The Testament of Solomon -- circa 200 CE

The Testament of Solomon is a book which is part of the Pseudepigrapha, a collection of texts written between 200 BCE and 200 CE and spuriously ascribed to various key figures, namely prophets and kings, of the Hebrew Scriptures. The Testament of Solomon itself is said to have been written between the first century and the fourth century, but modern scholarship has placed the date at circa 200 (Encyclopaedia Judaica 246 and Brunel 721). Although very little is known about this text, the Encyclopaedia Judaica states that it "is certainly based on Judeo-Hellenistic magic" (246) and other sources pinpoint it as "the earliest compendium of demons" and "the earliest text to cast King Solomon in the role of sorcerer, which became the primary model for him in subsequent Jewish lore" (Schwartz 1988, 7). Although the blend of vastly differing currents of thought make pinpointing an immediate source for this compilation very difficult, it has been identified as representing a "peculiar fusion known as Gnosticism, resting upon a Jewish basis influenced by Egyptian, Assyrian, and Greek, more especially Orphic, teachings" (Gaster 157).

The reference to Lilith in this text is more detailed than that in the Epic of Gilgamesh, and, more importantly, introduces a clearly different version of the Lilith story: that of the child-slaying witch. While the character in question does not identify herself, by name, as Lilith -- she goes by the name of "Obizuth" -- her own self-description clearly identifies her with the personage known later as Lilith. Similarly, this text contains "the earliest textual reference to the amuletic tradition of warding off this demoness, which became so central a part of the Lilith legend" (Schwartz 1988, 7). One should also note that Lilith herself often states, both in amulets and in literary references, that she has more than one name. It can be safely stated, therefore, that Obizuth is indeed Lilith. The text in question, found in chapter 57 (or chapter 13 if referring to James H. Charlesworth's translation), reads as follows:

And I adored the Lord God of Israel and bade another demon present himself. And there came before me a spirit in woman's form that had a head without any limbs, and her hair was dishevelled. And I said to her, 'Who art thou?' But she answered, 'Nay, who art thou? And why dost thou want to hear concerning me? But as thou wouldst learn, here I stand before thy face. Go then into thy royal storehouses and wash thy hands. Then sit down afresh before thy tribunal and ask me questions, and thou shalt learn, O king, who I am.'

And I, Solomon, did as she enjoined me, and restrained myself because of the wisdom dwelling in me, in order that I might hear of her deeds and apprehend them and manifest them to men. And I sat down and said to the demon, 'Who are thou?' And she said, 'I am called among men Obizuth, and by night I sleep not, but go my rounds over all the world and visit women in childbirth. And divining the hour I take my stand, and if I am lucky I strangle the child. But if not, I retire to another place, for I cannot a single night retire unsuccessful. For I am a fierce spirit of myriad names and many shapes. And now hither, now thither, I roam. And to westering parts I go my rounds. But as it now is, though thou hast sealed me round with the ring of God, thou has done nothing. I am not standing before tee, and thou wilt not be able to command me. For I have no work other than the destruction of children and the making of their ears to be deaf, and the working of evil to their eyes, and the binding their mouths with a bond, and the ruin of their minds, and paining of their bodies'

When I, Solomon, heard this, I marvelled at her appearance, for I beheld all her body to be in darkness. But her glance was altogether bright and cheery, and her hair was tossed wildly like a dragon's, and the whole of her limbs were invisible. And her voice was very clear as it came to me. And I cunningly said, 'Tell me by what angel thou are frustrated, O Evil Spirit?' But she answered me, 'By the angel of God called Afarof, which is interpreted Raphael, by whom I am frustrated now and for all time. His name, if any man know it, and write the same on a woman in childbirth, then I shall not be able to enter her. Of this name the number is 640.' And I, Solomon, having heard this, and having glorified the Lord, ordered her hair to be bound and that she should be hung up in front of the Temple of God, that all the children of Israel as they passed might see it and glorify the Lord God of Israel, who had given me this authority with wisdom and power from God by means of this signet." (Gaster 157-159)

One should note the physical appearance of Lilith/Obizuth in this text: her eyes are "bright and cheery" and her hair is "wild." Note, too, that one of Solomon's punishments for Lilith is to bind her hair and hang her in front of the temple for all to see. In The Book of Lilith, Barbara Black Koltuv remarks on this binding of the hair:

Traditionally, a woman's hair has been considered her crowning glory, a symbol of wisdom, an aspect of her essentially feminine nature. Brides of Christ, Vestal Virgins, and Orthodox Jewish Brides have been made to sacrifice their long seductive and ensnaring hair. Woman's hair has been cut and bound and covered in an effort to separate her from this goddess-given sexually seductive power of Lilith's. (59)

The importance of Lilith's hair will be seen again in Talmudic references and will play an even more important role as this study moves into Rossetti's portrayals of Lilith. In this passage, however, it is interesting to note that Lilith's hair is forcibly bound, contributing to the stripping away of her power, and she is put on display, objectified by Solomon as a lesson to the "children of Israel."

The idea of Lilith as a "lesson" is also of importance, for it will later be shown that Lilith's murdering of children was seen as a punishment for those who had sinned. The fact that Lilith is connected with punishment and retribution in this early text, therefore, should help to explain how her later portrayals developed.

Primarily, however, this passage is important for consideration because it portrays Lilith as a child-killing witch. Said Howard Schwartz in his introduction to Lilith's Cave:

There are two primary aspects of the Lilith legend: as the incarnation of lust, Lilith leads unsuspecting men into sin; in her incarnation as a child-destroying witch, she strangles helpless infants. It is interesting to note that these two aspects of this legend seem to have evolved separately, in that there is hardly a tale to be found in which Lilith plays both roles. (8)

While the role of Lilith as the first wife of Adam (yet to be introduced) is more closely associated with the first aspect than with the second, it truly should be given a category of all its own. The Sumerian tale in the Epic of Gilgamesh, which does not fit neatly into either category, seems to draw upon the myth of Adam and the Garden of Eden, placing it in this third category. The Testament of Solomon, clearly, belongs in the second category.

The second incarnation of Lilith -- "child-destroying" witch -- is vital to a study of the myth of Lilith, for it is this incarnation of her personage that appears in almost all archaeological evidence of her mythical existence. Much research has been done on the amulets, bowls, incantations, and plaques which were used to ward off the evil infant- slaying spirit of Lilith. Interestingly, such invocations of Lilith were present well into the 19th century. Some scholars even assert that there are persons alive today who still carry on the tradition of wearing amulets to guard against the spirit of Lilith during childbirth. Lilith magazine also reports that anti-Lilith amulets are still sold on the Lower East Side of New York (Fall 1994).

"Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree"
The Lilith Relief
Isaiah 34:14
Testament of Solomon
The Talmud
The Nippur Bowls
The Alphabet of Ben Sira
Book of Raziel
The Zohar
Hebrew Amuletic Tradition
Return to Outline of Chapter One
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