Adam's First Wife

Let's start with a crazy question: What do Adam's first wife and nocturnal emissions have in common?

A few days ago I couldn't have answered that question. But some of my research drew me into an interesting bit of scholarship regarding gender relations, sexuality, textual criticism, Jewish lore, and demonology.

First, let's start with the obvious: Adam's first wife?

To understand the Jewish legend that Eve was Adam's second wife we need to explore the texts of Genesis 1-2 and the contrasts between the two creation stories found therein.

As biblical scholars are well aware, the first chapters of Genesis appear to be written by two different authors. The two authors are called the Elohist and the Yahwist. The Elohist is called this because he (we assume it was he) uses the word Elohim to refer to God. Elohim is typically translated "God" in English bibles. So when we read "In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth" the Elohist is writing.

The Yahwist, by contrast, uses the name YHWH to refer to the Deity. In many English translations YHWH is translated LORD, all caps. The Elohist story of creation ends in Genesis 2.2. The Yahwist story of creation starts at Genesis 2.3. You can see both the beginning and the ending of the two accounts as well as the switch from "God" to "LORD" in referring to the Creator:

Genesis 2.1-4
Thus the heavens and the earth were completed in all their vast array.

By the seventh day God had finished the work he had been doing; so on the seventh day he rested from all his work. Then God blessed the seventh day and made it holy, because on it he rested from all the work of creating that he had done.
--End of Elohist Creation Story--

--Start of Yahwist Creation Story--
This is the account of the heavens and the earth when they were created, when the LORD God made the earth and the heavens...
It is believed that the two stories were edited together by a third author (a "redactor") working with both manuscripts.

In some ways the two stories complement and supplement each other. But there are differences that have preoccupied scholars. One location of contrast is in the creation of Adam and Eve:
Elohist Version of Adam & Eve (Genesis 1.26-27):
Then God said, “Let us make mankind in our image, in our likeness, so that they may rule over the fish in the sea and the birds in the sky, over the livestock and all the wild animals, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

So God created mankind in his own image,
in the image of God he created them;
male and female he created them.

Yahwist Version of Adam & Eve (Genesis 2.7-8, 15-23):
Then the LORD God formed a man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being.

Now the LORD God had planted a garden in the east, in Eden; and there he put the man he had formed...

The LORD God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it. And the LORD God commanded the man, “You are free to eat from any tree in the garden; but you must not eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, for when you eat from it you will certainly die.”

The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

Now the LORD God had formed out of the ground all the wild animals and all the birds in the sky. He brought them to the man to see what he would name them; and whatever the man called each living creature, that was its name. So the man gave names to all the livestock, the birds in the sky and all the wild animals.

But for Adam no suitable helper was found. So the LORD God caused the man to fall into a deep sleep; and while he was sleeping, he 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.

The man said,

“This is now bone of my bones
and flesh of my flesh;
she shall be called ‘woman,’
for she was taken out of man.”
Most readers of the bible read the first account from the Elohist--"in the image of God he created them / male and female he created them"--as an abbreviated summary of the longer, and admittedly much weirder, account of the Yahwist, where God parades all the animals before Adam suggesting he pick a mate from them ("You know God, I'm kind of fond of that zebra over there. Those stripes are sexy..."). But really, these are two different stories.

Incidentally, egalitarians like the Elohist version best where man and woman are created at the same time as equals. By contrast, hierarchical complementarians like the Yahwist version better with the ordered creation of man before woman and woman made from man's rib.

But for this post we are interested in a Jewish legend regarding the differences between the Elohist and Yahwist versions of Adam and Eve. While many Christians read these texts as being the same story (one compressed the other more detailed) there is a Jewish tradition where these are read as two stories about two different events--the story of Adam's first wife and the story of Adam's second wife.

The two stories run like this. The first, Elohist account is the story of the creation of Adam and his first wife. For some reason (which we will get to), this wife goes missing and Adam finds himself alone. Finding this unacceptable, God makes a second wife for Adam. This is the Yahwist story, the story of making Eve from Adam's rib so she will stick with Adam (unlike the first wife).

So who was Adam's first wife? And where did she go?

This brings us to the story of Lilith.

According to Jewish legend, Lilith was the first wife of Adam. Her name comes from one of the Akkadian words (which is uncertain) lilatu ("night") or lilu ("demon" or "phantom"). As the story goes, Lilith felt herself to be Adam's equal (as the Elohist seems to suggest). Eventually, however, Lilith refused to submit to Adam, wanting to be the dominant one. Adam, with the help of God, resists this usurpation. In response Lilith either leaves or is cast out of Eden leaving Adam alone and in need of a second, more submissive wife. Enter Eve.

Is Lilith in the bible? Curiously, she is, if only obliquely. In the middle of a discussion about the destruction of Edom we read in Isaiah 34.14:
NRSV
Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
and find a place to rest.

NJB
Wild cats will meet hyenas there,
satyr will call to satyr,
there Lilith too will lurk
and find somewhere to rest.

NASV
The desert creatures will meet with the wolves,
The hairy goat also will cry to its kind;
Yes, the night monster [Lilith in footnote] will settle there
And will find herself a resting place.

The Message
Wildcats and hyenas will hunt together,
demons and devils dance through the night.
The night-demon Lilith, evil and rapacious,
will establish permanent quarters.

RSV
And wild beasts shall meet with hyenas,
the satyr shall cry to his fellow;
yea, there shall the night hag alight,
and find for herself a resting place.

ASV
And the wild beasts of the desert shall meet with the wolves,
and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow;
yea, the night-monster shall settle there,
and shall find her a place of rest.

NIV
Desert creatures will meet with hyenas,
and wild goats will bleat to each other;
there the night creatures will also lie down
and find for themselves places of rest.
Here in Isaiah 34 we find a list of night creatures that will haunt the ruins of Edom. Some of these animals can be found at the zoo: wildcats, hyenas, wild goats. But there are some spooky creatures here as well: devils, demons, satyrs, night hags, monsters. And Lilith in particular.

As the legend continues, after leaving Eden Lilith becomes the first succubus, which fits the etymology of her name, a creature who haunts the night killing human infants and seducing men, particularly in their dreams.

Thus the nocturnal emissions.

This entry was posted by Richard Beck. Bookmark the permalink.

32 thoughts on “Adam's First Wife”

  1. I had heard of Lilith before, in previous gender studies research, but I hadn't paid her much mind. Thanks for delineating the myth for us!  :)

  2. Now this is something new for me! It is great to learn something new every day! I may just start reading the Bible more frequently. 

  3. Perhaps not apropos, but this image came up in my RSS feeds right after your discussion on Lilith and Eve: 
    http://lauracricket.tumblr.com/post/15657052072/i-used-to-have-this-up-on-my-wall-in-college-in with the author noting: 
    I always thought of her as the Second Eve....

  4. What is interesting is the historical backlash from feminist scholarship and pagan religious groups. The myth was created to criticize "uppity" women and put them in their place, a cautionary tale. But in modern times the story has unwittingly created the exact opposite: A feminist/goddess hero.

  5. Cool post. There is tons of this sort of interesting detail to be mined from the Hebrew Bible.

  6. Interestingly, there is an angel in the Babylonian Talmud whose name is Lailah (from the same word for "night") who is in charge of conception, and the broader context of this passage also talks about nocturnal emissions:

    "The name of the angel who is in charge of conception is 'Night' (Lailah
    takes up a drop and places it in the presence of the Holy One, blessed
    be He, saying, 'Sovereign of the universe, what shall be the fate of
    this drop? Shall it produce a strong man or a weak man, a wise man or a
    fool, a rich man or a poor man?'" (BT Niddah 16b)

  7. Funny how things get skewed when we tinker. We hear what we want to hear, and every generation hears something different. These were my thoughts when reading about the "Jefferson Bible" today, and the way people embrace what was, I assume, an unpopular viewpoint in Jefferson's time.

  8. That's where I learned of her as well. The Victorians were well acquainted with her, and Lilith is also vampire-Ish in GMD's book. I think his Lilith precedes Bram Stoker's Dracula by just a few years but would have to double check.

  9. At least in the version I heard, her rebellion was very specific: refusal to stay on the bottom during intercourse. It's utterly fascinating (and terrifying) how these ideology structures spread out into all sorts of different interactions.

  10. Yes, I had always meant to find out more about the legend since reading this extraordinary book.

  11. Okay . . . so . . . if there were to be a nocturnal emission . . . not that I ever have any . . . but hypothetically . . .  if it were to happen someday . . . it's not on account of me but rather is on account of Lilith?  This is such a comfort.  It really takes a load off my mind.  I'n going to have to insist that my children take more classes from you.  I love it!

  12. Why would Lilith be evil, a demon? what made her this way, because she was cast out?

  13. I see Lilith and Eve as symbolic of  the two purposes of the creation of sexual appetite. On the one hand it may ne used for gratification or pleasure and on the other hand for reproduction.
    Thus aspects of gratification would include voumtary or involuntary emissions because no life is produced, or it may include rape and abortions or  prostitution or for that  matter same sex [homosexual] associations. All that means is comfort, pleasure that has noting to do with the purpose of man and woman for multipying.
    Males culturally seem afraid of anything that they cannot subdue -a feminist woman, a paid prostitute, gays/same sex partnerships. Like Adam they do their utmost to villify and discredit those they cannot subdue, and they idolize the manly and agressive!
    Richie 

  14. Wow this is so interesting. I'm writing my dissertation on how religious allegory defines female morality within fin de siecle and I have chosen Lilith as a core text. I agree that this was suppose to support patriachy during the increase in women's emancipation. But could you give me any clues to the connection between Lilith and the leopards? Also is an overall religious moral within the novel?

  15.  In thinking about the Old testment, I think of these stories as oral traditions of long standing that were repeated (maybe like European fairytales) over many generations, and then at some point a scholar wrote them down. I think we tend to mush the Bible all together as The Bible, and since the New Testament books started out as written texts, we forget how different the very old scriptures are, especially Genesis. My own personal theory about the 2 creation stories is that they were two bits of oral tradition which had little to do with each other - one was about the creation of the whole physical world, the other is really about marriage - how did these two different creatures man and woman come to be, and why do we have this tradition where they commit to spend life together? According to my theory, the creation of the world story and the marriage/meaning of gender story had different purposes, and so they wouldn't be told together. Maybe the beginning of the world story was told at the soltice, or at the harvest, or at births. Maybe the gender story was told at marriages, betrothals, or menarche celebrations Only when writing came in, and after that editing, did someone put these two stories down one after each other as if they were some sort of chapter 1 and chapter 2. The decrepancies - i tend to see these as produced more by the process of scholarship, first in writing down the stories, and then in studying them.

  16. A long time ago as a young teenager, I detected the differences between the two chapters of the Bible.  I vaguely remember this story of Lilith, being the first wife of Adam.  Through the years this memory had vanished, which made me believe that Eve was the first wife of Adam.  I desire to thank you for this blog, bringing back the Hebrew mythology of Adam's first wife.  The mythology however, seems to coincide with that read above.  My KJV, does not have the name of Lilith within it, however.  I am aware that this KJV was transcribed from a text that had over 1,000 mistakes, both accidental and intentional, in it.  So, how could this version be accounted as "official".  At the time of transcription in the 1600's, it was the worse copy of all the copies of the Bible at the time, to make the KJV from.

  17. Well, she may have sounded hot, but how would you enjoy getting her fangs into you?  Would you then continue to believe she was hot?

  18. OK, cannot resist a pun.  Besides taking a load off of your mind, it also takes a load of semen out of the body!

  19. A better understanding of the Spirit, Soul and Body would help dispel a lot of myths that were created to explain something that the early "pre-Jewish" people could not wrap their head around. We are spirit beings. We have a soul and we live in this "earth suit" called a body. There are spirits out there that are very real. They want to enter into a body because that is the only way they can have any authority in this earthly realm. The first chapter of Genesis is about the creation of the spirit realm. Think of this as someone who came up with an invention idea and has it all thought out and in their mind, it is already built. They can "see" it. Chapter two of Genesis actually uses a different word, "formed" not "created." It's like, now, it is time to take the idea to the construction phase. In the spirit, the two are one, hence the language referring to marriage of "What God has joined together, let not man tear asunder." We are to operate as one in marriage. In the prayer Jesus taught, He said "Thy will be done on earth AS IT IS in heaven." This is what we see here in the creation story. It happened in the spirit first, then it was done on earth (and even WITH dirt!).

  20. Man has XY and woman has XX. Guess which "rib" God pulled from Adam to make woman? The materials used to make woman were of already tested quality. Woman was inside of man, with him, helping him in the spirit. But man wanted her in the physical as well. It is the only thing in creation that God said was not "good," that man was alone. He was not alone spiritually, but he was physically. So man has either an extra Y that women don't have or a missing leg of an X that God used to make woman. Hmmm....Lord, which is it?

  21. I think this type of theology and extra-biblical sources is derived from the teachings of the Kabal.

    I think biblical philosophy/theosophy is interesting, but should not be taken as "Truth" -- this allows for the wrongful misinterpretation of Biblical scripture which could eventually threaten the solidarity of the message.

    If you have 1 cup of Coffee... you can only add so-many drops of water before it no longer tastes like Coffee.

    I think Paul Spoke well when he said...

    (Colossians 2:6) As ye have therefore received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk ye in him:

    (Colossians 2:7) Rooted and built up in him, and stablished in the faith, as ye have been taught, abounding therein with thanksgiving.

    (Colossians 2:8) Beware lest any man spoil you through philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world, and not after Christ.

  22. I believe that both Lilith and Adam have the sexual desires that are taboo-ed by those legends described in the ancient writings... Not very well read in religious literature, I, nevertheless, have come to consider the theory that control over mankind was established by defining the sexual aspect of human existence as being sinful unless for reproduction... This, in its turn, makes me think why intensified reproduction was necessary? Workforce... (I will not elaborate on this part)... Lilith embraces her sexuality, thus refusing to be subordinated to another human being, irrespective of gender (since Adam to me contains both female and male characteristics, thus the genes)... Here I think of the historic evidence of uncontrolled sexual behavior of human ancestors, which still allowed for sufficient reproduction for the continuation for human existence. Apparently, there was a need to increase the human (intelligent) population. Thus, Lilith-ish behavior had to be degraded and Eve-ish behavior of subordination to the new order... Thus the societal norms of marriage and complete disregard to human nature as a sexual and spiritual being. Similarly, natural forms of sexual behavior other than between a sexually active xx and xy have been condemned in the society, including masturbation, same-sex relationships, even sex between the elderly was up until recently considered as something not to be considered, lol... But I might totally be wrong :)

Leave a Reply