Am I the only one who didn’t know about Lilith?
I recently discovered that Adam had a wife before Eve named Lilith. Though I didn’t grow up religious, I always considered myself to be somewhat informed in western theology. At the very least, I knew the basic Adam and Eve, Lucifer, and Jesus stuff. But Lilith — the badass feminist icon and Bible’s first antihero — had never once been mentioned to me during my 16 years of schooling. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one. I went around asking a bunch of peers, “Who is Lilith?” and here’s what they had to say:
After surveying what I felt to be a fairly knowledgeable and diverse (albeit statistically insignificant) sample group, I found myself going down a bit of a Lilith rabbit hole with two goals in mind:
- Develop a better understanding of who the hell Lilith actually was.
- Delve into her symbology and cultural significance.
Who Was Lilith?
You know that dumb reference misogynists love to use when attempting to establish male supremacy – that whole “Eve was born out of Adam’s rib” line, which they try to use as a means of illustrating that woman was created from man and is therefore inferior? By this stream of nonsensical logic, a woman’s place in society is confined to subservience. But there’s something these self proclaimed Bible experts either don’t know about or are deliberately trying to keep hush hush.
As mentioned above, before Eve came onto the scene, there was a chick named Lilith. According to Genesis 1.26-1.27, she was created by God at the same time he made Adam: “God said, ‘Let us make man in Our image, after Our likeness, to rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, and over all the earth itself and every creature that crawls upon it.’ So God created man in His own image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.” That’s right, the world’s first husband and wife duo were equal.
But somehow Adam went on to get all the credit for being the first human. He got remarried and became a celebrated biblical hero. Over 1,500 little boys in the UK are named after him each year. Meanwhile, the vast majority of people today don’t seem to even know who the fuck poor Lilith was. People are taught to forget Genesis 1:27 in favor of Genesis 2.2, which describes how God made Eve out of Adam’s rib: “Then the Lord God formed man from the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and the man became a living being. … So the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon the man, and he slept; then he took one of his ribs and closed up its place with flesh. And the rib that the Lord God had taken from the man he made into a woman and brought her to the man.”
Luckily though, there was a small subset of ancient Jewish scholars in the post-Biblical period who took the stance that Genesis 1.27 and Genesis 2.22 must be describing two separate events since it appears women are created differently in each account. Professor Janet Howe Gaines explains their reasoning: “Considering every word of the Bible to be accurate and sacred, commentators needed a midrash or story to explain the disparity in the creation narratives of Genesis 1 and 2. God creates woman twice — once with man, once from man’s rib — so there must have been two women. The Bible names the second woman Eve; Lilith was identified as the first in order to complete the story.”
So who was Lilith? She was the OG feminist who got blackballed and forced to live as a scorned woman in exile with her demon babies after deciding she wasn’t down with the patriarchy. Adam tried to establish a hierarchy in which he was in charge and Lilith was just like “Nah, I’m good.” She ditched Adam, peaced out of the Garden of Eden, and somewhere along the lines got turned into a demonic character associated more with Jewish folklore than mainstream Christianity. It’s a tale as old as time – the male protagonist does douchey things without having to take accountability, while his female counterpart is left to bear the brunt of his malice. For the full rundown, check out the source text, Alphabet of Ben Sira, written by Jewish scholars between 700 and 1000 AD, below:
“When God created the first man Adam alone, God said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone.’ [So] God created a woman for him, from the earth like him, and called her Lilith. They [Adam and Lilith] promptly began to argue with each other: She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie below, but above, since you are fit for being below and I for being above.’ She said to him, ‘The two of us are equal, since we are both from the earth.’ And they would not listen to each other. Since Lilith saw [how it was], she uttered God’s ineffable name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Maker and said, ‘Master of the Universe, the woman you gave me fled from me!’”
The Symbolism and Cultural Significance of Lilith
As punishment for fleeing, Lilith was turned into a demon and forced to “accept that a hundred of her [demon] children will die every day.” For most of history, Lilith was portrayed as a murderer of children and seducer of men. But her reputation took a turn for the better upon the advent of the modern feminist movement in the 1960s. Since then, she has come to symbolize divine femininity, autonomy, strength, rebellion, and women’s equality.
In the words of Rebecca Lesses, “Lilith not only embodies people’s fears of how attraction to others can ruin their marriages, or of how risky childbearing and raising children are, but also represents a woman whom society cannot control — a woman who determines her own sexual partners, who is wild and unkempt, and who does not have the natural consequences of sexual activity, children.”
From Lilith Fair – the 90s music festival that featured an all female lineup – to the White Witch from the Chronicles of Narnia – who is said to be a descendent of Lilith, which totally makes sense given her whole fiercely independent ice queen vibe – the legend of Lilith lives on. And thank god for that because the world needs more antiheroes – those complex, deeply flawed characters who aren’t afraid to stand up for themselves in the face of adversity.
Shoutout to Lilith: the patron saint of sex workers, feminists, and any and everyone who says “fuck the status quo.”