In an article published in the March /April 2009 issue of the Biblical Archaeology Review, Dan Levene wrote about magic incantations, written in Aramaic, that were inscribed on skulls. The article, “Rare Magic Inscription on Human Skull,” deals with belief in demons and the incantations and other magic rites that were used to combat these demons who, according to popular belief, caused medical problems as well as other misfortunes.
One of these demons was known as Lilith. Lilith as a night demon appears in Isaiah 34:14 (NJB): “Wild cats will meet hyenas there, satyr will call to satyr, there Lilith too will lurk and find somewhere to rest.”
James A. Montgomery of the University of Pennsylvania studied one skull in 1913 in which he found a reference to Lilith. According to Levene’s article,
Montgomery’s comments on what he could salvage of the Philadelphia skull text indicate that it referred to “spirits” and “Liliths,” in the plural. In this period, high infant and birthing-mother mortality rates were attributed to Lilith demons, who were thought to roam the earth looking for pregnant women and newborn infants to attack. Lilith, of course, emerges later, in the medieval period, as the mythological first wife of Adam who refused to be subservient to him. But the motif of the demoness who roams the earth looking for newborn infants to devour has its roots in much-earlier Mesopotamian traditions and persists throughout history.
To read the article in its entirety and to see photos of the skulls, visit the Biblical Archaeology Review online.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary