Origins of Lilith

by Esteban

“We can now understand why it was that in the theology of Eridu the Sun-god was the offspring of Ea and Dav-kina. The name that he bore there was Dumuzi or Tammuz, “the only-begotten one,” of whom I shall have much to say in the next Lecture.

At present I need only remark that he was the primeval Merodach; the Sun-god born of Ea who was called Merodach by the Babylonians was called Tammuz (Dumuzi,) by the people of Eridu.

Perhaps Merodach is after all nothing more than “the god from Eridu.” That he came originally from Eridu we have already seen.

The author of the hymn to the demiurge identifies Ea with “father Bel.” As “the lord of heaven and earth,” Ea was indeed a Baal or Bel to the Semites, to whose age the hymn belongs.

But the particular Bel with whom the poet wishes to identify him was Mul-lil, the supreme god and demiurge of Nipur (the modern Niffer). In a list of the titles of Ea, we find it expressly stated that he is one with “Mul-lil the strong.”

But such an identification belongs to the later imperial age of Babylonian history. Mul-lil was primitively a purely local divinity, standing in the same relation to his worshippers at Nipur that Ea stood to his at Eridu.

Mul-lil signifies “the lord of the ghost-world.” Lil was an Accado-Sumerian word which properly denoted “a dust-storm” or “cloud of dust,” but was also applied to ghosts, whose food was supposed to be the dust of the earth, and whose form was like that of a dust-cloud.

The Accadian language possessed no distinction of gender, and lil therefore served to represent both male and female ghosts. It was, however, borrowed by the Semites under the form of lillum, and to this masculine they naturally added the feminine lilatu.

Originally this lilatu represented what the Accadians termed “the handmaid of the ghost” (kel-lilla), of whom it was said that the lil had neither husband nor wife; but before long lilatu was confounded with the Semitic lilátu, “the night,” and so became a word of terror, denoting the night-demon who sucked the blood of her sleeping victims.

In the legend of the Descent of Istar into Hades, the goddess is made to threaten that unless she is admitted to the realm of the dead she will let them out in the form of vampires to devour the living.

From the Semitic Babylonians the name and conception of Lilatu passed to the Jews, and in the book of Isaiah (xxxiv. 14) the picture of the ghastly desolation which should befall Idumea is heightened by its ruined mounds being made the haunt of Lilith.

According to the Rabbis, Lilith had been the first wife of Adam, and had the form of a beautiful woman; but she lived on the blood of children whom she slew at night.”

A.H. Sayce, Lectures on the Origin and Growth of Religion as Illustrated by the Religion of the Ancient Babylonians, 5th ed., London, 1898, pp. 144-6.