(לילית, lilith, prob. from ליִל, sight, and so designating some nocturnal creature; Sept. ὀνοκένταυροι ; Aquila, ), λιλίθ; Symmachus: λαμία; Vulg. lamia; marg. "night-monster"), a creature mentioned in connection with the desolation that was to mark Edom. According to the rabbins, the lilith was a nocturnal spectre in the form of a beautiful woman that carried off children at night and destroyed them (see Bochart, Hieroz. 3:829; Gesenius, Thesaur. s.v.; Buxtorf, Lex. Chald. et Talm. p. 1140). With the lilith may be compared the ghule of the Arabian fables. The old versions support the opinion of Bochart that a spectre is intended. As to the
ὀνοκένταυροι of the Sept. and the lamia of the Vulg. translations of Isaiah, see the Hieroz. 3:832, and Gesenius (Jesaia, 1:915-920). Michaelis (Suppl. p. 1443) observes on this word, "In the poetical description of desolation, we borrow images even from fables." Among Oriental nocturnal birds we have Strix ulula, S. brachyotus, or short-eared owl, likewise found in Egypt and Arabia, as well as to the north of Syria, a bold, pugnacious bird, residing in ruined buildings, mistaken by commentators for the screech-owl, S. stridula, and supposed by some to be the lilith of the Bible. The spectral species, again, confounded with the goat-sucker, is, we believe, S. coromanda [see Night-Hawk], and the same as S. orientalis of Hassel-quist, who makes it synonymous with massasa and with the Syrian bano, but apparently only upon the evidence of the vulgar, who believe in the "spectral lady" appearance of the lilith and bana, and in its propensity to lacerate infants, of which this bird, together with the S. ulula and bubo of antiquity, is accused. The original version of the story, however, refers, not to an owl or goat-sucker, but to the poetical Strix of the ancients, a lamia with breasts, that is, a harpy or a vampire, being a blood-sucking species of the bat family .(Ovid, Fast. 6:139, and the fables of C. Titinius, quoted by Gesner, De Strige, p. 738). SEE BAT. If, however, some animal be denoted by the Hebrew term, the screech-owl (S. flammea) may well be supposed to represent it, for this bird is found in the Bible lands (see Tristram, Ibis, 1:26, 46), and is, as is well known, a frequent inhabiter of ruined places. The statement of Irby and Mangles relative to Petra illustrates the passage in Isaiah under consideration: "The screaming of eagles, hawks, and owls, which were soaring above our heads in considerable numbers, seemingly annoyed at any one approaching their lonely habitation, added much to the singularity of the scene" (see also Stephens, Incid. of Trav. 2:, 76). Kitto (Pier. Bible, note ad loc.) might perhaps refer the lilith to the eagle-owl, or Bubo maximus, which is found in many parts of the world, and haunts old ruins and other places where it is not liable to interruption. Like others of its tribe, it remains silent in its solitude during the day, but comes forth at night from its retreat, adding, by its strange appearance and dismal tones, to the gloom of the scenes which it delights to frequent, The ground color of its plumage is brown mingled with yellow, diversified with wavy curves, bars, and dashes of black. Its length is about two feet; the legs are feathered to the toes, and the iris of the eye exhibits a bright orange color. SEE OWL.