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History’s Secret: Seeking the Dark Queen

"Lady Lilith" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 19th c. Public Domain image.

"Lady Lilith" by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, 19th c. Public Domain image.

When my recent blog post on Lilith went viral, the response was overwhelming: You want to know more about Lilith! One of the most common questions you asked was, “Where does it say that Adam had a first wife in the Bible? Show me!” Of course you want to know more. Lilith, as interviewer Sarah Marcus recently noted, is a game-changer. How could it not change your worldview to learn that the first woman was not the subservient Eve, but Lilith, who looked Adam in the face and said, “I am equal.” Still… you have a life. A job. Candy to crush. You don’t have time to go chasing down the answers to your burning questions about Lilith, no matter how badly you want to know. And you want to know. Badly.

Lucky for you, this humble herstorian is armed with an equally inquisitive mind and a bookshelf overflowing with the knowledge you seek. The answers are ripe as forbidden fruit. Go ahead. Take a bite.

"Eve Tempted" by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1877. Public Domain image.

"Eve Tempted" by John Roddam Spencer Stanhope, 1877. Public Domain image.

So, where is Lilith in the Bible?

There are two answers to this question. With a figure as complex and powerful as Lilith you didn’t think the answer would be simple, did you?

The short answer is this: Lilith appears twice in the Bible. Once by omission, and once by name.

What the heck does that mean?

OK. Here goes.

There are two tellings of the creation of man and woman in the Bible.

Genesis 1:27 states: “In God’s own image, male and female, God created them.” [1]

Genesis 2, on the other hand, is the creation story most of us are familiar with:

God formed man [then] God said, ‘It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.’ [So God] took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh. Then God made a woman from the rib... And Adam said, ‘This one at last is bone of my bones, and flesh of my flesh.’
— Genesis 2:7-23

Ummm, you’re thinking, That’s all fine and dandy, but where is Lilith in either of these versions?!

Lilith is there, if you know where to look.

One clue to Lilith’s existence is that God creates humankind twice. Once in Genesis 1, and then a second time in Genesis 2. In Genesis 1, God makes man and woman, at the same time and in the same manner. In Genesis 2, God has another go, this time making woman from man’s rib. So Adam had two wives, the argument goes. The first was created equal (Lilith), and the second inferior (Eve), made to serve man.

"The Creation of Eve," from the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. Public Domain image.

"The Creation of Eve," from the Sistine Chapel ceiling by Michelangelo. Public Domain image.

There are other signs of Lilith here, as well.

In Genesis 2:18 God says, “I will make a helper suitable for him.” The implication is that an unsuitable woman had already been made; now it was time to make a suitable (read: submissive) one. [2]

Adam’s response? “This one, at last, is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.” “At last” implies Adam had been waiting. “At last,” the right woman has been made for me.   

When reading Genesis 1 and 2 together, we start to get the whole picture. At first, God made man and woman equals, but man wanted woman to be his “helper,” his servant. The Bible does not tell us what happened to that first, equal wife, but we know her (Lilith’s) story from other sources. Instead, the Bible skips ahead to round two, when God "fixes" his "error" and makes not an equal, but an inferior woman, a woman made to serve man. “At last,” says Adam. This time, God got it right.

And there you have it: Lilith by omission. The first wife nearly written out of history, who left just enough clues that we can piece her back together again. And this is exactly what scholars have done, for thousands of years.

More on this in a future blog post.

So Lilith isn’t actually named in the Bible? You ask? That’s a ripoff…

Yeah. It is a ripoff. You can take that one up with the countless scribes who revised and redacted the original biblical stories. Tell them you want your powerful women’s stories back! I certainly do…

But Lilith does make an appearance in the Bible, giving testimony to the fact that she has always been a part of biblical lore.

Photo Crop: Book of Isaiah. Photo: Trounce/Wikimedia Commons.

Photo Crop: Book of Isaiah. Photo: Trounce/Wikimedia Commons.

Isaiah 34:14 states: “And the wild-cats shall meet with the jackals, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; and Lilith shall repose there, and shall find her a place of rest.” [3]

According to Raphael Patai, Lilith's appearance in Isaiah with no context or explanation as to who or what she was indicates that “Lilith was a well known she-demon in Israel in the eighth century B.C., whose name only had to be mentioned to conjure up the beliefs current about her." [4]

Lilith originated as a demon in Babylonian and Sumerian mythology, and Jewish lore adopted her as such. So when Jewish scholars named the unnamed first woman of Genesis 1, they chose Lilith because she was known as a demon

Because a woman who believes herself equal to man and demands she be treated with respect accordingly is obviously a demon. Am I right?

The men who named the first woman Lilith wanted to demonize her because she proved that man and woman were created equal. And she has been demonized for her stance on gender equality ever since. 

To put this concept in context, consider this. Ever heard the term feminazi? Ever seen the hashtag #FeminismIsAwful? Ever heard that feminists are ugly, man-hating, armpit hair-growing demons from the deepest depths of hell? No? OK. Here are some fun things prominent anti-feminists have to say about our kind:

“Feminism was established to allow unattractive women easier access to the mainstream.” – Rush Limbaugh

Feminism “encourages women to leave their husbands, kill their children, practice witchcraft, destroy capitalism and become lesbians.”  – Pat Robertson

Witches, anti-capitalists, and lesbians, oh my!

Feminism is the advocacy of women's rights on the grounds of equality to men. That’s the whole shebang. Just as the original advocate for gender equality has been written off as no more than a she-demon, so, too, have feminists.

It is not enough to know oppression exists; we have to dig deeper. By knowing who Lilith was, where she came from and what she stood for, we can see how little the plight of women has changed for literally thousands of years. But we know now that we were here first, fighting for equality at any cost. Like Lilith, we have suffered for our beliefs, but we are still here, still fighting for the right to be seen and heard and treated as equals.

Want to know more about Lilith? Stay tuned! Reviving Herstory will be bringing you lots more. Has getting to know Lilith changed the way you look at your life, at religion, or at the world? Do you have your own story about how you have been demonized for your beliefs? Contact us and let us know!


Sources and Notes:

1. Because translation is an imperfect art, I always rely on several Bible translations in my research. In addition to consulting side-by-side translations of everything from the King James Bible to the New International Version and beyond via Bible Hub, I also consult the Hebrew-English translation in Mechon Mamre and Miki Raver's original feminist translation in Listen to Her Voice.  

2. The usage and translation of the word "suitable" varies by Bible translation. 

3. The Hebrew word "Lilith" is sometimes translated as "night creatures," "night birds," "night monster," "screech owl," and more. While the original texts state "Lilith," night creatures and owls are often associated with Lilith. 

4. Patai, Raphael. “Lilith.” The Journal of American Folkflore. 77.306 (1964): 296. Print. 1964.