Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Origin of Lilith legends

A pagan friend recently asked me about the name Lilith and what role she plays in Jewish legend and folk-lore.

Fortunately I gave her a copy of Rabbi Dennis' "Encyclopaedia of Jewish Myth, Magic and Mysticism" for her birthday at the start of the year - so I did not have to summarise the entry and email her the highlights.

Even better, Rabbi Dennis' blog has the entry for Lilith posted online here: "Lilith - semen demon or feminist icon?".

Anyway, the two extracts from Rabbi Denni's post and EJMMM entry that I would like to draw attention to are (highlighting in bold by me):
"The use of “Lilith” as the proper name of a specific demonic personality first appears in the Midrash. The most famous legend of Lilith is the one first appearing in the Medieval satirical text Aleph-bet ben Sira. In that document, Lilith is identified as the first woman God created along with Adam. The case for their having been two women in the Garden of Eden is based on the differing accounts of the creation of woman (Gen. 1:27 vs. Gen. 2:19-23)."
"It should be pointed out, however, that modern claims by Raphael Patai, Robert Graves, and others that Lilith was an early Hebrew goddess later censored out of the tradition by editors of the Scriptures has no foundation whatsoever in any literature we have from before the 10th Century CE. This claim appears to depend entirely on appealing to the Ben Sira narrative, but this story is sui generis, and there is no precedent for any tradition of Lilith as either as “Wife of Adam” or “Wife of YHWH” prior to the Middle Ages."
So whilst it is a fascinating legend and the amulets to ward her off from newborns are still in use by many families, the textual basis for some of the recent interpretations of the legend should be taken in to careful considered.