Kiki Smith – Lilith, 1994 – Bronze, silicon, and glass.
“In medieval Jewish lore, Lilith was Adam’s first wife. When she demanded to be Adam’s equal, she was evicted from the Garden of Eden. Lilith flew away to the demon world, replaced by the more submissive Eve. Smith catches us off guard with Lilith’s pose and placement. Most sculptures receive our gaze passively, but Lilith stares back with piercing brown eyes, ready to pounce.”
my mother told me this story over and over when I was little
“Always be Lilith, never Eve”
“Always be Lilith, never Eve”
Ever since reading about her story when I was younger, I never sought to be Eve again.
Lilith is the one men fear. Because Lilith knows she does not need men to validate her existence.
THIS SCULPTURE IS AWESOME, THE LILITH STORY IN GENERAL IS AWESOME, but, uh, I would feel remiss if I did not take the time to point this out: the story of Eve is not one where a woman chooses to be subservient to a man. Like. At all.
Here, in brief, is the story of Eve: God creates heaven and earth, blah blah, animals, trees, blah blah, man in God’s image blah, Adam blah blah, don’t eat from the Tree of Knowledge blahhhhhhhh. Then one day Adam is all, “Hey God, I finished naming all the animals and plants and everything weeks ago, I’m bored as shit down here — see, shit, that’s a word I made up for the stuff that comes out of butts, I’m bored enough down here to name the butt stuff.” So God’s like, “Ugh, whatever, I’ll make you a friend out of something, you’re not using all your ribs, are you?” and creates Eve. And Eve and Adam? Yeah, the text doesn’t label them anything but equals during their time in the garden. Literally 100% of the description of their relationship, at the beginning, is:
The man said, “This is now bone of my bones, And flesh of my flesh; She shall be called Woman, Because she was taken out of Man.” For this reason a man shall leave his father and his mother, and be joined to his wife; and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. (GENESIS 2.23)
Now, I grant you, it’s not the most ideal situation I’ve ever heard described, feminism-wise, but like. They are both naked, and neither is ashamed. There is no suggestion here that Eve was originally created to be subservient to Adam. Which will be important. In a second.
SO right back to the story, Adam and Eve hang out in the garden for awhile and this serpent is all, “Hey Eve, how about some fruit,” and Eve is like, “Sure, what kind of fruit you want, it’s the Garden of Eden, we’ve got literally every kind of fruit there is,” and the serpent is all, “You know that one fruit on that one tree that is the only thing in the entire garden we’re not supposed to eat,” and Eve is like, “Balls.”
And then the serpent comes at her with like, moral relativism and liberal arts college theology major shit, all, “But why would God put the tree there with a big sign on it that said NOT THIS TREE DEFINITELY DON’T EAT THE STUFF ON THIS TREE THIS TREE RIGHT HERE SEE THIS IT IS THE FORBIDDEN TREE DON’T YOU EAT OF IT if he didn’t, secretly, totally want us to eat of it?” (Real talk: I am with him on this one.) So, whatever, okay, you all know this part of the story, Eve eats some fruit, and it’s the Tree of Knowledge so she gets all this knowledge about good & evil & everything, and then she convinces Adam to eat some fruit and get some knowledge too. And then God notices them like, hiding behind fig leaves and giggling about how they both have genitals (the Tree of Maturity it is not), and gets real pissed and kicks them out, the end.
EXCEPT. The reason I am bothering to type this out (not to mention google biblical excerpts like I’m 13 and studying for my Bat Mitzvah again) is that. As punishment? For eating of the Tree of Knowledge, and convincing Adam to do so also? God curses Eve with the pain of childbirth, and with being subservient to Adam. I mean, literally, this is what it says:
To the woman [God] said, “I will greatly multiply Your pain in childbirth, In pain you will bring forth children; Yet your desire will be for your husband, And he will rule over you.” (GENESIS 3.16)
EVE BEING SUBSERVIENT TO ADAM. IS A PUNISHMENT. IN THE BIBLE. IT IS A PUNISHMENT FOR GOING AGAINST THE WILL OF GOD. If you’ve ever heard of the concept of “original sin,” this is what that’s referring to (er, and it’s also a hard cider but the cider is named after the concept, not the other way around, although presumably in the Garden of Eden with all its wonders it would’ve been possible to get hard cider, so don’t quote me on this). And the concept of original sin is an entirely separate discussion because it’s
ridiculous repressive sexist bullshita complex topic in theological discussion that I am frankly unqualified to speak on, and also because one time Phillip Pullman wrote this entire series of books that was kind of about it and frankly as a result any conversation I try to have on the topic devolves rapidly into a discussion of what kind of daemon everyone would have (mine would be a barred owl).
So, look: I am so here for this sculpture, I am so here for the telling of the story of Lilith, I am so here for encouraging young women to know that they do not need men to validate their existence. I am so. Here. For. That. But I am hesitant at the phrasing, “Always be Lilith, never Eve.” I am hesitant about breaking this story down to the idea that Lilith was inherently resistant and Eve was inherently submissive and that thus Lilith was inherently better, both because it’s canonically not true (again: tricked into tasting the fruit initially or not, Eve gave Adam his helping of her own will, Eve was punished for defying the word of God), and because I think that plays into the garbage idea that there is a correct way to be female, not to mention the garbage idea that women are constantly in competition with one another.
I just. This is a story that has had unimaginable impact on history and culture and women and how society thinks about women. This is a story that has been used to demonize women for centuries. Whether you believe in it or not (and I’ll confess freely that, despite identifying strongly as Jewish, I mostly don’t), you can’t argue that it hasn’t been majorly impactful, because it has been majorly impactful. And while I love the sculpture, and the spirit in which I know this discussion about it is intended, it breaks my fucking heart to see us championing Lilith by (further) demonizing Eve. Eve, whose name means life, whose role in this tale is to be mother of all of humanity and who is seen, more often than not, as the punishment granted to her against her will for a choice she made. Which, incidentally — that’s something I’ve always found pretty telling. Something worth thinking about, you know what I mean?
Both, that’s my point. Both is good. At very least, one without disparaging the other.
Read this whole thing.