Today I get a rare opportunity: to guest-lecture to a college classroom! The class is on Good and Evil; the students will have just read Genesis 2 and Genesis 3, with which they are probably already pretty familiar. (Hint: Adam, Eve, a garden, and a certain snake.) But what may be less familiar to them are the accompanying essays and other texts they'll be reading alongside the Torah text, which I hope will give them a different way of looking at the story. The first piece they'll be reading is Midrash - The Key to Interpretation:
In Jewish tradition, the sacred texts of the Torah (the Hebrew Bible) have been kept adaptable to changing social circumstances through a form of story called midrash - stories invented to fill gaps or to explain apparent inconsistencies in the Torah. Midrash is actually a way to change the frame (context) of the stories in the Bible...
A famous tradition of midrash concerns an apparent inconsistency in Genesis: first, God created humans "male and female." Then, a few verses later, we are told the story of it not being good that Adam was alone and God creating a helpmate. How could this be? Could this holy story be flawed?
Not really, says the midrashic tradition. When God first created humans, God created Adam and the first woman, Lilith. Lilith refused a subordinate role, however, and fled the garden to bear the children of demons. Only then did Adam ask for a helpmate.
That story comes from the anonymous medieval text The Alphabet of Ben Sira:
When God created the first man Adam alone, God said, "It is not good for man to be alone." [So] God created a woman for him, from the earth like him, and called her Lilith. They [Adam and Lilith] promptly began to argue with each other: She said, "I will not lie below," and he said, "I will not lie below, but above, since you are fit for being below and I for being above." She said to him, "The two of us are equal, since we are both from the earth." And they would not listen to each other. Since Lilith saw [how it was], she uttered God’s ineffable name and flew away into the air. Adam stood in prayer before his Maker and said, "Master of the Universe, the woman you gave me fled from me!"