As we celebrate the increasingly “secular” holiday of Halloween, young and old embrace the spooky and the macabre and perhaps score some candy in the process. Since Halloween is about as far from the Bible as you can get, I want to turn instead to something that is both biblical and spooky: demons. Although demons are only directly mentioned in the New Testament, Jewish legends had demons playing a greater part in the Old Testament/Hebrew bible than our received text would indicate. The first and most well known of these demons is actually a demoness, Lillith.
If pop culture is any judge, Lillith is one of the most famous biblical figures to never actually appear in the bible. Whether she’s Adam’s first wife, a demon, a feminist symbol, or a combination of all three; she is a force to be reckoned with. She has been the namesake of a music festival, at least three comic book characters, several songs and films, the subject of paintings, astrology, and even a villainess on Doctor Who. There’s even an early personal computer named for her, though I’m not quite sure I see her appeal as a company mascot.
Who was Lillith? And where did this legend begin? Those questions are tough, but the answer starts in the bible– not with a capital-L Lillith, but with a type of demon, lowercase-L lilliths. In this post, I’ll follow the story of Lillith as it appears in the bible, in the Dead Sea Scrolls, and eventually blossoms into her first incarnation as a feminist symbol in the Talmud. The full legend of Lillith as Adam’s wife is an 8th century invention of Jewish mysticism and outside the scope of this blog, but all of her roots are here. Read on… if you dare.
If I had more time, there are two things I’d like to do: update this blog more regularly, and spend more time with my friend Jeremy. But since I can’t do the former, at least let me tell you about the latter because he’s just announced his new blog and I’d like to share it with you. (Judging from his posts, he may have been updating and not telling people for quite a while…)
Jeremy is one of life’s more interesting souls, a man of stubborn contradictions and surprises. He also happens to be brilliant and there are few things I enjoy more than inviting him over to ponder biblical imponderables. He’s also studying to be a rabbi, although in a non-traditional way, under the tutelage of Rabbi Natan Margalit. Along the way, he’s been blogging and I’d like to share two of his posts with you:
All Beginnings Are Difficult – A personal essay about Jeremy’s struggles with his experience of love, and how this experience of love has affected his ability to become a rabbi. It’s a reflection on Genesis 1 and the creation story.
Indeed, we learn in Talmud that God’s main creative act after Creation has everything to do with love: the creation of a new family through the ceremony of marriage. Marriage is nothing if not an intentional limitation of options. Commitment means eating this ice cream cone, and not throwing it away when a more appealing flavor comes along, or when the store next door charges a nickel less.
The beauty of Jer. 17:7 is its reciprocity. The trust that exists between the righteous person and God is very much a two-way street. It isn’t so much trust that anything in particular will happen; it is more a matter of trust in God, or faith in God, and God having trust or faith in the individual.
I hope you enjoy his blog. I have three posts in the draft folder. Certainly I’ll get time to finish one soon!
In short, Daniel reports that Philo believed that the six-day creation cycle described in Genesis chapters 1 and 2 referred not to six physical days, but rather logical days. God, of course, did it all instantaneously. Philo also looks at the separate stories for the creation of women in Genesis 1:27 and 2:18. It’s well worth a read.
While I don’t need a reminder that philosophers and theologians have been practicing biblical textual criticism for thousands of years, it’s fascinating to read sort of a Jewish-Hellenistic approach to the challenges of the text. I’ve been spending too much time with the Dead Sea Scrolls! Now, I need to buy myself one of these:
Did you know that there is a “lost” book of the Old Testament which reveals what God really told to Moses during his forty day sojourn on Mount Sinai? That Jacob and Esau never really reconciled and instead went to war against each others’ tribes? That God revealed to Moses the destruction of the First Temple and the scattering of the Jews among the nations? That Adam and Eve lived in Eden for EXACTLY seven years?
No? Well, you would know this if you happened to be one of the 45 million Christians today who belong to the Ethiopian Orthodox Church, one of the oldest branches of Christianity in the world. Just as Roman Catholics and Protestants believe different books of the bible to be “true”, other Christian denominations that we know less of in the United States have their own separate lists of canonical books. But more interestingly, you probably would also have known this if you happened to a member of the sect at Qumran (some say the Essenes) where this book, the Book of Jubilees (also known as the Book of Divisions) was considered part of the scripture, more than 2000 years ago.
Oh, and did I mention that God is very clear that a year is exactly 364 days and we’ve been screwing up the calendar ever since? No? Well, read on for more about this fascinating book.
In Chapter 2 of Genesis, we have possibly the only scene in the Bible that is not only funny, but funny at God’s expense. Picture this: God has created the very first man and he (the man) is already hard at work tilling and tending the fields of the Garden of Eden. (And work he did. Genesis 2:15 is quite clear that Adam was to work, although presumably this wasn’t difficult work yet.) But God realizes, “Hey! This guy needs a helper.” And so God creates and brings to Adam all of the animals of the world (or at least the “wild beasts and birds of the sky”), one after the other, to see if one of them would be a fitting companion. You can just imagine Adam, sitting bored (but hopeful) under a tree while God leads an ill-behaved elephant up to him on a leash. “How about this one?”
With something as big and complex and beautiful as the Bible, it’s difficult to know where to start talking about it. Just jumping in “In the beginning” hardly seems suitable because there is so much that goes into those works, into even the first several verses, that it’s awe-inspiring. And yet to talk about it, to digest it and dissect it in a way does it a disservice. And yet, I sit here with keyboard in hand and try to wrap my head around the best way to begin.
Of the books of the Torah, Genesis may be the most complex. One of the ways that Genesis is complex is through its pattern of repeating stories, or parts of stories, in different ways. This is evident immediately as we are presented with two separate creation stories: one from Genesis 1:1 to the middle of 2:4 and a second one from Genesis 2:4 to 2:24. The first story is the one that we are most familiar: “In the beginning…” (Though of course this is translated in a dozen different ways. The JPS offers the, probably more accurate but less poetic “When God began to create heaven and earth…”) In this story, God creates the universe in six days and rests on the seventh. In verse 1:27, on the sixth day, he created man: “And God created man in His image; in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.” In the second story, God creates man again and this is the story that we are familiar: He creates Adam first, Adam needs a companion, Even is created from Adam’s rib, etc. This second story differs from the first not only that man and woman were not created at the same time, but also in other details. For example, man here was created “when no shrub of the field was yet on earth” because “God had not sent rain upon the earth” but in the preceding story that was on the third day, not the sixth.
This is not to nit-pick the Bible, that is not my intention. But I find this duality fascinating and it happens over and over in Genesis: a bit in the Noah story, in the Abraham story, etc.