Who is Lilith from the Bible?
When looking at demonology and the various figures that appear throughout religion, there is one female figure, one name more so than any other, that has transcended across numerous cultures, and even to this day still routinely appears as a character in all sorts of popular culture—that name is Lilith.
In the Biblical Book of Genesis, there appear to be two contradictory accounts of how humanity was created. In the first instance, God has said to have created man and woman simultaneously—in Genesis 1: 26 and 27.
However, in Genesis 2, there exist a different variation to the story, which most people are familiar with. Here, we see God created Adam first, out of the dust, and then placed him in the garden of Eden after breathing life into him. He tells Adam that he must tend to the garden, but after a while, He realizes that Adam (and man, in general) should not be left in solitary to work.
God tries to find a suitable companion for Adam, but after bringing him one of every animal in the world to serve as his companion, none of them appears to be suitable. So, God causes Adam to enter into a deep sleep, and while he was unconscious, he takes one of his ribs and uses it to fashion a woman, Eve.
Adam realizes that Eve is a part of himself, and thus, he deems her as a suitable companion.
As you may see, there exist two versions of how man was created, more specifically women.
We can assume that God created man in both cases, from dust, even though the verses of 1: 26 and 1:27 don’t specify men were created from dust, but for women—in this case, Eve—she was created both from dust and from Adam’s rib. But you might ask, ‘how can this be?’ She can only have been created by one means or another.
Ancient Rabbis would notice that the conception of Eve has two separate accounts and that only one can be the real story. Therefore, a solution for this conundrum was devised, where the woman who was made simultaneously with Adam was Adam’s first wife or ‘the first Eve’, but God replaced her because she was not subservient to Adam.
It’s this woman who would become known as the entity, Lilith.
Depictions of Lilith Outside of the Bible
The most common description of Lilith, however, is as a demon of the night, seductive and sexual, but also deadly and if that wasn’t enough, she also waits until the cover of darkness to steal babies and young children.
This concept can be traced back to ancient Mesopotamian religion, where there once existed a figure known as Lamashtu—the daughter of the sky God Anu. To some, she was an evil goddess, to others a demon, a monster that plagued women during childbirth; one that would steal their children, suck out their blood and marrow only to gnaw on the bones that remain.
The mothers themselves were not safe from Lamashtu and neither were their unborn children as she could make women miscarry.
As one of the most terrifying demons in Mesopotamian myth, her actions were not just limited to pregnant women. She would drink the blood and eat the flesh of men; she infected one’s dreams until only nightmares were left; wherever she went she was followed by sickness, disease, and death.
With these stories of Lamashtu, we can see a parallel with creatures such as vampires and succubi.
Is Lilith the First Woman?
Today many think of Lilith as the first wife of Adam, who rebelled and was later replaced by Eve. This idea stems from the book of Genesis—the very first book in both the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament. Genesis 1 details the creation of the universe as well as everything inside of it.
To recap, it says that God created the heavens, the earth, vegetation, animals and last mankind in his image, to rule over what he had created. What’s important to note is that Genesis 1 states that he created both man and woman at the same time.
Genesis 2 is very similar, discussing the creation of the universe, but it differs in regard to the creation of man and woman. Here a man was created first. Not wanting his creation to be alone, God sent the man into a deep slumber and took from him a rib, which he would use to create the first woman.
So essentially, you have two contradicting accounts of our creation—one right after the other.
To many, the word of God is sacred, and therefore, cannot contradict itself. This led to scholars explaining the differences between Genesis 1 and 2 as describing two separate events, rather than two accounts of the same event. This, in turn, created the need for a story that explained these differences, which would be found in what is referred to as Midrash.
The explanation here is that God needed to create woman twice—once with the man and then again from man.
The woman in the first story isn’t identified in Genesis but would eventually be known as Lilith. The woman in the second story is who we know from the Bible as Eve. So, if you’ve ever heard the story of Eve being created from Adam’s rib, that is the story found in Genesis 2.
Lilith in the Talmud
Lilith also appears in the Talmud, and these accounts are far less ambiguous than what we see in Genesis. She appears here a total of four times and is never referred to as Adam’s wife.
Where the Babylonians referred to Lilu as winged male demons, the Talmud speaks of Lilith or Lilitu as a demon with wings and the face of a woman. It says that a man sleeping in a house alone may be seized by Lilith. It said that she collected the sperms of men while they slept, to create more demon offspring—which again can be seen as one of the earliest examples of the succubus.
She is then also associated with several demons, one of these being Agreth, a demon of the Knights who prey on children and the vulnerable.
How Lilith Became a Demon
So far, we can see two distinct images of Lilith—the woman and the demon—but what happened in this middle ground from when she was created up until she became a demon?
Stories explaining this were developed in much more detail around the Middle Ages, so from the 5th century to the 15th. The tales of Ben Sira and the alphabet of Sirach are pieces of work that echo a sentiment that many scholars and scribes seem to agree upon.
When Adam and Lilith were created, neither one of them wanted to submit to the other. To some, this just meant who assumed the dominant role in the relationship, whereas others took this to mean neither one wanted to assume the bottom position during sex, as it was a sign of subservience.
With neither one of them willing to compromise, Lilith then fled the Garden of Eden, out loud she then pronounced God’s real name, and in doing so, she instantly became a winged demon.
When the Angels pursued her, in the hopes of bringing her back, she told them she had no intention of returning.
As punishment for her disobedience, the three angels who found her promised to kill 100 of her demon children every day—her purpose now was only to cause illness and sickness to the infants of others.
Whenever a child was born, she would claim dominion over that child for eight days if they were boy and 20 if they were a girl. With this, they came to only one compromise. Whenever she saw the name over any of these three angels inscribed on a medallion or an amulet, that child would be left alone.
In more modern times, the concept of Lilith has been hijacked by feminist movements as a way to reflect their own emancipation in their male counterparts, from the definition of societal expectations to the rejection of both Adam and God—Lilith serves as an inspiration to this movement as far as the Bible goes.
There isn’t much surviving material from the Akkadian Empire that allows for an in-depth analysis of Lamashtu or Lilitu in relation to Lilith, but what we do know from the Babylonians and Sumerians is that all of these creatures were fairly similar, and it’s not a huge stretch to say that they may have influenced Lilith story in some way.
The lack of information regarding her origin is made up for by how popular her story was. The Middle Ages mark this period like no other with numerous telling and interpretations.
The Depictions of Lilith Today
Depictions of her varied from a beautiful woman to a more sinister demon, and some even saw her as the snake in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve with the forbidden fruit as one final act of revenge.
As time went on, there were folktales at saw Lilith as a demon Queen and thus related to Asmodeus, who many consider being the king of demons.
Asmodeus being mentioned in the book of Tobit, the Talmud and numerous other scriptures means it’s not a huge surprise that Lilith and he were paired together as the mother and father of demons.
Together, they had thousands of demon children and travelled from village to village causing chaos and destruction.
In some stories, she’s also closely linked to Samael, who himself is a rather odd character. Some teachings in the cabal go as far as to say that Lilith was Samael’s consort and that it was not God who created her, but instead, Samael who made himself a demon wife, who filled the role later intended for Eve. He also gave her a host of demonic children, one of these being Asmodeus who we mentioned earlier.
Throughout all these stories, there are three main signs of Lilith.
The woman who rebelled against God and Adam—which is the side we see the least of.
The seductive demoness who plagued the dreams of men to grow her demonic family and,
Lastly, the monster who preyed upon pregnant women devouring their children.
Lilith and the Greek Mythology Lamia
When I first read about Lilith, I immediately drew some parallels between her and some of the creatures we see in Greek mythology. When you think of an odious and foul-smelling bird-like creature, the Harpies certainly come to mind but so do the Sirens, who have a more seductive nature.
However, the character who closest resembles and embodies these three signs of Lilith is Lamia. These three stages are almost mirrored in her story.
She begins as a regular woman who falls victim to lust, and as a result, her children are killed as a punishment. She’s then transformed into a monster.
In some tellings, Lamia and the Lamiae are vampiric demons who feed off the blood of young handsome men. There are also versions of this story where instead of young men, she hunts for children, forever seeking revenge for those she had lost.
Much like Lilith, Lamia was intended to be a cautionary tale—a boogeyman-like figure—although, her story is much less about rebellion and more so the dangers of lust.
The stories of Lilith are rather confusing. It’s only really because of stories from Midrash and other scholars that we can even draw a link between the demon and the wife of Adam. However, this hasn’t harmed her representation in popular culture.
There are a few references that I remember, but looking into it further, I was surprised that the number of books, movies, games and TV shows that her name appears in.
Fans of Chronicles of Narnia may or may not know that the White Witch is a descendant of the first wife of Adam—which in this case is of course Lilith.
In the TV show True Blood and the movie 30 Days of Night, Lilith appears as the name of a vampire, and this is honestly quite a common trend. When she does appear, it’s either as a succubus or a vampire.
Old school supernatural fans may remember her as the first human to be tempted by Lucifer into becoming a demon. Speaking of Lucifer, and that show, she’s also referred to as the mother of demons.
One that I missed that has quite an interesting take on Lilith story is the Fifth Element, which sounds quite weird to say considering it’s a futuristic sci-fi. Lilu is portrayed in a similar way to Adam’s first wife and her speaking ancient Aramaic now makes more sense than when I watched the movie as a kid.
Instead of destroying humanity, she ends up saving it—turning the original story on its head.
I think Lilith has an interesting story, regardless of how confusing and stitched together the original references may be. Whether you see it as a fall from grace or a rebellious uprising, it’s a very universal concept which is why I think it’s referenced so often today. It may also have something to do with the occult and modern fantasy going hand in hand.
Frequently Asked Questions
Who is Lilith from the Bible?
According to the various interpretation of the book of Genesis 1 and 2, Lilith is considered to be the woman discussed in Genesis chapter 1—the first woman created simultaneously to the first man, whom many considered to be Adam.
Who is Lilith?
According to the Judaic Mythology, Lilith is a demonic figure, supposedly the primordial she-demon and alternatively the first wife of Adam. Lilith appears in Historiolas (incantations incorporating a short mythic story) in various concepts and localities that give partial descriptions of her. She is mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud, in the Book of Adam and Eve as Adam’s first wife, and in the Zohar Leviticus 19a as “a hot fiery female who first cohabited with man.”
What is the Difference Between Eve and Lilith?
According to historians, even though Lilith was supposedly the first wife of Adam, Eve was considered the true wife of Adam as she was made from Adam’s ribs and dust, whilst Lilith was created in equal to Adam.
Image Sources: Mando Teresia, Crownsel.