Although the only reference to Lilith in the Bible (which was changed when the Bible was translated to English) had nothing to do with Adam, references in Bereishit (Genesis) in the Torah convinced ancient rabbis there was need to delve into the apparent contradiction in the creation accounts. This led them to the concept of an earlier wife or a “first Eve.”
In Bereishit 1, during the sixth day of creation, it is recorded in the Torah:
|26. And God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness, and they shall rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the heaven and over the animals and over all the earth and over all the creeping things that creep upon the earth.”||
כו. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים נַעֲשֶׂה אָדָם בְּצַלְמֵנוּ כִּדְמוּתֵנוּ וְיִרְדּוּ בִדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבַבְּהֵמָה וּבְכָל הָאָרֶץ וּבְכָל הָרֶמֶשׂ הָרֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ:
|27. And God created man in His image; in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.||
כז. וַיִּבְרָא אֱלֹהִים | אֶת הָאָדָם בְּצַלְמוֹ בְּצֶלֶם אֱלֹהִים בָּרָא אֹתוֹ זָכָר וּנְקֵבָה בָּרָא אֹתָם:
|28. And God blessed them, and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and rule over the fish of the sea and over the fowl of the sky and over all the beasts that tread upon the earth. “||
כח. וַיְבָרֶךְ אֹתָם אֱלֹהִים וַיֹּאמֶר לָהֶם אֱלֹהִים פְּרוּ וּרְבוּ וּמִלְאוּ אֶת הָאָרֶץ וְכִבְשֻׁהָ וּרְדוּ בִּדְגַת הַיָּם וּבְעוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּבְכָל חַיָּה הָרֹמֶשֶׂת עַל הָאָרֶץ:
|29. And God said, “Behold, I have given you every seed bearing herb, which is upon the surface of the entire earth, and every tree that has seed bearing fruit; it will be yours for food.||
כט. וַיֹּאמֶר אֱלֹהִים הִנֵּה נָתַתִּי לָכֶם אֶת כָּל עֵשֶׂב | זֹרֵעַ זֶרַע אֲשֶׁר עַל פְּנֵי כָל הָאָרֶץ וְאֶת כָּל הָעֵץ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ פְרִי עֵץ זֹרֵעַ זָרַע לָכֶם יִהְיֶה לְאָכְלָה:
|30. And to all the beasts of the earth and to all the fowl of the heavens, and to everything that moves upon the earth, in which there is a living spirit, every green herb to eat,” and it was so.||
ל. וּלְכָל חַיַּת הָאָרֶץ וּלְכָל עוֹף הַשָּׁמַיִם וּלְכֹל | רוֹמֵשׂ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר בּוֹ נֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה אֶת כָּל יֶרֶק עֵשֶׂב לְאָכְלָה וַיְהִי כֵן:
|31. And God saw all that He had made, and behold it was very good, and it was evening and it was morning, the sixth day.||
לא. וַיַּרְא אֱלֹהִים אֶת כָּל אֲשֶׁר עָשָׂה וְהִנֵּה טוֹב מְאֹד וַיְהִי עֶרֶב וַיְהִי בֹקֶר יוֹם הַשִּׁשִּׁי:
The confusion occurred when the second account of the creation appeared to have a slight difference.
|5. Now no tree of the field was yet on the earth, neither did any herb of the field yet grow, because the Lord God had not brought rain upon the earth, and there was no man to work the soil.||
ה. וְכֹל | שִׂיחַ הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִהְיֶה בָאָרֶץ וְכָל עֵשֶׂב הַשָּׂדֶה טֶרֶם יִצְמָח כִּי לֹא הִמְטִיר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים עַל הָאָרֶץ וְאָדָם אַיִן לַעֲבֹד אֶת הָאֲדָמָה:
|7. And the Lord God formed man of dust from the ground, and He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life, and man became a living soul.||
ז. וַיִּיצֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים אֶת הָאָדָם עָפָר מִן הָאֲדָמָה וַיִּפַּח בְּאַפָּיו נִשְׁמַת חַיִּים וַיְהִי הָאָדָם לְנֶפֶשׁ חַיָּה:
|18. And the Lord God said, “It is not good that man is alone; I shall make him a helpmate opposite him.”||
יח. וַיֹּאמֶר יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים לֹא טוֹב הֱיוֹת הָאָדָם לְבַדּוֹ אֶעֱשֶׂה לּוֹ עֵזֶר כְּנֶגְדּוֹ:
|21. And the Lord God caused a deep sleep to fall upon man, and he slept, and He took one of his sides, and He closed the flesh in its place.||
כא. וַיַּפֵּל יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים | תַּרְדֵּמָה עַל הָאָדָם וַיִּישָׁן וַיִּקַּח אַחַת מִצַּלְעֹתָיו וַיִּסְגֹּר בָּשָׂר תַּחְתֶּנָּה:
|22. And the Lord God built the side that He had taken from man into a woman, and He brought her to man.||
כב. וַיִּבֶן יְהֹוָה אֱלֹהִים | אֶת הַצֵּלָע אֲשֶׁר לָקַח מִן הָאָדָם לְאִשָּׁה וַיְבִאֶהָ אֶל הָאָדָם:
|23. And man said, “This time, it is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. This one shall be called ishah (woman) because this one was taken from ish (man).”||
כג. וַיֹּאמֶר הָאָדָם זֹאת הַפַּעַם עֶצֶם מֵעֲצָמַי וּבָשָׂר מִבְּשָׂרִי לְזֹאת יִקָּרֵא אִשָּׁה כִּי מֵאִישׁ לֻקֳחָה זֹּאת:
In the Bereishit 1 account, on the sixth day God made man and woman at the same time and no mention is made of making them from different materials – only that they were made in the image of God. However, in the Bereishit 2 account, the ancient rabbis noted that man was made alone from the dust of the ground and became a living soul. Although I have listed only the verses relating to the creation of man and woman, the scriptures between verses 18-21 relate the creation of the animals as an attempt to find a helpmate for him. Then in verse 21, the Lord creates woman from the side of man. And man says “This time…” she is created from him. So the rabbis were looking at two different time tables and an interesting reference to a possible other time. It became important to them to explain the disparity and the concept of a first “Eve” was born.
*I have included verse 5 above because it indicates that after the account in Bereishit 1, man was still not on the earth. This would imply that the first creation was a spiritual creation and the account in Bereishit 2 was a physical creation. However that was not the interpretation considered by the ancient rabbis.
In one attempt to understand this dual creation, the Midrash Rabbah, a verse by verse study and explanation of Genesis, records the following in its Bereshith 18:3-4 [difference in spelling is intentional]. This refers to the Torah‘s Bereishit 2:23.
3. And He brought her unto the man….
4. And the man said: This is now (zoth hapa’am), etc. (II, 23). R. Judah b. Rabbi said: At first He created her for him and he saw her full of discharge and blood: thereupon He removed her from him and recreated her a second time. Hence he said: This time she is bone of my bone.
In this case, Adam rejects the first woman because of her state – covered with blood and the discharge of birth – and God recreates her, this time putting Adam into a sleep and taking his rib to fashion her so that Adam won’t despise her.
Later, outside the garden, as Cain quarreled with his brother Abel, Midrash Rabbah says: “Their quarrel was about the first Eve. Said R. Aibu: The first Eve had returned to dust.” In this instance, found in its Bereshith 22:7, referring to the Torah’s Bereishit 4:8, the quarrel led to the first murder.
Still no name is given to this first Eve and little is known of her. But “Lilith” is all too well-known as will be discussed later. Although there is little written record of her as the first wife of Adam before medieval times, there are many references to her in the Torah, Talmud, Sepher ReZial Hemelach, Bible, and even the Dead Sea Scrolls. However, the earliest definitive telling of the history of Lilith as Adam’s first wife comes from The Alphabet of Ben Sirach.
The Alphabet of Ben Sirach (Alphabetum Siracidis, Othjoth ben Sira) has been attributed to Shimon ben Yeshua ben Eliezer ben Sira and is dated somewhere between 700 and 1000 AD which means it isn’t a very early source for a creation story. It does however refer to artifacts that have more recently been found from much earlier times – artifacts that bear the names of the angels to whom the story refers. While ancient rabbis took the writings very seriously, they are now discounted and largely ignored with good reason. The writings are humorous and make fun of the biblical figures; at times they are actually anti-Semitic. Although their source has been discredited, the writer obviously had knowledge from other sources because the above mentioned artifacts match the description in the book and lend credence to the fact that ancient Israelites did indeed use protective amulets against Lilith. However, please realize that the author, through the voice of Ben Sira, also claims to have been born with teeth and to have been able to speak at birth, claims to have told his mother he was Jesus the son of God, and basically plays Munchausen with all the stories and parables that he relates.
Soon afterward the young son of the king took ill. Said Nebuchadnezzar, “Heal my son. If you don’t, I will kill you.” Ben Sira immediately sat down and wrote an amulet with the Holy Name, and he inscribed on it the angels in charge of medicine by their names, forms, and images, and by their wings, hands, and feet. Nebuchadnezzar looked at the amulet. “Who are these?” “The angels who are in charge of medicine: Snvi, Snsvi, and Smnglof (In English: Senoy, Sansenoy and Semangelof). While God created Adam, who was alone, He said, ‘It is not good for man to be alone’. He also created a woman, from the earth, as He had created Adam himself, and called her Lilith. Adam and Lilith immediately began to fight. She said, ‘I will not lie below,’ and he said, ‘I will not lie beneath you, but only on top. For you are fit only to be in the bottom position, while I am to be the superior one.’ Lilith responded, ‘We are equal to each other inasmuch as we were both created from the earth.’ But they would not listen to one another. When Lilith saw this, she pronounced the Ineffable Name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Creator: ‘Sovereign of the universe!’ he said, ‘the woman you gave me has run away.’ At once, the Holy One, blessed be He, sent these three angels to bring her back. “Said the Holy One to Adam, ‘If she agrees to come back, what is made is good. If not, she must permit one hundred of her children to die every day.’ The angels left God and pursued Lilith, whom they overtook in the midst of the sea, in the mighty waters wherein the Egyptians were destined to drown. They told her God’s word, but she did not wish to return. The angels said, ‘We shall drown you in the sea.’ “‘Leave me!’ she said. ‘I was created only to cause sickness to infants. If the infant is male, I have dominion over him for eight days after his birth, and if female, for twenty days.’ “When the angels heard Lilith’s words, they insisted she go back. But she swore to them by the name of the living and eternal God: ‘Whenever I see you or your names or your forms in an amulet, I will have no power over that infant.’ She also agreed to have one hundred of her children die every day. Accordingly, every day one hundred demons perish, and for the same reason, we write the angels names on the amulets of young children. When Lilith sees their names, she remembers her oath, and the child recovers.” Alphabet of Ben Sira, the fifth of Ben Sira’s responses to King Nebuchadnezzar.