Lilu (mythology)

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A lilu or lilû is a masculine Akkadian word for a spirit or demon.


Jo Ann Scurlock and Burton R. Andersen (2005) see the origin of lilu in treatment of mental illness.[1]

In Sumerian and Akkadian literature[edit]

In Akkadian literature hlilu occurs.[2] In Sumerian literature lili occurs.[3] Dating of specific Akkadian, Sumerian, and Babylonian texts mentioning lilu (masculine), lilitu (female) and lili (female) are haphazard. In older scholarship, 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[4] Heinrich Zimmern (1917) tentatively identified vardat lilitu KAT3, 459 as paramour of lilu.[5][6]

A cuneiform inscription[which?] lists lilû alongside other wicked beings from Mesopotamian mythology and folklore:

The wicked Utukku who slays man alive on the plain.
The wicked Alû who covers (man) like a garment.
The wicked Edimmu, 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.

Sumerian King List[edit]

In the Sumerian King List the father of Gilgamesh is said to be a lilu[8]

'Spirit in the tree' in the Gilgamesh cycle[edit]

Tablet XII, dated c. 600 BCE, is a later Assyrian Akkadian translation of the latter part of the Sumerian Epic of Gilgamesh.[9] It describes a 'spirit in the tree' referred to a ki-sikil-lil-la-ke. 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".[10] but also simply "owl", given that the lil builds a home in the trunk of the tree.[11]

The ki-sikil-lil-la-ke is associated with a serpent and a zu bird.[a] 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]

Relationship to Hebrew Lilith and lilin[edit]

Judit M. Blair wrote a thesis on the relation of the Akkadian word lilu, or its cognates, to the Hebrew word lilith in Isaiah 34:14, which is thought to be a night bird.[14] The Babylonian concept of lilu may be more strongly related to the later Talmudic concept of Lilith (female) and lilin (female).

Samuel Noah Kramer (1932, published 1938)[15] translated ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith in "Tablet XII" of the Epic of Gilgamesh. Identification of ki-sikil-lil-la-ke as Lilith is stated in Dictionary of Deities and Demons in the Bible (1999).[16] According to a new source[which?] 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".[17] A connection between the Gilgamesh ki-sikil-lil-la-ke and the Jewish Lilith was rejected on textual grounds by Sergio Ribichini (1978).[18]


  1. ^ Kramer translates the zu as "owl", but most often it is translated as "eagle", "vulture", or "bird of prey".


  1. ^ 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"
  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. ^ Thompson p.XXXVIII
  5. ^ Akkadische Fremdwörter als Beweis für babylonischen Kultureinfluß. Leipzig, 1917
  6. ^ 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 ..."
  7. ^ Major-General Sir H. C. Rawlinson. Cuneiform Inscriptions of Western Asia. Vol. 4 (Semitic). ed. Theophilus Pinches. London: British Museum, 1861–64, 1891.
  8. ^ Raphael Patai, p. 221, The Hebrew Goddess: Third Enlarged Edition, ISBN 978-0-8143-2271-0
  9. ^ George, A. The epic of Gilgamesh: the Babylonian epic poem and other texts in Akkadian 2003 p. 100 Tablet XII. Appendix The last Tablet in the 'Series of Gilgamesh'
  10. ^ Roberta Sterman Sabbath Sacred tropes: Tanakh, New Testament, and Qur'an as literature and culture 2009
  11. ^ Sex and gender in the ancient Near East: proceedings of the 47th Rencontre Assyriologique Internationale, Helsinki, July 2–6, 2001, Part 2 p. 481
  12. ^ Chicago Assyrian Dictionary. Chicago: University of Chicago. 1956.
  13. ^ Hurwitz (1980) p. 49
  14. ^ Blair J. M. De-demon. ising the Old Testament: An Investigation of Azazel
  15. ^ Kramer, S. N. Gilgamesh and the Huluppu-Tree: A Reconstructed Sumerian Text. Assyriological Studies 10. Chicago. 1938
  16. ^ 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
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^ Ribichini, S. Lilith nell-albero Huluppu Pp. 25 in Atti del 1° Convegno Italiano sul Vicino Oriente Antico, Rome, 1976