My students are completely surprised to learn about Lilith, Adam’s first wife(?)

When I start my unit on Judaism I bring into the classroom my framed print of John Collier’s, Lilith. My students have no idea who she is, but many are familiar with Lilith Fair. When I tell them that Lilith (according to legend) was Adam’s first wife, their jaws drop. And none of them know that Lilith Fair, a celebration of female music and recording artists, is named after this mythical figure. Below are two of my students holding my print of her. Needless to say, my students immediately want to know more about Lilith, and they want to know why her story is not in the Bible.

When I tell them the story about how Lilith left Adam and the Garden of Eden after being denied equality, and how God was then forced to make another woman (Eve), their jaws drop a little further. The story of Lilith is an amazing and enduring legend, and my students quickly realize that it is no coincidence that Lilith is also the name of a popular feminist Jewish magazine (see below).

According to legend, Lilith later disguised herself as a serpent and returned to the Garden of Eden to tempt (help?) Eve gain knowledge of good and evil. Although this story is not in the Bible, the legend of Lilith was so popular in Medieval times that her image was worked into both the Sistine Chapel and Notre Dame Cathedral (see below).

The story of Lilith demanding equality is well known. But the story does not stop there. Over time Lilith became demonized in legend, and she is considered by many to be the first demoness in history. During the Medieval era the death of a child was thought to be a result of Lilith, and a sword was often put under the bed of a child for protection. The “sword of protection” can still be found on Judeo-Christian apparel (see below).

Hmmm… is it possible that Lilith was demonized by the early patriarchal leaders (men!) of both Christianity and Judaism in order to demonize the idea of gender equality and to keep women submissive to men? And why is Lilith’s story not in the Bible? Was it left out for political reasons? And what other stories were left out of the Bible?

As you can imagine, these questions are great springboards for discussion in my class. And my students become even more surprised, later during the Christianity unit, when they learn about the gnostic gospels, stories about Jesus that were excluded from the New Testament. However, in this case, typically, many of of students are aware that some gospel stories were excluded from the Bible. Why? They have seen The Da Vinci Code.

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