Who is Lilith? I know she is mentioned in Isaiah, and she is also listed as a first wife for Adam in the Midrash. Where does she come from?

Lilith is only mentioned in Isaiah, and she’s often translated as a screech owl or night demon. But she is covered at great length in the Midrash as a first wife to Adam who was rejected because of her demand for equality and her refusal to nurture her children (some even thought her breasts dispensed poison instead of milk). She is similar to Tiamat and some of the darker goddesses, and she has a history in Sumerian literature, and is mentioned in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which may also be a source for the biblical flood story.

There are only a few ancient representations of her, though she’s popular in more recent Western art. Most statues once thought to depict her were actually of Love goddess like Isis, Ishtar, or even Asherah. But there are a few drawings of her. Here’s a great article about her with some illustrations: https://www.biblicalarchaeology.org/daily/people-cultures-in-the-bible/people-in-the-bible/lilith/

Lilith has a long history in the ancient near east outside of Judaism, and so she is a classic example of the cross-pollination of ideas in the ancient near east. In the medieval Jewish spiritual tradition, the Kabbala, she became a formidable enemy of god very much like the Christian Satan. But modern feminists have rescued her and rehabilitated her image. Lily Rivlin, whose book began this process, writes, “In the late twentieth century, self-sufficient women, inspired by the women’s movement, have adopted the Lilith myth as their own. They have transformed her into a female symbol for autonomy, sexual choice, and control of one’s own destiny.”

See this wonderful and comprehensive article from the Encyclopedia of Jewish women, which discusses how she warded off with charms and amulets: https://jwa.org/encyclopedia/article/lilith

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