Images of biblical women have been used for centuries but some are much more controversial than others. One of the most infamous women associated with the bible is only directly mentioned in the bible once. Lilith is a woman whose story stems from Babylonian myths, demonology, and was the answer to a conflict in the Jewish creation story. She first appears in the folklore and more importantly the story of Gilgamesh, her story has grown into a femme fatale. The effect of social constructs on the interpretation of femme fatale archetypes such as Lilith are evident in the comparison of Lilith’s mythological beginnings to sexualized representation in Gabriel Rossetti’s painting Lady Lilith 1886. This transformation can be understood through analyzing the mythology surrounding Lilith, application of Jungian female archetypes, and the examination of art associated with Lilith.
Lilith is a character whose origin is rooted in Babylonian demonology. She has been used to represent multiple different themes ranging from a seductress, Heroine, and even a murderer. These entire stories stem from the epic poem Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree, found on a Sumerian tablet that is dated around 2000 B.C.E. Gilgamesh is a vain hero who seeks eternal life. In one of his adventures he rushes to assist Inanna the goddess of erotic love, and war. Inanna’s precious willow (Huluppu) tree had been possessed with spirits, one a dragon who lay at the base, a Zu-bird who had placed her young in the branches of the tree, and near by the demon Lilith had built her house. Gilgamesh, adorned in heavy armor, slays the dragon which scares the Zu-bird into flying to the mountains, and terrifies Lilith the flee into the desert.
Lilith is briefly mentioned in the bible once in Isaiah 34:14. In chapter 34 God seeks vengeance on the Edomites, nemesis of the Israelites, for worshipping foreign gods. The passage describes how Edom will become a barren wasteland where monsters live. These verses link Lilith to the demon featured in Gilgamesh who flees from the Inanna’s tree to the desert. Although this is the only passage in the Bible that mentions Lilith her spirit does resurface in the Dead Sea Scrolls A Song for a Sage, found at Qumran. This hymn could’ve possibly been used for exorcisms. Carl Jung and his research on female archetypes would place Lilith as the prostitute or seductress archetype. Jung describes these two archetypes as represent the sexual potency of women. The prostitute archetype that does not wish to have any deep relationship with the men she encounters. This archetype also represents a loss of wisdom and spiritual grounding, which is one of the largest aspects of Lilith’s character. The archetype of a female seductress refers to the female’s sexual personality in combination with the ability to manipulate the world and men. This aspect of Lilith’s archetype becomes more prominent in the interpretation of the Alphabet of Ben Sirah.