This blog post is the 3rd in a series of looking for female deities in the bible who have been translated out of easy reach or otherwise hidden within its words. In my last blog post I discussed bird imagery and the bible. It is available here.
You can’t complete a discussion about birds without also bringing up Lilith. She appears by name only in one place in the bible; Isaiah 34:14. Isaiah uses the word liyliyth as a feature in a hellish landscape. Although it is also a name, liyliyth is treated as a common noun. The most prevalent translation is “screech owl” although others have included such names as night creature, night monster, night hag, and she-vampire.
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 also shall rest there,
and find for herself a place of rest.
By biblical times, Lilith had already developed a bad reputation. In Babylonia there are seals that show her as a night demon known for stealing infants. In the Enuma Elish, the Sumerian creation myth, Lilith was a nasty, evil, spirit living in the trunk of the tree that the Sumerian Goddess, Inanna wanted for her throne.
It is interesting that Lilith is associated with tree mythologies. Throughout world mythology there is the archetype of the world tree or the axis mundi. These world trees tend to have some elements in common, most especially a serpent at its roots, a bird in its branches and sacred wells or rivers that feed its roots. These wells are often described as holding the knowledge that nourishes the tree.
There are examples all around the world of the world tree. The Garden of Eden is not one of them as there is no bird in either of the trees – the Tree of Knowledge nor the Tree of Life. And the serpent is not at its roots but in the garden at large.
Mythologist Golan points out how the world tree pattern is also seen in eastern cultures where the Rig-Veda and Edda hymns describe a snake dwelling in the roots of a tree which reaches unfathomed depths, along with birds connected with its upper levels. The Norse tree Yggdrasil has a viper named Nidhoggr at its roots, an eagle in its branches, and three wells that feed it; Mimir, Urd, and Hvergelmir.
The only place that the archetype of the world tree exists in the bible is in the Isaiah quote albeit evoked as a punishment for a wayward population. And truly all the elements are reversed; beautiful images of wildlife nesting and tending their young are made into images of horror and ugliness. Along with the screech owl are other wild beasts of the negative variety. For example, the satyr is variously described as a “demon-brute” or wild goat (I personally love goats but this one is clearly of the bad variety).
To continue reading this post go to: feminismandreligionblogpost