LILITH


LILITH, a female demon assigned a central position in Jewish demonology. She appears briefly in the Sumerian Gilgamesh epic and is found in Babylonian demonology, which identifies similar male and female spirits – Lilu and Lilitu respectively – which are etymologically unrelated to the Hebrew word laylah ("night"). These mazikim ("harmful spirits") have various roles: one of them – the Ardat-Lilith – preys on males, while others imperil women in childbirth and their children. An example of the latter kind is Lamashtu, against whom incantation formulas have been preserved in Assyrian. Winged female demons who strangle children are known from a Hebrew or Canaanite inscription found at Arslan-Tash in northern Syria and dating from about the seventh or eighth century B.C.E. Whether or not Lilith is mentioned in this incantation, which adjures the stranglers not to enter the house, is a moot point, depending on the addition of a missing letter: "To her that flies in rooms of darkness – pass quickly, quickly, Lil[ith]." In Scripture there is only one reference to Lilith (Isa. 34:14), among the beasts of prey and the spirits that will lay waste the land on the day of vengeance. In sources dating from earlier centuries, traditions concerning the female demon who endangers women in childbirth and who assumes many guises and names are distinct from the explicit tradition on Lilith recorded in the Talmud. Whereas the Babylonian Lilu is mentioned as some kind of male demon with no defined function, Lilith appears as a female demon with a woman's face, long hair, and wings (Er. 100b; Nid. 24b). A man sleeping in a house alone may be seized by Lilith (Shab. 151b); while the demon Hormiz, or Ormuzd, is mentioned as one of her sons (BB 73b). There is no foundation to the later commentaries that identify Lilith with the demon Agrath, daughter of Mahalath, who goes abroad at night with 180,000 pernicious angels (Pes. 112b). Nevertheless, a female demon who is known by tens of thousands of names and moves about the world at night, visiting women in childbirth and endeavoring to strangle their newborn babies, is mentioned in the Testament of Solomon, a Greek work of about the third century. Although preserved in a Christian version, this work is certainly based on Judeo-Hellenistic magic. Here the female demon is called Obizoth, and it is related that one of the mystical names of the angel Raphael inscribed on an amulet prevents her from inflicting injury. Lilith is identified as a demon in the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QpsAp). The name Lilith was also inscribed on incantation bowls of Sassanian Babylonia. Although such bowls were not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon, some invoke rabbinic divorce formulas to exorcize demons.

Midrashic literature expands the legend that Adam, having parted from his wife after it had been ordained that they should die, begat demons from spirits that had attached themselves to him. It is said that "he was encountered by a Lilith named Piznai who, taken by his beauty, lay with him and bore male and female demons." The firstborn son of this demonic union was Agrimas (see the Midrash published in Ha-Goren, 9 (1914), 66–68; Dvir, 1 (1923), 138; and L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, 5 (1925), 166). The offspring of this Lilith fill the world. A transmuted version of this legend appears in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, a Midrash of the geonic period, which sets out to explain the already widespread custom of writing amulets against Lilith. Here she is identified with the "first Eve," who was created from the earth at the same time as Adam, and who, unwilling to forgo her equality, disputed with him the manner of their intercourse. Pronouncing the Ineffable Name, she flew off into the air. On Adam's request, the Almighty sent after her the three angels Snwy, Snsnwy, and Smnglf; finding her in the Red Sea, the angels threatened that if she did not return, 100 of her sons would die every day. She refused, claiming that she was expressly created to harm newborn infants. However, she had to swear that whenever she saw the image of those angels in an amulet, she would lose her power over the infant. Here the legend concerning the wife of Adam who preceded the creation of Eve (Gen. 2) merges with the earlier legend of Lilith as a demon who kills infants and endangers women in childbirth. This later version of the myth has many parallels in Christian literature from Byzantine (which probably preceded it) and later periods. The female demon is known by different names, many of which reappear in the same or in slightly altered forms in the literature of practical Kabbalah (as, for example, the name Obizoth from the Testament of Solomon), and the place of the angels is taken by three saints – Sines, Sisinnios, and Synodoros. The legend also found its way into Arabic demonology, where Lilith is known as Karina, Tabi'a, or "the mother of the infants." The personification of Lilith as a strangler of babies is already clear in Jewish incantations, written in Babylonian Aramaic, which predate the Alphabet of Ben Sira. A late Midrash (Ba-Midbar Rabbah, end of ch. 16) also mentions her in this respect: "When Lilith finds no children born, she turns on her own" – a motif which relates her to the Babylonian Lamashtu.

From these ancient traditions, the image of Lilith was fixed in kabbalistic demonology. Here, too, she has two primary roles: the strangler of children (sometimes replaced in the Zohar by Naamah), and the seducer of men, from whose nocturnal emissions she bears an infinite number of demonic sons. In this latter role she appears at the head of a vast host, who share in her activities. Belief in her erotic powers led some Jewish communities to adopt the custom of sons not accompanying their dead father's body to the cemetery because they would be shamed by the hovering presence of theirdemon step-siblings, born of their father's seduction by Lilith. In the Zohar, as in other sources, she is known by such appellations as Lilith, the harlot, the wicked, the false, or the black. (The above-mentioned combination of motifs appears in the Zohar I, 14b, 54b; II, 96a, 111a; III, 19a, 76b.) She is generally numbered among the four mothers of the demons, the others being Agrat, Mahalath, and Naamah. Wholly new in the kabbalistic concept of Lilith is her appearance as the permanent partner of Samael, queen of the realm of the forces of evil (the sitra ahra). In that world (the world of the kelippot) she fulfills a function parallel to that of the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence") in the world of sanctity: just as the Shekhinah is the mother of the House of Israel, so Lilith is the mother of the unholy folk who constituted the "mixed multitude" (the erev-rav) and ruled over all that is impure. This conception is first found in the sources used by Isaac b. Jacob ha-Kohen, and later in Ammud ha-Semali by his disciple, Moses b. Solomon b. Simeon of Burgos. Both here, and later in the Tikkunei Zohar, there crystallizes the conception of various degrees of Lilith, internal and external. Likewise we find Lilith the older, the wife of Samael, and Lilith the younger, the wife of Asmodeus (see Tarbiz, 4 (1932/33), 72) in the writings of Isaac ha-Kohen and thereafter in the writings of most kabbalists. Some of these identify the two harlots who appeared in judgment before Solomon with Lilith and Naamah or Lilith and Agrat, an idea which is already hinted at in the Zohar and in contemporary writings (see Tarbiz, 19 (1947/48), 172–5).

Widespread, too, is the identification of Lilith with the Queen of Sheba – a notion with many ramifications in Jewish folklore. It originates in the Targum to Job 1:15 based on a Jewish and Arab myth that the Queen of Sheba was actually a jinn, half human and half demon. This view was known to Moses b. Shem Tov de Leon and is also mentioned in the Zohar. In Livnat ba-Sappir Joseph Angelino maintains that the riddles which the Queen of Sheba posed to Solomon are a repetition of the words of seduction which the first Lilith spoke to Adam. In Ashkenazi folklore, this figure coalesced with the popular image of Helen of Troy or the Frau Venus of German mythology. Until recent generations the Queen of Sheba was popularly pictured as a snatcher of children and a demonic witch. It is probable that there is a residue of the image of Lilith as Satan's partner in popular late medieval European notions of Satan's concubine, or wife in English folklore – "the Devil's Dame" – and of Satan's grandmother in German folklore. In the German drama on the female pope Jutta (Johanna), which was printed in 1565 though according to its publisher it was written in 1480, the grandmother's name is Lilith. Here she is depicted as a seductive dancer, a motif commonly found in Ashkenazi Jewish incantations involving the Queen of Sheba. In the writings of Hayyim Vital (Sefer ha-Likkutim (1913), 6b), Lilith sometimes appears to people in the form of a cat, goose, or other creature, and she holds sway not for eight days alone in the case of a male infant and 20 for a female (as recorded in the Alphabet of Ben Sira), but for 40 and 60 days respectively. In the Kabbalah, influenced by astrology, Lilith is related to the planet Saturn, and all those of a melancholy disposition – of a "black humor" – are her sons (Zohar, Ra'aya Meheimna III, 227b). From the 16th century it was commonly believed that if an infant laughed in his sleep it was an indication that Lilith was playing with him, and it was therefore advisable to tap him on the nose to avert the danger (H. Vital, Sefer ha-Likkutim (1913), 78c; Emek ha-Melekh, 130b).

It was very common to protect women who were giving birth from the power of Lilith by affixing amulets over the bed or on all four walls of the room. The earliest forms of these, in Aramaic, are included in Montgomery's collection (see bibl.). The first Hebrew version appears in the Alphabet of Ben Sira, which states that the amulet should contain not only the names of the three angels who prevail over Lilith, but also "their form, wings, hands, and legs." This version gained wide acceptance, and amulets of this type were even printed by the 18th century. According to Shimmush Tehillim, a book dating from the geonic period, amulets written for women who used to lose their children customarily included Psalm 126 (later replaced by Ps. 121) and the names of these three angels. In the Orient, also amulets representing Lilith herself "bound in chains" were current. Many amulets include the story of the prophet Elijah meeting Lilith on her way to the house of a woman in childbirth "to give her the sleep of death, to take her son and drink his blood, to suck the marrow of his bones and to eat his flesh" (in other versions: "to leave his flesh"). Elijah excommunicated her, whereupon she undertook not to harm women in childbirth whenever she saw or heard her names. This version is doubtless taken from a Christian Byzantine formula against the female demon Gyllo, who was exorcised by the three saints mentioned above. The transfer from the Greek to the Hebrew version is clearly seen in the formula of the 15th-century Hebrew incantation from Candia (see Crete), which was published by Cassuto (RSO, 15 (1935), 260), in which it is not Elijah but the archangel Michael who, coming from Sinai, encounters Lilith. Though the Greek names were progressively corrupted as time elapsed, by the 14th century new Greek names for "Lilith's entourage" appear in a manuscript of practical Kabbalah which includes material from a much earlier date (British Museum Add. Ms. 15299, fol. 84b). The story of Elijah and Lilith included in the second edition of David Lida's Sod ha-Shem (Berlin, 1710, p. 20a) is found in the majority of the later amulets against Lilith, one of her names being Striga – an enchantress, either woman or demon – or Astriga. In one of its mutations this name appears as the angel Astaribo, whom Elijah also encountered; in many incantations he takes the place of Lilith, a substitution found in a Yiddish version of the story dating from 1695. Also extant are versions of the incantation in which Lilith is replaced by the Evil Eye, the star Margalya, or the demon familiar in Jewish and Arab literature, Maimon the Black. In European belles lettres, the Lilith story in various versions has been a fruitful narrative theme.

[Gershom Scholem]

Lilith is identified as a demon in the Dead Sea Scrolls (11QpsAp). The name Lilith was also inscribed on incantation bowls of Sassanian Babylonia. Although such bowls were not an exclusively Jewish phenomenon, some invoke rabbinic divorce formulas to exorcise demons. Belief in her erotic powers led some Jewish communities to adopt the custom of sons notaccompanying their dead father's body to the cemetery because they would be shamed by the hovering presence of their demon step-siblings, born of their father's seduction by Lilith.

Medieval Christian theology shows no explicit awareness of the Lilith of the Alphabet of Ben Sira, but its emphasis on female responsibility for the seduction and fall of Adam and Eve and the association of women with temptation and sin reflects a similar tradition. Christian literary texts allude to Lilith, usually in relation to Satan, but sometimes in relation to figures who are sexually miscast. For example, Lilith is the grandmother of the female pope described in a 15th-century German drama by Theodoricus Schernberg; she appears as Adam's first wife in poems and art by Dante Gabriel Rossetti; in Victor Hugo's La Fin de Satan; in a play by Achim von Arnim; and in Goethe's Faust.

In recent years, feminists have reconfigured the Lilith myth, claiming it reveals male anxiety about women who cannot be kept under patriarchal control. Lilith is admired as a woman who opposed Adam's attempts at hegemony over her, who had a firm will, and who possessed the power of secret knowledge to assert her autonomy. In feminist versions of the creation story, Lilith demands equality with Adam. Her expulsion from the Garden of Eden indicates not her evil, but the intolerance of male entities, Adam and God, who insist on defining and controlling women. Her independence and knowledge reveal not her demonic nature or sexual miscasting, but represent all women seeking liberation from the imposition of narrow gender roles. In a feminist Midrash, Judith Plaskow imagined Lilith returning to the Garden of Eden and forming a friendship with Eve, who now began to question her subservience to Adam. Plaskow's story concludes with God and Adam left in confusion, fearing "the day Eve and Lilith returned to the garden, bursting with possibilities, ready to rebuild it together."

Feminist reclamations of Lilith in the last quarter of the 20th century include the Lilith Fair, an annual summer women's music festival; Lilith Magazine, the first Jewish feminist periodical, founded in 1976; and a women's bookstore in Berlin named Lilith. Lilith is also the subject of art, poetry, and even new religious rituals designed to affirm women's strength and spirituality. [Susannah Heschel (2nd ed.)]

BIBLIOGRAPHY:

G. Scholem, in: KS, 10 (1934/35), 68–73; idem, in: Tarbiz, 19 (1947/48), 165–75; R. Margalioth, Malakhei Elyon (1945), 235–41; Y. Schachar, Osef FeuchtwangerMasoret-ve-Ommanut Yehudit (1971); H. Von der Hardt, Aenigmata Judaeorum religiosissima (Helmstedt, 1705), 7–21; J.A. Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judentum, 2 (1700), 413–21; J. Montgomery, Aramaic Incantation Texts From Nippur (1913); R. Dow and A. Freidus, in: Bulletin of the Brooklyn Entomological Society, 12 (1917), 1–12 (bibl. on Sammael and Lilith); I. Lévi, in: REJ, 67 (1914), 15–21; D. Myhrmann, Die Labartu-Texte (1902); Ch. McCown, The Testament of Solomon (1922); M. Gaster, Studies and Texts, 2 (1925–28), 1005–38, 1252–65; F. Perles, in: Orientalistische Literaturzeitung, 18 (1925), 179–80; I. Zoller, Rivista di Antropologia, 27 (1926); Ginzberg, Legends, 5 (1955), 87f.; H. Winkler, Salomo und die Karina (1931); J. Trachtenberg, Jewish Magic and Superstition (1939), 36f., 277f.; Th. Gaster, in: Orientalia, 12 (1942), 41–79; H. Torczyner (Tur-Sinai), in: Journal of Near Eastern Studies, 6 (1947), 18–29; M. Rudwin, The Devil in Legend and Literature (1931), 94–107; T. Schrire, Hebrew Amulets (1966); E. Yamauchi, Mandaic Incantation Texts (1967); A. Chastel, in: RHR, 119–20 (1939), 160–74; A.M. Killen, Revue de littérature comparée, 12 (1932), 277–311. Add. Bibliography: J.Dan, "Samael, Lilith, and the Concept of Evil," in: Association for Jewish Studies Review, 5 (1980), 17–40; R. Lesses, "Exe(o)rcising Power: Women as Sorceresses, Exorcists, and Demonesses in Babylonian Jewish Society of Late Antiquity," in: Journal of the American Academy of Religion, 69:2 (2001), 343–75; J. Plaskow and D. Berman, The Coming of Lilith (2005); E. Yassif, Sippurei Ben Sira (1984).


Source: Encyclopaedia Judaica. © 2008 The Gale Group. All Rights Reserved.