". One which really doesn't seem to exist.

This really isn't true. ..."


bingo, what do you see as not true? If you read that section again you will see that I said the connection is made in the extended writings, which you then went on to expand upon. Where I wrote "One which really doesn't seem to exist", is in reference to the fact that outside of these extended writings there is no connection between "Lilith" as it appears in Isaiah and the Genesis accounting. It was probably only through speculation and trying to account for inconsistencies that those connections were made in the first place.
posted by mikhail at 4:27 PM on May 20, 2002


Lilith became a demon after she was cast out from the garden. She bred with other demons, and she still does, according to the story. Whenever a man masturbates or has a wet dream, he is having sex with Lilith, a union that results in unholy demon-spawn. In kaballistically- inclined families, the sons of a dying man will say a special prayer over their father's deathbed, in order to protect their inheritance from the illegitamate siblings that their father has created with Lilith over the course of his life.

Wow. People really believe this? It's part of an accepted, mainstream religion? Amazing.
posted by kindall at 5:26 PM on May 20, 2002


mikhail: Where I wrote "One which really doesn't seem to exist", is in reference to the fact that outside of these extended writings there is no connection between "Lilith" as it appears in Isaiah and the Genesis accounting.

What you said was:

Apparently the word Lilith is in Torah, and then taken up and commented on in the Talmud, and written about in the Kabbalah. It's only through these extended writings that any connection starts to be drawn between a "first Eve" and "Lilith". One which really doesn't seem to exist.

Okay, maybe what you're confused about here is that the book of Isaiah is not part of the Torah, which is only Genesis through Deuteronomy.

But what I was really responding to was your suggestion that the connection occurs only in the "extended writings." The Lilith myth was not born in the Talmud or the Kabbalah; it's a folk tale. We don't know how old it is, and like many stories in the bible, we don't know for sure what sort of knowledge the author assumed that the reader would bring to the text. For readers in the time of Isaiah, the reference (if that's what it was) might have been perfectly obvious.

kindall: Wow. People really believe this? It's part of an accepted, mainstream religion? Amazing.

I don't think it's any harder to believe than transubstantiation. But no, very few Jews believe it. I'd say that a Jew saying prayers to ward off his illegitimate Lilith-spawn siblings is roughly equivalent, in terms of piety, to a Christian wearing a cross around his neck in order to ward off vampires.
posted by bingo at 7:28 PM on May 20, 2002


> Wow. People really believe this? It's part of an accepted,
> mainstream religion? Amazing.

That's nothing. There's this school down the road where all the little kids worship dozens and dozens of local demi-gods, choosing them according to what they need; maybe an incantation to the travel demigod if they're going somewhere, for example. These demigods are led by four primary gods, though three of them are really one three-headed god in different disguises, and the fourth isn't officially a god but a godmaker. She is both the wife and the mother of the three-headed god, and her name is invoked more often than the other three and they build most shrines for her, not the others. And each of these little kids at the school has a little replica of a primitive torture scene hung on a necklace, and there are similar replicas hung up on the walls, so that they always have a bleeding corpse hanging over them and around their necks. On special days, their mothers make them kiss the corpse.

The world is full of loonies.
posted by pracowity at 10:17 PM on May 20, 2002


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