Night-monster

(lilith; Septuagint onokentauros; Vulgate (Jerome’s Latin Bible, 390-405 A.D.) lamia):

I. THE ACCEPTED TRANSLATION

1. Professor Rogers’ Statement

2. Exception to the Statement

II. FOLKLORE IN THE OLD TESTAMENT

1. Paucity of References

2. References in Highly Poetical Passages

3. The References Allusive

4. Possibility of Non-mythological Interpretation

5. The Term Lilith.

I. The Accepted Translation.

The term "night-monster"’ is a hypothetical translation of the Hebrew term lilith, used once only, in Isa 34:14. The word is translated in the King James Version "screech-owl," margin "night monster," the Revised Version (British and American) "night-monster," margin "Lilith." The term "night-monster" is also an interpretation, inasmuch as it implies that the Hebrew word is a Babylonian loan-word, and that the reference indicates a survival of primitive folklore.

1. Professor Rogers’ Statement:

Concerning this weird superstition, and its strange, single appearance in the Book of Isaiah, Professor Rogers has this to say: "The lil, or ghost, was a night-demon of terrible and baleful influence upon men, and only to be cast out with many incantations. The lil was attended by a serving maid, the ardat lili ("maid of night"), which in the Semitic development was transferred into the feminine lilitu. It is most curious and interesting to observe that this ghost-demon lived on through the history of the Babylonian religion, and was carried out into the Hebrew religion, there to find one single mention in the words of one of the Hebrew prophets" (Religions of Assyria and Babylonia, 76, 77).

2. Exception to the Statement:

Exception is to be taken to this statement, admitting the etymological assumption upon which it rests, that "lilith" is a word in mythology, on the ground that the conception of a night-demon has no place in the religion of the Hebrews as exhibited in the Scriptures. It is certainly worthy of more than passing notice that a conception which is very prominent in the Babylonian mythology, and is worked out with great fullness of doctrinal and ritualistic detail, has, among the Hebrews, so far receded into the background as to receive but one mention in the Bible, and that a bald citation without detail in a highly poetic passage.

The most that can possibly be said, with safety, is that if the passage in Isa is to be taken as a survival of folklore, it is analogous to those survivals of obsolete ideas still to be found in current speech, and in the literature of the modern world (see Lunatic). There is no evidence of active participation in this belief, or even of interest in it as such, on the part of the prophetical writer. On the contrary, the nature of the reference implies that the word was used simply to add a picturesque detail to a vivid, imaginative description. All positive evidence of Hebrew participation in this belief belongs to a later date (see Buxtorf’s Lexicon, under the word "Talmud").

II. Folklore in the Old Testament.


A review of these passages brings certain very interesting facts to light.

1. Paucity of References:

The references are few in number. Rahab is mentioned 3 times; Tannin (in this connection), once; Leviathan, 5 times; the serpent in the sea, once; Seirim, 5 times (twice with references to idols); Alukah, once; Azazel, 3 times in one chapter and in the same connection; Lilith, once.

2. References in Highly Poetical Passages:

These references, with the single exception of Azazel to which we shall return a little later, are all in highly poetical passages. On general grounds of common-sense we should not ascribe conscious and deliberate mythology to writers or speakers of the Bible in passages marked by imaginative description and poetic imagery, any more than we should ascribe such beliefs to modern writers under like circumstances. Poetry is the realm of truth and not of matter of fact. In passages of this tenor, mythology may explain the word itself and justify its appropriateness, it does not explain the use of the term or disclose the personal view of the writer. 3. The References Allusive:

All these references are in the highest degree allusive. They exhibit no exercise of the mythological fancy and have received no embroidery with details. This is most significant. So far as our specific references are concerned, we are dealing with petrified mythology, useful as literary embellishment, but no longer interesting in itself.

4. Possibility of Non-mythological Interpretation:


5. The Term Lilith:

One further fact with regard to lilith must be considered. The term occurs in a list of creatures, the greater part of which are matter-of-fact animals or birds. A comparative glance at a half-dozen translates of the passage Isa 34:11-14 will convince any reader that there are a great many obscure and difficult words to be found in the list. Following Delitzsch’s translation we have: "pelican," "hedge-hog," "horned-owl," "raven," "wild-dog," "ostrich," "forest-demon" (se`ir), "night-monster." This is a curious mixture of real and imaginary creatures. Alexander acutely observes that there is too much or too little mythology in the passage. One of two conclusions would seem to follow from a list so constructed: Either all these creatures are looked upon as more or less demonic (see Whitehouse, Hastings, Dictionary of the Bible (five volumes), article "Demon," with which compare West M. Alexander, Demonic Possession in the New Testament, 16), or, as seems to the present writer far more probable, none in the list is considered otherwise than as supposed literal inhabitants of the wilderness. The writer of Isa 34:14, who was not constructing a scientific treatise, but using his imagination, has constructed a list in which are combined real and imaginary creatures popularly supposed to inhabit unpeopled solitudes. There still remains a by no means untenable supposition that none of the terms necessarily are mythological in this particular passage.