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31 januari 2009

Lilith, godin of demon?

Bij het herlezen van mijn notitie 'Drie-eenheid en man-vrouwverhouding' van oktober vorig jaar, schoot me te binnen dat ik me eind 2003, begin 2004 nogal heb beziggehouden met de figuur 'Lilith'. Hieronder de eerste van een paar artikelen en notities die ik dezer dagen zal plaatsen over dit onderwerp.


The legendary Lilith has held endless fascination for countless cultures. Though some have viewed her as a divinity and others as a demon, she has come to universally symbolize feminine power and independence.

By Susannah Heschel

Before there was Adam and Eve, there was Adam and Lilith. The Bible doesn't speak of the creation of Adam and Lilith, but it does give two accounts of the creation of the first man and woman, in Genesis 1:26-28 and Genesis 2:21-24. In the first account, woman is created together with man, while in the second account, Adam is created first and then Eve is created out of his side. Why two stories? What happened to the first couple that necessitated a second creation? And why would God create human beings using two different methods?

The Midrash, a body of rabbinic literature produced in antiquity to elaborate on biblical personalities and events, explains that in the first chapter of Genesis, God created Lilith as Adam's first companion, while in the second chapter, God created Eve. The legend of Lilith was gradually elaborated. She had first appeared in the ancient Near East in literary texts and in magical incantation bowls, and her name stems from the Akkadian term for one of the deities in Mesopotamia known for diabolical activities. She is mentioned by name in only one verse in the Bible, Isaiah 34:14, as one of the beasts of prey and spirits who will appear on the day of vengeance. But she became a more tangible figure in the Greco-Roman era, appearing both in Jewish texts and in archeological remains. In the Talmud, Lilith is described as a night demon with a woman's face, long hair, and wings, but she is dangerous primarily to men: A man sleeping alone in a house may be seized by Lilith. Various Aramaic incantations protecting against her have been found inscribed on bowls and tablets from Babylonia, dating from the first millenium C.E., often along with the names of angels who are supposed to protect against her. Even among the Qumran documents (the so-called Dead Sea Scrolls), Lilith's name can be found.

Lilith's legend fully blossoms in The Alphabet of Ben Sira, an anonymous early medieval collection of fantasies, superstitions, and scatological stories, whose elaborate account of Lilith's life entered the Jewish imagination. According to the Alphabet, God created Lilith as a companion for a lonely Adam, but the relationship did not work out, for Lilith refused to lie beneath Adam, insisting, "We are equal to each other because we were both created from the earth." Adam, in turn, refused to lie beneath Lilith, insisting on his superiority to her. Lilith finally pronounced the Ineffable Name of God and flew off. Angels sent by God to retrieve her were unsuccessful. As punishment, one hundred of her children were condemned to die each day, and in retaliation, she threatened to bring illness to all newborn infants unless amulets inscribed with the names of angels were placed near them. In the subsequent classical kabbalistic texts of the Middle Ages, especially the Zohar, Lilith grows into a major figure. Not only does she murder babies, but she roams at night, seduces men, and gives birth to their children. Lilith becomes an enshrined figure in Kabbalah, as the spouse of Satan (called Samael) and queen of the Sitra Ahra, the demonic realm. Although she has left Adam, he once again copulates with her after his relationship with Eve ends following the murder of Abel.

Lilith is described as the inverse of the feminine aspect of God, the Shekhinah; while the Shekhinah [*] is pure and beautiful, Lilith is shameless, wicked, and symbolized by a snake with which Satan is said to fornicate. The literature on Lilith came to be reflected in Jewish folk customs as well. For instance, Lilith was believed to dwell in mirrors, so Jews traditionally considered it dangerous to hold a baby before a mirror. Later kabbalistic literature imagines Lilith appearing in a variety of guises, including as a cat or goose, but also as a beautiful woman from her head to her waist, and burning fire from her waist down. Lilith also comes to be identified with the Queen of Sheba, Solomon's great love, who is known for her independence and knowledge. It is precisely those attributes which are taken as evidence for the Queen of Sheba's confused sexual identity in midrashic and kabbalistic literature. Indeed, some sources suggest she is the mother of Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, Israel's great enemy.

Medieval Christianity showed no explicit awareness of the Lilith of The Alphabet of Ben Sira, but its emphasis on female responsibility for the seduction and fall of Adam and Eve, and the association of women with temptation and sin, reflects a similar tradition. Non-Jewish European folklore also refers to Lilith, usually in relation to Satan, but sometimes in relation to figures who are sexually miscast. For example, Lilith was purportedly the grandmother of the female pope described in a fifteenth-century German drama, and she appears as Adam's first wife in poems and art by Dante Gabriel Rossetti, and in Victor Hugo's La Fin de Satan, as well as in Goethe's Faust.

What makes demons female and women demonic? All cultures seem to have a folklore populated by evil spirits that embody caricatures of femininity, but the best-known example today is the myth of Lilith. The moral of her story was supposedly that women who refuse to be subservient to men are themselves demonic, a moral that runs throughout much of Western culture, considering that most women accused of witchcraft have been independent.
Theologically, the Lilith myth divides the supernatural realm into divine and demonic realms, which are gendered as male and female, respectively. God the Father rules the world of the divine, while Lilith the Demon rules the Sitra Ahra, the Other World of the kabbalistic imagination.

In recent years, feminists have reconfigured the Lilith myth, claiming it reveals male anxiety about women who cannot be kept under patriarchal control. In their versions of the story, Lilith demands equality, but her punishment for doing so is not a reflection of her evil, but of the intolerance of men who insist on controlling women. Her independence and knowledge indicate not her demonic nature or sexual miscasting, but instead represent all women seeking liberation from narrow gender roles.

The feminist bookstore in Berlin is called Lilith; the Lilith Fair is the name of an annual summer women's music festival; and Lilith Magazine, founded in 1976, was the first Jewish feminist periodical. Lilith is the subject of art, poetry, and even new religious rituals designed to affirm women's strength and spirituality. In her feminist midrash on Lilith, Jewish feminist Judith Plaskow describes Lilith returning to the Garden of Eden and forming a friendship with Eve, who had accepted her subservience to Adam but now begins to question that role. God and Adam are confused, Plaskow's story concludes, and "afraid the day Eve and Lilith returned to the garden, bursting with possibilities, ready to rebuild it together." The feminist potential of the Lilith story is enormous. Here is a woman who opposes Adam's hegemony over her, who has a firm will, and the power of secret knowledge to assert her will. How she comes to learn the secret name of God that allows her to fly away from Adam is not explained, nor has the secret name she uttered been transmitted to later generations of women.

This is the enigma that lies behind the fascination with her to this day. How do women attain knowledge when patriarchal societies prevent their formal education and their access to the learning limited to men? Viewing Lilith as an empowering prototype for women's independence is only possible in a feminist context that sees through the self-serving patriarchal desire to cloak Lilith as a dangerous demon. The bonding of women to Lilith carries the homoerotic connotation not of simple sexual desire for another, but of merging, one with the other, so that Eve and all women who find themselves in positions of subjugation to men can become part of Lilith's wisdom, self-assertion, and independence.
[cursiveringen door mij; K]

Susannah Heschel holds the Eli Black Professorship in Jewish Studies at Dartmouth College and is the author of
Abraham Geiger.

Tweede plaatje: John Collier, Lilith

[*] Joodse baby-jongetjes zouden extra gevaar lopen door Lilith te worden gedood. Door de besnijdenis (in de achtste week) wordt het mannelijke kind opgenomen in de sjechina opgevat als Joodse gemeenschap, volk van de Ark des Verbonds (lees: de mannelijke Joodse Orde)[#]. Dit kan je mijns inziens opvatten als de 'onteigening' van het kind als vrucht van de moederschoot - 'legitiem bezit' van de vrouw - en de 'inlijving' in de orde der vaders en patriarchen, waarbij het authentiek vrouwelijke als gevaarlijk en duister wordt voorgesteld.
[#] Toevoeging december 2011: Peter Sloterdijk stelt in het tweede deel van zijn Sferen-trilogie (hoofdstuk 3, Arken, stadsmuren, wereldgrenzen, immuunsystemen): 'Het begrip "ark" - afkomstig van het Latijnse arca, kist, met haar afleiding arcanus, gesloten, geheim - onthult de in sferologisch opzicht meest radicale ruimtegedachte, die de mensen op de drempel van de hoogcultuur konden ontwikkelen, namelijk dat de kunstmatige, afgedichte binnenwereld onder bepaalde omstandigheden als enig mogelijke omgeving voor haar bewoners kan overblijven. [...] De ark is het autonome, het absolute, het contextvrije huis, het gebouw zonder nabuurschap; in de ark is de negatie van de omgeving door de kunstmatige constructie op exemplarische wijze belichaamd.' In het eerste deel van de trilogie maakt Sloterdijk duidelijk dat de primaire menselijke binnenwereld die van de baarmoeder is. De Ark des Verbonds kan je volgens mij daarom zien als een inlijving van de vrouwelijke oergrond in de mannelijke orde(ning). Vergelijk mijn theologische speculaties eerder op deze blog (waarin ik zijdelings de door mannelijke priesters beheerde 'baarmoederkamers' van het Hindoeïsme noem). Denk verder aan Levinas' benadrukking dat het Joodse geloof - in mijn woorden geparafraseerd - het exacte tegendeel is van een bloed en bodem-mythologie (waarmee zijn steun voor het zionisme overigens behoorlijk in strijd lijkt te zijn). Ook komt natuurlijk de moderne mythe Star Trek voor de geest: een groep mensen die in een ruimteschip de onleefbaar geworden aarde heeft moeten verlaten en vol heimwee rondzwerft in een heelal vol gevaren; waarbij overigens de aansporingen van de natuurkundige Stephen Hawking, die de mensen maant andere planeten te koloniseren voordat de aarde teveel is opgewarmd, alsmede vele andere astronautische fantasieën, naadloos aansluiten.
Dit alles kan je zien als wanhopige pogingen om een ontspoord en uiteindelijk de ecologische bestaansvoorwaarden verwoestend patriarchaal (denk)systeem te repareren en te bestendigen. Dus zonder de kern van het probleem onder ogen te zien: de onwil - voortkomend uit onder meer ongevoeligheid en daarmee gemoeide agressieve penetratiedrang - om in harmonie te leven met een 'dragende en bergende grond' die men niet in zijn macht heeft, noch probeert geheel onder controle te krijgen, kortom leven vanuit het vertrouwen in een voldoende 'moederlijk' heelal, waarin het vrouwelijke niet wordt vernietigd en tevergeefs gecompenseerd door een Heer in den hoge en diens eis tot - au fond (dit wordt vaak verpakt in ethische termen) meedogenloze, alles en iedereen in het teken van 'overleven' opofferende - 'zelfherberging', om een term te gebruiken van Sloterdijk, die naar mijn smaak toch blijft denken vanuit dit masculine paradigma.
Zo bezien is het van betekenis dat 'ark' teruggaat op 'kist', dus niet op een bolvormige maar op een rechthoekige afgesloten ruimte - vergelijk 'baren' en 'opbaren' in mijn theologische speculaties.
Zie ook:

Changing Literary Representations of Lilith and the Evolution of a Mythical Heroine
Lucebert en Lilith
In den beginne bij Anselm Kiefer
Achtergronden van Lilith
Knipsels omtrent Lilith

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