Lilith Pictures: Ancient and Magical
Sumerian or Assyrian terra cotta relief of
a woman with bird feet, accompanied by various desert animals,
sometimes speculated to be Lilith. However, the connection
between Lilith and this relief is
currently regarded by some scholars as dubious.
She has wings and is wearing (only) a multiple-horned mitre, both characteristic of portraits of high divinity. It is not clear what she holds in her hands. The object in her right hand is worn or broken, so, while it is likely, we cannot be sure that she holds similar objects in each hand. The object in her left hand could be an ankh, reminiscent of a famous Egyptian portrait of the Canaanite goddess, Anat, or a snake, present in other Egyptian-Anat pictures and , of course, characteristic of portraits of the Cretan goddess (or perhaps her priestess). Both have their examples in ancient Near Eastern iconography, including material from Iraq (Mesopotamia), and it doesn't really look like either a snake or an ankh, truth be told.
The only ways in which this image distinguishes itself from the mass of goddess images in the ancient world are the bird feed and the accompanying animals. The presence of animals is not at all unusual. In fact, the lions she is standing on create something of a problem (if we want this to be Lilake/Lilitu), since they are generally associated with Inanna. For identification with Lilith the key lies in the owls and the bird feet. Lilith is arguably identified with the owl in Isaiah 34. Also the Gilgamesh prologue associates the tree-dweller with the owl, so if the tree-dweller is Lilith, that strengthens the argument. My current reading is that the bird feet clue us in that this is not Inanna, but whether it is Lilith is still a matter open to speculation. London Museum Collection
A very similar image -- this time a baked clay plaque from the
Old Babylonian period (2000-16000 BC). I suspect it is safe to
assume (is it ever?) that this represents the same supernatural
being as the preceding, in spite of the change in menagerie (she
now stands on two horned animals -- ibex?). The, feet and
wings are certainly the same. The miter and wings are common
motifs, but, as noted above, the bird feet are an important
identifying symbol, even without the owls. Of course the same
caveats apply here as there. If that is not Liliake/Lilitu, this
probably is not either.
(Paris, Louvre [AO 6501])
7th-6th century BC Syrian amulet to ward off "Lili". Or, perhaps,
a modern forgery of the same. See the translation and discussion.
(Aleppo National Museum)
Persian incantation bowl with Lilith in the
middle, surrounded by a prophylactic
text in Aramaic.
6th century CE incantation bowl. Lilith in the middle
surrounded by an Aramaic prophylactic
text designed to ward her off.
(University Museum, University of Pennsylvania)
Medieval apotropaic amulet to protect from Lilith
during childbirth and infancy. Technically, Lilith does
does not appear in this amulet. Rather we have 'portraits'
of the three angels who are her bane: Snoy, Snsnoy
& Smnglof. Above the angel portraits, in each of the two
panels, we have the name 'Adam', the Tetragrammaton, and the
phrase "Out Lilith!"
From The Book
of Raziel (Amsterdam,1701).
An 18th or 19th c. Persian amulet. Intended to protect a newborn
from Lilith in her role as baby-stealer. What look like
bubbles on her skin are supposed to be chains binding her.
See the transcription and
(The Israel Museum, Jerusalem)
Lamp: Probably fake 'Roman Period' with copy of Burney relief. This item was recently
auctioned by an antiquities dealer. Since auction winners are kept confidential, I do not know
who currently owns it. To my knowledge it has not been tested to verify age. If it is really
Roman period, as it purports to be, it is most interesting indeed, since it would show that either
the Burney relief (see above) was known much later than we would have supposed, or that both follow
a common iconographic model with surprising exactness. If this is the case, it makes it even less
likely that either is intended to represent Lilith. However, while awaiting any significant test
on the piece's antiquity, I am inclined to strongly suspect that it is a modern forgery,
explicitly based on the Burney relief (first image above).
Page: © Copyright 1995-2011 Alan Humm.
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