The Hidden Goddess – Chapter 3 – The Two Wives of Adam

Jun 6th, 2018 | By | Category: Articles, Hidden Goddess

Looking into the enraged eyes of Adam, she finally understood.  He would never perceive her as his equal though they had been born of the same clay, molded by the will of God in His own image.  But she would not be caged.  Not even in Paradise.  Defiance flared up within her as she brazenly called out the sacred name of God and fled from the Garden.  There, at the edge of the sea, she waited and watched as God crafted a new wife for Adam.  Lilith thought her weak, subservient, and pathetic.  But Eve would soon make a bold choice that would alter the course of humanity forever. 

“In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth” (Genesis 1:1).  So begins, quite arguably, the most famous creation story ever written by the hand of man.  It’s a remarkably simple story, condensing the creation of the cosmos and all the intricacies of life into a span of only seven days.  God, alone in the void, crafted the entirety of the macrocosm, set into motion the passage of time, and filled the earth with life by simply willing it into being.  But his crowning achievement, the pinnacle of all creation, he saved for last.

For his final creation on the sixth day, God looked to himself.  “So God created them in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them” (Genesis 1:27).  To the newly formed humans, he gave dominion of the earth and all the life it contained.  And on the seventh day, God rested, pleased with the work he had done.

By the end of the first chapter of Genesis, creation was complete.  Man and woman ruled over the earth together.  They had been formed, as the Hebrew Bible clearly proclaimed, together at the end of the sixth day.  Why then is there another, distinctly different, account recorded in the very next chapter of Genesis?

The creation story recorded in Genesis 2 begins with a barren, newly formed world.  As God had not sent any rain, “no shrub had yet appeared on the earth and no plant had yet sprung up” (Genesis 2:5).  It was in that lifeless landscape that God “formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life” (Genesis 2:7).  In this account of creation, man was the first living being formed.  And he was utterly alone.

To the east, along the banks of a great river, God next planted a vast and bountiful garden.  From the rich soil, trees emerged that “were pleasing to the eye and good for food” (Genesis 2:9).  God then placed the man in the garden as its caretaker and directed his attention to a particular tree standing proudly at the center of Eden.  God commanded, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die” (Genesis 2:16-17).

Seeing that it was not good for man to be alone, God next set out to create a suitable helper for Adam.  Man’s purpose, after all, was to protect and cultivate the Garden of Eden.  Such a daunting task would undoubtedly require assistance.  So God “formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky” (Genesis 2:19).  He brought the creatures before Adam who gave each a name but found no appropriate companion among them.

After rejecting each animal presented to him, God caused Adam to fall into a deep sleep so that he might craft a proper mate for him.  While Adam slept, God “took one of the man’s ribs and then closed up the place with flesh.  Then the Lord God made a woman from the rib he had taken out of the man, and he brought her to the man” (Genesis 2:21-22).  Seeing this woman upon awakening, Adam declared, “This is now bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh.  She shall be called ‘woman’ for she was taken out of man” (Genesis 2:23).  No longer alone in paradise, Adam took the woman as his wife and welcomed her into the garden.  And with her birth, creation was completed.

The discrepancies between the two creation stories of Genesis are easy to discern.  In the first account, known today among scholars as the “Priestly” version, man and woman were created simultaneously on the sixth day.  They emerge as equals and are given dominion of the entire earth.  The second, or “Yahwistic,” account reversed the process.  Man was created before the first drops of rain fell.  He was born out of the dust of the earth just as the creatures of field and sky were formed later.  He was crafted as a worker and kept within the confines of the Garden of Eden.  Woman, in this narrative, was little more than an afterthought.  She would be the only living being forged not from the earth but from a piece of another creature.  Her sole purpose was to serve Adam, and in turn, the God that created him.

Today, most scholars agree that the two accounts of creation recorded in Genesis were written by vastly different groups separated by hundreds of years.  The “Yahwistic” account of Genesis 2 is generally considered the older account having first been recorded during the reign of King Solomon by members of the Hebrew tribes.   The “Priestly” version recorded in Genesis 1 developed some 500 years later probably among elite Jewish theologians.  However, both accounts are believed to have been based on oral traditions passed down among the Israelites for many generations.

Regardless of when they were written or by whom, the inconsistencies between the two tales created a multitude of problems for the early rabbis studying the Torah (or first five books of the Hebrew Bible).  As the sacred and literal word of God, the rabbis believed the Bible simply could not contradict itself.  A new interpretation, or midrash, was needed to unite the stories into one cohesive and understandable narrative.  What emerged was not one, but two, powerful goddess figures that would shape the course of humanity and define all of womankind.

To reconcile the inconsistencies in Genesis, the early Jewish scholars chose to completely disregard the two separate descriptions of the creation of man.  Instead, they deduced, woman alone had been created twice.  But why?  What had happened to the first woman, the one born together with Adam on the sixth day of creation?  Who was she?

She was Lilith, the first wife of Adam, created from the dust of the earth as man’s equal.  But she was a wild, untameable woman who would rather live as a feared recluse in the wilderness than to bow to Adam’s will.  Refusing to lie beneath Adam, she fled the Garden of Eden and cemented her place in Jewish lore as a warning against all willful and rebellious women.

Although she would become one of the most powerful and enigmatic figures in all of Jewish lore, the story of Lilith, like that of Asherah, began long before the birth of the Israelites.  The earliest known mention of Lilith comes from the Mesopotamian tale “Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree.”  Dating from approximately 2000 BCE, the story opened with the  Sumerian queen of heaven, Inanna, spying a beautiful huluppu (willow) tree on the banks of the Euphrates.  Inanna was so struck by the magnificent tree that she plucked it from the banks and replanted it in her own sacred garden.  Under her gentle care, the tree grew tall and strong.

Wishing to craft herself a new throne, Inanna went to gather the wood of the huluppu tree once it was fully mature.  But she found her plans thwarted by a trio of dangerous creatures that had taken up residence within the tree.  A great snake was coiled around the base of the tree while a Zu-bird had placed its nest in the upper branches.  And in the middle stood the home of Lilith, the “maid of desolation.”

Seeing that her tree had been seized by three evil beings, Inanna wept.  Hearing her cries, Gilgamesh, the great Sumerian hero, donned his armor and went to the aid of the goddess.  Using his mighty ax, Gilgamesh slaughtered the snake with ease.  Seeing this, the Zu-bird fled with its young into the mountains.  Lilith, in fear for life, tore down her house and escaped into the wilderness.  With the beasts vanquished, the huluppu tree was finally cut down and presented to Inanna for her throne.

By the time “Gilgamesh and the Huluppu Tree” was first written down, Lilith was already a well established figure in Sumerian culture.  A masculine version of her name, Lillu, first appeared in 2400 BCE in the Sumerian King List.  The divine father of Gilgamesh himself, Lillu was originally a primordial storm spirit.  He would later be transformed, probably due to an etymological error, into a much darker entity.  As his female counterpart, Lilitu (Lilith) would also undergo this metamorphosis.  Together, Lillu and Lilitu stalked the night as the first of a new class of demons – incubi and succubi.  Appearing first in dreams, the demons would then engage in sexual acts with their unsuspecting captives in order to spawn demonic children and to slowly leech away the victims life force.

The role of the frightful succubus would follow Lilith throughout her history and become one of the defining aspects of her personality.  In Babylon, she would acquire another horrific trait from her association with the goddess Lamashtu.  Described as a monstrous hybrid, Lamashtu plagued pregnant women and their newborn children.  Particularly fond of stealing suckling infants, she would then slaughter the child in order to feast on the bones and blood of the innocent.  Because she was often portrayed with similar physical attributes as Lilith, the role of child-slayer would eventually be attributed to Lilith as well.

Lilith emerged from the great Mesopotamian kingdoms not as a lowly she-demon, but as a terrible goddess to be feared and revered.  Babylonian artifacts portrayed her as a beautiful woman whose long hair tumbled down her shapely body.  Her earliest association with storms and wind had given her strong wings and the sharp talons of an owl.  However, her beauty could not veil the heart of the demon that lay within her.  Her presence was feared in every home and each time a newborn child died suddenly, her name was cursed.  When she finally entered the Jewish mythos, much of the foundations of her story had already been laid.

After appearing only briefly in the Babylonian Talmud, a principal text of Rabbinic Judaism, one medieval text forever altered the tale of Lilith.  It was within the anonymously written midrash The Alphabet of Ben Sira, that the previously unnamed first wife of Adam finally received an identity.  Already one of the most feared demons among the Jewish people, Lilith was elevated to the woman of Genesis 1, crafted by the hand of God himself.

Why the author of The Alphabet chose the Mesopotamian Lilith as the first wife of Adam is unknown.  Perhaps it was her wild and unruly nature that first drew his attention.  To the faithful, the first female had been unworthy and rebellious.  Lilith embodied everything that Israelite men feared in a woman – strength, power, and independence.

Having been crafted in the same manner as Adam on the sixth day of creation, Lilith rightfully saw herself as man’s equal.  Adam, however, had a very different idea.  Wishing to have sex with the alluring Lilith, Adam demanded that she lie beneath him.  Lilith scoffed and inquired, “Why should I lie beneath you, when I am your equal, since both of us were created from dust?”  Adam, enraged by her rejection, attempted to overpower Lilith and force himself on her.  To escape, Lilith did the only thing within her power to do – she called out the Tetragrammton, the ineffable name of God.  Upon saying the sacred name, Lilith rose into the air and flew away to the edge of the Red Sea.

During the time of creation, the Red Sea was a desolate and evil place filled with a host of demonic spirits.  No mention of their origins is offered, but they welcomed Lilith into their legion.  Freed from the restraints of God and man, Lilith enjoyed unbridled promiscuity among the demons.  From her affairs, Lilith gave birth to a host of demonic spawn each day.

As Lilith reveled in her new found freedom, Adam brooded over his perceived insult.  Adam begged God to return Lilith to him, and in answer to his plea, God sent three angels to find her.  Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof found her and demanded she return with them.  But Lilith refused, even when the angels threatened to drown her for her disobedience. Her sole purpose for existing, she told the angels, was to weaken and slay infants.  She claimed dominion over every male child from birth to eight days and over females for twenty days.  When she saw that the angels were not swayed, she offered them a compromise.  And so a deal was struck that each day one hundred of Lilith’s demonic offspring would perish and that she would harm no child bearing an amulet inscribed with the names of the three angels sent to retrieve her.

 

As God did not see it fit for Adam to remain alone after the angels failed to return with Lilith, he again crafted a woman to be Adam’s helper.  This woman, as recorded in Genesis 2, would not be formed in the same manner as Adam.  She would not be man’s equal for her very existence depended on the rib removed from Adam’s side.

While Lilith enjoyed her wild escapade among the demons, the demure second woman (who had not yet received a name) spent her days amid the tall trees and creeping vines of the Garden of Eden.  Creatures great and small shared Paradise with her and Adam, including the serpent who “was more crafty than any of the wild animals the Lord God had made” (Genesis 3:1).  One day, the serpent approached Eve and inquired, “Did God really say, ‘You must not eat from any tree in the garden’?” (Genesis 3:1).  Eve answered, repeating what Adam had told to her as God had not spoken to her since her birth, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die’” (Genesis 3:2-3).

Dismissing the warning of God, the serpent assured the woman that eating of the Tree of Knowledge would not lead to death but to greater understanding.   The serpent promised, “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil” (Genesis 3:5).  The woman gazed up at the tree, and indeed it did appear good for food.  But it was not fruit alone that she craved.  Food was plentiful in the Garden of Eden.   Knowledge, however, was limited.  God had never even spoken to the woman, and he certainly had not shared knowledge with her.  Perhaps she believed that eating of the Tree would be the only opportunity she’d ever have for acquiring something more than she’d been given.

As the woman reached out to pluck the fruit, Adam watched.  He had been present for the entire exchange between the woman and the serpent.  At no point had he intervened, corrected the serpent, or demanded that the woman not eat the fruit.  Instead, “she also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it” (Genesis 3:6).  In that moment, “the eyes of both of them were opened” (Genesis 3:7) and all of humanity was doomed.

God, while walking in his garden, discovered the iniquity of Adam and the woman.  He called to Adam and asked, “Have you eaten from the tree that I commanded you not to eat from?” (Genesis 3:11).  But instead of taking responsibility for his own actions, Adam shifted the blame to both God and the woman.  “The woman you put here with me—she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it” (Genesis 3:12).  It is only when she has been accused of breaking God’s commandment that he speaks to the woman.  When God asked her what she had done, the woman answered simply that “the serpent deceived me, and I ate” (Genesis 3:13).

God’s punishment was swift and severe.  For his role in the fall of man, the serpent was cursed to crawl on his belly and eat dust for the entirety of his life.  God also saw fit to ensure that the serpent and woman would never conspire together again, and permanently set them as enemies.  Man, God decided, would be forced to toil and work the ground as his punishment.  Sustenance would no longer be guaranteed.  Adam, and all men, would have to work to survive until they were returned to the earth from which they were taken.

Reserving his greatest punishment for the woman, God declared, “I will make your pains in childbearing very severe; with painful labor you will give birth to children.  Your desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you” (Genesis 3:16).  Never again would a woman desire knowledge.  Never again would a woman rebel.  She would be a servant to her husband and no more.  Only then, after their fates had been decided, did Adam name his wife Eve, “because she would become the mother of all the living” (Genesis 3:20).

Fearing that Adam and Eve might be tempted to eat from the other forbidden tree in the Garden, the Tree of Life whose fruits granted immortality, God banished them from Paradise.  To ensure that they could never return, “he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the Tree of Life” (Genesis 3:24).  The fall of humanity was complete.

Like all creation myths, the story of Genesis reflected the attitudes and agendas of the people responsible for its composition.  Throughout the ancient world, the great Mother Goddess in all her various incarnations, had been responsible for the gift of life.  The details may have changed from people to people, but her sacred role as the progenitor of life was almost universal.  And that was a threat to the One God of Israel.  Delve a bit deeper and Genesis becomes a profound story of the death of the Mother Goddess.

When the Hebrew God ascended the throne of heaven, a distinct shift began to take place.  No longer did life come from the womb of the divine feminine.  God needed no balancing female energy.  He simply willed life into existence.  The sacred role of conception would afterward be given solely to man.  Women were simply incubators, sentenced by God to suffer in child birth but to have no other role in the formation of life.  The goddess had been stripped of her most basic and ancient role.

Usurping the role of creator was not enough for God.  Under the goddess, death had not been absolute.  It was simply a momentary transition in the never-ending cycle of life linking birth to rebirth.  Death only became a finality after sin entered the world through Adam and Eve.  In his punishment to man, God had declared, “For dust you are, and to dust you will return” (Genesis 3:19).  Death became a void, a destination rather than a state of renewal.  Life began and ended with God.

Throughout Genesis, the Biblical writers masterfully corrupted ancient symbols of the goddess in an effort to further illustrate the superiority of their God.  At the heart of man’s downfall had stood two great and magnificent trees – trees the goddess Asherah might have someday been worshiped under.  Representing life and and wisdom, domains of the goddess, the trees were forbidden by the God that had planted them.  Man could not touch them or eat of their fruit without facing the finality of the grave.  The connotation was clear.  To worship the goddess, to even acknowledge her existence, led to death.

One of the oldest religious motifs in the world, the serpent was also corrupted by the story of Genesis.  Once a revered symbol of both god and goddess, the serpent could be found throughout the ancient world from Egypt to Mesoamerica to China.  Ancient man had recognized the regenerative power of the snake as it shed its skin, emerging as if reborn again and again.  It became a symbol of wisdom, strength, and renewal.  Serpent worship was already well established in Canaan long before the arrival of the first Israelites.  Many artifacts, including those that depict the she-demon Lilith, portray powerful goddesses in the presence of snakes.  The authors of Genesis, rather craftily, transformed one of the most sacred symbols of antiquity into the greatest villain of the Old Testament.  This perversion of the serpent proved to be one of the successful campaigns against polytheism ever launched by the Israelites.

After the fourth chapter of Genesis, Eve does not appear again in the Hebrew Bible.  No history of her life or death was written down.  When her son Cain murdered his brother Abel, no record was made of her mourning.  The names of her daughters have been lost.  The “mother of all living” faded into shadow, forgotten like the mother goddesses of old.  But the repercussions of her choice in the Garden of Eden lived on in every woman that came after her.

In the Old Testament book of Ezekiel it is stated, “The son shall not bear the iniquities of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son” (Ezekiel 18:20).  But this separation of guilt did not apply to Eve or the rest of womankind.  The words of early Christian theologian Tertullian, sometimes called the founder of Western theology, reflected the general consensus on women:  “Do you not believe that you are an Eve?  The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times, and so it is necessary that guilt should live on, also.”  The iniquity of Eve became the justification for the repression of women across the Judeo-Christian world.

Throughout the Bible, and other influential texts, the malevolence of women was cited as the basis for their subjugation.  Because Eve desired wisdom, all women would be condemned forever.  There could be no penance great enough to wash away the sins of the mother of all.  In a letter outlining proper worship practices, the apostle Paul stated, “A woman should learn in quietness and full submission.  I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet.  For Adam was formed first, then Eve.  And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner” (1 Timothy 2:11-14).  During the Burning Times of the 16th century, Eve’s downfall was often cited as a justification for the atrocities committed against women accused of witchcraft.  A church report justifying the torture of “witches” read, “There was a defect in the formation of the first woman, since she was formed with a bent rib.  She is imperfect and thus always deceives.”  These ideals of the nefarious and cunning nature of women would become so ingrained into religion and society as a whole, that women throughout the world still struggle to prove their equality and worth to their male counterparts.

Eve’s story may have ended with Genesis, but Lilith’s was far from over.  According to the Talmud, when Adam saw that death had entered the world through his and Eve’s sin, he separated himself from Eve for a period of 130 years.  During that time, Adam was said to have produced ghostly and demonic children with an evil succubus that took advantage of his uncontrollable nightly emissions.  And although the Talmud doesn’t name Adam’s abuser, over time the connection became clear.  It was the evil Lilith, scorned and angry, that returned to Adam during his sojourn.

From her home on the banks of the Red Sea, Lilith had witnessed the expulsion of Adam and Eve from Eden.  She knew of their sin, but as she had left the Garden before the fall, was not subject to the punishment inflicted upon them.  Although she loathed Adam for his domineering attitude, she still desired him greatly.  While Adam fasted, separated from Eve, Lilith took advantage of the opportunity before her.  From their unholy union, Adam became not only the father of humans but the plagues of mankind as well.  As a result, men were warned to never sleep in a house alone.  Whoever did so would be “seized by Lilith” (Shabbath 151b) and his seed used to unleash new evils into the world.

Men were not the only ones that needed to fear Lilith.  Indeed, her greatest enemy was woman.  Robbed of her chance to birth mortal children, Lilith preyed heavily on pregnant women.  From barrenness to miscarriage to death of mother or child, complications in childbirth were often seen as Lilith’s work.  To protect against her wrath, amulets were placed around the home of the pregnant woman and a ring of coal surrounded the birthing room.  Inscriptions such as “Adam and Eve.  Out Lilith!” were common throughout the ancient Jewish world.  Similar amulets were still in use as late as the 20th century as Lilith continued to stalk the lives of the faithful.

Lilith’s relationship with newborn children, however, was more complicated.  Having declared her purpose as child-killer to the angels Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, it was accepted that the sudden death of a baby was the work of Lilith.  Surprisingly, other much more tender interactions were attributed to her as well.  When a baby was seen smiling in its sleep, particularly on the eve of the sabbath or during a new moon, Lilith was said to be playing with the child.  Parents were instructed to tap the infant on the nose three times to expel Lilith’s influence.  The knot often found in the hair of babies was also attributed to Lilith as her tickling caused the baby to move about and tangled the hair.  These sweet, and seemingly innocent, interactions were very uncharacteristic of the villainous Lilith.  Perhaps, in those gentle moments, her rage was temporarily forgotten.  At least until she was once again cast out by a frantic mother, fearing for the life of her newborn child.

Although the details in the Talmud are scant, a wealth of information was discovered in Nippur, an ancient Mesopotamian city located in modern day Iraq.  During excavations of the site, archaeologists from the University of Pennsylvania discovered a large cache of clay tablets, bowls, and inscriptions.  More than half of the bowls uncovered contained references to Lilith.  Engraved into the bowls were magical incantations against the fury of the she-demon.  One such inscription read in part, “The evil Lilith, who causes the hearts of men to go astray and appears in the dream of the night and in the vision of the day, who burns and casts down with nightmare, attacks and kills children, boys and girls.”  Similar bowls have been found throughout the ancient world from Babylonia to Persia.  As these bowls represented the beliefs of the common people and not the religious elite, they provided an important portrait of her reign of terror among early Jewish communities.

In the 13th century, a Spanish writer named Moses de Leon compiled a collection of midrashic commentary into the Zohar, or Book of Splendor, and added a unique new chapter to the already ancient story of Lilith.  Heavily mystical in its teachings, the Zohar focuses on the nature of God and attempts to unravel the mysteries of the universe and spirit.  It is undoubtedly the most important work of Jewish mysticism, also known as Kabbalah, and contains 56 passages that name or allude to Lilith.  Within the Zohar, Lilith became a character in her own right for the first time.

For those not versed in the language of Kabbalah, reading the Zohar can prove quite difficult.  That difficulty is further enhanced by the multiple, contradictory tales that it includes.  Multiple accounts of the birth of Lilith are given in the Zohar and other important Kabbalistic texts, many of them strikingly different from the previous tales of the Talmud and The Alphabet.  Other stories tell of Lilith’s marriage to Samael (Satan) and emphasize her recurrent role as succubus and child-killers.  While these tales are beyond the scope of this book, they are fascinating reading for anyone interested in learning more of the complex saga of Lilith.

Lilith’s story may have taken many paths, but they all followed the same pattern.  She began as a lowly demon, preying on men, harming women, and killing children.  But over time, she evolved.  In Sumer, she became a goddess of terrible power.  In Kabbalah, she eventually became the consort of God himself (more on that in the next chapter).  Lilith could not be contained.  Not by Adam or God.  And not by time.  The heart of Lilith endured, virtually unchanged, for four thousand years.

When the early fathers of the Judeo-Christian faith set out to destroy the goddess worship of antiquity, they did so in many ways.  When possible, they ripped down her altars and defiled her sacred sites.  But when that proved ineffective, they stripped her of her symbols and the domain of her powers.  God may have supplanted her place in the cosmos, but her memory would prove a far more formidable foe.

Within the Hebrew Bible, the goddess is often hidden in plain sight.  She is shrouded in darkness, her imagery distorted by those that wished to depose her, but her spirit endures.  By definition, Lilith and Eve do not qualify as true goddesses.  They were not deities in their own right as Asherah had been.  No shrines were ever erected in their honor.  Their names were never called out in prayer.  But together, they represented the dual nature of the very Mother Goddess that the Israelites had worked so hard to destroy.  Lilith was the avenging mother, brutal and unforgiving as a raging cyclone.  Eve was the doting mother, gentle and loving as a cool summer breeze.  One gave life, and the other took life away.  Together they embodied the Divine Feminine and ensured that the sacred spark of the goddess survived.

In recent years, as feminism has grown into a worldwide phenomenon, women have begun to reclaim the power stolen from their foremothers.  No longer willing to retreat into the shadows, women have embraced Lilith’s desire for independence, equality, and sexual freedom.  Her name has become a rallying cry for those wishing to separate themselves from outdated patriarchal attitudes.  Long shunned for being weak and subservient, Eve is now praised for her desire for knowledge and for the bravery it took to reach for it.  At long last, the wives of Adam have taken their rightful place as the mothers of womanhood.

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