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Ben Sira

The Alphabet of Ben Sira

The Alphabet of Ben Sira is an anonymous work, which has been dated anywhere from the seventh to the eleventh century. While it was stated in 1900 that this text "dates in every probability from the seventh century," more recent scholarship has placed it in the eight, ninth, or tenth centuries (Gaster 155, Stern and Mirsky, eds. 167, Pereira 79). The ninth century, therefore, has been chosen as a mean of those more recently cited dates. Its place of composition is uncertain, but an examination of internal textual evidence has led scholars to place it in a Muslim country (Stern and Mirsky, eds. 167). --ascerba@mindspring.com

Lilith [...]

It is The Alphabet of Ben Sira which introduces the incarnation of Lilith which has, to this point, been only vaguely, if at all, invoked: that of the first wife of Adam. The history of this text, however, is vital in understanding and interpreting its contents, and so a rather extensive description is necessary. Most of this description will rely heavily on Rabbinic Fantasies, edited by David Stern and Mark J. Mirsky, for this very recent text (1998) contains information which most earlier scholarship only glides over. --http://www.geocities.com/Wellesley/Garden/4240/alphabet.html [Feb 2005]

Lilith [...]

The first clear reference to Lilith as the first wife of Adam is in an anonymous medieval work called 'The Alphabet of Ben-Sira'. In it, Lilith is described as refusing to assume a subservient role to Adam during sexual intercourse and eventually deserted Adam. Lilith then went on to mate with Asmodai and various other demons she found beside the Red Sea, creating countless lilin. Adam urged God to bring Lilith back, so three angels were despatched after her. When the angels, Senoy, Sansenoy, and Semangelof, made threats to kill one hundred of Lilith's demonic children for each day she stayed away, she countered that she would prey eternally upon the descendents of Adam and Eve, who could be saved only by invoking the names of the three angels, and did not return to Adam.

This story has similarities with the original Mesopotamian myth, where Lilith killed children, and so the practice of protecting children by placing Lilith amulets around their necks with the names of the three angels became a custom of many Jewish communities in medieval times.

This legend was mistakenly included in an English language book of rabbinic works (the author seemingly assumed that any ancient book read in the Jewish community must have been a rabbinic work). However, contrary to popular belief, the 'The Alphabet of Ben-Sira' is not a Jewish religious text; rather, it is a collection of perverse stories about heroes of the Bible and Talmud. Modern historians are unsure of its original purpose, although it may have been a collection of risqué folk-tales, a refutation of Christians, Karaites or other separatist movement, or simply an anti-Jewish satire. -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lilith, Apr 2004

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