Readers of the Book of Genesis will know that Adam’s first wife was Eve. But some have suggested that the story of Genesis was deliberately changed by the Christian church to hide the fact that Adam had a wife prior to Eve, and her name was Lilith. Is there any truth to this conspiracy claim?
It is true that according to medieval Jewish folklore, that there is a story about a Lilith, who was Adam’s first wife. The most obvious problem with the conspiracy claim is that one of the first Jewish writings to definitively tie Lilith to Adam was a mystical text, the Alphabet of Sirach, composed somewhere between the years 700 C.E. to 1000 C.E. This is several hundred of years after the New Testament was already completed, and well over a thousand years after the story of Adam and Eve made its way into the Bible.
Lilith (1887) by John Collier in Atkinson Art Gallery, Merseyside, England (credit: Wikipedia)
What gives a little bit of life to the conspiracy claim is that a legend about a female demon, Lilith, did originate in Sumerian and Babylonian writings, centuries before Christ. Tales about Lilith crept into later Jewish writings. But the Alphabet of Sirach was one of the first written works to have made any serious connection between Adam and Lilith, and the Christian church had already been in existence for several centuries.
Dr. Michael Heiser has a 13-minute video explaining the full story about Lilith, including why medieval Jewish scribes invested in the Lilith story, and why the conspiracy theory about her existence as Adam’s first wife being suppressed can be easily dismissed.
Second Temple in Jerusalem, from the Holyland Model in Jerusalem. Based on the writings of Josephus. I saw this on my trip to Jerusalem years ago, but this photo from Wikipedia is better.
When the Jews returned from the Exile in Babylon, in the late sixth century B.C., Jerusalem and its original temple lay in ruins. Leaders like Nehemiah and Ezra helped to lead the people to rebuild the city and the temple. This “Second Temple” survived until being destroyed in 70 A.D., by the Romans. During that 600 year period, the Jews were dominated by a range of empires, including the Persians, the Greeks, the Syrians, and finally the Romans, though they were able to manage a brief period of self-rule during the Maccabean Revolt. Much of the later part of the Second Temple period is unfamiliar to many students of the Bible, as the last prophet we have in the Old Testament is Malachi, leaving about a four hundred year gap in the biblical chronology unaccounted for until the birth of Jesus. But modern scholarship today indicates that knowing this period of Israel’s history is critical to understanding the cultural context for the New Testament.
Recently, I discovering this interactive timeline for the Second Temple Judaism period at the BibleOdyssey.org, sponsored by the Society of Biblical Literature. I have been looking to something like this for awhile, so I am glad that BibleOdyssey.org put it together fairly recently. This is a great reference tool for your study of the Bible.
Just a word of caution: the Society of Biblical Literature includes a very wide spectrum of scholarship, conservative evangelical as well as liberal critical, so some of the dates given for a few of the biblical books might raise a few eyebrows. For a comparable list of dates for the writing of Old Testament books from a conservative evangelical perspective, you might want to look as well at Matt Slick’s listing at CARM.org.