Millions miss a meal or two each day.
Help us change that! Click to donate today!
The 1901 Jewish Encyclopedia
Female demon. Of the three Assyrian demons Lilu, Lilit, and Ardat Lilit, the second is referred to in Isaiah 34:14. Schrader ("Jahrb. für Protestantische Theologie," 1:128)takes Lilith to be a goddess of the night; she is said to have been worshiped by the Jewish exiles in Babylon (Levy, in "Z. D. M. G." 9:470,484). Sayce ("Hibbert Lectures," pp. 145 et seq.), Fossey ("La Magie Assyrienne," pp. 37 et seq.), and others think that "Lilith" is not connected with the Hebrew "layil" (night), but that it is the name of a demon of the storm, and this view is supported by the cuneiform inscriptions quoted by them. It must, however, be assumed that the resemblance to the Semitic "layil" materially changed the conception of Lilith among the Semites, and especially among the Jews. No definite conclusions can be drawn from the passage in Isaiah, where it is said of the devastated palaces of Edom that wild animals shall dwell in them "and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech-owl also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest" (Isaiah 34:14; see Cheyne's note ad loc.). Baudissin connects Lilith with Zechariah 5:9.
In Talmud and Midrash.
Lilith is more fully described in post-Biblical literature, where she appears as a demon of the night, as suggested by her Hebrew name. Three classes of demons are mentioned: spirits, devils, and "lilin" (Targ. Yer. to Deuteronomy 32:24; Targ. Sheni to Esther 1:3; passim). The first have neither body nor form; the second appear in complete human shape; the third in human shape, but with wings (Rashi to Sanh. 109a). Adam procreated all the spirits while he was under a spell (Gen. R. 20:11; 'Er. 18b). Similarly, Eve bore demons to male spirits for the space of 130 years. This corresponds to the view that the demons are half human (Ḥag. 16a). Hence an abortion which has the shape of Lilith may be a child, though it has wings (Nid. 24b). Lilith is a seductive woman with long hair ('Er. 100b); she is the Queen of Zemargad (Targ. Job 1:15; comp. Bacher and Kohut [see bibliography]); Ahriman is her son (B. B. 73a). She goes about at night, fastening herself upon any one sleeping alone in a room (Shab. 151b). "The Lord will protect thee" (Numbers 6:24) means, according to Targ. Yer., ". . . from lilin." The meteor-stone is her arrow and is a remedy against disease (Giṭ. 69b). Kohut's assumption that Agrat bat Maḥlat ("daughter of the dancer"), who roams at night with myriads of demons (Pes. 112b, bottom), is the queen of the lilin, is not verified. King Solomon, who commanded all spirits, had the lilin dance before him (Targ. Sheni Esther 1:3).
Middle Ages and Modern Times.
Kohut identifies Lilith with the Parsee Bushyansta, and the Arabic translators render the word in Isaiah 34:14 by "ghul," which is identical with the "lamia" of the Vulgate. In the Talmud, however, there is nothing to indicate that Lilith is a vampire. The Arabians, on the contrary, are said to regard Lilith, under the form of Lalla, as a "holy dame" (Schwab, "Les Coupes Magiques et l'Hydromancie dans l'Antiquité Orientale," p. 11). The name "Lilith" is found also on amulets with terra-cotta figures (idem, "Coupes à Inscriptions Magiques," p. 62). In the later Middle Ages the mystics systematically amplified demonology on the basis of the traditions and the current European superstitions, and they also assigned a more definite form to Lilith (see the quotations in Eisenmenger, "Entdecktes Judenthum," 2:417 et seq.). The superstitions regarding her and her nefarious doings were, with other superstitions, disseminated more and more among the mass of the Jewish people. She becomes a nocturnal demon, flying about in the form of a night-owl and stealing children. She is permitted to kill all children which have been sinfully begotten, even from a lawful wife. If a child smiles during the night of the Sabbath or the New Moon, it is a sign that Lilith is playing with it. One should then strike the nose of the child three times and drive Lilith away by the prescribed rough words (Joseph Cohen, "'Emeḳ ha-Melek," p. 84b; comp. Grunwald, "Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde," 5:62). Lilith likewise appears to men in their dreams; she is the bride of Samael (Schwab, "Angélologie"; comp. Zohar 2:267b). It is said in a Judæo-German book ("Hanhagat ha-Ḥasidim") printed at Frankfort-on-the-Main in the beginning of the eighteenth century that Lilith deceives men and has children by them; infant mortality is regarded as a consequence of this miscegenation (comp. Grunwald, c. 5:10,62). In a certain legend she appears as the Queen of Sheba, who in the guise of a beautiful woman seduced a poor Jew of Worms (Grunwald, c. 2:30 et seq.). As she was eager to seize new-born infants, mother and child were provided with amulets, which since early times were regarded as an efficient protection against magic and demons; Lilith is the chief figure on the "childbirth tablets" still hung on the walls of the lying-in room in the East and in eastern Europe (see Amulets). The name "Lilith" occurs also in non-Jewish superstitions (Lammert, "Volksmedicin," p. 170; Grunwald, c. , col. 2, n. 4). The conception that she was Adam's first wife (comp. Gen. R.; Yer. 'Er. 18b) appears to have been spread through Buxtorf's "Lexicon Talmudicum," s. Lilith is a clear instance of the persistence of popular superstitious beliefs.
- W. M. Menzies Alexander, Demoniac Possession in the N. T. pp. 15-16, 26, 44, 55, Edinburgh, 1902;
- Bacher, Lilith, Königin von Smargad, in Monatsschrift, 1870, 19:187-189;
- W. W. Baudissin, Studien zur Semitischen Religionsgesch, 1:128, Leipsic, 1876;
- Bar Bahlul's Syrisches Wörterb.;
- G. Brecher, Das Transcendentale, etc., pp. 47, 50, 54, Vienna, 1850;
- Eisenmenger, Entdecktes Judenthum, 2:413 et seq.;
- C. Fossey, La Magie Assyrienne, pp. 26, 37 et seq., Paris, 1902;
- M. Grunwald, Mitteilungen der Gesellschaft für Jüdische Volkskunde, 2:68,74; 5:10,62; 7:104;
- F. Hommel, Vorsemitische Kultur, p. 367;
- idem, Die Semiten, etc., p. 368, Leipsic, 1881;
- A. Kohut, Ueber die Jüdische Angelologie und Dämonologie, pp. 86-89, ib. 1866;
- M. Schwab, Vocabulaire de l'Angelologie, p. 162, Paris, 1897;
- idem, Les Coupes Magiques et l'Hydromancie dans l'Antiquité Orientale, in Tr. Soc. Bibl. Arch. April, 1890;
- idem, Coupes d Inscriptions Magiques, ib. June, 1891.
These files are public domain.
Singer, Isidore, Ph.D, Projector and Managing Editor. Entry for 'Lilith'. 1901 The Jewish Encyclopedia. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tje/l/lilith.html. 1901.