Biblical text with discussion questions

Alphabet of Ben Sira 78: Lilith

The excerpt below is from the Alphabet of Ben Sira, a provocative and often misogynistic text. It is the first known reference to Lilith as an individual character; like many mystical texts, it is visionary and mysterious. As you will see, this imagination of Lilith refers back to the accounts of creation in Genesis, finding an origin story for Lilith there.

In a nutshell: Genesis contains two different accounts of the creation of humans. In the first (Genesis 1:27) God seems to create male and female as one being, and then split them into two. In the second (Genesis 2:21-22), God creates Eve out of takes Adam's rib (literally, "side"). There are various explanations for why these two versions exist. Ben Sira suggests that the first woman was not actually Eve, but was Lilith. Since she was created as part of a whole with Adam, she thought she was equal to him as well. Adam complained, and God exiled Lilith from the garden and created Eve from Adam's body, so that she would always know she was secondary.

Alphabet of Ben Sira 78: Lilith

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 Holy Blessed one immediately dispatched the three angels Sanoy, Sansenoy, and Samangelof after her, to bring her back. God said, “If she wants to return, well and good. And if not, she must accept that a hundred of her children will die every day.” The angels pursued her and overtook her in the sea, in raging waters, (the same waters in which the Egyptians would one day drown), and told her God's orders. And yet she did not want to return. They told her they would drown her in the sea, and she replied. “Leave me alone! I was only created in order to sicken babies: if they are boys, from birth to day eight I will have power over them; if they are girls, from birth to day twenty.” When they heard her reply, they pleaded with her to come back. She swore to them in the name of the living God that whenever she would see them or their names or their images on an amulet, she would not overpower that baby, and she accepted that a hundred of her children would die every day. Therefore, a hundred of the demons die every day, and therefore, we write the names [of the three angels] on amulets of young children. When Lilith sees them, she remembers her oath and the child is [protected and] healed.

כשברא הקב״ה אדם הראשון יחיד, אמר לא טוב היות האדם לבדו, ברא לו אשה מן האדמה כמהו וקראה לילית. מיד התחילו מתגרין זה בזה, אמרה היא איני שוכבת למטה, והוא אומר איני שוכב למטה אלא למעלה שאת ראויה למטה ואני למעלה, אמרה לו שנינו שוין לפי ששנינו מאדמה, ולא היו שומעין זה לזה, כיון שראתה לילית אמרה שם המפורש ופרחה באויר העולם. עמד אדם הראשון בתפילה לפני קונו ואמר: רבונו של עולם, הרי האשה שנתת לי ברחה כבר. מיד שגר הקב״ה שלשה מלאכים הללו אחריה להחזירה. אמר הקב״ה אם תרצה לחזור מוטב. ואם לאו תקבל על עצמה שימותו מבניה בכל יום מאה בנים. והלכו אחריה והשימה בתוך הים במים עזים שעתידין המצריים למות שם. וספרו לה דבר ה׳ ולא רצתה לחזור. אמרו לה אנו נטביעך בים. אמרה להם הנחוני שלא נבראתי אלא להחליש התינוקות כשהן משמונה ימים, מיום שיולד אשלוט בו אם היה זכר, ואם נקבה מיום ילדותה עד עשרים יום, וכששמעו דבריה הפצירו לקחת אותה, נשבעה להם בשם אל חי וקים שכל זמן שאני רואה אתכם או שמכם או תכניתכם בקמיע לא אשלוט באותו התינוק, וקבלה על עצמה שימותו מבניה מאה בכל יום, לפיכך בכל יום מתים מאה מן השדים, ולכך אנו כותבים שמותם בקמיע של נערים קטנים ורואה אותם וזוכרת השבועה ומתרפא הילד.

Questions for discussion

  1. What is your response to this text? What do you find disturbing, surprising, or fascinating?
  2. How do you feel about Lilith after reading this text?

How to cite this page

Jewish Women's Archive. "Biblical text with discussion questions." (Viewed on November 14, 2019) <https://qa.jwa.org/node/23212>.

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