Does Isa. 34 refer to Lilith?

The following is an e-mail discussion I had with Dale Dye ( who was responding to my usage of Isaiah 34:14-15 as a Biblical Lilith reference. The fact that I happen to be standing on one side of the discussion does not mean that I necessarily think the other side is out to lunch. The evidence along with my personal prejudices incline me in one direction, but a good and reasonable argument can be made that Lilith does not appear in the Bible at all [AH]
Subject: Re: Lilith referred to in Isa. 34:14-5
Date: Sat, 4 May 1996 21:41:58 -0600
To: Alan D. Humm
From: Dale Dye


You're going to have to help me again here. My Bible says that Isa. 34:14-5 reads:

Desert creatures will meet with hyenas, and wild goats will bleat to each other; there the night creatures will also repose and find for themselves places of rest.
The owl will nest there and lay eggs, she will hatch them, and care for her young under the shadow of her wings; there also the falcons will gather, each with its mate.
As I understand it this passage refers to the coming desolation of Edom because of the way they treated Isreal when God gave them power over his people. Just how do you see "Lilith" fitting in here, or is this another typo?


Subject: Re: Lilith refered to in Isa. 34:14-5
Date: Mon, 6 May 1996 12:33:46 -0400 (EDT)
To: Dale Dye
From: Alan D. Humm

No typo this time. The NRSV for this passage reads:

Wildcats shall meet with hyenas,
   goat-demons shall call to each other;
there too Lilith shall repose,
   and find a place to rest.
There shall the owl nest
   and lay and hatch and brood in its shadow

You are right in noting that the context in the prophecy is a prediction that the land of the Moabites will become a desolate wasteland. The meaning of Isaiah's prophecy is not particularly impacted by the following discussion.

The difference between this translation and the one you are using reflects a fundamental difference in translation philosophy. Your version represents an approach to translating the Bible (esp. the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament) that seeks to naturalize any references to mythological or supernatural creatures (except angels) into known animals. (Am I right in suspecting that your translation renders 'leviathan' as 'crocodile, 'behemoth' as 'river ox', etc.?). Sometimes this works, other times not. The Hebrew word here is 'lilith' (?????). Unfortunately, it is a hapax legomenon (a word that occurs only once in the Hebrew Bible) so we can't determine its meaning by comparison to other uses in the Bible -- we are forced to resort to cognate languages (Akkadian, Aramaic, Ugaritic, etc.), versions (early translations) or Jewish tradition to determine its meaning. The translation 'night creatures' represents a speculative attempt at rendering 'lilith' based on its similarity the Hebrew word 'laylah' -- night. (Lilith traditions also sometimes make this etymological connection - particularly since one of her roles is that of succubus, and she is often associated with owls -- as in this passage.) But a better connection (in my opinion) lies in the Assyrian 'lilitu' -- a nasty female spirit. It may be, however, that neither of these is right, and we simply don't have enough information to make an intelligent guess here. Jewish tradition, of course, points us in the direction of the mythological creature who is the subject of the Lilith page. I am not currently up on the versional evidence -- I will have to check it out.[1] Note that the translations also differ on the translation of 'sa'ir' (????) -- is it a goat or a goat-demon/satyr? My guess is that the meaning of 'sa'ir' has to be determined by the meaning of 'lilith'. If 'lilith' is a demoness, then 'sa'ir' should be some sort of demon. On the other hand, if 'lilith' is some sort of undetermined animal, then sa'ir is a goat.

By the way, this is a fairly interesting issue. Do you mind if I add your question along with this response to the page. If you want to respond to my response, feel free.


Subject: Re: Lilith referred to in Isa. 34:14-5
Date: Fri, 10 May 1996 03:25:45 -0600
To: Alan D. Humm
From: Dale Dye

No problem using our discussion on your page. Since it originated there, I didn't even feel that it was necessary for you to ask, although it was polite--no doubt.

I understand the problem in translation philosophy and I thought that it was probably something along those lines. Deciding how to render in English a word that has a single occurrence is, of course, a difficult task and as such will generate some debate. I checked some other versions and came up with their choices, NASB "night monster" (with a footnote to the Hebrew "Lilith," Darby "arrow-snake," KJV "great owl." There were also corresponding references to goats and satyrs as you would expect.

I see the problem of Lilith as a bit different than that of the behemoth or leviathan. God himself describes each of these in chapters 40 and 41 of Job. If you can read His description of the behemoth without thinking brontosaurus or ultrasaur then you aren't using your mind's eye. The same goes for the leviathan and it's obvious match of a dragon. God says, that the leviathan breathes fire, for crying out loud. Let's not be foolish and say that it means a puny little crocodile. There are some theories as to how the dragon could have existed and died without any trace except for tradition (the bubble theory is one and I'd be happy to share it with you only it's off the topic). But my point is that God describes these animals in detail, so there is no need for much imagination. Leviathan is mentioned a few times (Job 3:8 Job 41:1 Psalms 74:14 Psalms 104:26 and Isaiah 27:1) and although behemoth is a hapax legomenon we do have a complete description of him/her/them. This is not the case with the Lilith/night monster/arrow infinitum. I believe the Bible is the inspired word of God and I tend to hold that as a higher reference than mythology.

Internetally yours,
Dale Dye


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