|Lilith by John Collier|
In some kabbalistic texts Lilith is a female demon, a succubus, who was Adam's first wife, before Eve. The original name in Sumerian was "Lilitu", and the transliteration from the Hebrew may be as "Lilith," "Lillith," or "Lilit". Various versions of the Lilith myth exist; the original Lilith was a Mesopotamian night demon with a penchant for destroying children. Hieronymus associated Lilith with the mythical Greek Lamia, a Libyan queen who mated with Zeus. After Zeus abandoned Lamia, Hera stole Lamia's children, and Lamia took revenge by stealing other women's children.
According to Jewish folklore, Lilith refused to assume a subservient role to Adam during sexual intercourse and eventually deserted Adam. Lilith then went on to mate with Asmodai and various other demons she found beside the Red Sea, creating countless lilin. Another version of the Lilith myth has Lilith seducing Adam after the fall of man and giving birth to various immortal demons. In both of these versions, Lilith is reputed to be immortal because she did not eat from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil as Adam and Eve had done.
In line with the original Mesopotamian myth, the Lilith of Jewish folklore preys upon the children of Adam and Eve, as well as their later progeny. Accordingly, Jewish mothers are admonished to protect their children by placing Lilith amulets around their necks. These amulets bear the names of Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, the angels who were sent to fetch Lilith when she abandoned Adam. Rather than return to Adam, Lilith agreed to spare the lives of any children who wore such amulets. Nonetheless, God punished Lilith for abandoning Adam by killing one hundred of Lilith's demon children every day.
Lilith's name only appears once in the Old Testament at Isaiah 34:14-15, where it is translated as "screech owl" and "great owl" in the King James Version of the Bible. However, there are many Old Testament passages that are said to refer to Lilith, including those in Genesis 2:21 and 4:8 which refer to the creation of a man and woman before the creation of Eve. This divergence is often explained as a careless weaving together of two discrete biblical creation myths.
Lilith's name appears in the Dead Sea Scrolls in passages that are based on the above-noted Isaiah reference. Her name also appears at various places in the Talmud and the Zohar. However, the first clear reference to Lilith as the first wife of Adam is in an anonymous medieval work called The Alphabet of Ben-Sira. Contrary to popular belief, this is not a Jewish religious text, and modern historians are unsure of its original purpose. It may have been:
- a collection of risqué folk-tales
- a satire meant to attack Christians, or Karaites
- a satire meant to attack Jews
- Lilith is the name of a Jewish feminist women's magazine.
- Lilith is the name of a literary work by George MacDonald.
- Lilith is the name of a personal computer workstation built by Niklaus Wirth.
- Lilith is the name given to Earth's supposed second satellite (to complement the Moon) by the astrologist Sepharial in 1918. It does not exist, but the name occasionally surfaces in astrological context.
- Lilith is a 1964 movie directed by Robert Rossen, starring Warren Beatty, Jean Seberg, Peter Fonda, Gene Hackman.
- Lilith Fair is an annual concert, a "celebration of women in music."