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Women and How Adam, Eve, and Lilith Started.

I posted this whole story on my other site and lost my account and it got lost also. I am putting it here now// You can click on the books on the right and get the site from here or you can read everything that is posted. I hope I don't get into trouble sharing this as when I went to it earlier it was gone and that is why I will keep it here for now. This is minus the artwork for now.


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1. Eve and Women


Eve Albrecht Dürer 1507 (

Art has always played and continues to play, an important role in the service of what has been called "gender ideology," communicating ideas about social order through the representation of female and male sexuality. The themes and styles of works of art often function as a prescription for relationships between women and men.

Images of women and men can effectively incite both sexes to adopt certain self-images, attitudes, and behaviour. Male-constructed images of women, and men, are so embedded in Western culture that they appear quite "natural." Once it is recognized that they are constructions, it becomes necessary to ask not only how they are constructed but also why.

The constructed social relationship between women and men in the West is rooted in the Genesis story of Adam and Eve. For the last 2,500 years it has underpinned our perception of sex and gender and thereby influenced how women and men are represented in art. Any discussion of images of women and men must therefore be prefaced by an examination of the opening chapters of Genesis.

The story of Adam and Eve is a creation story, and creation stories, which are accounts of how humankind came to be, can reveal a great deal about the ethos of the culture. Stories or legends about the origin or creation of humankind offer clues about how a culture perceives the world and the relation of living things to it and to each other.

The "message" of the Judaeo-Christian creation myth, recounted in the Biblical story of Genesis 1-3, shows a particular conception of the origins of humankind. It is claimed that God created man in his own likeness, was given dominion over "every living thing", and leave to subdue the earth with his offspring. Equally significant is the prominence given to men; God is male and his most important creation is male. The story stresses the primacy of man and the centrality of his place in the universe, while making it clear that women play a subordinate role. The story also recounts how the woman, whom Adam subsequently named Eve, was disobedient and succumbed to temptation the result of which was the expulsion of both Adam and Eve from the Garden of Eden.

For the past two thousand years or so the story of Adam and Eve has communicated social and religious values to Western civilization. Whether you regard the story as an innocuous folk tale or as an invidious, misogynistic tract, it has successfully presented its "truths" about women in particular as God-ordained and universally valid.

Throughout the Christian period, the story of Eve has provided men with the reason why they should restrain and restrict the social, sexual, religious, political, and economic freedom of women. It has also given men the justification to hold women responsible for all the misfortunes suffered by mankind.

All women are like Eve, and their only chance of redemption is to become like the Virgin Mary, another patriarchal fantasy, who represents absolute obedience and purity. The story of Eve and its many misogynistic interpretations have over the centuries defined the image of woman in Western civilization.


2.Eve in Genesis

Genesis has been subjected to any number of interpretations, none of them satisfactory to the modern mind. Though the intent of the story is clear, as a narrative it lacks sense. Even the literalists who want to read it as straight fact find themselves following pretzel-like paths of explanation.

Apart from such knotty and awkward questions as from whence came evil in a new world God proclaimed as "good," and the incestuous situation which must have prevailed for the human race to continue (by whom did Cain father children?), a fundamental problem is the fact that the story has two different accounts of the creation of man.

The first is told briefly in Genesis 1:27: God "created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them."

The term "man" in this instance is to be understood in the collective sense as meaning mankind. This plural or inclusive use of the word "man" is made clear in Genesis 5:2 where it is again stated that "Male and female he created them and blessed them and called their name man on the day of their creation." The passage therefore may be interpreted to mean that men and women were created in one act, both sexes together, equally and at the same time.

The second, much lengthier account is given in Genesis 2 and 3. Instead of simultaneous creation, the story tells first of God forming man out of the dust, breathing life into his nostrils, and setting him down in the garden of Eden.

Only after the first act of creation does the story go on to recount the making of a woman from the man's rib, the story of the serpent's temptation of the woman, and the subsequent expulsion of the man and the woman from the garden into our world.

Biblical scholars currently believe that the first account given in Genesis 1:27 was written much later than the second story, having been composed according to the "P" source or "Priestly Code" (so called because of its cultic interests and regulations for priests) probably by Jewish theologians around 500-400 BCE.

The longer second story, related more in the language of folklore, is derived from the "J" or "Yahwist" source (so called because it used the name Yahweh [Jehovah] for God) and was probably written down by members of Hebrew tribes around 1000-900 BCE during the time of King Solomon.

Eve's Identity

Whether or not you believe the Bible was divinely inspired, the Book of Genesis has served as the primary source in the West for definitions of gender and morality.

Although much of the story of Adam and Eve can be explained within the context of Hebrew culture, and its patriarchal bias shown to be historical rather than divine in origin, it is nonetheless perceived as containing fundamental, and largely negative, "truths" about the nature of women.

For the last two thousand years or so, Eve has represented the fundamental character and identity of all women. Through Eve's words and actions, the true nature of women was revealed; her story tells men what women are really like.

Eve represents everything about a woman a man should guard against. In both form and symbol, Eve is woman, and because of her, the prevalent belief in the West has been that all women are by nature disobedient, guileless, weak-willed, prone to temptation and evil, disloyal, untrustworthy, deceitful, seductive, and motivated in their thoughts and behaviour purely by self-interest.

No matter what women might achieve in the world, the message of Genesis warns men not to trust them, and women not to trust themselves or each other. Whoever she might be and whatever her accomplishments, no woman can escape being identified with Eve, or being identified as her.

In the West, the story of Eve has served over the centuries as the principal document in support of measures and laws to curtail and limit the actions, rights, and status of women. The Pseudo-St. Paul, for example, in his Pastoral Epistle to St. Timothy, could cite Genesis as the reason why women should not be allowed to teach or to tell a man what to do:


For I do not allow woman to teach, or to exercise authority over men; but she is to keep silent. For Adam was formed first, then Eve. And Adam was not deceived, but the woman was deceived and became a transgressor.

(1 Timothy 2:12-14)

The early Christian theologian Tertullian (c. 155/160-220 CE) reminded women that they all share Eve's "ignominy...of original sin and the odium of being the cause of the fall of the human race":


Do you not believe that you are (each) an Eve? The sentence of God on this sex of yours lives on even in our times and so it is necessary that the guilt should live on, also. You are the one who opened the door to the Devil, you are the one who first plucked the fruit of the forbidden tree, you are the first who deserted the divine law; you are the one who persuaded him whom the Devil was not strong enough to attack. All too easily you destroyed the image of God, man. Because of your desert, that is, death, even the Son of God had to die.

(The Apparel of Women, Book I, Chapt. 1)

During the Middle Ages, St. Bernard of Clairvaux could claim in his sermons, without contradiction, that Eve was "the original cause of all evil, whose disgrace has come down to all other women."

This perception of Eve has endured with remarkable tenacity, and persists today as a major stumbling-block in attempts by women to correct gender-based inequalities between the sexes. Consciously or unconsciously, it continues to serve as the ultimate weapon against women who wish to challenge male hegemony.

It is so deeply rooted in the socio-religious psyche of Western civilization that attempts to discredit it, or dismiss it, or simply ignore it as self-serving patriarchal fiction and myth-making have met with little success. One strategy has been to adopt a revisionist approach to the story itself and to re-read it, and re-interpret it, in feminist terms. It has been argued that Genesis 2-3 is not inherently patriarchal and efforts have been made to recover it from centuries of misogynist reading.

Phyllis Trible, Professor of Sacred Literature at Union Theological Seminary in New York City, for example, holds that far from being a secondary or dependent being, Eve is in fact the "culmination" of creation [see BIBLIOGRAPHY].

The argument that the order of creation, in which Adam was created first and Eve second, indicates hierarchy and therefore Adam's superiority ignores the fact that animals were created before Adam. As Adam is superior to the animals, then the hierarchy of creation should be reversed, and Eve seen as God's ultimate creation.



Trible also argues that at the time of their creation, Adam and Eve were equals and that the inequality between them enters only after Genesis 3:16 as a consequence of disobedience. In other words, inequality between the sexes was not originally part of the divine plan. It would therefore follow that attempts by feminists today to restore equality are in keeping with God's original plan.

A point made by Trible and others is that at the time of creation in Genesis 2:7, ha-'adam, which has been conventionally translated as "man," "the man" (ha read as the definite article "the"), or "Adam," had no gender. Gender comes into existence only with the creation of woman in Genesis 2:22, following which, in 2:23, the "earth-creature" or "groundling" (suggested alternative translations of ha-'adam) is sexually differentiated as "man" (ish), and woman as ishah.

A note can be added here on the word "rib." Sarah Roth Lieberman [see BIBLIOGRAPHY] points out that the Sumerian word "ti" means both "rib" and "to make alive." In ancient Mesopotamia, Ninti, whose name means both "lady of the rib" and "lady who makes alive," is the goddess created by Nimhursag to heal Enki's sick rib. The double meaning may explain why Eve, who is called "mother of all living" (Genesis 3:20), was created from Adam's rib (an otherwise very odd piece of male anatomy to chose). Unfortunately, in the Bible, the association is lost because the Hebrew words for "rib" and "life" are two different words with unrelated roots.

Attempts have also been made to correct the popular belief that Eve was a temptress who tempted Adam into eating the fruit despite the fact that according to Genesis 3:6, after she ate the fruit herself, she then "gave some to her husband and he ate."

This simple, and by any other measure, generous and unselfish act of sharing has, in a list assiduously compiled by Jean Higgins [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], been variously interpreted over the centuries by Biblical scholars and commentators to mean that Eve "tempted, beguiled, lured, corrupted, persuaded, taught, counseled, suggested, urged, used wicked persuasion, led into wrongdoing, proved herself an enemy, used guile and cozening, tears and lamentations, to prevail upon Adam."

In the Vulgate, St. Jerome uses the word seducta to describe Eve's transgression clearly implying that she used her sex to tempt, or seduce, Adam into disobedience. Such damning commentary has long supported the wide-spread conviction that Eve tempted Adam to sin and was therefore responsible for Adam's fall.

However, despite the sometimes ingenious efforts by feminists in particular, it has proved remarkably difficult to correct popular belief and redefine Eve in more positive terms.

The negative view of Eve and of women in general has been constantly reinforced in the West over the centuries. In a medieval liturgical drama of the story of Adam and Eve, acted both inside and outside of many churches, at the moment of their Expulsion from the Garden of Eden, Adam, after hurling a wailing Eve to the ground, kicking her, and dragging her by the hair, cries out in fury and dismay:


Oh, evil woman, full of treason....

Forever contrary to reason,

Bringing no man good in any season:

Our children's children to the end of time

Will feel the cruel whiplash of your crime!

Moreover this view of Eve and of women in general has been insinuated into the culture to such an extent that both men and women believe it defines a natural condition of women. It is a pernicious view and the degree to which it continues to subtly influence in negative ways our perception of women must be constantly born in mind while looking at the images of women in these pages.

4.Genesis & Patriarchy

The identity and character of Eve in Genesis is not a divinely ordained fact but the misogynistic construction of patriarchal Hebrew writers.

The term "Hebrew" is generally used to describe the Old Testament patriarchs, beginning with Abraham and Isaac and ending with Moses, and to designate a period covering approximately 400 years dating from the first half of the second millennium BCE to the conquest in the 13th century BCE of Canaan (Palestine) that followed the exodus from Egypt during the reign of Ramesses II (1290-1224 BCE).

From the 13th century to the time of the Babylonian Captivity in the 6th century BCE, the same people are known as Israelites. After their return from Babylon, they are known as Jews.

Properly speaking, it is only after the conquest of Canaan in the 13th century that "Hebrews" are speaking Hebrew, which was a dialect of Canaanite, a Semitic language heavily influenced by Egyptian and spoken in the kingdoms of Israel, Judah, and Moab between 1500 and 500 BCE. For religious reasons, Hebrew is often treated as a distinct language.

The semi-nomadic Hebrew tribes led by Joshua that conquered Caanan in the 13th century lived in a pre-state society. When state formation did occur, around the middle of the 11th century BCE, it can be argued, based on other historical examples, that it involved a process which increasingly excluded women from public and religious activities and introduced a stricter regulation of female sexuality.

The story of Adam and Eve related in Genesis 2-3 was evidently composed around this same time and can be understood as playing a role in defining the new subordinate status of women. It should be noted, too, that it was during this same period that the Eastern Mediterranean as a whole was undergoing dramatic changes due to the impact of Indo-European invaders whose social and religious institutions were strongly patriarchal and patrilineal. One of the changes to occur was a significant downward shift in the status and role of women.

Although there can be no doubt that a patriarchal family structure predominates in the Biblical narrative, there is evidence in the Bible itself to indicate that previously there had been in some tribes a matrilineal and matrilocal family organization.

For example, the seven years Jacob spent in the service of Laban for each of his daughters, Rachel and Leah, would conform to matrilocal marriage practices (Genesis 29).

It has been suggested that a non-patriarchal social system in the background of the "matriarchs" Sarah and Rebecca could explain certain aspects of their behaviour. For example, in their abstinence from becoming pregnant, or remaining "barren," has been discerned a parallel in the traditional role among priestesses in their homeland of Mesopotamia.

It has also been pointed out that in the story of Jacob, each of his twelve "sons" is said to have married his own twin-sister which suggests a form of land-inheritance through the mother.

In addition, it has been argued that the usage of the phrase that a man must "leave his father and mother and cleave to his wife" (i.e. to move to his wife's family's residence) in Genesis 2:24 is also indicative of matrilocal arrangements.

This seems to have been a Canaanite (Palestinian) custom, as is suggested by the account of the marriage of Samson to the Philistine woman, Delilah (Judges 14). It is has been argued that this same custom accounts for Abraham sending his servant off to acquire a wife for his son Isaac from among his own patrilocal kinsmen of Harran rather than permitting him to marry a Canaanite woman and have Isaac adopted into her clan (Genesis 24).

Another hitherto overlooked instance suggestive of a matrilineal social structure wherein the woman is the head of the family can be found in the story of Adam and Eve where the serpent addresses not Adam, but Eve. The various reasons given for this (see Eve's Identity) tend to overlook the fact that the serpent completely ignores Adam.

It can also be pointed out that in the earlier period women could also serve as leaders, such as Deborah, and perform heroic deeds, and Jael who killed Sisera the leader of the Canaanites (Judges 4-5).

It may be argued that Genesis 2-3 both marks the historical shift to increasingly patriarchal social and religious institutions, and also served as a key document in support of the new patriarchal order by claiming it to be divinely ordained.

5.Eve & the Serpent

In Art it is the second account of the creation of Adam and Eve (Genesis 2-3) that has received the greatest exposure. Art has thereby contributed significantly to giving the second account popular currency in Western thinking.

In contrast to the first account, where man and woman seem to have been created at the same time and on an equal footing, the second presents woman in a distinctly unfavorable light. She is made almost as an afterthought, a second solution after the first one had failed.

Concerned that man was alone and lonely in the garden, God decided to make a "helper fit for him" and brought before him "every beast of the field and every bird of the air."

It is only after Adam fails to find a suitable companion among them that God thought of creating a woman. This he accomplished, as you know, by causing Adam to fall into a deep sleep and by forming a woman out of one of his ribs. She was created specifically to serve as Adam's helper, a subordinate position that God makes clear is to be her lot in life.

On the advice of the serpent, this woman (Adam does not give her the name Eve until after the fall), disobeys God's command that neither she nor Adam eat from the tree of knowledge and consequently brings about the downfall of man and the expulsion from the garden of Eden.

In the story in Genesis 3:1-5, Eve is tempted by a creature referred to as "He" and described simply as a serpent. Its only unusual features in the story are that it could speak and presumably didn't yet crawl (it was made to crawl on its belly only after being cursed by God).

Frequently in art the serpent is represented as female. In a fresco by Michelangelo, for example, the serpent is shown with the upper body of a woman and snake-like lower parts.


female serpent detail of the Fall and Expulsion of Adam and Eve, 1510 Michelangelo. Fresco, Sistine Chapel, Vatican, Rome


That the human part of the serpent is female is clear from the exposed left breast and from her long blond hair which streams back from her head. The human features appear to continue down as far as the knees. The impression is that her two legs become snake-like limbs just above or at the knee. The upper part of her snake-legs are wrapped around the tree, the right one coiling over the left, but below it appears that the two become one with a single tail emerging from around the tree onto the ground. Her right arm grasps the tree trunk for support as she stretches out her left arm to meet Eve's upraised left hand (the significance of the left, or "sinister", hand used in the transaction by both Eve and the serpent should not be overlooked).

Michelangelo is following the popular convention of the period. A serpent with a woman's head and blond hair also appears, for example, in a fresco by Masolino of the Temptation on the entrance pilaster in the Brancacci Chapel in S. Maria del Carmine in Florence.


Temptation of Adam and Eve Masolino. c. 1425. Fresco Brancacci Chapel, S. Maria del Carmine, Florence


By identifying Eve as a temptress (see Eve's Identity), she was seen as playing the same role as the evil serpent who had tempted her, thus linking the two. In art, the link between women and evil is made visually apparent by showing the serpent as a woman with snake-like lower parts. The image of the monstrous serpent-woman cleverly identifies both the source of evil and its nature.

6.The Old Testament, Women & Evil

The identification of women with evil had already been established in the Old Testament.

It is important to understand that the story told in Genesis about Eve and the serpent has a larger religious and political context which is the real historical struggle waged by the prophets of Yahweh and the indigenous Canaanite cult of Baal. Baal, who appears to have arrived in Canaan with the Phoenicians, was the son and consort of the Mother Goddess Asherah.

Baal was primarily a fertility god and appears not only in the form of a man and a bull (like his father 'El), but also in the form of a serpent. By stressing through these forms his potency and virility, Baal represents the masculine element, and serves as the fertilizing, life-giving, and life-renewing aspect through whom the Mother Goddess fulfills her functions.

The name Baal (ba'al in Hebrew) means "lord" and was an appellation applied to various manifestations of the god which were referred to in the plural as Baalim. It is apparent that in early times the Israelites worshipped Baal as the true God.

Initially the association was with Baal's father, the Canaanite god 'El, with whom Yahweh was closely related. It is has even been suggested that like 'El, Yahweh, too, had as a consort the goddess Asherah.

As the cult of Yahweh developed, it drew on the myths of Baal. For example, the language used in the earliest poetic sources in which Yahweh is depicted as a divine warrior manifest is borrowed almost directly from Canaanite descriptions of the theophany of Baal as storm god.

However, as the adherents of the Yahwist sect (or the "Yahweh-alone party" as one scholar has called them) engaged in the struggle to establish Yahweh as the one true God, Baal became the enemy of Israel. Baal and the Baalim were represented as false pagan gods and the cult associated with idolatry.

However, it is clear from the Old Testament that the cult of Baal remained popular and was not easily suppressed. The overarching narrative of the Old Testament is the struggle of the Yahwists against Baal for religious dominance in Israel. Time and again the preexilic biblical prophets admonish the Israelites for worshipping Baal.

Although the impression the prophets wish to convey is one of relapse from Yahwism, it is not difficult to discern the fact that the cult of Baal was well-established and widespread in ancient Palestine. In this light, much of the Old Testament can be read as an extended Yahwist propaganda tract against Baal. The tactic adopted by the Yahwists in their efforts to defeat Baal was to demonize the cult and to represent Baal as an evil god, a demon hostile to humankind.

In the story of the temptation and fall in Genesis 3, Baal is represented in his potent serpent form and exposed as a seducer and deceiver and as Yahweh's evil adversary.

A clear hint to how the Genesis story should be read is found in the writings of Hosea (Osee) the theme of which, contained in the metaphor of the Israelites behaving like an unfaithful wife and "playing the harlot", is the desertion of Yahweh by the Israelites and their seduction by the Canaanite Baal.

In Hosea's story can also be discerned some essential features of the cult of Baal which, when combined with other brief references found scattered through the Old Testament, reveal, at least in the eyes of the patriarchal Israelites, that it was strongly associated with women.

It is also clear that the cult was not principally that of Baal but also that of his mother-consort the goddess Asherah (or Ashteroth, or Astarte). In Judges 2:13, 3:7, 10:6, and 1 Samuel 7:4, 12:10, the Israelites are accused of abandoning Yahweh and "serving the Baals and the Asherahs."


Canaanite Goddess (Astarte-Ashtoreth?) gold plaque from Lachish. 13th century BCE (Israel Museum, Jerusalem)


The cult itself was evidently celebrated in high places, on the tops of hills and mountains, where altars dedicated to Baal and carved wooden poles or statues of Asherah (or "the Asherahs"; in the past "Asherah" has also been translated as "grove", or "wood", or "tree").

There, sacrifices were made, and incense burnt not only to Baal but also to the sun and the moon, the "twelve signs" and to "all the host of heaven" by which is meant all the stars (Hosea 4:13). The latter grouping of moon, twelve signs, and stars all signify Asherah. It seems clear that Asherah and Baal were worshipped together. When King Hezekiah (727-698 BCE) set about destroying cult sites, he "cut down the Asherah and broke into pieces the Brazen Serpent [i.e. Baal] which Moses had made" (II Kings 18:4).

That it was principally women who were involved in the cult of Baal/Asherah is made clear from passages in Jeremiah 44. When threatened with destruction for not following Yahweh, it is the women who respond saying that


we will continue doing what we had proposed; we will burn incense to the queen of heaven and pour libations out to her, as we and fathers, our kings and princes have done in the cities of Juda and the streets of Jerusalem. Then we had enough food to eat and we were well off; we suffered no misfortune.

(Jeremiah 44:17)


The women explain that they have resumed burning incense and pouring libations because when they stopped they have since suffered deprivation and destruction. They also point out to Jeremiah that their activities are supported by their husbands (Jeremiah 44:19).

The cult evidently had adherents also among high-ranking women, such as Maacah, the mother of King Asa of Juda, who was clearly some sort of priestess of Asherah and played a role in cult rituals (I Kings 15:13). King Asa, however, removed her from her position as priestess and physically destroyed the cult centre, breaking and burning the sacred wooden pole or statue of the goddess.

In the Yahwists' scathing condemnation of the cult of Baal/Asherah, women are frequently singled out and blamed for leading Israelites astray. Solomon, for example, has his heart "turned away" from Yahweh by women (I Kings 11:3) and he worships "Astarthe the goddess of the Sidonians" (I Kings 11:5). The Phoenician city of Sidon was a centre for the worship of Asherah.

In another case, Jezebel, the daughter of Ethbaal, king of the Sidonians (Ethbaal, of course, is a cognate of Baal, as is Jeze-baal), caused her husband, King Ahab (873-852 BCE), to worship Baal and Asherah (I Kings 16:31-33). Accordingly, Jezebel has been condemned ever since as a wicked woman.

The Baal-Asherah cult, therefore, was demonized not only because it was perceived as inimical to Yahwism, but also because its principal adherents were women. This may explain some important features of the Genesis story.

First, it is noteworthy that in the scene of the temptation, the serpent approaches not Adam, as you might expect, but Eve. Although this is usually explained by the "fact" that Eve, being a woman, was more weak-willed than Adam and therefore more susceptible to temptation, it is more believably the case that the narrator of the story was witnessing an already established association between the serpent and the woman.

The point of Genesis 3 is to make this otherwise obvious link but then to show how the serpent in fact deceived and betrayed the woman. Indeed, to underscore this the woman is actually made to say "The serpent deceived me and I ate" (Genesis 3:13). The narrator then cleverly has Yahweh punish the serpent for deceiving the woman, but at the same time uses it as an opportunity to drive a wedge between the serpent and the woman with a curse putting everlasting "enmity" between them and their offspring. The story successfully alienates the woman from her long-time ally, the serpent.

The curse metered out to Eve as punishment for her listening to the serpent is also interesting in this respect. Yahweh tells Eve that he "will make great your distress in child-bearing; in pain shall you bring forth children."

This is, when all is said and done, a curious punishment for disobedience. It makes sense, however, when it is placed within the context of the Baal/Asherah cult. Cults which focused on a Mother Goddess were attractive to women because in most instances they addressed the concerns of women.

Among these concerns would be sexual health ranging from fertility in general to particular matters such as menstruation, conception, pregnancy, child-birth, breast-feeding, and infant care (see also "Snake Charmers" in The Minoan Snake Goddess).

Significantly, as in the case of Baal/Asherah, the serpent, as an aspect of the Mother Goddess, was identified with health and healing. Especially in an age when child-bearing was potentially life-threatening to the mother, cults associated with the Mother Goddess were a source of support and consolation. A Hebrew incantation text from the 7th century BCE, for example, seeks the help of the goddess Asherah for a woman in childbirth. The punishment Yahweh enacts on Eve is a slap in the face of one of the principal functions of the Mother Goddess which is to protect women in child-bearing.

In a logic similar to that used by Jeremiah 44 (see above), who tried to explain to the women that the deprivation and suffering among the Israelites was Yahweh's punishment for their continued adherence to the cult of Baal/Asherah (whereas the cult followers believed the opposite, that their suffering was the result of their neglect of cult practices), Genesis argues in effect that, contrary to the belief that women found help and relief in childbirth through the Baal/Asherah cult, the distress of child-bearing and the pain of childbirth in fact is the result, in the form of Yahweh's punishment, of their (Eve's) continued adherence to the cult, indicated by Eve's listening to the serpent and disregarding the orders of Yahweh.

If the Baal-Asherah cult was associated primarily with women, an additional reason for the Yahwists' condemnation of it may also have been that it existed in and was perhaps supported by non-patriarchal social institutions.

Hosea clearly associated the Baal-Asherah cult with promiscuous sexual behaviour among women ("your daughters play the harlot, and your daughters-in-law are adulteresses" 4:13) which may be a reflection of his patriarchal distaste of the attitudes towards sexual relations found among matrilineal societies (see Matriliny in the Aegean Bronze Age for further discussions of matriliny).


The point that needs to be stressed is that the "holy war" waged by the Yahwists against the cult of Baal/Asherah was not simply or only a conflict between two religious groups but was also a fight conducted by the masculine against the feminine.

This conflict would perhaps be of little consequence were it not for the fact that its values have been transmitted down through the centuries and have contributed significantly to the shaping of Western ideas and attitudes. As Anne Baring and Jules Cashford point out [see BIBLIOGRAPHY], it established a "paradigm of opposition" not just of men against women, but of good (men) against evil (women).

And so, while it may be argued that analysis of the original context of the Genesis story outlined above would not have been generally available during the Christian period, the basic "truth" of the story identifying women with evil would have been all too familiar as part of the patriarchal Judaeo-Christian tradition.

7.Eve & Lilith

In an effort to explain inconsistencies in the Old Testament, there developed in Jewish literature a complex interpretive system called the midrash which attempts to reconcile biblical contradictions and bring new meaning to the scriptural text.

Employing both a philological method and often an ingenious imagination, midrashic writings, which reached their height in the 2nd century CE, influenced later Christian interpretations of the Bible. Inconsistencies in the story of Genesis, especially the two separate accounts of creation, received particular attention. Later, beginning in the 13th century CE, such questions were also taken up in Jewish mystical literature known as the Kabbalah.

According to midrashic literature, Adam's first wife was not Eve but a woman named Lilith, who was created in the first Genesis account. Only when Lilith rebelled and abandoned Adam did God create Eve, in the second account, as a replacement. In an important 13th century Kabbalah text, the Sefer ha-Zohar ("The Book of Splendour") written by the Spaniard Moses de Leon (c. 1240-1305), it is explained that:


At the same time Jehovah created Adam, he created a woman, Lilith, who like Adam was taken from the earth. She was given to Adam as his wife. But there was a dispute between them about a matter that when it came before the judges had to be discussed behind closed doors. She spoke the unspeakable name of Jehovah and vanished.

In the Alpha Betha of Ben Sira (Alphabetum Siracidis, or Sepher Ben Sira), an anonymous collection of midrashic proverbs probably compiled in the 11th century C.E., it is explained more explicitly that the conflict arose because Adam, as a way of asserting his authority over Lilith, insisted that she lie beneath him during sexual intercourse (23 A-B). Lilith, however, considering herself to be Adam's equal, refused, and after pronouncing the Ineffable Name (i.e. the magic name of God) flew off into the air.

Adam, distraught and no doubt also angered by her insolent behaviour, wanted her back. On Adam's request, God sent three angels, named Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, who found her in the Red Sea. Despite the threat from the three angels that if she didn't return to Adam one hundred of her sons would die every day, she refused, claiming that she was created expressly to harm newborn infants. However, she did swear that she would not harm any infant wearing an amulet with the images and/or names of the three angels on it.

At this point, the legend of Lilith as the "first Eve" merges with the earlier legend of Sumero-Babylonian origin, dating from around 3,500 BCE, of Lilith as a winged female demon who kills infants and endangers women in childbirth. In this role, she was one of several mazakim or "harmful spirits" known from incantation formulas preserved in Assyrian, Hebrew, and Canaanite inscriptions intended to protect against them. As a female demon, she is closely related to Lamashtu whose evilness included killing children, drinking the blood of men, and eating their flesh. Lamashtu also caused pregnant women to miscarry, disturbed sleep and brought nightmares.

In turn, Lamashtu is like another demonized female called Lamia, a Libyan serpent goddess, whose name is probably a Greek variant of Lamashtu. Like Lamashtu, Lamia also killed children. In the guise of a beautiful woman, she also seduced young men. In the Latin Vulgate Bible, Lamia is given as the translation of the Hebrew Lilith (and in other translations it is given as "screech owl" and "night monster").

It needs to be remembered that these demonic "women" are essentially personifications of unseen forces invented to account for otherwise inexplicable events and phenomena which occur in the real world. Lilith, Lamashtu, Lamia and other female demons like them are all associated with the death of children and especially with the death of newborn infants.

It may be easily imagined that they were held accountable for such things as Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS, also called crib death, or cot death) where an apparently healthy infant dies for no obvious reason. Cot death occurs almost always during sleep at night and is the most common cause of death of infants. Its cause still remains unknown.

By inventing evil spirits like Lilith, Lamashtu, and Lamia, parents were not only able to identify the enemy but also to know what they had to guard against. Amulets with the names of the three angels were intended to protect against the power of Lilith.

Lilith also personified licentiousness and lust. In the Christian Middle Ages she, or her female offspring, the lilim, became identified with succubae (the female counterparts of incubi) who would copulate with men in their sleep, causing them to have nocturnal emissions or "wet dreams."

Again, Lilith and her kind serve as a way of accounting for an otherwise inexplicable phenomenon among men. Today, 85 percent of all men experience "wet dreams" (the ejaculation of sperm while asleep) at some time in their lives, mostly during their teens and twenties and as often as once a month. In the Middle Ages, celibate monks would attempt to guard against these nocturnal visits by the lilith/succubus by sleeping with their hands crossed over their genitals and holding a crucifix.

Through the literature of the Kabbalah, Lilith became fixed in Jewish demonology where her primary role is that of strangler of children and a seducer of men. The Kabbalah further enhanced her demonic character by making her the partner of Samael (i.e. Satan) and queen of the realm of the forces of evil.

In this guise, she appears as the antagonistic negative counterpart of the Shekhinah ("Divine Presence"), the mother of the House of Israel. The Zohar repeatedly contrasts Lilith the unholy whorish woman with the Shekhinah as the holy, noble, and capable woman. In much the same way, Eve the disobedient, lustful sinner is contrasted with the obedient and holy Virgin Mary in Christian literature.

Through her couplings with the devil (or with Adam, as his succubus), Lilith gave birth to one hundred demonic children a day (the one hundred children threatened with death by the three angels). In this way, Lilith was held responsible for populating the world with evil.

If you ask how Lilith herself, the first wife of Adam, became evil, the answer lies in her insubordination to her husband Adam. It is her independence from Adam, her position beyond the control of a male, that makes her "evil."

She is disobedient and like Eve, and indeed all women who are willful, she is perceived as posing a constant threat to the divinely ordered state of affairs defined by men.

Lilith is represented as a powerfully sexual woman against whom men and babies felt they had few defenses and, except for a few amulets, little protection. Much more so than Eve, Lilith is the personification female sexuality.

Her legend serves to demonstrate how, when unchecked, female sexuality is disruptive and destructive. Lilith highlights how women, beginning with Eve, use their sexuality to seduce men. She provides thereby a necessary sexual dimension, which is otherwise lacking, to the Genesis story which, when read in literal terms, portrays Eve not as some wicked femme fatale but as a naive and largely sexless fool. Only as a Lilith-like character could Eve be seen as a calculating, evil, seductress.

Lilith is referred to only once in the Old Testament. In the Darby translation of Isaiah 34:14 the original Hebrew word is rendered as "lilith"; according to Isaiah, when God's vengeance has turned the land into a wilderness, "there shall the beasts of the desert meet with the jackals, and the wild goat shall cry to his fellow; the lilith also shall settle there, and find for herself a place of rest." The same word is translated elsewhere, however, as "screech owl, "night creatures," "night monsters," and "night hag."

Although it has been suggested that the association with night stems from a similarity between the Sumero-Babylonian demon Lilitu and the Hebrew word laylah meaning "night," Lilith nonetheless seems to have been otherwise associated with darkness and night as a time of fear, vulnerability, and evil.

In her demonized form, Lilith is a frightening and threatening creature. Much more so than Eve, she personifies the real (sexual) power women exercise over men.

She represents the deeper, darker fear men have of women and female sexuality. Inasmuch as female sexuality, as a result of this fear, has been repressed and subjected to the severest controls in Western patriarchal society, so too has the figure of Lilith been kept hidden.

However, she lurks as a powerful unidentified presence, an unspoken name, in the minds of biblical commentators for whom Eve and Lilith become inextricably intertwined and blended into one person. Importantly, it is this Eve/Lilith amalgam which is used to identify women as the true source of evil in the world.

In the Apocryphal Testament of Reuben (one of the Testaments of the Twelve Patriarchs, ostensibly the twelve sons of Jacob), for example, it is explained that:


Women are evil, my children: because they have no power or strength to stand up against man, they use wiles and try to ensnare him by their charms; and man, whom woman cannot subdue by strength, she subdues by guile.

(Testament of Reuben: V, 1-2, 5)

References to Lilith in the Talmud describe her as a night demon with long hair (B. Erubin 100b) and as having a human likeness but with wings (B. Nidda 24b). In Rabbi Isaac ben Jacob ha-Kohen's "Treatise on the Emanations on the Left," written in Spain in the 13th century, she is described as having the form of a beautiful woman from her head to her waist, and "burning fire" from her waist down. Elsewhere, Rabbi Isaac equates her with the primordial serpent Leviathan.

Crudely drawn images of Lilith can be seen on amulets (see Magical or Prophylactic images of Lilith in incantation bowls and on amulets).


Lilith? Babylonian terra-cotta relief, c. 2000 BCE (Collection of Colonel James Colville)


A Babylonian terra-cotta relief dated to around 2000 BCE in the collection of Colonel Norman Corville has been identified as a representation of Lilith (the identification has been questioned by a number of scholars). The relief shows a nude woman with wings and a bird's taloned feet. She wears a hat composed of four pairs of horns and holds in each upraised hand a combined ring and rod (similar to an Egyptian shen ring amulet). She stands on two reclining lions and is flanked by owls.

Despite the fact that she is not officially recognized in the Christian tradition, in the Late Middle Ages she is occasionally identified with the serpent in Genesis 3 and shown accordingly with a woman's head and torso. For example, the bare-breasted woman with a snake's lower parts posed seductively in the branches of the tree between Adam and Eve in the scene of the temptation carved into the base of the trumeau in the left doorway of the West façade of the Cathedral of Notre Dame in Paris has been identified as Lilith.


Adam, Lilith, and Eve relief sculpture, c. 1210 CE Base of trumeau, left portal, West Façade, Notre Dame, Paris



An earlier version of this essay appeared originally in Images of Women in Ancient Art

Copyright © (text only) 2000. Christopher L. C. E. Witcombe. All rights reserved

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