Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Eve and Lilith: Women before the Bible

Eve and Lilith: Women before  the Bible

The status of woman in Judaism, as well as the status of man,
can only be understood in the context of ancient societies, especially in the Middle East, and their attitudes towards " the fairer sex." It can be said, in short, that men did not view women as 'the fairer sex."

The disposition, bounding between grudging acceptance, and outright misogyny,  is rooted in the philosophy of the world of the ancients.

Forget the myth of the original matriarchal society in which women ruled fairly and justly. It is just that- a myth. Please forget the propaganda that all social evils against women are the out come of the Judeo-Christian heritage.It is a slander.

Prevalent in antiquity is the concept of Eternal Return. All is bound up in the cycle of birth-death-rebirth.

As phrased in the Hindu classic, Bhaghavad Gita,.the protagonist, Arjuna, faces battle against the enemy. He recoils as he realizes that among them are his own dear relatives. He will either shed their blood or his blood will be shed, and he is despondent. To this, the deity, Krishna, asserts:

“There was never a time when I, you, or these kings did not exist; nor shall we ever cease to exist in the future. (2.12)”

Therefore,gods, like mortals, go through death and rebirth. In the  ancient mind, that death and rebirth is expressed in the gods, as in humans, in terms of sexuality. Procreation and death.

The ancient gods were humans expanded and writ large- male and female, bound up in sex, between gods and mortals and animals just about anything the imagination could conceive; anything and everything was seen in this binary sexuality of the universe. All human psychological neurosis and psychosis was projected on to the Heavens.

From this perspective, we can see how males, in writing their interpretations of the world, looked at females.

From whence woman?

Among the ancient Greeks, men disdained women and associated with men. Men were for companionship, physical and intellectual. Women were for what the Germans called the 3 Ks-Kinder, Kuchen, und Kirche: Children, cooking and the church.This attitude was shared across civilizations.

Hesiod was a Greek epic poet who flourished in Boeotia in the 8th B.C. He was alongside Homer the most respected of the old Greek poets. He pulled together the mythologies of the earlier Greek civilization that had collapsed, the civilization that fought the Trojan Wars and gave us the epic heroes. Here is his account of the origin of woman.:

Pandora and her infamous box of  ills

".. But Zeus in the anger of his heart. . .  therefore he planned sorrow and mischief against men. He hid fire. . .. And he bade famous Hephaestus make haste and mix earth with water and to put in it the voice and strength of human kind, and fashion a sweet, lovely maiden-shape, like to the immortal goddesses in face; and Athene to teach her needlework and the weaving of the varied web; and golden Aphrodite to shed grace upon her head and cruel longing and cares that weary the limbs. And he charged Hermes the guide, the Slayer of Argus, to put in her a shameless mind and a deceitful nature. And he called this woman Pandora (All Endowed), because all they who dwelt on Olympus gave each a gift, a plague to men who eat bread…. For ere this the tribes of men lived on earth remote and free from ills and hard toil and heavy sickness... But the woman took off the great lid of the jar with her hands and scattered all these and her thought caused sorrow and mischief to men. Only Hope remained there in an unbreakable home within under the rim of the great jar. .. So is there no way to escape the will of Zeus."

The ancient Greeks had a miserable outlook on life and blamed it all—on someone else, the gods--or their wives..

The Hindu Approach
The Greeks were part of the same Indo-European peoples  who went south to Iran and southeast to India . These people shared an “ Uhrsprache”, a common ancestral tongue, hence shared words and language structure, and with it, common mythical motifs.

This is from the classic text, Mahabharata, Hindu civilization's great epic, compiled around the same time as Hesiod, and the same time as the first of the Biblical Prophets.

A Hindu female deity


"How women were created by the Grandsire Brahman . . .There is no creature more sinful, O son, than women. Woman is a blazing fire. …She is the sharp edge of the razor. She is poison. She is a snake. She is fire. She is, verily, all these united together. . . . all persons of the human race are characterized by righteousness, and that they, in course of natural progress and improvement, attain to the status of deities. This circumstance alarmed the deities. . . .The puissant Grand sire( Brahama) having ascertained what was in the hearts of the deities, created women. . .  Those, however, that sprang from this creation by Brahman with the aid of an illusion became sinful. The grandsire bestowed upon them the desire of enjoyment, all kinds of carnal pleasure. Tempted by the desire of enjoyment, they began to pursue persons of the other sex. The puissant lord of the deities created Wrath as the companion of Lust. Persons of the male sex, yielding to the power of Lust and Wrath, sought the companionship of women… they are living lies. Beds and seats and ornaments and food and drink and the absence of all that is respectable and righteous, indulgence in disagreeable words, and love of sexual companionship,--these were bestowed by Brahman upon women. Men are quite unable to restrain them within bounds."

Keep in mind, that , for the ancients, the gods and goddesses were projections of their own psyches.

We will give the ancient Egyptians credit- men placed women on a respected platform. But even here, where the great Queen Hatshepsut reigned and conquered, her carved statues and imagery  displayed her—with a beard!
Hatshepsut, one of the greatest of Pharaohs, shown with a ceremonial beard.
Despite her success, her successor did everything possible to deface her statues and erase her from the Egyptian records!

Let’s go too our neighborhood:The Ancient Canaanites and Phoenicians

Ancient Semitic female deities were just tough: Here is Anath ( a name that appears in the Bible as in“ Shamgar ben Anath”, a great hero like Samson). She appears in Egypt, in the Jewish settlement of Elephantine, as the consort of God!  Her stories appear in a Hebrew-like language, of the Phoenicians and northern Canaanites, around the time of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs.

Anat, standing on the skulls of her enemies

. She is the "villain" of the tale of Aqhat, also from Ugarit. In this story the gods grant the childless Danel a son, Aqhat, on whom Danel confers a bow made by the craftsman god, Kothar. Anath offers Aqhat riches and immortality in exchange for the bow, but Aqhat refuses her offers. After bullying El into letting her have her way with Aqhat, she proceeds, with the aid of her henchman Yutpan, to have Aqhat killed.   A similar account is found among the Greeks, in the tale of Artemis and Adonis. Ezekiel bemoans the fact that in his day, women were mourning the death of Tammuz, the counterpart to Adonis and Aqhat..

One dares not get on the bad side of the Canaanite female deity:

Baal is swallowed up by Mot, his sister Anath, called "the Maiden," longs for him like a mother . (Note: Mot- Mavet-is the Hebrew word for death)

From the Ras Shmara text of The Epic of Baal

"She seizes the God Mavet.
With a sword She cleaves Him,
With a pitchfork She winnows Him,
With a fire She burns Him,
In the millstones She grinds Him,
In the fields She plants Him,
. . .
She hurls chairs at the troops,
Hurling tables at the soldiers,
Footstools at the heroes.
Much She smites and looks,
Fights and views.
Anath gluts Her liver with laughter.
Her heart is filled with joy,
For Anath's hand is victory.
For knee-deep She plunges in the blood of soldiery,
Up to the neck in the gore of troops.. . ..
She washes Her hands in the blood of soldiery,
Her fingers in the gore of troops."

( The great authority on Anath,interestingly enough,was an Orthodox Jew, Umberto Cassuto.)

In antiquity, the best and most virtuous female- is asexual, a virgin.

One feature that the female deities have in common, if they are wise and powerful, is that they are virgins. They are separated from sexuality, and only in that form, can they be equal or even superior to males. Think of Athena or Artemis/ Diana. In the same sense, in ancient societies, once a women was well past her prime, then, and only then, could she be in a position of leadership.

In  the Academy Art Gallery, in Florence, Italy, I came across this intriguing painting:

It is by Carlo Porteli, done c. 1566. It is a description of the  elevation of Mary, the Virgin.  Mary is herself  born “Immaculate” as a Virgin, free from sexuality, in order to  atone for the sin of Eve. Mary is clothed, Eve is naked. At the bottom, in Hebrew, is the text from the Song of Songs, “As a flower among the thorns” , so is Mary compared to the descendants of Eve.
Only in overcoming sexuality altogether, does the woman reach her pinnacle ( and so does the male) in classic Catholic thinking.( Contemporary Protestants and Catholics have moved much closer to the Jewish sensibility in this regards).


Just as a curiosity, Jewish records retain echoes of some ancient myths, such as in the tale of Lilith
Ancient incantation bowl with Lilith

The ancient demon of Sumerians

Lilith’s name comes from the Sumerian word ''lilitu'', which meant a wind spirit or a female demon. Lilith was mentioned in the Tablet XII of the Epic of Gilgamesh, a famous poem of ancient Mesopotamia dated back to not later than c. 2100 BC.

Lilith, the Night Demon. She has only one mention, a vague reference, in the prophets , but she becomes the source of later Rabbinic attempts to explain the double creation of woman..
She is the destroyer of babies in the crib, always jealous of Eve’s success with Adam.

It is only when we understand that the Torah sets out to destroy the world view of the ancients, from the heavens down, that we can understand the Torah as working to create a mature relationship between male and female.

Now- reread the creation account- three versions, with the aforementioned stories in mind:

Version 1 Ch 1
God is not created, not born, does not die, and has no sexuality. God is totally beyond the realm of eternal birth and death and rebirth. The human being is now created, not as a slave to the gods to provide food, but to rule and protect the world that God creates.
With that understanding, male and female are created together in the divine image. The human is no longer projection his neurosis on to the heavens; heavens perfection is projected on to the human.

Version 2- Ch 2:If Chapter One is creation as seen by the philosophers, Chapter is the creation of human nature.

For the pagans, woman is a trap. Here, God sees man as lonely, and in need of  “ Ezer kenegdo” a  “ help-meet”, an helper who is his counterpart. The text gets absolutely romantically mushy: 
Therefore, a man abandons his father and mother and clings to his wife.” 
The two are naked, they have sex, and they have no shame.
Yes, it all goes downhill from there, but it is not the sex that does it. It is not the women alone who is blamed. There is a snake in the story who gets the blame.

Version 3: Therefore we get to version 3, Chapter 5 which is a recap of chapter one: male and female, their name is Adam!