I was watching a documentary-type show on TV recently that claimed Adam had a wife prior to Eve named Lilith, who apparently was infertile, had a nasty temper, and was banished and later turned into a demon for whatever reason. I checked out a few encyclopedia /dictionary sites which support a character such as Lilith in several ancient texts and legends, and also claim that she is mentioned as a screech owl in the book of Isaiah. Up until recently, I’ve never heard anything to suggest Adam had any wife other than Eve. Does LDS doctrine have anything to say about it? (Sounds a little far-fetched to me) Also, if this figure did ever exist at one time, who got the idea that when a screech owl was mentioned in Isaiah it had anything to do with Lilith?
Indeed there has been a legendary figure named Lilith. She first appears in a document called The Alphabet of Ben Sira, that appeared sometime between the 8th and 10th centuries AD. This document is a scurrilous account of some of the biblical characters. Lilith is portrayed as being Adam’s first wife. Hugh Nibley describes the account of Lilith as follows—
“According to the Hebrew tradition, which is very early and very widely testified, he [Adam] had a wife at this time, and she was Lilith. She represents promiscuity. She didn’t like Adam. She did everything she could to keep him from entering into the covenant and marrying in the covenant. Eve wasn’t around then. Her name means “night,” Layla. Way back in the Alphabet of Rabbi Aqiba, a very early writing, we are told about her. She was his mate, but she stands for everything that is promiscuous. She doesn’t want to get married, but she wants to play around; that’s Lilith. Adam was living in an animal state of innocence. He had become as a little child. I guess he would be a pushover for Lilith. But she is a sinister character because she is irresponsible. She is married to him and she has children, but she doesn’t want to be responsible for them, or anything like that. She is regarded as the woman who tries to do everything she can to prevent marriage, to prevent childbirth, and to kill babies in their cribs. That’s Lilith. There are all sorts of early charms from Babylon and elsewhere against Lilith to keep her from her shenanigans. She’s a rather important figure. She represents the sort of sexual license we have in the world today-the anything goes, just have fun” (Hugh Nibley, Ancient Documents and the Pearl of Great Price, edited by Robert Smith and Robert Smythe, p.13).
The word, Lilith, comes from the Hebrew for the word “owl” in Isaiah 34:14. That chapter addresses the time of the Lord’s vengeance, as stated in verse 8—
For it is the day of the LORD’S vengeance, and the year of recompences for the controversy of Zion.
In verses 12 through 15, the word “owl” is mentioned three times. Each time it is translated from a different Hebrew term, as follows—
12 They shall call the nobles thereof to the kingdom, but none shall be there, and all her princes shall be nothing.
13 And thorns shall come up in her palaces, nettles and brambles in the fortresses thereof: and it shall be an habitation of dragons, and a court for owls (yanshuwph 1).
14 The wild beasts of the desert shall also meet with the wild beasts of the island, and the satyr shall cry to his fellow; the screech owl (liyliyth 2) also shall rest there, and find for herself a place of rest.
15 There shall the great owl (qippowz 3) make her nest, and lay, and hatch, and gather under her shadow: there shall the vultures also be gathered, every one with her mate.
1. yanshuwph– great owl, eared owl, an unclean animal
2. liyliyith– Lilith “?”, name of a female goddess known as a night demon who haunts the desolate places of Edom
3. qippowz– arrow snake, owl
History is full of the legends of mythical figures which have been invented to satisfy apparent need. Greek lore is full of such mythical figures. They mostly represent various deities and other figures that provided rationale for the otherwise unexplained mysteries of life. Such mythical figures have extended into our own day, including such figures as Pan, Cupid, Santa Claus, the Boogy Man, etc. Lilith us just such a figure from Hebrew lore.