Who Was Lilith? Origin Of Her Name And Its Meaning

  • Donovan Nagel
    Written byDonovan Nagel
    Donovan NagelTeacher, translator, polyglot
    🎓 B.A., Theology, Australian College of Theology, NSW
    🎓 M.A., Applied Linguistics, University of New England, NSW

    Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator. Founder of The Mezzofanti Guild and Talk In Arabic.
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Who Was Lilith? Origin Of Her Name And Its Meaning

There’s been a lot of online chatter in recent months about the origins of the mythological figure Lilith (no doubt due to the recent release of popular video game, Diablo IV, where Lilith is the main antagonist).

Who was she and where did this name originate?

What does Lilith mean?

As a student of Biblical languages (Hebrew and Greek), it piqued my curiosity so I spent some time doing a bit of a deep dive into the origins of the name Lilith. It’s a fascinating topic, both linguistically and theologically.

If you’re curious to learn a bit more, keep reading.

Lilith in Hebrew

The female name Lilith in Hebrew is: לילית

While it is a Hebrew name (etymologically related to laylah — the word for “night”: לילה), it’s generally agreed that the name is Proto-Semitic in origin, sharing etymology with Akkadian and Sumerian, where lili and lilitu referred to “spirits” or “night spirits”.

I suppose it’s always been a fairly universal superstition that evil is more prevalent at night, so it’s easy to imagine how the word for ‘night’ may have become associated with evil spirits.

There’s only one explicit reference to Lilith in the entire Bible

The name Lilith only appears once in the Bible, in the book of Isaiah (34:14).

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וּפָֽגְשׁ֚וּ צִיִּים֙ אֶת־אִיִּ֔ים וְשָׂעִ֖יר עַל־רֵעֵ֣הוּ יִקְרָ֑א אַךְ־שָׁם֙ הִרְגִּ֣יעָה לִּילִ֔ית וּמָֽצְאָ֥ה לָ֖הּ מָנֽוֹחַ:

The desert creatures will meet with the wolves. The goat also will cry to its kind. Yes, the Lilith will settle there and will find herself a resting place.

Here’s the issue with this verse:

There is absolutely no consensus of opinion regarding the correct translation of לִּילִ֔ית in this verse.

Nearly every major Bible translation, including the Jewish Tanakh, translates this differently. Some of the variations include: night monster, night bird, screech owl, night creature, and lamia (a Greek she-demon).


The Septuagint uses ὀνοκένταυροι (half man, half donkey) which explains why succubus are often represented in popular culture as beautiful women with donkey legs.

The translation choice here really boils down to whether or not you accept that the Biblical Hebrew borrows from Akkadian.

Some scholars argue that Isaiah is directly attacking Babylonian folklore by calling out Lilith in this verse (the wider context is the destruction of the nations opposing Israel). Others argue that Isaiah is referencing a superstition held by himself and the Israelites (in other words, he genuinely believed that Lilith existed).

There’s also the camp of scholarship that believes that the Hebrew word Lilith was not borrowed, and that there is no reference to a mythological creature of the night, but rather an actual animal (makes sense given other animals are referenced in the same verse).

As you can see, this verse of Scripture is contentious.

Who is/was Lilith and where did the myth originate?

Lilith Diablo

The figure known as Lilith in popular culture and mythology is a she-demon or “succubus” (a female demon that seduces men).

She’s also historically described as a night demon that preys on pregnant women, stealing or killing their unborn children (side note: I must say that I find it incredibly revealing — and horrifying — that many abortion groups and clinics, and other feminist groups, have actually used the name Lilith, a child-murdering demon, as their mascot — some even refer to her as a goddess).

Where did this demonic Lilith character originate from (if we discount the single reference in Isaiah)?

Like dybbuks and golems, it has its origins in Judaic mythology — primarily the Talmud and later sources.

Of particular interest to me is the early reference in the Dead Sea Scrolls (~40 BC):

And I, the Instructor, proclaim His glorious splendour so as to frighten and to terrify all the spirits of the destroying angels, spirits of the bastards, demons, Lilith, howlers, and desert dwellers… and those which fall upon men without warning to lead them astray from a spirit of understanding and to make their heart and their … desolate during the present dominion of wickedness and predetermined time of humiliations for the sons of light, by the guilt of the ages of those smitten by iniquity - not for eternal destruction, but for an era of humiliation for transgression.

- 4Q510–511

Rabbinic Jews, in later writings, invented the idea of “a previous wife of Adam”, who they claim was Lilith, to account for the apparent discrepancies between Genesis 1 & 2.

I don’t personally have any interest in later Rabbinic folktales and embellishments (esp. anything from the Talmud), but the Dead Sea Scroll reference would seem to confirm that early, pre-Christian Jews believed in and categorized Lilith with other supernatural, evil beings.

That for me is a convincing argument for not translating Isaiah 34:14 as being merely an animal.

It also probably rules out the possibility of Lilith being purely metaphorical (the same way that the author of Proverbs portrays Folly as a woman who ensnares men).

In any case, it’s an interesting topic worth exploring further.

Any other interesting facts about Lilith that I missed?

Comment below.

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Donovan Nagel
Donovan Nagel - B. Th, MA AppLing
I'm an Applied Linguistics graduate, teacher and translator with a passion for language learning (especially Arabic).
Currently learning: Greek


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