Lilith

Lilith (1892) by John Collier

Many newspapers recently reported, “All humans are descended from just two people, scientists claim“. And the “Genesis thought of it first”, “the Bible is right” comments followed quickly, as predictably as evening follows morning.

But wait, there’s more!

Firstly (surprise!), the science is more complicated than the headline would have us understand. And, it’s not really news.

Here’s the undergirding study. Read it at your leisure. The key point is:

Contemporary sequence data cannot tell whether mitochondrial and Y chromosomes clonality occurred at the same time, i.e., consistent with the extreme bottleneck of a founding pair, or via sorting within a founding population of thousands that was stable for tens of thousands of years [116]. As Kuhn points out unresolvable arguments tend toward rhetoric.

The Genesis story, of course, is also not as simple as a newspaper headline would have it. Firstly, contemporary scholarship would point out there’s more than one story there. In Genesis 1, two humans are made at the same time – a male and a female. But when we begin Genesis 2, it seems the male, Adam, is alone. [Yes – there’s other contemporary, scholarly readings of Genesis 2, which I would concur with personally, but, for the purposes of this post, let’s go with this reading of this text]. What happened to Adam’s first wife? You know what transpired: Adam is put to sleep, and a new wife is produced, Eve.

The history of the search for Adam’s first wife can be traced at least to the mention of “Lilith” four times in the Babylonian Talmud. The story of Lilith can be found in the Alphabet of Ben Sira (c 700 – 1000 CE CE). There, Adam’s first wife is described as being equal to Adam – something (surprise!) the guy just couldn’t cope with. So, their marriage ended. The guy wanted a subordinate woman. [I leave you to explore further, if you like, in Bereshith Rabbah 18].

The Alphabet of Ben Sira messes with Jesus’ contention that divorce “was not so at the beginning” (Matthew 19:8)… because… when Adam married Eve, he was a divorcee!

I leave those interested to explore Lilith in Goethe’s work, and from there into the Pre-Raphaelites. And I conclude this post with Rossetti’s sonnet entitled “Lilith”:

Of Adam’s first wife, Lilith, it is told
(The witch he loved before the gift of Eve,)
That, ere the snake’s, her sweet tongue could deceive,
And her enchanted hair was the first gold.
And still she sits, young while the earth is old,
And, subtly of herself contemplative,
Draws men to watch the bright web she can weave,
Till heart and body and life are in its hold.
The rose and poppy are her flower; for where
Is he not found, O Lilith, whom shed scent
And soft-shed kisses and soft sleep shall snare?
Lo! As that youth’s eyes burned at thine, so went
Thy spell through him, and left his straight neck bent
And round his heart one strangling golden hair.

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