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She began as a female demon common to many Middle Eastern cultures, appearing in the book of Adam first wife in the bible, Babylonian Talmud, and incantation bowls from ancient Iraq and Iran. She is described as threatening the sexual and reproductive aspects of life, especially childbirth. She also appears in Kabbalah as an evil reflection of the feminine aspect of God along with Samael. Jewish feminists, seizing upon her assertion of equality, have reclaimed Lilith as a symbol of autonomy, independence, and sexual liberation.
Only with the Adam first wife in the bible of the feminist movement in the s did she acquire her present high status as the model for independent women. As an individual Lilith is first known from the Alphabet of Ben Sira, a provocative and often misogynist satirical Hebrew work of the eighth century CE, but the liliths as a category of demons, along with the male lilishave existed for several thousand years.
The Bible mentions the Lilith only once, as a dweller in waste places Isaiahbut the characterization of the Lilith or the lili in the singular or plural as a seducer or slayer of children has a long pre-history in ancient Babylonian religion. The liliths are known particularly from the Aramaic incantation bowls from Sassanian and early Islamic Iraq and Iran roughly — C. These are ordinary earthenware bowls that ritual specialists or laypeople from the Jewish, Mandaean, Christian, and pagan communities, who lived in close proximity in the cities of Babylonia, inscribed with incantations in their own dialects of Aramaic.
A drawing of a bound lilith or other demon often appears in the center of the bowl. The bowl-texts accuse the liliths of haunting people in dreams at night or visions of the day. Thus one prominent characteristic of the liliths is that they attack people in the sexual and reproductive realm of life. It is no wonder, therefore, that some of the writers of the bowl-incantations employed the language of divorce to rid people of the liliths. The liliths also attack children. The few references to Lilith in rabbinic literature point to a figure very much like the female lilith of the incantation bowls.
Drawings of the liliths or demons on the incantation bowls bear out these details of physical appearance. Niddah 24b. They immediately began to fight over who would be on top during sexual intercourse. Many amulets have been made against Lilith that refer to this tale. For example, Sefer Raziel Amsterdam, contains instructions, with drawings, of how to make an amulet against Lilith. Even today, it is possible to purchase amulets made according to this model in Jerusalem shops that sell religious articles.
Lilith became a figure of cosmic evil in medieval The esoteric and mystical teachings of Judaism Kabbalah.
According to earlier midrashim he had seduced the serpent to evil in the Garden of Eden and he was long identified as the angel of death and the guardian angel of Rome. Their mythological characteristics were further developed in the Zohar Tishby; Scholem There, Lilith and Samael emanated together from one of the divine powers, the sefirah of Gevurah Strength. Lilith attempted intercourse with Adam before the creation of Eve, and after the creation of Eve she fled and ever after has plotted to kill newborn children.
She attempts to seduce men and use their seed to create bodies for her demonic children. She is the seductive harlot who le men astray, but when they turn to her, she transforms into the angel of death and kills them Tishby. The traditional depiction of Lilith from ancient Mesopotamia through medieval Kabbalah presents an antitype of desired human sexuality and family life. The contemporary feminist Adam first wife in the bible found an inspiration in this image of Lilith as the uncontrollable woman and decisively changed the image of Lilith from demon to powerful woman. In Lilly Rivlin published an article on Lilith for the feminist magazine Ms.
Since then, interest in Lilith has only grown among Jewish feminists, neo-pagans, listeners to contemporary music by women highlighted in the Lilith Fairpoets, and other writers. A useful recent book collecting many articles and poems on Lilith, with specific focus on her importance for Jewish women, is Whose Lilith? Which Lilith? Introduction by Naomi Wolf. Northvale, NJ: Montgomery, James. Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur.
Philadelphia: Naveh, Joseph, and Shaul Shaked. Second edition. Jerusalem: Magic Spells and Formulae. Patai, Raphael. The Hebrew Goddess. Third enlarged edition. Detroit: Chapter Seven is devoted to Lilith.
Scholem, Gershom. On the Kabbalah and its Symbolism. Ralph Manheim. New York: Schrire, Theodore. Hebrew Amulets: Their Decipherment and Interpretation. London: Tishby, Isaiah. The Wisdom of the Zohar.
David Goldstein. Oxford: Trachtenberg, Joshua.
Jewish Magic and Superstition. Reprint, N. Yassif, Eli. Jacqueline S. Bloomington: Dan, Joseph. Hutter, M. Leiden: Plaskow, Judith. Jacob and R. Isaac, the sons of R. Isaac ben R. Jacob ha-Kohen. Scurlock, J. Teugels, G. Luttikhuizen, — Have an update or correction? Let us know.
Lesses, Rebecca. Jewish Women's Archive. Learn more. Lilith by Rebecca Lesses. In Brief. The Lilith in Middle Eastern Literature. Lilith in the Bablyonian Talmud. The Alphabet of Ben Sira. Lilith in Kabbalah. The Feminist Lilith. More Like This See Also:. See Also:. From the Blog:. Donate Help us elevate the voices of Jewish women. Listen to Our Podcast.
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Lilith: Lady Flying in Darkness