Another Take on Lilith
Lilith ( is a mythological female Mesopotamian storm demon associated with wind and was thought to be a bearer of disease, illness, and death. The figure of Lilith first appeared in a class of wind and storm demons or spirits as Lilitu, in Sumer, circa 3000 BC. Many scholars place the origin of the phonetic name "Lilith" at somewhere around 700 BC. Lilith appears as a night demon in Jewish lore and as a screech owl in the King James version of the Bible. She is also apocryphally the first wife of Adam.
Lilit, Akkadian Li-li-tu are female nisba adjectives from the Prot-Semitic root LYL "night", literally translating to nocturnal "female night being/demon", although cuneiform inscriptions where Li-li-t and Li-li-tu refers to disease-bearing wind spirits exist.
Another possibility is association not with "night" but with "wind", i.e. identification of Akkadian Lil-itu as a loan from Sumerian lil "air" specifically from Sumerian NIN.LIL "lady air", goddess of the South wind and wife of Enlil.
The Akkadian masculine li-lű shows no nisba suffix and has been compared to Sumerian (kiskil) lilla.
Kiskil-lilla and the Burney relief
Lilith is also identified with ki-sikil-lil-la-ke, a female being in the Sumerian prologue to the Gilgamesh epic.Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is sometimes translated as Lila's maiden, companion, his beloved or maid, and she is described as the "gladdener of all hearts" and "maiden who screeches constantly". Another female being (or epithet for Lilith) is mentioned alongside Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke: Ki-sikil-ud-da-ka-ra or "the maiden who has stolen the light" or " the maiden who has seized the light" and identifies her with the moon.
Samuel N. Kramer has translated the relevant Gilgamesh passage as:
a dragon had built its nest at the foot of the tree
the Zu-bird was raising its young in the crown,
and the demon Lilith had built her house in the middle.
Then the Zu-bird flew into the mountains with its young,
while Lilith, petrified with fear, tore down her house and fled into the wilderness.
Diane Wolkenstein translates the same passage as:
a serpent who could not be charmed made its nest in the roots of the tree,
The Anzu bird set his young in the branches of the tree,
And the dark maid Lilith built her home in the trunk.
The Gilgamesh passage quoted above has in turn been applied by some to the Burney relief, which dates to the Old Babylonian period (ca. the 20th century BC). It is a sculpture of a woman with bird talons and flanked by owls. It likely depicts Inanna or her underworld sister Ereshkigal and some scholars currently regard the connection with this relief and Lilitu/Lillake as dubious. The relief was purchased by the British Museum in London for its 250th anniversary celebrations. Since then it was renamed "Queen of the Night" and has toured museums around Britain. A similar relief dating to roughly the same period is preserved in the Louvre (AO 6501).
However, the Anchor Bible Dictionary disputes the identification of Lilith, the Gilgamesh passage and the relief:
Two sources of information previously used to define Lilith are both suspect. Kramer translated Ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as "Lilith", in a Sumerian Gilgamesh fragment. The text relates an incident where this female takes up lodging in a tree trunk which has a Zu-bird perched in the branches and a snake living in the roots. This text was used to interpret a sculpture of a woman with bird talons for feet as being a depiction of Lilith. From the beginning, this interpretation was questioned so that after some debate neither the female in the story, nor the figure is assumed to be Lilith. (Vol.4, p.324)
The earliest reference to a demon similar to Lilith and companion of Lillake/Lilith is on the Sumerian king list, where Gilgamesh's father is named as Lillu.Little is known of Lillu (or Lilu, Lila) and he was said to disturb women in their sleep and had functions of an incubus, while Lilitu appeared to men in their erotic dreams. Such qualities are further suggested by the Semitic associations made with the names Lila and Lilitu, namely those of lalu, or wandering about, and lulu, meaning lasciviousness.
The Assyrian Lilitu were said to prey upon children and women, and were described as associated with lions, storms, desert, and disease. Early portrayals of such demons are known as having Zu bird talons for feet and wings. They were highly sexually predatory towards men, but were unable to copulate normally. They were thought to dwell in waste, desolate, and desert places. Like the Sumerian Dimme, a male wind demon named Pazuzu was thought to be effective against them.
Other storm and night demons from a similar class are recorded around this period: Lilu, an incubus; Ardat lili ("Lilith's handmaid"), who would come to men in their sleep and beget children from them; and Irdu lili, the incubus counterpart to Ardat lili.These demons were originally storm and wind demons, however later etymology made them into night demons.
Lilith's epithet was "the beautiful maiden". She was described as having no milk in her breasts and was unable to bear any children. Babylonian texts depict Lilith as the prostitute of the goddess Ishtar. Similarly, older Sumerian accounts assert that Lilitu is called the handmaiden of Inanna or "hand of Inanna". The Sumerian texts state that "Inanna has sent the beautiful, unmarried, and seductive prostitute Lilitu out into the fields and streets in order to lead men astray". That is why Lilitu is called the "hand of Inanna".
The Lilitu, the Akkadian Ardat-Lili and the Assyrian La-bar-tu like Lilith, were figures of disease and uncleanliness. Ardat is derived from "ardatu", a title of prostitutes and young unmarried women, meaning "maiden". One magical text tells of how Ardat Lili had come to "seize" a sick man. Other texts mention Lamashtu as the hand of Inanna/Ishtar in place of Lilitu and Ardat lili.
Lilith is further associated with the Anzu bird — Kramer translates the Anzu as owls, but most often it is translated as eagle, vulture, or a bird of prey — lions, owls, and serpents, which are animals associated with the Lilitu. It is from this mythology that the later Kabbalah depictions of Lilith as a serpent in the Garden of Eden and her associations with serpents are probably drawn. Other legends describe the malevolent Anzu birds as "lionheaded" and pictures them as eagle monsters, likewise to this a later amulet from Arslan Tash site features a sphinx like creature with wings devouring a child and has an incantation against Lilith or similar demons, incorporating Lilith's correlating animals of lions and owls.
Lamashtu (Sumer Dimme) was a very similar Mesopotamian demon to Lilitu and Lilith seems to have inherited many of Lamashtu's myths.She was considered a demi-goddess and daughter of Anu, the sky god.Many incantations against her mention her status as a daughter of heaven and exercising her free will over infants. This makes her different from the rest of the demons in Mesopotamia. Unlike her demonic peers, Lamashtu was not instructed by the gods to do her malevolence, she did it on her own accord. She was said to seduce men, harm pregnant women, mothers, and neonates, kill foliage, drink blood, and was a cause of disease, sickness, and death. Some incantations describe her as "seven witches".The space between her legs is as a scorpion, corresponding to the astrological sign of Scorpio. (Scorpio rules the genitals & sex organs.) Her head is that of a lion, she has Anzu bird feet like Lilitu and is lion headed, her breasts are suckled by a pig and a dog, and she rides the back of a donkey.
Two other Mesopotamian demons have a close relation to Lilitu, Gallu & Alu.Alu was originally an asexual demon, who took on female attributes, but later became a male demon. Alu liked to roam the streets like a stray dog at night and creep into people's bedrooms as they slept to terrify them. He was described as being half-human and halfdevil. He appears in Jewish lore as Ailo, here, he is used as one of Lilith's secret names. In other texts, Ailo is a daughter of Lilith that has had intercourse with a man. The other demon, Gallu is of the Utukku group. Gallu's name, like Utukku, was also used as a general term for multiple demons. Later, Gallu appears as Gello, Gylo, or Gyllou in Greco-Byzantine mythology as a child stealing and child killing demon. This figure was, likewise, adapted by the Jews as Gilu and was also considered a secret name of Lilith's.
Lilith in the Bible
The Book of Isaiah 34:14, describing the desolation of Edom, is the only occurrence of Lilith in the Hebrew Bible:
Hebrew (ISO 259): pagšu siyyim et-iyyim w-sair al-re-hu yiqra akšam hirgiah lilit u-masah lah manoh(
morpho-syntactic analysis: "yelpers meet[perfect] howlers; hairy-ones cry[imperfect] to fellow. liyliyth reposes-[perfect], acquires[perfect] resting-place."
KJV: "The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest."
This passage refers to God's day of vengeance, when the land will be transformed into desolate wilderness. Thus, Lilith was known in ancient Israel of the 8th century BC. The fact that she found a place of rest in the desert from this passage seems to allude to the Sumerian Gilgamesh incident: after Lilith fled into the desert, she apparently found repose there.
Schrader (Jahrbuch für Protestantische Theologie, 1. 128) and Levy (ZDMG 9. 470, 484) suggest that Lilith was a goddess of the night, known also by the Jewish exiles in Babylon. Evidence for Lilith being a goddess rather than a demon is lacking. Isaiah dates to the 6th century BC, and the presence of Jews in Babylon would coincide with the attested references to the Li-li-tu in Babylonian demonology.
The Septuagint translates onokentauros, apparently for lack of a better word, since also the sair "satyrs" earlier in the verse are translated with daimon onokentauros. The "wild beasts of the island and the desert" are omitted altogether, and the "crying to his fellow" is also done by the ''daimon onokentauros.
In Horace (De Arte Poetica liber, 340), Hieronymus of Cardia translated Lilith as ''Lamia, a witch who steals children, similar to the Breton Korrigan, in Greek mythology described as a Libyan queen who mated with Zeus. After Zeus abandoned Lamia, Hera stole Lamia's children, and Lamia took revenge by stealing other women's children.
The screech owl translation of the KJV is without precedent, and apparently together with the "owl" (yanšup, probably a water bird) in 34:11, and the "great owl" (qippoz, properly a snake,) of 34:15 an attempt to render the eerie atmosphere of the passage by choosing suitable animals for difficult to translate Hebrew words. It should be noted that this particular species of owl is associated with the vampiric Strix of Roman legend. This possibly evolved from the early 5th century Vulgate Bible of the Catholic Church, which translated the same word as Lamia instead.
et occurrent daemonia onocentauris et pilosus clamabit alter ad alterum ibi cubavit lamia et invenit sibi requiem
—Isaiah(Isaias Propheta) 34.14, Vulgate
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