There are other interpretations of the hermaphroditic first man in Genesis besides the concept of Adam Kadmon. But to understand them, we need to understand the figure of Lilith, who, according to kaballistic legend, existed prior to the creation of Eve, and was Adam’s first lover. Her name means “spirit of night.”
As the story goes, Lilith was made to be a companion to Adam. According to one version of the story Lilith was not created by God but originated spontaneously out of the Great Supernal Abyss at the time of creation. From the descriptions of her that exist she appears to be, in fact, a shade or a demon. The children she bore Adam were half-demon as well, as there were said to have been thousands of them. Lilith and Adam allegedly quarreled over sex, specifically about who would be on top. When Adam insisted on being on top, Lilith left him. She is said to have disappeared from Paradise by pronouncing the secret and sacred name of God (the “Tetragrammaton” of Kaballistic lore). Some legends even state that she obtained the divine name from God himself by seducing him! According to one version of the story, upon pronouncing the name she shape-shifted into an owl and flew away. She fled to the Red Sea, which, according to legend, has been her abode ever since. However, in the Midrash Abkier it says that Lilith came to Adam again when he separated himself from Eve for 130 years after realizing that his sin had brought death into the world.
But that wasn’t the end of Lilith’s relationship with mankind. She continued to have sexual relations with the sons of Adam by visiting them in their dreams at night. Nocturnal emissions were believed by ancient and medieval Jews to be evidence that the man had been visited by the succubus Lilith. Demon children were born from these unions, but the rabbis said that God cursed Lilith so that all of her children would die upon birth.
As a way of getting revenge for that, they said that Lilith also visited infant boys in their sleep to suffocate them. Thus, every instance of the mysterious malady known as “crib death” (which affects mostly boys) was attributed to Lilith, and superstitious Jews would leave magical amulets on the walls of their children’s bedrooms to ward off these attacks. The word “lullaby” is believed to derive from the incantations that Jews would sometimes say over their children while putting them to bed, again to protect them from Lilith. This is also the origin of the Jewish and European custom of letting boys grow their hair long until age three: to trick Lilith into thinking that they are girls. Some even dressed their sons in girls’ clothes during this vulnerable period in their lives.
However, according to some Jewish writers, Lilith’s role in the story of Genesis was even more important. For some legends state that the Serpent which tempted Adam and Eve to eat of the Tree of Knowledge was none other than Lilith! Furthermore, at that time Lilith was not just a single serpent, but part of a serpentine Hermaphroditic duality.
Lilith’s male counterpart was named Samael, “the Blind One.” In Jewish legends, this is the name of a demon that is sometimes considered synonymous with Satan. In Gnostic creation myths, Samael was another name for Ialdaboath or Jehovah, the demiurge. One kabbalistic term for the combined creature of Lilith-Samael was “the Other God.” They are also referred to as “the male and female Leviathan.” God allegedly castrated the male to keep them from mating “and thereby destroying the Earth.” This is supposedly why Lilith became horny for human males-because her demon husband-her male half- could no longer have sex with her. Others say that because of the castration, Lilith and Samael have to use an “intermediary” called the “Groomsman” or “Taniniver” (meaning “Blind Dragon”) to have sex, which sounds some weird kind of spiritual strap-on. The image brings to mind that of the Egyptian goddess Isis forging a magical dildo for her dead and dismembered husband Osiris when she brought him back to life so that she could have sex with him.
Although Lilith-nicknamed“Woman of Whoredom” seduced Adam, and bred a race of demons with him, Samael allegedly seduced Eve as well. So according to the Kaballists, Adam and Eve both had their first sexual experience at the hands of the Hermaphroditic serpent. There would seem to be a connection between these experiences and the act of disobedience that caused Adam and Eve to fall from grace in the biblical text. Genesis Chapter 3: 1-7 tells us:
“Now the serpent was more subtle than any beast of the field which the LORD God had made. And he said unto the woman, Yea, hath God said, Ye shall not eat of every tree of the garden?
And the woman said unto the serpent, We may eat of the fruit of the trees of the garden:
But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it, lest ye die.
And the serpent said unto the woman, Ye shall not surely die:
For God doth know that in the day ye eat thereof, then your eyes shall be opened, and ye shall be as gods, knowing good and evil.
And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat.
And the eyes of them both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together, and made themselves aprons.”
It seems that, in part, the wisdom gained by eating the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge was awareness of their own sexuality, “carnal knowledge.” Indeed the Hebrew word “yada”, meaning “to know”, also means “to have sex with”, and is used in that sense dozens of times throughout the Torah. This was the wisdom that the Serpent wanted to share with Adam and Eve. Upon becoming aware of their separate bodies, and of their differing genitals, they became anxious to cover them, so they made clothes for themselves. But when God saw that they have realized their own nakedness, he knew that they’d eaten the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Genesis 3: 8-11 says:
“And they heard the voice of the LORD God walking in the garden in the cool of the day: and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the LORD God amongst the trees of the garden.
And the LORD God called unto Adam, and said unto him, Where art thou?
And he said, I heard thy voice in the garden, and I was afraid, because I was naked; and I hid myself.
And he said, Who told thee that thou wast naked? Hast thou eaten of the tree, whereof I commanded thee that thou shouldest not eat?”
In a way, the Serpent was telling the truth when he told Eve that eating the fruit of Knowledge would not kill her, at least not immediately, and that it would make her like unto a god. Not only did she and Adam gain the awareness that had heretofore been forbidden to them, but they also gained the power of generation: the power to create life “in their own image” just like God. (1) But this transgression did bring death into the world for the first time as well.
The state of being that seems to have existed before the Fall was one of timeless eternity: the perfection of undifferentiated oneness. That is clear not only from the words of The Book of Genesis, but also from the interpretations of it found in the traditions of Gnosticism and the Cabala. This is why the chronology of the events in the first three chapters of Genesis is hard to follow in linear time. This story is a representation of how our universe, including linear time, was created. Thus the events themselves did not occur inside of linear time, but outside of it.
Like the aeons of the Gnostic creation, the “6 days” of creation, as told in Genesis, represent the stages of development of a universe coagulating from a state of pure chaos. The first man, Adam Kadmon, existed prior to the creation we currently live in. Within this Hermaphroditic being were all of the elements needed for the creation of the human race. The Garden of Eden could be thought of as like a petrie dish in which those elements were placed so that they could evolve into the first separate male and female. When the male and female elements separated into two distinct beings, they began to procreate, and that was when they were cast out of the Garden. That is when sexual generation, including life and death as we know it, began, as implied in the story of Genesis.
Perhaps this is why Eve is only given her name, which means “life”, in Chapter 3, Verse 20, after they were cursed by God for their transgression. The verse says that Adam called her that “because she was the mother of all living.” Later, in Chapter 4, after they are driven from the Garden, Adam “knows” his wife for the first time, and she conceives both Cain and Abel. God makes it pretty clear in Chapter 3 that sexual reproduction is one of the curses that will haunt their lives now that they have eaten of the Tree of Knowledge. Eve will now be burdened with the pains of childbirth. (2)
On a related note, Adam will forever after struggle to harvest food to eat from the ground. Prior to the fall, in the Garden of Eden, all of his needs had been provided for effortlessly, but in a world of birth and death, once must work hard in order to survive. Genesis Chapter 3: 16-19 states:
“Unto the woman he said, I will greatly multiply thy sorrow and thy conception; in sorrow thou shalt bring forth children; and thy desire shall be to thy husband, and he shall rule over thee.
And unto Adam he said, Because thou hast hearkened unto the voice of thy wife, and hast eaten of the tree, of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it: cursed is the ground for thy sake; in sorrow shalt thou eat of it all the days of thy life;
Thorns also and thistles shall it bring forth to thee; and thou shalt eat the herb of the field;
In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread, till thou return unto the ground; for out of it wast thou taken: for dust thou art, and unto dust shalt thou return.
The Zohar refers to Lilith as “the Torturous Serpent”, and Samael as “the Slant Serpent”, or “the Great Sword Leviathan.” These desciptions would seem to identify the two snakes with the kabbalistic concepts of the Flaming Sword which guarded the Garden of Eden, and the twisted serpent coiled around the Tree of Knowledge in the Garden.
The Kabbalistic “Tree of Life” a pictorial representation of the universe. It contains 10 “Sephiroth”, or “Spheres of Emanation” which represent different aspects of existence. The are ranked in a hierarchy, with the subtlest (more spiritual) realms at the top, and the denser (more material) realms at the bottom. In the diagrams the Flaming Sword is shown as a zig-zag lightning bolt (the Slant Serpent”) winding its way down the Sephiroth, on the Tree, forming a path from the top to the bottom. Simultaneously, the “Torturous Serpent” is shown slithering its way upward, forming a path from the bottom to the top. (3)
But the “Flaming Sword” and the “Tree of Life”-separate from the Tree of Knowledge- are mentioned specifically in Genesis 3:22 - 24 (where we read the plural possessive voice of God again):
“And the LORD God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever.
So He drove the man out; and at the east of the garden of Eden He stationed the cherubim and the flaming sword which turned every direction to guard the way to the tree of life.”
So what exactly is the meaning of this? First of all, the Tree of Life was only briefly mentioned before this. Adam and Eve were never told not to eat its fruit. The way it is stated here by God, it is as if they did not have the ability to eat of the Tree of Life until after they ate from the Tree of Knowledge. If there was no death in the world prior to the Fall, there would have been no need for the Tree of Life.
Furthermore, why forbid it to mankind now, especially just after their Fall from Eden? They had just been condemned to a state of mortality after living in a state of deathlessness. Why not let them redeem themselves and live forever again? The motive appears to be fear: God does not want mankind to have the same kinds of powers that he and his mysterious unnamed companions have.
For kabbalists Lilith and Samael would appear to represent both the serpents that tempted Adam and Eve, as well as the instruments used by the Cherubim to “keep the way” of the tree of life. They were at once both paths back to the highest sphere of existence, and the divine guardians appointed to keep the uninitiated from attaining it. Regarding Lilith, Zohar 1:119b states:
“She approached the gates of Paradise on earth, and saw the Cherubim guarding the gates of Paradise, and sat down facing the Flaming Sword, for she originated from that flame. When that flame revolved, she fled.”
Strangely, the 13th century Spanish Kabbalist R Isaac Hacohen said that Lilith is “a ladder on which one can ascend to rungs of prophecy.”
1) It is perhaps symbolically important that it was fruit, the seed of a tree, which brought her this understanding.
2) This, in contrast to the male and female created in Genesis Chapter 1, who are told to “be fruitful, and multiply, and replenish the earth,” as if it is a blessing, not a curse.
3) Interestingly, the term “crooked serpent” is now often applied to the figure of Satan by Christians.
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