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Notes from Limmud 2004

Lilith: First Wife and Demon Queen

Roderick Young

[This one has long quotations in the handout, which are interesting but which I'm not going to go to the effort of typing up here]

The session opened up with a discussion of what Lilith meant to various people; which I'm not transcribing here; all of the information appears below in one place or another.

Lilith as Demon

תנ״ך (Scripture)

Lilith appears one time only in the Bible, in the description of the prophesied destruction of Edom in Isaiah 34:
9 Its streams shall be turned to pitch and its soil to sulphur. Its land shall become burning pitch, 10 Night and day it shall never go out; its smoke shall rise for all time. Through the ages it shall lie in ruins; through the aeons none shall traverse it. 11 ?Jackdaws and ?owls shall possess it, great owls and ravens shall dewell there. He shall measure it with a line of chaos and with weights of emptiness [i.e. he shall plan chaos and emptiness for it]. 12 It shall be called "No kingdom is there"; its nobles and all its lords shall be nothing. 13 Thorns shall grow up in its palaces, nettles and briers in its strongholds. It shall be a home of jackals, an abode of ostriches. 14 Wildcats shall meet hyaenas, goat-demons shall greet each other. There too the lilith shall repose and find herself a resting place. ט ונהפכו נחליה לזפת, ועפרה לגפרית; והיתה ארצה לזפת בערה׃ י לילה ויומם לא תכבה, לעולם יעלה עשנה; מדור לדור תחרב, לנצח נצחים אין עבר בה׃ יע וירשוה קאת וקפוד, וינשוף וערב ישכנו בה; ונטה עליה קו תהו, ואבני בהו׃ בי חריה ואין שם, מלוכה יקראו; וכל שריה יהיו אפס׃ גי ועלתה ארמנתיה סירים, קמוש וחוח במבצריה; והיתה נוה תנים, חציר לבנות יענה׃ די ופגשו ציים את איים, ושעיר על רעהו יקרא; אך שם הרגיעה לילית, ומצאה לה מנוח׃

(The notes to this translation say "Most of the creatures in verses 14-15 cannot be identified with certainty.")

In Akkadian texts lilitu is the name of a spirit. This was some kind of demon shared between the Hebrews and their neighbours; we don't know any more.

תלמוד בבלי (Babylonian Talmud)

שבת קנ׳א ע׳ ב (Shabbat 151b)

Mishna One may not close [the eyes of] a corpse on the Sabbath, nor on weekdays when he is about to die; and he who closes the eyes [of a dying person] at the point of death is a murderer.
Gemara [...] Rabbi Chanina said: One may not sleep in a house alone, and whoever sleeps in a house alone is seized by Lilith.
מת׳ אין מעצמין את המת בשבת ולא בחול עם יציאת נפש. והמעצים עם יציאת הנפש הרי זה שופך דמים׃
גמ׳ [...] אמר רבי חנינא אסור לישן בבית יחידי וכל הישן בבית יחידי אחזתו לילית׃
Bearing in mind that this is in the context of a discussion on valuing life, this tells us that by this stage Lilith is considered a danger to souls. Lilith can be anywhere now too, not just in the wilderness.

עירובין ק׳ ע׳ ב (Eruvin 100b)

Rav Isaac bar Abdimi stated: Eve was cursed with ten curses, since it was written [Gen 3]: Unto the woman He said, "and I will greatly multiply," which refers to the two drops of blood, one being that of menstruation and the other that of virginity; "your pain" refers to the pain of bringing up children; "and your travail" refers to the pain of conceptions. "In pain you shall bring forth children" is to be understood in its literal meaning; "and your desire shall be to your husband" teaches that a woman yearns for her husband when he is about to set out on a journey. "And he shall rule over you" teaches that while the wife solicits with her heart the husband does so with his mouth, this being a fine trait of character among women? What was meant is that she ingratiates herself with him. But are not these only seven? When Rav Dimi came he explained: She is wrapped up like a mourner, banished from the company of all men, and confined within a prison. What is meant by "banished from the company of all men"? If it be suggested: that she is forbidden to meet a man in privacy, is not the man also but could be forbidden to meet to meet a woman in privacy? The meaning rather is that she is forbidden to marry two men. In a baraitha it was taught: She grows long hair like Lilith, sits when making water like a beast, and serves as a bolster for her husband. And the other? These, he holds, are rather complimentary to her. [...] אמר רב יצחק בר אבדימי עשר קללות נתקללה חוה דכתיב אל האשה אמר הרבה ארבה אלו שני טפי דמים אחת דם נדה ואחת דם בתולים׃ עצבונך זה צער גידול בנים והרנך זה צער העיבור בעצב תלדי בנים כמשמעו׃ ואל אישך תשוקתך מלמד שהאשה משתוקקת על בעלה בשעה שיוצא לדרך׃ והוא ימשל בך מלמד שהאשה תובעת בלב והאיש תובע בפה זו היא מדה טובה בנשים׃ כי קאמרינן דמרציא ארצויי קמיה׃ הני שבע הווין כי אתא רב דימי אמר עטופה כאבל ומנודה מכל אדם וחבושה בבית האסורין׃ מאי מנודה מכל אדם אילימא משום דאסיר לה ייחוד איהו נמי אסיר ליה ייחוד אלא דאסירא לבי תרי׃ במתניתא תנא מגדלת שער כלילית ויושבת ומשתנת מים כבהמה ונעשית כר לבעלה׃ ואידך הני שבח הוא לה׃
No, the logic for some of this escapes me too. Anyhow, the point about Lilith ties in with the concept of free-flowing hair having to be restrained (by a sheitl, etc).

בבא בתרא ע׳ג ע׳ א (Bava Batra 73a)

Rabbah said: I saw how Hormin the son of Lilith was running on the parapet of the wall of Machuza, and a rider galloping below on horseback could not overtake him. אמר רבה לדידי חזי לי הורמין בר לילית כי קא רהיט אקופיא דשורא דמחוזא ורהיט פרשא כי רכיב חיותא מתתאיה ולא יכיל ליה׃
This webpage claims the text goes on to say, "When the demonic government heard of it, they killed him [for showing himself]," but my Aramaic's not good enough to substantiate this. ([livejournal.com profile] blackherring?)

נדה כ׳ב ע׳ ב (Nida 24b)

Rav Judah citing Samuel ruled: If an abortion had the likeness of Lilith its mother is unclean by reason of the birth, for it is a child, but it has wings. So it was also taught: R. Jose stated, It once happened at Simoni that a woman aborted the likeness of Lilith, and when the case came up for decision before the Sages they ruled that it was a child but that it also had wings. If an abortion had the likeness of a serpent, Chanina the son of R. Joshua's brother ruled: Its mother is unclean by reason of the birth. אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל המפלת דמות לילית אמו טמאה לידה׃ ולד הוא אלא שיש לו כנפים׃ תנ״ה אמר רבי יוסי מעשה בסימוני באחת שהפילה דמות לילית ובא מעשה לפני חכמים ואמרו ולד הוא אלא שיש לו כנפים׃ המפלת דמות נחש הורה חנינא בן אחיו של רבי יהושע אמו טמאה לידה׃

(The end of this chunk of גמרא is interesting too, but I'm not going to type it up here.)

Bear in mind that at the time of the תורה, angels were not depicted as having wings. (Ezekiel, much later, was imbibing Zoroastrian influences.) The fact Lilith is winged does not mean she looked like an angel!

מדרש (Midrash)

ויקרא רבה ט׳ז כ׳ה (Numbers Rabbah 16:25)

Moses said to Him: "The inhabitants of the land... have heard that You Lord art in the midst of this people... Now if you shall kill this people as one man" (14:14f). He implied: Do not do this, that the nations of the world may not say "The gods of Canaan are more difficult to overcome than the gods of Egypt. The gods of Egypt are false but those of Canaan are possessed of strength." "They will say to the inhabitants... because the Lord was not able [יכלת]" (ibid 14ff). Because, they will imply, He was unable to supply them with food, He brought them out to slay them in the wilderness. The expression יכלת cannot but signify food, as its borne out by the text "Twenty thousand measures of wheat for food [מכולת] to his household" (I Kings 5:25). Another exposition: Do not do it, 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. 4:22) 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 has slain them" (Num. 14:16)!
[The reference to Lilith is apparently a play on יכולת and כלילית, which seems rather weak to me.]

So now we see Lilith destroying her children. This is often seen as the ultimate act against nature - cf. the demonisation in our culture, to a greater extent than for men, of women who kill their own children.

Lilith as wife of Adam

תלמוד בבלי (Babylonian Talmud)

עירובין י׳ח ע׳ ב (Eruvin 18b)

This reference wasn't part of the Limmud session, but something I came across on investigating the page linked to below.

Rabbi Jeremiah ben Eleazar said: During those years (after their expulsion from the Garden), in which Adam, the first man, was separated from Eve, he became the father of ghouls and demons and lilin, as it is said, "And Adam lived one hundred and thirty years and begat a son in his likeness and after his image" (Gen. 5:3) [I can't translate the next words, sorry] according to his image I will give birth.

Rabbi Meir said: Adam, the first man, being very pious and finding that he had caused death to come into the world, sat fasting for 130 years, and separated himself from his wife for 130 years, and wore fig vines for 130 years. His fathering of evil spirits, referred to here, came as a result of wet dreams.

ואמר רבי ירמיה בן אלעזר כל אותן השנים שהיה אדם הראשון בנידוי הוליד רוחין ושידין ולילין שנאמר ויחי אדם שלשים ומאת שנה ויולד בדמותו כצלמו מכלל דעד האידנא לאו כצלמו אוליד׃

מיתיבי היה רבי מאיר אומר אדם הראשון חסיד גדול היה כיון שראה שנקנסה מיתה על ידו ישב בתענית מאה ושלשים שנה ופירש מן האשה מאה ושלשים שנה והעלה זרזי תאנים על בשרו מאה ושלשים שנה כי קאמרינן ההוא בשכבת זרע דחזא לאונסיה׃

Translation taken from here with the missing bits added to the best of my ability (sorry; I have no Aramaic left to speak of) by me. (Incidentally, [livejournal.com profile] livredor, would you be so good as to consult your Jastrow and tell [livejournal.com profile] rysmiel what the singular of lilin should be?)

מדרש (Midrash)

בראשית רבה ח׳ ד׳ (Genesis Rabbah 8:4)

"And the man said: This is now [זאת הפעם, lit 'this time']," etc (2:23). R. Judah ben Rabbi said: At first He created her for him and he saw her full of discharge and blood; thereupon He removed her from him and recreated her a second time. Hence he said: "This time she is bone of my bone." This is she of the previous occasion; this is she who is destined to strike the bell and to speak [in strife] against me, as you read "A golden bell" [פעמון] (Ex. 28:34); it is she who troubled me [מפעמתני] all night. All these remarks showed his amazement.

"To strike the bell," the commentary informs me, is used metaphorically: to bring charges and accusations.

"This time she is bone of my bone" implies he is not simply looking at her two times but that this is a different woman. Which raises the question: what happened to the first woman?

בראשית רבה כ׳ב ז׳ (Genesis Rabbah 22:7)

"And Cain spoke unto Abel his brother" etc (4:8). About what did they quarrel? "Come," said they, "let us divide the world." One took the land and the other the movables. The former said, "The land you stand on is mine," whilst the latter retorted, "What you are wearing is mind." One said, "Strip"; the other retorted, "Fly [off the ground]." Out of this quarrel, "Cain rose up against his brother Abel," etc.

R. Joshua of Siknin said in R. Levi's name: Both took land and both took movables, but about what did they quarrel? One said, "The Temple must be built in my area," while the other claimed, "It must be built in mind." For thus it is written, "And it came to pass, when they were in the field." Now "field" refers to nought but the Temple, as you read "Zion [i.e. the Temple] shall be ploughed as a field" (Micah 3:12). Out of this argument, "Cain rose up against his brother Abel," etc.

Judah b. Rabbi said: Their quarrel was about the first Eve. Said R. Aibu: The first Eve had returned to dust. Then about what was their quarrel? Said R. Huna: An additional twin was born with Abel, and each claimed her. The one claimed, "I will have her, because I am the firstborn", while the other maintained, "I must have her, because she was born with me."

This is interesting - according to Judah b. Rabbi, they had not discarded the first Eve, but brought her along. R. Aibu maintained she had been unmade by G-d when making the second Eve, but was this really the case?

תרגום איוב (Aramaic translation of Job)

This quotation comes from Ginzberg's The Legends of the Jews (a seven-volume work bringing all the מדרשים into one coherent narrative - which is not how they were written!), and is sourced from תרגום איוב - which is embellished with מדרש [midrash] of its own. Rabbi Young did not say whose תרגום this was.

Equipped with unlimited power, Satan endeavoured to deprive Job of all he owned. He burned part of his cattle, and the other part was carried off by enemies. What pained Job more than this was that recipients of his bounty turned against him, and took of his belongings.

Among the adversaries that assailed him was Lilith, the queen of Sheba. She lived at a great distance from his residence; it took her and her army three years to travel from her home to his. She fell upon his oxen and his asses, and took possession of them, after slaying the men to whose care Job had entrusted them. One man escaped alone.

Whoa, Lilith as the Queen of Sheba? Bet you weren't expecting that! Calling her Lilith is shorthand for saying she is going to be destructive.

Fragment from the Cairo Geniza

(Also from Ginzberg.)
After the translation of Enoch [into Heaven], Methuselah was proclaimed ruler of the earth by all the kings. He walked in the footsteps of his father, teaching truth, knowledge and fear of G-d to the children of men all his life, and deviating from the path of rectitude neither to the right nor to the left. He delivered the word from thousands of demons, the posterity of Adam which he had begotten with Lilith, that she-devil of she-devils. These demons and evil spirits, as often as they encountered a man, had sought to injure and even slay him, until Methuselah appeared, and supplicate the mercy of G-d. He spent three days in fasting, and then G-d gave him permission to write the Ineffable Name upon his sword, wherewith he slew ninety-four myriads of the demons in a minute, until Agrimus, the first-born of them, came to him and entreated him to desist, and the same time handing the names of the demons and imps over to him. And so Methuselah placed their kings in iron fetter, while the remainder fled away and hid themselves in the innermost chambers and recesses of the ocean. And it is on account of the wonderful sword by means of which the demons were killed that he was called Methuselah.

(Balrogs in the Midrash? Cool! :o))

In the session, Rabbi Young said this now adds children of Adam and Lilith. (Recall that the quotation from Eruvin 18b above was not in the session handouts.) He added that the first Eve is not named until now as Lilith.

It seems Rabbi Young thinks the first Eve was the same as Lilith; he seemed unaware when I put the matter to him of the view that Lilith was separate from the first Eve. I don't know what the textual justification of that view is. (See further below, though.) If it is justified, though, it rather demolishes his thesis of the modern Lilith legend being the merging of an earlier two.

I presume the etymology of מתושלח given here is supposed to imply the name mean sender of death (שולח מת).

Lilith as demon merges with Lilith as first wife of Adam

This section is quoted from the same site linked to above; I'm quoting it rather than linking to it here so I can annotate it with the comments I took down during the Limmud session.

The Alphabet of Ben Sirach, Question 5 (23a-b)

In this work, there is a story for each letter in the Hebrew alphabet. Ben Sirach did not write this work - it dates from a thousand years after his time - but many מדרשים [midrashim] are attributed to him.

The translation is by Norman Bronznick, and is taken from Rabbinic Fantasies by David Stern and Mark Jay Mirsky - a book Rabbi Young recommends.

Alan Humm writes on his webpage, in introduction to the excerpt:

The Alphabet of Ben Sira is the earliest form we know of the Lilith legend familiar to most people (that is, to most people who are familiar with Lilith at all). It is here that we find Lilith as Adam's first wife. Scholars tend to date the Alphabet between the 8th and 10th centuries, CE. Whether the story itself is older, or, if so, how much older is not possible to say. Amulets like the one described in the first paragraph are, of course, much older. The author of the Zohar, R. Moses de Leon, was aware of the Alphabet's version of Lilith, at least according to Gershom Scholem (Major Trends in Jewish Mysticism, p. 174), but he also knows other, probably older, Lilith traditions which do not mesh well with this one. No attempt is made, apparently, to harmonize them. For one of these other traditions, and comments on whether the author was familiar with the Alphabet, see Treatise on the Left Emanation. The idea of Eve having a predecessor is also not new to Ben Sira, and can be found in Genesis Rabbah . But those traditions make no mention of Lilith, and, in fact, do not mesh well with Ben Sira's version of the story.

To which Rabbi Young commented that this merging of the two strands, of Lilith as demon queen, and as an earlier wife of Adam, is really quite late. (See above comments about whether this is really supported, though.)

Soon afterward the young son of the king took ill. Said Nebuchadnezzar1, "Heal my son. If you don't, I will kill you." Ben Sira immediately sat down and wrote an amulet with the Holy Name, and he inscribed on it the angels in charge of medicine by their names, forms and images, and by their wings, hands, and feet. Nebuchadnezzar looked at the amulet. "Who are these?"

"The angels who are in charge of medicine: SNVI, SNSVI, and SMNGLOF2. After God created Adam, who was alone, He said, 'It is not good for man to be alone' (Gen. 2:18). He then created a woman for Adam, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith 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 am to be in 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 air3. 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 to bring her back.

"Said the Holy One to Adam, 'If she agrees to come back, fine. 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 words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: 'Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.' She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day4. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels' names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers."

1. This is, of course, anachronistic; Ben Sirach lived long after the time of Nebuchadrezzar.

2. The site linked to below gives these as Sanoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof; the Book of Abraham (see below) as Sini, Sincini and Smangalof. What, you want consistency from Jews?

3. Pronounciation of the Tetragrammaton conferring the ability to fly is also found in תולדות ישו (The Generations of Jesus), the midrashic work in which the Jews worked out their frustration at persecution under the Christians by imputing as many sins to Jesus of Nazareth as possible.

4. Which gives an idea of how busy she is conceived to be as a succubus!

See also this page, which cites some of the same sources, but also presents other ones, and has some interesting footnotes, reading which I now remember Rabbi Young concurred with the point about the Queen of Sheba having hairy legs. (Bet you didn't expect that either.)

Lilith in the last millennium

Roderick Young's session ended here, except to remark that after a thousand years of ill-repute Lilith's reputation was rehabilitated in the twentieth century by the feminists, who adopted her as an icon; however as Alan Humm's comments above imply, there are further, late period Jewish texts referring to her.

To finish, here's a little quotation from Marek Halter's The Book of Abraham, which was the first place I came across the idea of Lilith myself. I only read this book once, fifteen or more years ago, yet it stuck in my mind sufficiently for me to go to the effort of tracking down the quotation now.

[Sarah's birth] pains began on a Tuesday. Abraham spent the day reciting psalms with his cousins, uncles and aunts. Leah, his mother, drew a chalk circle around Sarah's bed and wrote "Adam and Eve. Out of here, Lilith!" on each of the four walls, as well as the names of three guardian angels: Sini, Sincini and Smangalof. While the women heated water and prepared clean cloths, Matis, the future grandfather, eplained the custom to the children. [The account given matches the one from The Alphabet of Ben Sirach above.] "That's why your grandmother Leah wrote the names of the three angels on the bedroom walls. When the child is born, Lilith will come, see the names, and remember the oath she swore."

Jewish learning notes index

Date: 2005-01-18 11:51 am (UTC)
liv: In English: My fandom is text obsessed / In Hebrew: These are the words (words)
From: [personal profile] liv
Oh my goodness. This stuff is seriously weird and freaky. And thank you so much for typing it up. I will look through it properly when I'm not at work, I think. Just, woah, I knew there was bizarre stuff in the tradition, but this is way way out.

Date: 2005-01-18 12:44 pm (UTC)
ext_8103: (Default)
From: [identity profile] ewx.livejournal.com
I've been finding these postings very interesting, despite in some cases lacking a lot of background (and despite not being able to read the Hebrew words...)

Date: 2005-01-18 01:02 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
I've tried to ensure any significant Hebrew words have a transcription attached. <googles> this Usenet posting (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=4qep6l%24dfc%40srv13s4.cas.org&output=gplain) will give you an executive summary of the background (or see this FAQ (http://groups.google.co.uk/groups?selm=4k4gua%241pu%40abel.cc.sunysb.edu&output=gplain) for a bit more detail).

If you still have questions, feel free to ask.

Date: 2005-01-23 02:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] snjstar.livejournal.com
Very interesting

Date: 2008-05-14 03:46 am (UTC)
From: (Anonymous)
Even though i always wanted to learn about this (the story of Lil..), i don't believe it should be on the internet.it takes many,many years for talmudim to be ready to learn about her and with this they can get right to it which is not good for anyone.

Date: 2008-05-14 11:55 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lethargic-man.livejournal.com
You might, possibly, have a point if the subject were advanced mystical material—though even there I am opposed to the withholding of material, as it has the potential to give the withholders great power over the withholdees.

However, this subject is not advanced mystical material; it's folk myth.

Moreover, I had been put off Jewish learning by my experience of dry-as-a-bone Gemara in cheder; what got me back into it was partially learning interesting stuff, like this material.

In any case, you might as well resign yourself to the fact this material is out there already. It was presented to me at an open talk at a Jewish educational conference (Limmud) by a rabbi (Roderick Young). There are Lilith pages all over the Internet; it's referred to the in the Sandman books of Neil Gaiman, not to mention the historical novel I referred to above.

And finally, ITYM "talmidim", not "talmudim".

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