Wednesday, January 07, 2004

Since I came to Israel the weather has been beautiful -- clear blue skies, warm days, cool nights here in Jerusalem, but today the rain blew in. I was sitting in a cafe on Palmach St. today around noon watching the hail pile up on the sidewalk. Israel always needs rain, but the warm days have been a nice interlude, especially since I'll be returning to cold, snowy, gray Ithaca next week.

I've been writing an article on Lilith for the new Historical Encyclopedia of Jewish Women, being published by Shalvi Publishers on CD-ROM. It's been fun doing the research. If you are looking for a strange and amusing (and also misogynist) work of Hebrew literature, I recommend the Alphabet of Ben Sira, usually dated to somewhere from the 8th to the 10th century C.E. The historical Ben Sira (from 2d century B.C.E. Jerusalem) has nothing to do with the Alphabet named for him, but he appears in the work in a very strange context. The Alphabet is the first place that the tale of Lilith as the first wife of Adam appears. She, like him, was created from earth, and she and Adam quarreled over who would be on top. He said that he was superior to her, and she said that they were equal. She pronounced the name of God and flew away to the Red Sea. Adam complained to God, who sent three angels to bring her back. She refused, and said that she had been created only to kill newborn babies. The angels made a deal with her that they would not bring her back to Adam, if she agreed not to attack children who were protected by an amulet with the angels' names and forms on it.

The Alphabet of Ben Sira is published in English translation in Rabbinic Fantasies,, edited by David Stern and Mark Mirsky, along with many other interesting works of Jewish literature, such as the "Tale of the Jerusalemite," about a man who ends up married to the daughter of Ashmedai, the king of the demons.

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