In Judaism, “The Alphabet Of Ben Sira“, is a compilation of writings gathered in the middle ages, explicitly refers to a story of the first angry arguments between the two sexes.
The story goes like this:-
“The God created the first man and woman at the same time, from the earth.
But, they quarreled immediately.
The first woman said, “I will not lie below you.”
The first man said, “I will lie above you and for you are fit to be below, while I am to be the superior one”
She responded, “We are both equal because we both come from the earth.”
But Adam didn’t agree.
When Lilith realized what was happening, she pronounced the Name of God and flew off into the air.
Adam rose in prayer before the God and complained about her.
Immediately, the God sent three angels after her.
The angels went after her, finally located her. They told her what God had said, but she did not want to return.
The God said to Adam, “If she not returns, she will have to accept that one hundred of her children will die every day.”
You’re surprised, aren’t you? I’m sure you feel the same way I do when I read this.
So, who was she?
This rebellious woman was Lilith – Adam’s first wife before Eve.
At first, I thought she may have been a well respected ancient idol because of the stand she took. However, I was shocked. I learned that Lilith is said to be a demon, a child killer, a nymphomaniac and a negative role model for Jewish women. She is depicted as a demon because she refused to go back to Adam. And by God’s punishment, she had to accept the death of her 100 children every day, for which it is said that she takes revenge by killing pregnant women. She is also said to excite men in their sleep, take their semen and produce demon children to replace their own.
I wondered why such a powerful narrative could be so negative. But, what made Lilith come back into the discourse?
I believe Jewish feminist scholars are key contributors to Lilith’s re-theorisation and the re-interpretation of ancient texts of Jewish traditions. They took this task of putting women’s issues into their community’s agenda.
They have tried to take into account how a mythological character ‘Lilith’ served the purpose of portraying the rebellious woman in the negative role – an excuse for traditional men to vilify and insult the feminist, and the construction of women’s image and position in society.
The word ‘rebellious’ for her, exhibits the determination. She was someone who demanded equality, dignity over subservience, and chose independence when she flew away from Adam and the Garden of Eden.
So, for Jewish feminist scholars and to me alike, she was the first feminist.
Why am I telling you this? Is it really relevant to know about her?
This article is on how power was concentrated in the hands of a few who used, and are using decisive techniques to manipulate your cognitive abilities, that is, the way you think, the things you decide and the life you live, and most importantly, how you look at your own history and how that history decides your future.
The story of Lilith through the lens of a feminist perspective, is only an attempt to explain and make you aware of the struggle which dismantles these manipulative tactics.
But, if you went to call the feminist argument another manipulation, so why not then write a counter-argument. This is how thinking evolves, doesn’t it?
The Lilith story serves the purpose of those in power, who are none other than traditionalist men. They project and attack ‘rebellious’ women, terming them to be demonic and against the will of God.
This narrative creates fear in society, in general and threat to men, in particular- a woman who demand equality with man, challenge manhood and society’s interest – and propagates the patriarchal order in society which expects women to submit to men, perform their gendered role, never to be against the order, to act an altruist to ensure the men’s power and their manhood.
And, for maintaining this patriarchal order, a task of inventing an altruistic woman was initiated, that is, a positive role model, in contrast to negative role model – Lilith.
And this invention was Adam’s second wife, Eve.
The Bible mentions Eve was created from Adam’s rib by God . Eve would act as a helper to men, a perfect wife, a mother, and a bearer of culture – basically, all those things which Lilith refused to do.
The Jewish feminists established Lilith as a face of resistance against patriarchy. For them, Lilith was brave, courageous and assertive as she knew the consequences of her actions. She took control over her body and life. She radiates strength and has been self-sufficient to fight alone against domination, while maintaining her independence. She was a rule-breaker, a fighter and indeed, a powerful female.
The traditional men could smell the scent of their own destruction because they knew if someone as rebellious as Lilith would get power, she would refuse ton stay subservient and demand equality.
If there is a demand for change from a certain section of society, the people in power pretend to accept the ongoing reality. They present themselves and their ideas in such a way, portraying that they have transformational capabilities. They do eventually, establish a new order, but only under pressure. However, they design it in such a way that it’s just old wine served in a new bottle and that secures their interests and position.
So maybe, the invention of the sacred and positive image of Eve was a part of this new law that had a role for only non-rebel women. It presented Eve as self-sacrificing, someone who obeys her husband, but also in the time of need, she could become a protector and an assertive woman. This order, however, excludes women like Lilith who have a rebellious nature.
This trick still persists and no matter how much those in power deem themselves to be progressive, the ‘old wine in a new bottle’ still seems to work.
There is a long and ongoing feminist struggle going around all over the world against the male bias that is prevalent in the interpretation of religious and traditional texts.
Like the one about Lilith, there are many ancient misogynist and mythical tales and interpretations across traditions and religions, which serve as a blueprint and code of moral conducts for women.
It is not my concern to search the validity of this myth, but according to Devdutt Pattanaik, myth or mythology means subjective truth which is beyond any validation. Myths by their nature, let the door open for re-interpretation according to changing human needs. It’s we who have to decide what should be continued and what shouldn’t.
The Jewish feminists have successfully proved how a suppressed character can be a contemporary heroine, how it works as a catalyst for social transformation and non-dominant social structure.
However, it’s not difficult to imagine that if Adam had accepted Lilith as an equal, then maybe the negative traits to Lilith and the fight between sexes would have been absent; or don’t you think Adam did a crime by disrespecting Lilith who was also created by God?