Lilu (mythology)

A lilu or lilû is a masculine Akkadian word for a spirit, related to Alû, demon. It is disputed whether, if at all, the Akkadian word lilu, or cognates, is related to the Hebrew word liyliyth in Isaiah 34:14, which is thought to be a night bird by some modern scholars such as Judit M. Blair.[1] The Babylonian concept of lilu may be more strongly relatedo to the later Talmudic concept of Lilith (female) and lilin (female).

In Akkadian literature hlilu occurs.[2]

In Sumerian literature lili occurs.[3]

In the Sumerian king list the father of Gilgamesh is said to be a lilu.

The wicked Utukku who slays man alive on the plain.

The wicked Alû who covers (man) like a garment.
The wicked Etimmu, the wicked Gallû, who bind the body.
The Lamme (Lamashtu), the Lammea (Labasu), who cause disease in the body.
The Lilû who wanders in the plain.
They have come nigh unto a suffering man on the outside.
They have brought about a painful malady in his body.

Stephen Herbert Langdon 1864[4]

Dating of specific Akkadian, Sumerian and Babylonian texts mentioning lilu (masculine), lilitu (female) and lili (female) are haphazard. In older out-of-copyright sources, such as R. Campbell Thompson's The Devils and Evil Spirits of Babylonia (1904) specific text references are rarely given. An exception is K156 which mentions an ardat lili[5] Jo Ann Scurlock and Burton R. Andersen (2005) see the origin of lilu in treatment of mental illness.[6]

Heinrich Zimmern (1917) tentatively identified vardat lilitu KAT3, 459 as paramour of lilu.[7] [8]

The spirit in the tree in the Gilgamesh cycle

Samuel Noah Kramer (1932, published 1938)[9] translated ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith in "Tablet XII" of the Epic of Gilgamesh dated c.600 BCE. "Tablet XII" is not part of the Epic of Gilgamesh, but is a later Assyrian Akkadian translation of the latter part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.[10] The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is associated with a serpent and a zu bird.[11] In Gilgamesh, Enkidu, and the Netherworld, a huluppu tree grows in Inanna's garden in Uruk, whose wood she plans to use to build a new throne. After ten years of growth, she comes to harvest it and finds a serpent living at its base, a Zu bird raising young in its crown, and that a ki-sikil-lil-la-ke made a house in its trunk. Gilgamesh is said to have killed the snake, and then the zu bird flew away to the mountains with its young, while the ki-sikil-lil-la-ke fearfully destroys its house and runs for the forest.[12][13] Identification of ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith is stated in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999).[14] According to a new source from Late Antiquity, Lilith appears in a Mandaic magic story where she is considered to represent the branches of a tree with other demonic figures that form other parts of the tree, though this may also include multiple "Liliths".[15]

Suggested translations for the Tablet XII spirit in the tree include ki-sikil as "sacred place", lil as "spirit", and lil-la-ke as "water spirit".[16] but also simply "owl", given that the lil is building a home in the trunk of the tree.[17]

A connection between the Gilgamesh ki-sikil-lil-la-ke and the Jewish Lilith was rejected by Dietrich Opitz (1932)[18][failed verification] and rejected on textual grounds by Sergio Ribichini (1978).[19]


  1. Blair J. M. De-demon. ising the Old Testament: An Investigation of Azazel
  2. Deliver Me from Evil: Mesopotamian Incantations, 2500-1500 BC - Page 149 Graham Cunningham - 1997 "Partly or wholly bilingual incantations in the Old Babylonian period (continued)
    Text 313: Geller 1989 text An, Malluhi, Directed against witchcraft PBS 1/2 122 b Enki, Utu Features divine dialogue" (partly bilingual)
  3. Deliver Me from Evil: Mesopotamian Incantations, 2500-1500 BC - Page 177 Graham Cunningham - 1997 "This is particularly the case in Sumerian incantations, with only two of the daimons specified in Sumerian texts being mentioned in Akkadian incantations, Lamastu and to a lesser degree Ardat Lili. In contrast to the Sumerian attribution "
  4. Major-General Sir H. C. Rawlinson. Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia. Vol. 4 (Semitic). ed. Theophilus Pinches. London: British Museum, 1861–64, 1891.
  5. Thompson p.XXXVIII
  6. Diagnoses in Assyrian and Babylonian medicine: ancient sources 2005 Page 435 "The reason for the attribution of this disorder to the lilu was probably that the majority of patients developed characteristic symptoms in adolescence or early adulthood. This pattern of onset is characteristic of some mental disorders"
  7. Akkadische Fremdwörter als Beweis für babylonischen Kultureinfluß. Leipzig, 1917
  8. Aramaic Incantation Texts from Nippur - Page 76 James Alan Montgomery - 2011 "So in the Talmud they dwell in the beams and crevices, the cesspools, etc.,52 even as in Greek magic demons 45 Acc. to Zimmern, KAT3, 459 = paramour of lilu. Better Thompson. (Devils, etc., i, p. xxxvii, Semitic Magic, 65), who regards the ..."
  9. Kramer, S. N. Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree: A Reconstructed Sumerian Text. Assyriological Studies 10. Chicago. 1938
  10. George, A. The epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian epic poem and other texts in Akkadian 2003 p100 Tablet XII. Appendix The last Tablet in the 'Series of Gilgamesh'
  11. Kramer translates the zu as "owl", but most often it is translated as "eagle", "vulture", or "bird of prey".
  12. Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Chicago: University of Chicago. 1956.
  13. Hurwitz (1980) p. 49
  14. Manfred Hutter article in Karel van der Toorn, Bob Becking, Pieter Willem van der Horst – 1999 pp. 520–521, article cites Hutter's own 1988 work Behexung, Entsühnung und Heilung Eisenbrauns 1988. pp. 224–228
  15. Müller-Kessler, C. (2002) "A Charm against Demons of Time", in C. Wunsch (ed.), Mining the Archives. Festschrift Christopher Walker on the Occasion of his 60th Birthday (Dresden), p. 185
  16. Roberta Sterman Sabbath Sacred tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an as literature and culture 2009
  17. Sex and gender in the ancient Near East: proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–6, 2001, Part 2 p. 481
  18. Opitz, D. Ausgrabungen und Forschungsreisen Ur. AfO 8: 328
  19. Ribichini, S. Lilith nell-albero Huluppu Pp. 25 in Atti del 1° Convegno Italiano sul Vicino Oriente Antico, Rome, 1976