You might know Lilith as Adam’s real first wife who preceded Eve, or maybe as the first Demon, or vampire, or a succubus.
Heck, in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, Lilith is Satan’s Concubine disguised as a high school teacher.
But where did the legend of Lilith come from, and what’s her real story?
If you read the first few chapters of the book of Genesis in the Bible, you’ll notice that there are two accounts of the creation of human beings that are slightly different.
The first, in Genesis 1:27, says God created man and woman at the same time, both in his image.
Chapter 2, however, gives the more familiar expanded version where God makes Adam out of the clay and then makes Eve from his rib.
The discrepancy is likely because the Bible’s original editors were trying to stitch together different versions of the creation story into one master text.
Most Christians simply treat the second version as an expansion of the first.
But in the tradition of rabbinic Judaism, it’s widely held that these are accounts of two different women – the first being Lilith, and the second being Eve.
So what’s Lilith’s story?
The earliest version of what modern readers would recognize as the Lilith legend comes from the collection of satirical proverbs known as The Alphabet of Ben Sirah, written sometime between the 8th and 11th centuries A.D.
And it’s a doozy because it says that Lilith and Adam broke up because they disagreed about who should be in the dominant position during
Unwilling to accept a subservient position since they were created as equals, Lilith blasphemes by shouting the unspeakable true name of God and then literally flies away.
Lilith’s unwillingness to accept an inferior status hints at why Lilith has become a modern-day feminist icon.
The part about her killing babies, though, not so much.
Here’s the rest of the Ben Sirah account: After flying away, Lilith turns into a demon mom and begins giving birth to scores of demons every day.
God tries to convince her to go back to Adam, but she refuses and instead hunts Adam’s offspring, the children of mankind, in retribution.
There’s another tradition, though, like the one from the sect of Jewish mysticism called The Kabbalah which posits Lilith and the dark archangel Samael was created by God as dark mirror images of Adam and Eve.
Some Kabbalah texts even suggest Lilith was the serpent in the Garden of Eden who tempted Eve.
Still, other traditions say that Lilith isn’t just any demon, but rather the queen of demons.
A seducer of men, this demon queen version still hunts children but could be warded off with special amulets.
In this context, the legend of Lilith generally was used to explain high child mortality rates in ancient times and teach societal norms about intercourse and the subsequent care of children.
So even the evil demon version of Lilith has her good side.
Before the Hebrew stories that became the Bible, though, there were earlier legends that many scholars believe formed the foundation of the Lilith mythology.
A prototype for Lilith can be found in the Sumerian poem The Epic of Gilgamesh, which itself is a first draft of the Bible.
And artifacts dating back as far as the seventh century B.C. seem to invoke protective magic against Lilith.
Perhaps the biggest influence on Jewish mythology, however, would be the Assyrian demon Lilith.
The name Lilith seems to be the feminine version of Lilu, an Akkadian name that is related to the word for demon.
Some scholars believe the name Lilith is also related to the Hebrew word for night, while others argue it comes from the Sumerian word for wind – all of which may explain why in ancient legends, Lilith was mostly seen as
a winged demon of the night.
The single actual reference to Lilith in the Bible appears in Isaiah 34:14, in a passage describing the destruction that will be found after God lays his judgment on the nation of Edom.
It says that thorns and brambles will grow over the city, and its walls will become a home for jackals and owls.
It goes on to say that the city will be filled with hyenas and satyrs, and, quote, “there too shall Lilith repose.”
Different translations re-interpret Lilith as all sorts of weird things, from a donkey centaur to a screech owl.
Some versions translate Lilith as “lamia,” which makes sense, as in Greco-Roman mythology, Lamia was the name of a queen who turned into a child-eating monster.
And some amazing versions of the Bible even straight up translate it as “vampire!”
That interpretation is the one that has gained the most traction in pop culture, as everyone from Marvel Comics, to the 1996 movie Bordello
of Blood, to the HBO series True Blood has depicted Lilith as the Queen of the Vampires.
Demons, vampires, donkey centaurs…is there anything she isn’t the queen of?
Despite being a figure that does not appear at all in the canonical Bible and that only arises from folklore, tradition, and foreign mythology, Lilith has enjoyed great success as a character in various forms of popular
She is, for example, a major player in The Chilling Adventures of Sabrina, where she is arguably the main antagonist, the mother of demons, and Satan’s very jealous concubine.
The archetype of the “evil wife” that Lilith represents also informed the choice of naming Frasier Crane’s cold, somewhat controlling wife (and later ex-wife) Lilith Sternin.
On the flip side of that portrayal, a more modern reappraisal of Lilith’s character would reveal her as a woman who was punished for demanding equality, and as such, she became something of a feminist icon, giving her name to the popular 1990s all-woman touring music festival Lilith Fair.
And then there’s the seminal anime series Neon Genesis Evangelion, in which Lilith is revealed to be the name of the second angel.
Lilith likewise can be found sprinkled all across pop culture, from books to movies to anime to video games such as Castlevania, Final Fantasy, and Darkstalkers.
Sometimes she’s depicted as a vampire, sometimes a demon, sometimes a succubus, and sometimes just a domineering wife.
However she’s depicted, it’s clear that Lilith has transcended her pseudo-Biblical roots to become a major part of pop culture today.
Who’s on top now, Adam?
Follow us on Instagram