Lilith in The Alphabet of Ben Sira

Unfortunately, a discussion on Lilith is not complete with addressing the Alphabet of Ben Sira.  This farcical
book has done much to corrupt the modern understanding of the ancient Lilith myth.  The problem
apparently began when modern readers began to consider the irreverent Alphabet as a serious work.  The
Alphabet is an irreverent book, anonymously written sometime around the ninth century CE.  Although it was
written in the style of an aggadic midrash (commentary on the Bible), it was apparently intended to be
satirical in nature.  It made fun of various Biblical characters and rabbinic motifs, and its offered obvious
parodies to specific Talmudic passages.  For example, the book begins with a group of men masturbating in
a bathhouse.  It then proceeds to talk seriously about farts, urinating donkeys, and the copulation of ravens.  
Norman Bronznick in his introduction to the Stern and Mirsky edition of The Alphabet of Ben Sira (1998)
states, "The Alphabet may be one of the earliest literary parodies in Hebrew literature, a kind of academic
burlesque -- perhaps even entertainment for rabbinic scholars themselves -- that included vulgarities,
absurdities, and the irreverent treatment of acknowledged sancta".  This belief is substantiated in that the
Alphabet was known to have been read as popular entertainment in most rabbinic communities throughout
the Middle Ages.  The Alphabet also includes satirical passages on Lilith, and unfortunately these have
become the launching pad for a corrupted modern Lilith mythos.

The Alphabet farcically paints Lilith as a quarrelling head-strong wife, unwilling to submit to her husband.  
She refuses to lie beneath Adam during sexual intercourse, but demands only to lie on top.  Eventually she
flees Adam and the garden.  The dejected Adam complains to God that his wife has left him.  God, then
rather ineptly sends three angels to bring the wayward wife back.  They fail against the head-strong woman.  
There is nothing left for God to do but make a new wife for Adam.  The entire tale has an irreverent tone (as
does the entire book), and it has inflammatory references to sex.  Lilith's refusal to “lie below” was seen as
sarcastic entertainment for the Rabbis, something purely inconceivable and laughable.

Unfortunately, the Alphabet’s irreverent image of Lilith as a first Eve has taken root in modern culture.  Its
passages are quoted by modern feminists more than any other source today in explaining their version of
Lilith.  Because of the Alphabet many modern feminists promote Lilith as the proto-feminist, willing to sacrifice
even the paradise of Eden as the necessary cost of freedom and equality.  The series of musical concerts
called Lilith Fair founded by Sarah McLachlan in the late 1990s is perhaps being the most brazen example.  
Some neo-pagan groups have taken up her cause as well, either accepting her dark nature as sacred or
finding in her an expression for the erotic goddess within them.  
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